Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Free-piston engine - utterly brilliant

Next Big Future: Free-piston engine could be twice as fuel efficient as combustion engines

Absolutely NOTHING to do with brain science, but I still had to post this. I looked at the design for this "free-piston" engine, and I am just agape with wonder. It is a massively brilliant idea; elegant, simple, and uses current technologies in a very innovative way.

The materials and know-how to build this are already in place and with the current surge in interest for gas/electric hybrids (and why there isn't a greater demand for diesel/electric hybrids I'll never understand) could make this a HUGE technology in the very near future. Plus there is the bonus that this is exceptionally similar to the way steam engines worked (power from both strokes of the piston) - so you have the whole retro thing going for you as well.

I (obviously) can't guarntee success, but if this project pans out and works the way it is suggested in this article - you may wish you had been one of the investors in the project.

Exceptionally cool.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Political Orientation Tied To Biological Reaction To Threats

FuturePundit: Political Orientation Tied To Biological Reaction To Threats

I'm not sure I agree with the conclusions - causality would be a difficult thing to tie directly between what they're observing and what they're trying to describe.

However....that being said, if causality could be as directly tied together as they are implying then this is an extremely interesting notion. I'm more willing to buy that there are rather more plain psychological roots for why you lean a particular direction (politically speaking) without having to dip into any genetic underpinning. But, the idea is intriguing to say the least.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The cost of college - and how to lower it

College Presidents Defend Rising Tuition, but Lawmakers Sound Skeptical - NYTimes.com

More of this please. Although, inside the article lawmakers are essentially throwing soft pitches here. They're hinting that the universities may not be held over the coals by the threat of legislation, but instead are being encouraged to fix the problem themselves.

Not. Likely.

I'm sure there is a powerful lobby out there for educational interests (see: national teachers union) and an equally powerful lobby for universities and colleges with large endowments (how could there not be with that much money at stake?). So this effort is probably just the first salvo. The money will kick in through the lobbyists and this will take a back seat for a year or two until it becomes a bigger problem. Then eventually there will be some very soft and easily evaded legislation concerning it.

That's the way government works!

Here are some thoughts on why it doesn't really matter where you go to school. Which could also be a great way of lowering the cost of education.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Brain images used in court

This seems to set a bad precedent

The technology for how this is achieved is still in its infancy and the particular application they're using it for in this case is problematic at best. This is absolutely no more reliable a method (and, in fact, potentially far less reilable) than using a lie-detector polygraph. 

But, hey, it's new and sexy so let's give it a prime-time showing!


Myopia at an entirely new level

Read this post by a PhD in media matters

Now, go read it again, this time make sure to read his little mini-profile in the upper right corner. Let that sink in a bit...he has a PhD in psychology and does research concerning the psychology of media - and he still manages to maintain that myopic of a perception of reality. Granted - he seems to realize that his thoughts and feelings are based on perception - but still.....

If anyone ever questioned whether or not scientists have bias, this guy's post would be the poster-child for the positive example. Meaning positively yes, they do have bias.

Absolutely stunning. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

Drugs for optimising morality

Mind Hacks: Drugs for optimising morality

Now this is an interesting perspective. What's troubling is that when you look at the overall success of "brain drugs" (Prozac for example) the consistent success rate is quite low - around 30% effectiveness (meaning that the desired effect will be present in about 30% of the population, to greater or lesser degree). So, while the idea of morality drugs can be appealing on paper, I'm not as optimistic of the practical application.

The example that the author brought up is good for a pro-argument - it's general and fairly easy to see the benefit. However I'd be more worried about drugs that produce an aspect of "morality" that would be more problematic overall. Altruism, for example, is a good emotion in theory, but taken to extremes can potentially lead to detrimental effects at the family level or even at the community or government level especially from an economic viewpoint.

Nice idea - practical implementation could lead to a massively disruptive debate.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Music and Math

The Frontal Cortex : Music and Math

I'm fairly certain that I posted about this before, but it is just so much fun that it needs to be posted again.

Combining my two loves of music and neuroscience is just plain cool.

An Introduction to Positive psychology

An Introduction to Positive psychology by Dr. Martin Seligman | Improved Lives

I'm really intrigued by the Positive Psychology movement. This is, as advertised, a great introduction to it.

People Found Who Don't Use Numbers

People Found Who Don't Use Numbers : Scientific American Podcast

I've read about this a number of times - very cool stuff. From a cultural and a brain-science perspective this is pretty awesome.

Sending Binaural Beats to Your Brain

White Noise: I Dose Sends Binaural Beats to Your Brain

Your daily dose of science quackery. Enjoy.

As External Barriers Disappear, Internal Gender Gaps Widen

Findings - As External Barriers Disappear, Internal Gender Gaps Widen - NYTimes.com

This is an incredibly fascinating article. It has so much going on I'm not sure where to begin.

First I think it very interesting that the entire agenda of many "gender equalization" initiatives that are the hallmark of "advanced" societies focus on, if you really break it down to the basic elements, the various aspects of power and how they are manifest across gender. I would be very interested to see this study linked up to other studies on happiness to see if widening gaps in the personality differences (which appear to be in direct contrast to narrowing power gaps) lead to greater differences in happiness. I seem to recall some recent studies on happiness, but I don't remember the conclusions.

Also, this is another fun hit on how liberal viewpoints are not always the panacea they claim to be and when looked at from an individual level the effects can be unexpected and counter intuitive. Further it highlights how evolutionary theorizing is a non-starter. Evolutionary theorizing that tries to explain the phenomenon seem to be really scrambling to stretch the point. Not to mention that it really isn't talking about biological evolution, but social evolution - which is most definitely NOT the same thing.

Again, it's not that I disagree with evolution from a scientific standpoint (it is the best theory that fits the current evidence - from a scientific perspective) - it's just that it feels like such a waste of intellectual energy.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Natural Selection Caused Human Male Belligerency

FuturePundit: Natural Selection Caused Human Male Belligerency

Wow - where to start with this......I think I'll file this one right next to all the "we have no free will" stuff and leave it at that.

Also - did they just look at males? And a mathematical model showed them this?

Also, you have to love the sentence in the abstract: "it may have effected human evolution" (emphasis mine)

I guess that's the key of the whole thing - theorists who have a particular viewpoint to put forward make an argument that may be true.

Admittedly, in social sciences that is generally the case, but particularly with evolutionary theory in social sciences you're looking at something that simply cannot be verified, much less tested or replicated by other tests. That's my primary beef with evolutionary theory - it's just not very scientific from a testability standpoint. It feels like just empty theorizing for the sake of being able to write a paper.