Saturday, July 12, 2008

Brains and magnets

Seed magazine has a video (and text transcript) of a conversation between novelist Tom Wolff and neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga (who is now at UCSB, go gauchos). They talk about free will, among other things.

But you probably remember Ganzaniga's research from freshman psych class, his work with split brain subjects in particular. Amazing stuff, "a window into the non-conscious", and evidence that we have a bunch of agents in our heads.

You don't have to actually slice brains to do some interesting experiments. One of the strangest examples I saw was using a powerful magnetic field to temporarily turn off a part of a healthy subjects brain, making them aphasic or messing up motor control. In college we used to volunteer for psych experiments to make extra money, but I don't think I'd volunteer for TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation).

Here's an article (complete with a reference to The man who mistook his wife for a hat) from the NY Times where TMS transforms the author into a cat-drawing savant. It's scarier when TMS is used to induce five-minute "strokes".

Changing subjects, this O'Reilly interview about the software on the Mars Phoenix Lander (all in C, no Java on board, and no more Ada on JPL spacecraft) reminded me about what I liked about JPL (cool projects) and didn't like (how many times this guys says "that's right" or some variation) instead of just yes or no :)