.... "If the brain was so simple that we could understand it, then we would be so simple that we couldn't." -- Emerson M. Pugh


Web mindshavings.blogspot.com

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Podcast available here with Dr. Oliver Sacks on "The People's Pharmacy" discussing his last book, "Musicophilia."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blveiee It

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.
The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid; aoccdrnig to arscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.
The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
Amzanig huh? and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Friday, January 23, 2009

David Chalmers Stuff

Home page for philosophy Professor David Chalmers here (emphasis on mind/consciousness) with plenty of good links.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More From Tammet

The mathematical capabilities of autistic savants are often among of the most difficult parts of their repertoire to understand or explain. These may include lightening-fast calculation or other feats of computation. And oftentimes, as in Daniel Tammet's case, their description of numbers as having color and texture or shape is likewise difficult to conceive. Tammet is famous for reciting pi accurately to 22,000 digits, a virtually inconceivable accomplishment, but aided by his of pi as not just a number, but a landscape so-to-speak.
Interestingly in his new book Tammet hypothesizes that his math prowess stems from "abnormal cross-communication" between areas of the brain that govern math skill and those that govern language, and specifically syntactic rules, which normally are separate. He points out that the two areas (left parietal lobe and and left frontal lobe) lay physically next to each other in the brain, and that his "numerical abilities are rapid, intuitive, and largely unconscious" very much like the way most people speak and process language. Also, he notes that along with his mathematical talents he has already learned a dozen languages, and very easily picks up new languages to a conversational level. His explanation is purely intuitive and speculative (so far as I know), but seems to make as much sense as anything else offered by others.

In a totally different section of the book (on logical thinking) Tammet throws out this simple, yet interesting old puzzle-example of Lewis Carroll's:

a) My saucepans are the only things I have that are made of tin.
b) I find all your presents very useful.
c) None of my saucepans are of the slightest use.

...and then asks, what is the 'ultimate' logical implication arising from these statements? (answer below)
answer: your presents are not made of tin

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sleep and Learning

A lot of research, as well as longstanding folk wisdom, contends that the number of hours of sleep one gets is very important for the well-being of an organism, specifically humans. This study on memory/learning further argues that it is not just the length of sleep, but 'quality' of sleep which is a major factor.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"Embracing The Wide Sky"

WOW!! I snapped up autistic savant Daniel Tammet's latest book hot off the bookstore shelves the other day ("Embracing The Wide Sky" here and here), and am about 2/3 of the way through it, but can say I LUV it! Hits on a wide range of cognitive issues. And Tammet's perspective is of course utterly unique, as an articulate, thoughtful savant who can introspectively analyze how his own mind works. The book actually includes a lot of references to more standard journal literature as well, but Tammet never blindingly accepts the conclusions of academic researchers when his own intuitive understanding of how the brain works runs counter to the party line of academics. Plenty of outside-the-box thinking here on subjects where outside-the-box thinking is much needed, and sometimes difficult to come by.

Although he doesn't go into great depth in any given area, Tammet touches upon a shmorgasbord of cognitive subjects including brain plasticity and re-wiring, intelligence testing, memory, language acquisition and processing, number instinct, perception, and creativity. And interestingly, he believes many of the talents of savants are not as special as they appear, and in some cases are even accessible by non-savants.
A very interesting read for anyone interested in the workings of the brain.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Monty Hall Redux

The "Monty Hall problem" (here and here) is one of the most widely-discussed and popularized math problems of all times, and it just keeps going and going. There will soon (well, June) be an entire book out devoted to it from Jason Rosenhouse: "The Monty Hall Problem: The Remarkable Story of Math's Most Contentious Brain Teaser." Should be a good read for mathematicians and lay folks alike.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pinker On Personal Genomes and Behavioral Genetics

Nice NY Times article by the always eloquent Steven Pinker on the pertinence of personal genomics (he has had his own genome sequenced and released, and here he tries to analyze what it all means as we approach a time when everyone will have routine access to their personal genomes).

Friday, January 9, 2009

How Mathematicians Think

Large chunks of William Byers' wonderful book, "How Mathematicians Think," are available online here from Google books.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tammet Interviewed

"New Scientist" interview with autistic savant Daniel Tammet here.
And "Scientific American" interview here.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Riemann Hypothesis Prediction

John Brockman's "Edge" group was asked, as their yearly question this year, what scientific development do they expect to see "change everything" within their lifetime. Clifford Pickover's answer here, is that the Riemann Hypothesis, one of math's most enduring unsolved problems, will be proven.

(Worth reading many of the other Edge respondents as well...)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

More Ambiguous Ambiguity

Ambiguous headlines straight off the press: here.

(How we quickly and successfully disambiguate meanings in a rapid stream of speech, or even text, is one of the most perplexing questions in linguistics.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009


In the next sentence, the number of occurrences of 0 is 1,
of 1 is 7, of 2 is 4, of 3 is 1, of 4 is 1, of 5 is 1,of 6 is 1, of
7 is 1, of 8 is 2, and of 9 is 1.

In the previous sentence, the number of occurrences of 0 is 1,
of 1 is 8, of 2 is 2, of 3 is 1, of 4 is 2, of 5 is 1,of 6 is 1, of 7
is 2, of 8 is 1, and of 9 is 1.

Quote... Unquote

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." -- Arthur C. Clarke

Friday, January 2, 2009

The "McGurk Effect"

Nice example here (interplay of sight and sound in language perception):

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gullibility... As Explained By the Gullible

Interesting, ironic post at "Neuronarrative" about a new book, "Annals of Gullibility" authored by psychologist Stephen Greenspan, himself a victim of the massive recent Madoff Wall Street Ponzi scheme hoax.
With a follow-up article by Greenspan himself here.