Neuro and Psych

There were two things that caught my attention today in lectures. The first was a list of symptoms of mania (an abnormal emotional state, the opposite of depression):

i. Unfounded elation
ii. Hyperactivity
iii. Talkativeness and “flight of ideas”
iv. Distractivility
v. Impractical, grandiose plans
vi. Inflated self-esteem
vii. Reduced sleep

…and I thought, ‘I wonder if I know anyone who has those symptoms…’

The other thing that caught my eye was this passage from a lecture handout:

If the brain was organised logically and economically, then the neural systems responsible for the control and initiation of writing should be located close to the primary langauge systems. Therefore hand dominance (left or right handedness) and language laterality (whether your language centres are located in your brain’s right or left hemisphere) should eb tightly correlated, with the dominant hand being contralateral to the language dominant hemisphere.

If you got all of that, good. But I have some real problems with that passage. Firstly, we only started writing a few thousand years ago, and indeed literacy only became widely prevalent in the last couple of millenia, so frankly writing could not have had any realistic impact on human evolution. Note that I’m only talking about writing, I’m not talking about hand dominance (e.g. which hand you throw with, which hand you use for complex tasks) which incidentally would make much more sense.

Secondly, what’s all this talk about the brain being organised logically and economically? Evolution is a powerful thing, to be sure, but it’s not perfect and it’s entirely possible that there are many good reasons why the language systems would not have to be next to the writing (or dominant hand control) centres. In fact, as far as I can tell, there are only two reasons for why people believe this. The first is that there is a significant correlation between language system lateralisation and dominant hand control lateralisation.

The second is that some people thing, ‘Well, language is a complex task and so is hand control. They both need lots of processing power, so obviously they should be put in the same place.’ This argument is so terrible that I need not discuss it further.

Anyway, I suspect that all of this is down to the lecture handout being rushed, but I do wonder if lecturers realise that making even the smallest typo or factual error in their handouts can cause unlimited amounts of grief to all revising students.

I Wish I knew

Correction to an earlier post: It seems I made a common mistake when I said that the Barry Norman film night tune (I Wish I Knew) was first written by Nina Simone. It was in fact first written and performed by the Bill Taylor Trio. Thanks to Tom for pointing this out.

Ninjas

I normally don’t participate in web memes, but dammit, when they’re this funny there is no other choice. The whole ‘Pirates vs. Ninjas’ debate first originated from the Real Ultimate Power ninja site, and quickly spread through the web like wildfire (because, let’s face it, the site is cool, and by cool I mean totally sweet*).

But the ninjas have a lifelong emnity against the pirates, giving rise to such sites as Pirates and Ninjas Tested in a Variety of Everyday Situations and endless debates on the subject.

*I am currently trying to ascertain whether this phrase originated from the ninja website or not. More news soon.

Reasons to be cheerful

Reasons to be cheerful:

People on Metafilter liked my post about aerogel (inspired when I saw these pretty photos). I’m very pleased about this – Metafilter is being swamped with too much news culled from CNN, Slashdot, Kuro5hin and other web news portals these days, so I thought the readers might like a change and see something new. And they did.

I received an email from Giles Turnbull about how he liked the design of this weblog. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy receiving emails like that.

I had a moment of epiphany about a particularly troublesome bit of revision concerning DNA recombination. I’d spent about five minutes trying to figure out the exact mechanism, drawing things on bits of paper, when it suddenly struck me that I should look at the diagrams backwards.

I remember sitting in a friend’s room last term, when he put on some new music. I immediately jumped up and exclaimed, ‘Hey, that’s the music to Barry Norman’s Film Night!’ He corrected me and said, ‘No it’s not, it’s by Nina Simone and it’s called I wish I knew.’ And so it was, and in that moment he unwittingly had given me the secret of the song’s name which so many people loved but didn’t (and may still not) know.