Etikettarkiv: Brain

Gender Wars in Academia – Oh, But My Government Made Me Do It!

Ever since the President of Harvard Larry Summers on a sunny day in April 22, 2005 commented on sex differences between men and women and how they may relate to the careers of women in science the Heat has been On. Summers was forced to resign over the heat he drew upon himself. But the seminar at Harvard University was about the research on mind, brain, and behavior relevant to gender disparities in the sciences, including the studies of bias, discrimination and innate and acquired difference between the sexes. The Edge reports on one of the most vivid debates between Elisabeth Spelke and Steven Pinker – nurture vs nature in a battle between two great psychologists.

Further reading on the brain and gender

In Sweden gender troubles have been illuminated in many different fields and in general all large state organizations have equality plans to help facilitate a discussion and move toward less discrimination. But now the backlash is a fact: the universities of Lund and Göteborg have both in recent cases been the targets of policies implemented from above in order to secure a gender perspective on all research fields. People like Steven Sampson have raged against the idea of a gender certificate stating that it is a way of the feminist forces to issue their influence upon the rest of the university. And yes, surely it is an idea that is using the worst of leftist paternalistic strategies, but there is nothing principally bad with the idea of letting a power perspective influence research in various fields of the university.

But the question of the female brain and the strategies of erasing bias from our public sphere must be held at a reasonable distance from each other. You cannot make swift inference from a few MRI’s and connect it to an immediate policy decision where teachers at universities are forced to give equal time in the class room to males and females, as is the case in a recent report in Sweden. My view, as always, is that the cognitive research in this field must be expanded and the humanities must come closer to scientific knowledge. Science in turn must start a discussion of political bias in Academia in order to stop the slanted and patriarchal structuring in all forms of knowledge production and development.

An important point made by neuroscientist Melissa Hines when discussing gender/sex in the brain is that the once-established dichotomy between sex and gender is really impossible to sanction. Mainly because the supposition that certain aspects should be analyzed biologically (sex) and others socially (gender) is from a brain perspective wrong, the social brain and the physical brain cannot be separated.

Further reading to recommend:

Annica Dahlström one of the leading proponents of the nature assumption of gender says it all.

The sexual brain by Simon LeVay

Brain Gender by Melissa Hines

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The Baby’s Brain and Its Path To Consciousness and uh, MacDonald’s

s-BABY-GENIUS-largeWell, now I have actually only three more weeks to go before I become a dad and start getting to know the little baby that will be mine. Exciting times! As a parent in Sweden you are mandatorily bombarded with much useful info about the upcoming birth of the child, a great thing I must add. But the information is definitely shy of tantalizing facts about the baby’s brain and its biological development. Good thing that the prodigious neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer writes in the Boston Globe about recent findings in the development of the baby brain. He describes with much tenacity useful theories such as the neuronal connections of a child’s brain:

”Adults can follow directions and focus, and that’s great,” says John Colombo, a psychologist at the University of Kansas. ”But children, it turns out, are much better at picking up on all the extraneous stuff that’s going on. . . . And this makes sense: If you don’t know how the world works, then how do you know what to focus on? You should try to take everything in.” While thinking like an adult is necessary when we need to focus, or when we already know which information is relevant, many situations aren’t so clear-cut. In these instances, paying strict attention is actually a liability, since it leads us to neglect potentially important pieces of the puzzle.

So start learning like a child again, it might prove useful, hear that grown-ups?

there are a lot of great books I can recommend on the topic of the baby brain: In Swedish Babypsykologi, by Serge Ciccotti was recently published.descartes It easlily posts 100 interesting research fields and examples of baby psychology. Great read when you have little time. In the english section Descartes’ baby – how the science of child development explains what makes us human, by Paul Bloom is a nice walkthrough of the recent developments in the field. The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind, by Alison Gopnik is great overview book, and it is also quite uniqe to be treating both the baby’s brain and mind. einstein-never-used-flash-cardAnd to all those overachievers with children comes: Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn–and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff. It is what is sounds. Now hopefully I will test all these hypothessis in a few weeks.

Finally a crazy story from the US: ABC reports about a mysterious case with a newborn having a tumor removed from its brain, but uh, the tumor was actually a human foot!

Will the real stem cell researchers please stand up!

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Hayward Gallery Goes Neuroaesthetics


The Mind In The Cave: Thomas Hirschhorn's Cavemanman

Neuroaesthetics just made another poke at contemporary art when an interesting show recently opened at the Hayward Gallery in London under the title Walking In My Mind. The exhibition gathers ten artists from USA, Europe and Japan that all have made works that can be “read as translations of the human mind into physical form.”, using the words by one of the two curators Stephanie Rosenthal (the other being Mami Kataoka). In her catalogue essay for the show Rosenthal tries to outline a non-engaged theory of mind and art institution. She does best in her attempt to relate works such as Thomas Hirschhorn‘s work Cavemanman. The work is described as a way of trying to structure the viewer’s mind as in a cave with cavities ”where you put something inside, with garbage, with unspeakable things.”. Sure Hirschhorn knows that he he working with metaphors, but I have a hard time seeing his cave metaphor pared with Hegel’s theory of absolute mind how this is more than a naive attempt at talking about the brain through an established artistic practice. Sorry Hirschhorn!

Much more intriguing is psychologist Susan Blackmore’s text ”Mysteries of the Mind”. In it she makes interesting (although no ground-breaking) points on the mind-body problem, as seen through the artifacts in a contemporary art exhibition.  Other artists in the exhibition include Pipilotti Rist, Mark Manders and Yoshitomo Nara.

If you are going anywhere this artsy summer, should be via London.

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Connectomics – This is The New S***

Ever wondered why small babies have more connections to and from their nerve cells than adults? Well, you’re not alone, this question and others pertaining to development and understanding of schizophrenia and autism and other phenomena is the study field of Connectomics, championed by Dr Jeff Lichtman, among others. He believes that a lot of answers lie in the forming and development of the brain’s connections, something he has illustrated by ‘colouring’ different cells in different hues so as to delve deepier into the secret maze of the brain. Sounds like a ball.

Lichtman would like to see a parallel Human Connectome Project alongside the Human Genome Project, and I am surely looking forward to that. Just want to remind readers of the magnitude of  this endeavor, Winfried Denk of the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany, has estimates that it would take a slave graduate student about 130 000 years to reconstruct the circuitry of just a 2 mm so called cortical column in the cerebral cortex. Wowawiwa!

Read reports in The Economist, Tech Review

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