Try this out on a friend. Ask them these questions:
- On a scale of 1 to 7, rate how well you understand how a zip works.
- How does a zip work? Describe in as much detail as you can all the steps in a zip’s operation.
- Now, on the same 1 to 7 scale, rate your knowledge of how a zip works again.
They will almost certainly give a lower estimate the second time, becuase the task has revealed to them how little they actually understand about a zip. This is called the Illusion of Explanatory Depth. The truly terrifying thing is that we are all subject to this illusion, about all of our knowledge. None of us actually know a fraction of the stuff that we think we know.
The reason for this is that we confuse other people’s knowledge with our own. Because other people that we trust understand stuff, we think that we understand that stuff ourselves. We are all prey to this confusion, from A-level students (and teachers), to scientists, politicians, and “experts” of all kinds.
Sloman and Fernback argue that this is because our minds are equipped and optimised for thinking in groups, rather than individually.
The ideas in this book are related to the ideas of Tversky and Kahneman, which are outlined in Thinking Fast and Slow. Thinking Fast and Slow is a longer and more scientifically dense book, but The Knowledge Illusion is also a really fun read, and much shorter.
We know from Loftus that it is possible to insert memories into people’s minds. But is it possible to erase memories, or to remove traumatic associations from memories of adverse experiences?
Neuroscientists are investigating a process called “reconsolidation.” It seems that every time a memory is recalled, it is just as if a new memory is being laid down. This process can be manipulated with drugs, ECT, or even by playing Tetris during reconsolidation.
“We can reverse-engineer the brain’s time machine, hijack it or jump-start it.”
New Scientist No. 3111, 4th February 2017, p.36-39.
Read. This. Book.
This one is in my top three psychology books for A level students to read this year. It is exciting because it sketches out some future directions that cognitive neuroscience is going to take in the coming years and decades.
When Galileo pointed his telescope at the night sky, he saw for the first time the machinery of planetary motion. This laid the foundations for our modern understanding of astronomy. The same is happening today in brain science. The ongoing improvement in brain scanning is driving new understanding of how the brain actually works. This book is a guide to the road ahead.
Not only that, but the first few chapters are a brilliant primer on the basics of neuroscience and biopsychology, and will be great revision for this part of the exam.
A really interesting read, and very accessible.
“A connectome is the totality of connections between the neurons in a nervous system.”
“In the nineteenth century, the American psychologist William James wrote eloquently of the stream of consciousness, the continuous flow of thoughts through the mind. But James failed to note that every stream has a bed. Without this groove in the earth, the water would not know in which direction to flow. Since the connectome defines the pathways along which neural activity can flow, we might regard it as the streambed of consciousness.
The metaphor is a powerful one. Over a long period of time, in the same way that the water of the stream slowly shapes the bed, neural activity changes the connectome. The two notions of the self – as both the fast-moving, ever-changing stream and the more stable but slowly transforming streambed – are thus inextricably linked. This book is about the self as the streambed, the self in the connectome – the self that has been neglected for too long.”
Why are women more than twice as vulnerable to PTSD than men? New evidence suggests that oestrogen may play a role in the disorder. Vasiliki Michopulos at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, is researching genetic and biochemical factors which influence anxiety.
“The horrible event may be over, but you’re held hostage by what happened to you.”
“As we discover how PTSD differs between people, we realise treatments should differ too.”
New Scientist No. 3091, 17th September 2016, p.38-41.
Multi tasking is not actual multi tasking. It is switching attention from one task to another very quickly. Our brains are bad at doing this, and the more we do it the less well we perform. It is better to concentrate on one thing at a time. This book explains why, and gives practical strategies based on sound scientific psychology that will help you to concentrate better and to remember more.
It explains why we find decisions harder if there are too many choices, and how to tackle that problem. It gives practical advice on how not to forget things, how not to run out of time, and how to use logic to make tough decisions, and not to be swayed by irrational emotions.
It also puts forward some ideas for education. What is the point of learning stuff when we can just google everything? The book explores what we should be learning, when everything is just a click away.
Really readable and packed with excellent (and commendably scientific) background psychology.
The “Silent Land” in question is the brain. Paul Broks is a neuropsychologist, who spends his days talking to and helping people with brains damaged by stroke, injury, or other trauma. They are altered – the same person, but permanently changed. Broks helps these people and their families come to terms with the injuries, and at the same time speculates on how the Silent Land can give rise to our humanity.
The book is a series of case studies: frank and humane discussions with brain damaged people, very readable, and not at all technical. By looking at how focussed damage to particular brain areas gives rise to specific cognitive deficits, Broks addresses the questions of localisation of function in the brain, and asks the larger question: how does this dark and tangled web of synapses and neurons in our skull conjure up a person?
Mind reading with electrodes in the brain – it is happening.
Quian Quiroga has been implanting electrodes into the brains of human beings, and monitoring the activity in their hippocampi while they perform memory tasks. They literally watched human memories being formed in real time.
Hugo Spiers at UCL has been monitoring the activity of cells in rats’ hippocampi as they learn to run through mazes. Different cells fire as the rats reach different parts of the maze. By looking at the activity in the rats’ brains, Spiers can tell where they are in the maze. He is reading the rats’ minds with a brain scanner. This can also be done while they are asleep. Is he reading their dreams?
New Scientist No. 3049, 28th November 2015, p. 34-39.