Tags: neuroscience



Wednesday, January 4th, 2017


I left the office one evening a few weeks back, and while I was walking up the street, James Box cycled past, waving a hearty good evening to me. I didn’t see him at first. I was in a state of maximum distraction. For one thing, there was someone walking down the street with a magnificent Irish wolfhound. If that weren’t enough to dominate my brain, I also had headphones in my ears through which I was listening to an audio version of a TED talk by Donald Hoffman called Do we really see reality as it is?

It’s fascinating—if mind-bending—stuff. It sounds like the kind of thing that’s used to justify Deepak Chopra style adventures in la-la land, but Hoffman is deliberately taking a rigorous approach. He knows his claims are outrageous, but he welcomes all attempts to falsify his hypotheses.

I’m not noticing this just from a short TED talk. It’s been one of those strange examples of synchronicity where his work has been popping up on my radar multiple times. There’s an article in Quanta magazine that was also republished in The Atlantic. And there’s a really good interview on the You Are Not So Smart podcast that I huffduffed a while back.

But the most unexpected place that Hoffman popped up was when I was diving down a SETI (or METI) rabbit hole. There I was reading about the Cosmic Call project and Lincos when I came across this article: Why ‘Arrival’ Is Wrong About the Possibility of Talking with Space Aliens, with its subtitle “Human efforts to communicate with extraterrestrials are doomed to failure, expert says.” The expert in question pulling apart the numbers in the Drake equation turned out to be none other than Donald Hoffmann.

A few years ago, at a SETI Institute conference on interstellar communication, Hoffman appeared on the bill after a presentation by radio astronomer Frank Drake, who pioneered the search for alien civilizations in 1960. Drake showed the audience dozens of images that had been launched into space aboard NASA’s Voyager probes in the 1970s. Each picture was carefully chosen to be clearly and easily understood by other intelligent beings, he told the crowd.

After Drake spoke, Hoffman took the stage and “politely explained how every one of the images would be infinitely ambiguous to extraterrestrials,” he recalls.

I’m sure he’s quite right. But let’s face it, the Voyager golden record was never really about communicating with an alien intelligence …it was about how we present ourself.

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Your brain on pseudoscience: the rise of popular neurobollocks

I like this skewering of the cult of so-called-neuroscience; the self-help book equivalent of eye-tracking.

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science | Mother Jones

A look at our inbuilt confirmation biases.

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Op-Ed Contributor - Mind Over Mass Media - NYTimes.com

An excellent rebuttal by Steven Pinker to Nicholas Carr's usual trolling.

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Disorderly genius: How chaos drives the brain - life - 29 June 2009 - New Scientist

It turns out that the brain is a scale-free small-world network in a state of self-organised criticality. Just like the internet.

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Who Framed George Lakoff? - ChronicleReview.com

A detailed look at the troubled history of George Lakoff, the father of conceptual metaphor.

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Moving Dots Demo

There appears to be a form of synesthesia where people "hear" motion. Watch this video (repeatedly) to test your own sensory perception.

Monday, October 29th, 2007

What the F***?

I saw Steven Pinker give a talk recently and he spent a fair amount of time talking about swearing. He has written up that part of the talk into an article for the New Republic.

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

Skeptic: The Magazine: Featured Article

A good, if somewhat dispiriting, overview of Artificial Intelligence. (There's some nice typesetting on this page)