Thursday 2 November 2006

The Blushing Brain

Moral philosophers have long made the distinguo between guilt (the awareness of doing something intrinsically wrong) and shame (the awareness that your behavior is an object of laughter and spite from others). A recent neuroimaging study shows how this dissociation influences the way our prefrontal cortex processes social and moral events. Brain areas involved are often observed in tasks investigating false-belief tasks and Theory of Mind, which makes this study doubly interesting.

According to the christian myth, Humans discovered guilt and shame at the same time: when they incurred God's wrath after eating the apple, they knew at once that they were indecently naked. Moral Psychology shows that these two feelings are in fact dissociable. Picture shows Adam and Eve expelled from Eden, by Masaccio, Capella Brancacci.


Monday 23 October 2006

What is neuroaesthetics about anyway ?

Brainethics has a very nice post introducing bioaesthetics, a field that endeavours to use "neuroscience to understand art and aesthetic behaviour". I'd like to take this opportunity to jump up on my soapbox and ask, what exactly do we want biology (or neuroscience) to say about art ? What are the questions that biology can hope to answer and art history or aesthetics cannot ?

Titian, Venus Anadyomene

Is that your amygdala lighting up ? Painting by Titian, Venus Anadyomene. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh


Tuesday 10 October 2006

Life's so unfair (says the dorso-lateral part of the prefrontal cortex)

Economists, when they're not busy pimping the free market as a solution to all the world's ills (such as global warming, unemployment, and high celibacy rates), come up with really cool games. One such game is called the Ultimatum game.

Giuseppe Cades, Judgment of Solomon

Solomon in an early version of the Ultimatum Game. Painting by Guiseppe Cades, Royal Academy of Arts, London


Saturday 30 September 2006

Gay Mirror-Neurons come out

Mirror-Neurons have been losing much of their bourgeois respectability lately; they were supposed to be involved in empathy, imitation, culture, learning, theory of mind... now it turns out that they might be the brain's gateway to pornographic pleasure, and that some of them are gay.

The pictures show Giaccomo Rizzolatti, (straight) discoverer of mirror-neurons, and the beloved Arthur Rimbaud (by Fantin-Latour in the Musée d'Orsay).


Friday 22 September 2006

Attack of the Doppelgängers

A team of swiss neuroscientists, by stimulating epileptic subjects in the temporoparietal junction, elicited the illusion that they could feel a presence nearby, whose posture was the same as their own. They said they could feel what this illusory shadow wanted. This casts new light on a myth of popular and (romantic) litterary culture.

(image taken from composer Hilary Kahn's website)


Saturday 9 September 2006

Conscious? Her brain tells us so.

When asked to imagine herself playing tennis or visiting her house while being fMRI-scanned, a young patient in vegetative state proved able to activate corresponding brain regions, Science reports. Brain imaging tools - besides fueling media with nicely illustrated stories - might prove a promising complement to today's behavioralist assessments of impaired conscious states.


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