Tuesday, November 2, 2021

My Brave Face

I said something to one of my graduate students today. I told zir that "I wish I could walk around with a disclaimer on my forehead that says 'If I do anything weird, it's 100% P.'" I'm not exactly kidding.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Does Everyone Stare?

All these open spaces 
They give me no cover now
I stand out here
reflecting all your fears off my odd surfaces
And those friendly faces 

They just disappear somehow
Behind the glass
The dirty window curtains and shades coming down

Believe it or not, those words were written from the perspective of a sentient ball of raw ground meat. Perhaps you are familiar with the animated TV series Aqua Teen Hunger Force? Perhaps not. I don't know much about the show myself, but its band of protagonists consists of a milkshake, a box of french fries, and the aforementioned "Meatwad." I also don't really know what Meatwad's deal is, but he seems like a pretty neurotic and insecure dude.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fix My Brain

Red wire: Right temple
Black wire: Left temple

As I think any lay audience is aware, we conventionally take in all our information about the world through our five senses. External receptors that sense light, touch, sound, taste and smell send messages about these stimuli into our brains, where they are processed and interpreted. However many techniques available to neuroscientists can bypass the sensory pathways and directly stimulate the brain.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The War

Richard and Linda Thompson's classic album "Shoot Out the Lights" is an extended metaphor for the concurrent dissolution of their marriage. The whole album bristles with the tension and heartbreak of fighting for something they both value as they feel it inexorably slip away. The album closes with its most memorable track "Wall of Death":

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Needle and the Damage Done

I got a sickness
Sweet as a love note
I got a headache
Like a pillow

Much of 20th century experimental psychology was dominated by the behaviorist school of B.F. Skinner. They saw essentially all behavior as a product of a life history of rewarded and punished actions. At the time, scientists were very interested in understanding the brain circuits that process rewards. Olds and Milner made a crucial breakthrough by discovering a technique known as 'intracranial self stimulation' or ICSS. This discovery emerged from experiments that involved implanting a stimulating electrode into a rat's brain and zapping it every time the rat went to a specific location. They found that the rat started spending most of its time at that location. So then they decided to hook the stimulator to a lever that they rat could press itself and the results were terrifying.  Pretty quickly the rat figures this out and subsequently it doesn't give a shit about anything but pressing the lever. It will do almost anything for free access to the lever, including enduring painful electric shocks and forgoing food. Yes that's right. The rat will sooner literally starve to death than stop pressing the lever.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

When I Win the Lottery

In a fast German car
I'm amazed that I survived
An airbag saved my life

Time and again on my blog I've embarrassed myself by copping to being deeply moved by maudlin and sentimental art, so why stop now? In the final scene of Saving Private Ryan, Matt Damon as an old man visits the graves of his fallen buddies and says to his wife, "Tell me I lived a good life." That scene just wrecked me.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Nautical Disaster

I had this dream where I relished the fray
And the screaming filled my head all day
It was as though I'd been spit here
Settled in, into the pocket
Of a lighthouse on some rocky socket
Off the coast of France, dear
One afternoon four thousand men died in the water here
And five hundred more were thrashing madly
As parasites might in your blood
Now I was in a lifeboat designed for ten and ten only
Anything that systematic would get you hated
It's not a deal nor a test nor a love of something fated
The selection was quick, the crew was picked in order
And those left in the water
Got kicked off our pant leg
And we headed for home
Then the dream ends when the phone rings
"You doing all right?"
He said, "It's out there most days and nights
But only a fool would complain"
Anyway, Susan, if you like
Our conversation is as faint a sound in my memory
As those fingernails scratching on my hull