Fox News Republicans and Libertarians — every once in a while they do something that just ignites this white hot flash of rage in my brain. I can’t help it. The Daily Show had a segment on conservatives getting angry at poor people for buying good food with food stamps; apparently, it would be OK if they had to use their pittance on garbage and rotting offal, but how dare they buy the same kind of fish rich people would buy!
Mar 08 2014
Mar 08 2014
Can you generate the illusion that your mind has left your body? This woman can.
After a class on out-of-body experiences, a psychology graduate student at the University of Ottawa came forward to researchers to say that she could have these voluntarily, usually before sleep. “She appeared surprised that not everyone could experience this,” wrote the scientists in a study describing the case, published in February in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
So what does the modern researcher do when someone has a weird perceptual sensation? Stick their head in an MRI and look at what’s happening.
To better understand what was going on, the researchers conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of her brain. They found that it surprisingly involved a “strong deactivation of the visual cortex.” Instead, the experience “activated the left side of several areas associated with kinesthetic imagery,” such as mental representations of bodily movement.
Her experience, the scientists wrote, “really was a novel one.” But just maybe, not as novel as previously thought. If you are capable of floating out of your body, don’t keep it to yourself!
OK, I won’t. I used to be able to do that. When I was roughly 5 to 7 years old, and with declining frequency in years afterwards, I experienced this phenomenon routinely, and it was exactly as described. As I was drifting off to sleep, I’d have this peculiar sensation of heightened kinesthesia — I’d be acutely aware of my body, where every limb was, and I’d also lose my other senses — my hearing was muffled, with a kind of low hum, and I wouldn’t be able to see anything. But at the same time, I also had an exaggerated consciousness of objects around me, so I’d literally feel like a small boy with an awareness expanding to fill the room, losing the disconnect between self and other. And then I’d fall asleep.
Even as a child, though, I didn’t describe it to myself as floating outside myself; I called them my “big head dreams”, because of the way my awareness of space increased. I might have been annoyed at my bedtime, but I didn’t will myself to float out into the living room and watch TV, ghostlike, with my parents. I saw it as an odd shift in the focus of my attention as I drifted off to sleep, a kind of hallucination, nothing more.
I enjoyed the sensation and would voluntarily succumb to it, but it occurred less often as I got older. Probably the last time I experienced it was in my teens, but I still vividly recall what it felt like.
It was not out-of-body travel. Rebecca Watson has a reply to the article, and clarifies for the gullible that no, scientists aren’t studying out-of-body experiences, they’re looking at sensory processing and mental imagery.
The word “hallucination” appears ten times in the case study yet zero times in the Popular Science article. Because of this, a naive person who reads the PopSci article but not the original paper may walk away with the belief that the brain scans show what happens when a person actually leaves their body, as opposed to showing what happens when a person feels as though they are leaving their body. Again, the difference seems small but is actually quite large: the former describes a study that would be at home on an episode of Coast to Coast or Fringe or those episodes of Family Matters where Urkel did science experiments, and the latter would be at home in a scientific journal to be used as the basis for further study and experimentation.
Move along, it’s all mundane brain science. No spirits involved.
Mar 07 2014
We’ve only had our HHMI undergraduate research program in action for a year, and we’re already seeing success: one of our students has landed a prestigious summer research position.
Ellie Hofer ’15, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is one of only a few students nationwide selected for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP). EXROP provides outstanding summer research experiences to bright, motivated undergraduate students from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences.
We like getting rid of our students by kicking them upwards.
Mar 07 2014
I am told I’m supposed to take The Dark Enlightenment seriously. I can’t. I just can’t. What it is is mostly a bunch of pretentious white dudebro computer programmers with a fascist ideology who write tortuous long-winded screeds off the top of their heads, with most of their ‘data’ coming from pop culture movies like The Matrix, and a few similarly clueless nerds who think it’s neat-o. I take it seriously only in the same way I take Libertarianism seriously: it’s a nucleus for idiots to coalesce around.
They also throw the term HBD around a lot. If you’re not in the know, HBD is short for Human BioDiversity, and it’s the hot new sciencey word for racism. The only people who use it are racists.
Human biodiversity is the rejection of the “blank state” of human nature. Creepily obsessed with statistics that demonstrate IQ differences between the races, the darkly enlightened see social hierarchies as determined not by culture or opportunity but by the cold, hard destiny embedded in DNA. One blogger calls it “The Voldemort View” (adding Harry Potter to the Star Wars/Matrix mix), claiming that, “mean differences in group IQs are the most likely explanation for the academic achievement gap in racial and SES [socioeconomic status] groups.”
Oh, please, fuck the whole “blank slate”, nature/nurture dichotomy. Biology affects everything human, and everything human is affected by the environment.
