9. Brains

May-18-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Are we governed by unconscious processes? Neuroscience believes so – but two experts offer different views in the Observer. We look at how some flavours work better together than others, take one more spin at the ballerina illusion, and then – for those who were hoping for Zombies – we have Jordu Schell, master model maker for such classics as Predator 2, Bride Of The Re-Animator, The Guyver, Puppetmaster 2, Avatar, The Mist, Hellboy et al. Scary stuff….

* Who’s In Charge – You Or Your Brain? David Eagleman and Raymond Tallis The Observer

David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas and bestselling author

It is clear at this point that we are irrevocably tied to the 3lb of strange computational material found within our skulls. The brain is utterly alien to us, and yet our personalities, hopes, fears and aspirations all depend on the integrity of this biological tissue. How do we know this? Because when the brain changes, we change. Our personality, decision-making, risk-aversion, the capacity to see colours or name animals – all these can change, in very specific ways, when the brain is altered by tumours, strokes, drugs, disease or trauma. As much as we like to think about the body and mind living separate existences, the mental is not separable from the physical. 

Raymond Tallis, former professor of geriatric medicine at Manchester University and author

Yes, of course, everything about us, from the simplest sensation to the most elaborately constructed sense of self, requires a brain in some kind of working order. Remove your brain and bang goes your IQ. It does not follow that our brains are pretty well the whole story of us, nor that the best way to understand ourselves is to stare at “the neural substrate of which we are composed”.

This is because we are not stand-alone brains. We are part of community of minds, a human world, that is remote in many respects from what can be observed in brains. ….Trying to understand the community of minds in which we participate by imaging neural tissue is like trying to hear the whispering of woods by applying a stethoscope to an acorn.

* Taste Buds Data Visualizations Information is Beautiful

* Spinning Girl Illusion

* Monster Brains Jordu Schell / Schell Sculpture Studios



8. Marihuana: Smoke and Mirrors

May-04-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: It’s the week when, at the White House dinner, Jimmie Kimmel put it to the POTUS: “Pot smokers vote too. Sometimes a week after the election, but they vote.” We open with a clear Forbes article about why decriminalization is an idea that’s way overdue. A fine infographic sums up the arguments below. In Focus hounoured 4/20 with a set of entertaining photos of the killer weed. A utterly bizarre… there really are no words extreme enough… 1980’s anti-dope ad will make you question whether you’re stoned. (If you are stoned, your head will probably explode. Cave fumigant!) And a modern ad warns about the perils of medical marihuana as a gateway drug.

* Let’s Be Blunt: It’s Time to End the Drug War   Forbes

April 20 is the counter-culture “holiday” on which lots and lots of people come together to advocate marijuana legalization (or just get high). Should drugs—especially marijuana—be legal? The answer is “yes.” Immediately. Without hesitation. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200 seized in a civil asset forfeiture. The war on drugs has been a dismal failure. It’s high time to end prohibition. Even if you aren’t willing to go whole-hog and legalize all drugs, at the very least we should legalize marijuana.

For the sake of the argument, let’s go ahead and assume that everything you’ve heard about the dangers of drugs is completely true. That probably means that using drugs is a terrible idea. It doesn’t mean, however, that the drug war is a good idea.

Prohibition is a textbook example of a policy with negative unintended consequences….The demand curve for drugs is extremely inelastic, meaning that people don’t change their drug consumption very much in response to changes in prices. Therefore, vigorous enforcement means higher prices and higher revenues for drug dealers. 

The more effective prohibition is at raising costs, the greater are drug industry revenues. So, more effective prohibition means that drug sellers have more money to buy guns, pay bribes, fund the dealers, and even research and develop new technologies in drug delivery (like crack cocaine). It’s hard to beat an enemy that gets stronger the more you strike against him or her.

People associate the drug trade with crime and violence; indeed, the newspapers occasionally feature stories about drug kingpins doing horrifying things to underlings and competitors. These aren’t caused by the drugs themselves but from the fact that they are illegal (which means the market is underground) and addictive (which means demanders aren’t very price sensitive).

…Freedom of contract has been abridged in the name of keeping us “safe” from drugs. Private property is less secure because it can be seized if it is implicated in a drug crime (this also flushes the doctrine of “innocent until proven guilty” out the window). The drug war has been used as a pretext for clamping down on immigration. Not surprisingly, the drug war has turned some of our neighborhoods into war zones. We are warehousing productive young people in prisons at an alarming rate all in the name of a war that cannot be won.

Albert Einstein is reported to have said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By this definition, the drug war is insane. We are no safer, and we are certainly less free because of concerted efforts to wage war on drugs. It’s time to stop the insanity and end prohibition.

* Going Green Online Paralegal Programs Infographic of arguments for legalization

* Marijuana In Focus – The Atlantic

* Anti-Marijuana TV spot from the 1980s  Boing Boing [Warning: Scary Stuff!]

* Medical Marijuana – Gateway Drug!  Tom The Dancing Bug Boing Boing



7. Powerful Infographics

Apr-13-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: If it’s an infographic, you’d think it shouldn’t need to be explained, but Zombie Survival Map does gain from anticipation. You open it, enter your postal (Zip) code, and it tells you the closest outdoor stores, gun stores, gas stations, cemeteries, secure buildings, pharmacies… everything you’ll need. Don’t come crying to Tikkunista if you ignore this link and your brains get ripped out by the hordes of the undead because you were’t paying attention and didn’t have it at hand in your desperate hour of greatest peril. The Snake Oil interactive infographic tries to cover too much, but is a lovely format. Tikkunista does not defend all positions in it.

* US Incarceration by Year Wikipedia

* Size of Lakes and Oceans xkcd (click and scroll horizontally)

* Zombie Survival Map Map of the Dead

* Snake Oil? The Scientific Evidence For Health Supplements Information is beautiful



8. Inside our Bodies

Apr-13-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A collection of addenda for the users’ manual that came with your body. Oh, you’ve lost yours? Well, you are in trouble, aren’t you….

* Buzz vs Bulge Information is Beautiful

Useful chart showing caffeine vs calories for various drinks 

* 12 Underappreciated (But Equally Precious) Bodily FluidsMental Floss

Blood, sweat, tears? Classic bodily fluids. And then there’s mucus, spit, semen, and urine – well known to juvenile minds everywhere. But blood, for instance, only makes up 9% of your total bodily fluid. What else is oozing around inside you?

* Race Is Real…But Not in the Way Many People Think Psychology Today

It’s not about biology. In humans today there are not multiple biological groups called “races.”  However, race is real and it impacts us all.  What we call “race” are social categories.  They play a role in our lives, histories and futures. We talk about race, or avoid talking about it, all the time…but few of us really stop and think about what race really is, and importantly, what it is not.

There is currently one biological race in our species: Homo sapiens sapiens. However, that does not mean that what we call “races” (our society’s way of dividing people up) don’t exist.  Societies, like the USA, construct racial classifications, not as units of biology, but as ways to lump together groups of people with varying historical, linguistic, ethnic, religious, or other backgrounds. These categories are not static, they change over time as societies grow and diversify and alter their social, political and historical make-ups. For example, in the USA the Irish were not always “white,” and despite our government’s legal definition, most Hispanics/Latinos are not seen as white today (by themselves or by others)….There is no genetic sequence unique to blacks or whites or Asians. In fact, these categories don’t reflect biological groupings at all. There is more genetic variation in the diverse populations from the continent of Africa (who some would lump into a “black” category) than exists in ALL populations from outside of Africa (the rest of the world) combined!



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