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The Palaces of Memory and Genius

[ 2 ] August 16, 2011

Over at the World Science Festival site, an intriguing discussion of memory palaces– a technique by which one builds a mental representation of a structure and then fills the rooms with certain memories for later recollection:

Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, walks us through the process of constructing “memory palaces”—an age-old memorization technique currently exploited by the world’s leading memory champs and mental athletes. Psychologist and memory expert Lynn Nadel explains why this trick is so powerful and how it leverages some the brain’s strongest faculties. [video of panel discussion]

In addition, WSF has some excellent new content surrounding the question of genius, including a report on a panel discussion that featured Julie Taymor and Philip Glass discussing creativity and the mind.

Art & Science Debates Hit London

[ 1 ] August 9, 2011

For those interested in the dialogue between the arts and sciences, there’s an epicenter of discourse that has emerged in London at the GV Art Gallery. Besides being the only commercial gallery to exclusively display science-inspired art, GV Art also hosts frequent panels and debates focused on interdisciplinary questions. Two recent panels were videotaped and are publicly viewable on YouTube:

In many sections, the participants in the debates grasp for how to identify the future of a merged art/science world. How would you label this pursuit, often called the “third culture”?

Oliver Sacks Book Designs

[ 2 ] July 26, 2011

Check out the new cover designs for Oliver Sacks’ books, designed by Carbon Webb.

Click for a larger view. Looks fantastic!

New Doc: “Project Nim”

[ 0 ] July 23, 2011

For those who haven’t seen the 2008 documentary “Man On Wire,” which is about a record-breaking feat of high altitude tightrope walking, I “highly” recommend it (sorry, that was awful).  Director James Marsh’s new documentary, “Project Nim,” is an in-depth look at one of the most educational, tragic, monumental, flawed studies in the history of modern psychology research. In the 1970s, an experimental chimp subject, Nim Chimpsky, was reared and taught as if he was human, and the researchers hypothesized that he would be able to learn human language (through signing).

While Nim learned many signs, the results were cloudy, and researchers spent years analyzing his behavior to see what was really going on.  His moniker came from a play on “Noam Chomsky,” who argued that humans were specifically wired for language and other apes were not.  Though the results of the Nim Chimpsky study were heavily disputed, and, ultimately, found to be flawed, questions about the origin of language and the cognitive abilities of our primate cousins remain unanswered.

Check out “Project Nim” for a nicely made look at this multi-layered story of the crossroads between curiosity, intellectual arrogance,  scientific discovery, and self-discovery.

Lackluster Retention of Random Information

[ 2 ] July 20, 2011

I remember one chemistry teacher in high school who said spending time to memorize the entire periodic table was a waste of time. I always did like him.

In a recent New York Times article, Patricia Cohen reports that there is a new line of research looking into the effects of online databases and search engines on our memory. Dr Betsy Sparrow, Daniel Wegner, and Jenny Liu conducted a few memory experiments, revealing that people do not make an effort to retain information when they believe it will be easily retrievable.

Huh. Maybe this explains why I don’t remember Bon Jovi’s birthday or the atomic mass of osmium. The internet is right there, just waiting for me to ask these important questions. (Bon Jovi was born on March 2nd, 1962 and osmium has an atomic mass of 76 atomic mass units. Thank you, Google.)

It’s no doubt that internet databases and search engines are a boon to researchers, students, cheating crossword players. That’s the thing, it’s ok to forget something until you need it–my chemistry teacher knew that in the real world, we could look up an element. But what if you don’t know when you’ll need a bit of information. There are little things like, oh I don’t know, critical thinking, decision making, and problem solving that at least in part depend on your ability to recall bits of knowledge from memory. (In theory, this is one reason why we memorize things in college.) So, how will our 21st century lackluster retention of random information affect these essential mental faculties?

The 2011 Brain Art Competition

[ 0 ] July 9, 2011

I recently served as a judge for the 2011 Brain Art Competition. It’s a brand new initiative organized by a group called The Neuro Bureau, who state that they support “open neuroscience,” and aim to support creative collaborations between the disciplines.

The results of the competition were announced in late June at the 2011 Human Brain Mapping conference in Montreal. My personal favorite entry to the competition is below: “The Brain Tree,” by Silje Soeviknes of Norway.

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