Mar 07 2014
I very much like Kameron Hurley’s take on l’affaire @wossy, the obnoxious television presenter who was appointed to emcee the Hugo awards in London, provoking howls of outrage. I think she’s right, that what’s happening is the privileged assholes have finally pissed everyone off, and we’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
We speak out because we are brave, not because we’re baying for blood. We speak out because we’re tired of being hit, and we need to know that if you’re coming into our house, you’re not going to act like an asshole. We went to school with that dude. We deal with that dude on the internet everyday.
We are fucking tired of that dude.
But what I really like is that she goes a step further and suggests how said privileged asshole could have short-circuited the whole mess.
So instead of snarking back at people on Twitter and calling them nutjubs and invoking Neil Gaiman’s name as a ward of protection, it would have behooved the privileged person to stand back and say, “Hey. Wow. I’m so sorry! I didn’t realize so many of you had that impression. Let me assure you that I love and support this community and I take this gig seriously. I respect and love every single one of you and please be assured I’ll be respectful and welcoming, just as I hope you will be respectful and welcoming to me as a host.”
I don’t see it happening very often, though: that approach requires a smidge of humility and honesty, and that dude usually lacks both.
If you want a real world example of that positive response, I think Anton Zuiker’s comes close. Zuiker was cofounder of Science Online with Bora Zivkovic, and annoyed everyone with a post a few months ago, titled ‘Roots and Bitters’, that tried to redeem Bora. Zuiker has retracted that post, and his latest is an expression of honesty and humility and a lot of regret. He’s basically withdrawing from the online world, which is unfortunate — but it is sincere.
Mar 06 2014
My birthday is on Sunday, and Neil deGrasse Tyson went to all the trouble of remaking Cosmos just for me. It was just for me, right? And you’re all going to celebrate my 57th year by watching it.
I hope there is some biology in it.
Mar 06 2014
The Christians are upset by ‘historical inaccuracies’ in this new Aronofsky movie, “Noah”. Wouldn’t you know it would inspire bickering among them?
At the request of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), Paramount added a disclaimer which reads, in part, that “[t]he film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”
NRB board member Phil Cooke told The Wrap that the disclaimer was necessary because the film is “historically inaccurate.” It is, Cooke said, “more of an inspired movie than an exact retelling.”
How can a myth be historically inaccurate? None of it happened; there was no global flood, there was no rescue of all the animals on earth with a floating zoo, humans never went through a population bottleneck of 8 people, the whole thing never occurred. I just want to tell them to calm down and recognize that a major film studio has just spent $130 million making a propaganda film for your cult, so you’ve got nothing to complain about.
But OK, here’s a test. Which of these images is “historically inaccurate”, and have you also sent off letters of complaint to them?
Whining about inaccuracies is just silly. Here’s another silly complaint:
Brian Godawa, a screenwriter whose Christian films have repeatedly failed to be profitable at the box office, wrote that Noah‘s script “is deeply anti-Biblical in its moral vision.”
Oooh, mean dig at the guy for making unprofitable garbage, but he does have me wondering what “moral vision” he’s talking about? Slaughtering every person on the planet for their purported moral failings?
Yes, actually, that’s the moral vision he wants promoted.
Another problem with Noah is that it fails to acknowledge that while, from a Christian perspective, “[k]illing all humans but eight in order to start over (as the Bible portrays) may seem harsh to our thoroughly Modern Millie minds…it reaffirms that Image of God in Man that gives man value despite the evil.”
It may seem harsh…right. This is the logic that says it is OK to kill people who do not properly affirm their idiosyncratic image of a god. I will say unabashedly that such a perspective is humanly evil, and the excuses of the faithful for their bloodthirsty demon-god do not reassure me that they have the slightest understanding of moral behavior.
Did I say it was a mean dig to point out Godawa’s failure as a screenwriter? It wasn’t. He also makes a point of the importance of money.
Godawa is also concerned that this “uninteresting and unBiblical waste of a $150 million” will make it difficult for Christian screenwriters like him to find employment. He fears that it “will ruin for decades the possibility of making a really great and entertaining movie of this Bible hero beloved by billions of religious believers, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim.”
Gosh, thank you for giving me the bright side of this movie. Hey, if the Christians all boycott it, and the Muslims (who are also unhappy with the movie) skip it, and the atheists, who aren’t at all interested in yet another bible movie don’t show up, then Noah will tank at the box office and no one will ever make another bible movie, and Godawa will live in penury, never able to make a movie promoting his murderous, callous vision, and we’ll all be better off.
Well, except Godawa. But screw that jerk.
Mar 06 2014
American Atheists still has a presence at the gathering of the wackaloons called CPAC, despite having their booth expelled. This promises to produce some great stories from both of them, but I’m getting a little worried that Silverman is going to try and bring some of the assholes home to atheism with him. Could we try to grow the movement at a progressive conference instead, please?