insomniapainting

When I first sleep with someone we have to have the talk: “You really wear one of those?” It can be a bit embarrassing to sleep with an eye mask and earplugs, but what am I supposed to do? I’m bad at sleeping.

Sleep is important, obviously for feeling rested and awake during the day, but also for maintaining health. Disruptions to sleep increase the risk of not just Continue reading ‘My Secret Night Life—Insomnia, Drugs, Sleep Doctors, and the Circadian Rhythm of it All’

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I love improv comedy because of its authenticity. You might ask me, how can a dramatic form where the performers are literally making everything up as they go possibly be authentic? To that I would say, “Yes, and… Fuck, I really should’ve thought that one through.”

I’ve always been a fan of comedy, but five years ago, if you had asked me to go to an improv show, I would have passed, saying (or at least thinking), “It may be a great way for comedians to hone their skills–to build those 10,000 hours–but I want to watch their best, painstakingly edited final product, not their practice session.”

Last night, I was walking down a crowded street, earbuds in, listening to Comedy Bang Bang, trying desperately not to laugh in public. My face was so lit up by the comedy, that it drew multiple strangers to Continue reading ‘How a Neuroscientist Came Around to Improv Comedy’


mouseandgirl

“Autism is about having a pure heart and being very sensitive… It is about finding a way to survive in an overwhelming, confusing world… It is about developing differently, in a different pace and with different leaps,” Trisha Van Berkel.

How do genes—DNA, these physical atoms: carbons, hydrogens, and nitrogens—influence our subjective experience of consciousness? And how can mutations to genes lead to the alterations in behavior and consciousness seen in disorders like autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is now estimated to affect 1 in 68 children in the United States and causes difficulties with social interaction, and a tendency towards repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. A surprising new study published in Cell indicates that two well-studied mutations that cause autism may actually be acting outside of the brain, and an oft-overlooked symptom may be more important than we’ve thought.

Continue reading ‘Two well-studied autism mutations cause social defects in mice. But they’ve now been found to do so through effects outside the brain. How can this be?’


I wasn’t suicidal, but I was curious what would happen. Surely, the live-streaming app bought by the $10 billion dollar company Twitter had thought of this use case. I imagined a notification would pop up, advising me who to call if I needed help, but no, the post went through.

Instantly, fifty people joined compared to my usual two or three viewers, and some messaged homophobic slurs and goaded me on to suicide, but it wasn’t all bad. Concerned people asked if I was okay. Others told me what I was doing was a horrible, irresponsible joke, and one person shared a story about how upsetting my post was as her father had committed suicide on the exact same day a year before.

I felt bad about what I had done, but still felt Periscope should have predicted these situations and somehow handled it better.

Then, three months ago, a French 19-year-old, did it for real–again, goaded on by users.

While the internet may be guilty Continue reading ‘A year ago, I typed ‘suicide’ into Periscope and hit stream — Why aren’t we using social media to screen for mental illness and offer access to care?’



3,250 meters above the sea and 1,000 meters above the clouds, in a wooden cabin that fits 250 people into bunks like sardines…
Continue reading ‘Everything changes at once (nothing ever changes)’


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We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”―Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

After Fight Club was published in 199,6 our dreams have further devolved and divorced themselves from aspirations of talent. Now we just want to be loved, famous, and privelidged? Why aim high and put all the work into becoming a movie star, when you can just ride someone’s coat-tails Entourage style or become the next Kim Kardashian.

Millennials are the most narcissistic generation, fueled by our self-esteem obsessed culture, exemplified by children’s song lyrics like “I am special, I am special, look at me…” Or such is the gist of the argument San Deigo State personality psychology professor Jean Twenge has made in several books and recently, where I caught wind of this story, on NPR’s Brain Matters podcast. I’ve heard this sentiment made before. Indeed, most Millennials have heard this sentiment and have internalized it[1].

But is it true?

Are Millennials really Continue reading ‘Are Millennials Really Narcissists?’


flipping the script

Monkey see, monkey do. We may not be monkeys, but we frequently ape others, mirroring their posture, behavior mood. When we act angrily, others respond with anger. When we act kindly, others respond in kind.

Invisibilia’s latest episode looks at what we can do when we flip this script, and respond in an unexpected way with non-complementary behavior. Here I’ll discuss some of science mentioned in the show and extend it into the wonderful world of mirroring to teach you a very important life skill–how to spot the coolest dude in the room.

So what is non-complimentary behavior?

See example 1 of armed robbery, wine, and non-complimentary behavior from the show illustrated with puppets:

 

And example 2, eerily similar story of armed robbery, wine, and non-complementary behavior Continue reading ‘Breaking the Feedback Loop: How non-complementary behavior can save your life. Also, how to know ‘Who’s the coolest guy in the room?’’


frames

A recent Invisibilia episode discusses frames of reference—the frames we use to interpret our world—and how our own frame of reference can clash with that of others, even our own family. For immigrants and their children, differences in culture, generation, class, and historical context lead to dramatically different frames of reference—after all what is a little bullying in school compared to the Holocaust. My own non-immigrant father’s stories of waking up at 5am to milk the cows before going to school made me grateful for my upper-middle class suburban life and guilty if I messed up in school.

But frames of reference extend far past Continue reading ‘Frames of Reference – Why Smart People Feel Stupid, Money Buys Happiness, and You Will Never Feel Truly Satisfied’


We can’t quite read thoughts yet, but we’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out what sorts of things you’re hearing about.

Check out this amazing video recently released alongside the publication from Huth et al. of the Gallant Lab, and then read my summary below of how they achieved this. This is the first study to study the semantic system of the brain using a data-driven approach to determine semantic categories in an unbiased way.

Continue reading ‘One step closer to reading minds, the representation of words in the brain.’


Neurology cannot directly explain the emergence of qualia (subjective experience), but it can study the circuitry that might be necessary for it’s emergence by using case studies of people who have experience brain damage and also techniques such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) that can reversibly disrupt brain areas.

For example a patient that has brain damage to the visual cortex may experience blind sight, a condition where the subject reports no subjective experience of vision, no vision-related qualia, but automatic behaviors may still have access to visual information processed by other circuits like the Lateral Geniculate Nucleus. For example a patient with blind sight may change his path walking through a room to avoid tripping on something on the floor, despite a lack of conscious awareness that something is there.

Afterwards this kins of finding can be experimentally replicated with double-blind controls using TMS to temporarily disrupt the function of the visual cortex.

From this kind of condition we may conclude that the visual cortical circuitry may be important or even necessary for generating visual qualia. (More strictly it could also just be conveying this information to our linguistic circuitry that we use to report experiences.) Regardless, neurological conditions such as blind sight are important for showing that information processing alone isn’t s sufficient for creating qualia, and help us get closer to understanding how qualia are generated, and therefore maybe about what qualia truly are.



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