Is there a reason why I can't go more than 20 entries into the past on my friends page on LJ anymore? There's no more "older" entries link, and if I manually change the URL to skip=40 or whatever, nothing is displayed.


Overview of Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit

I just wrote up a detailed overview of a book I recently read which rang some loud bells for me throughout. I tried to provide enough info in the overview that you don't actually have to read the book! But it's still totally worth reading if you're interested in the topic, because it's really well-written and contains a lot of fascinating stories in it.


Legit clinical psychs like herbivore probably wouldn't get much from this book, because it's really written for the layperson. But I thought it was very good.

Words of Warning from Joan Baez + Starfucker covers Cyndi Lauper

I just read this lyric in a recent issue of Lapham's Quarterly and thought it was great. From "Silver Dagger," a traditional American ballad from the 1930s that Joan Baez covered in the 60s, apparently.
Don't sing love sounds, you'll wake my mother,
She's sleeping here, right by my side,
And in her right hand, a silver dagger.
She says I can't be your bride.

All men are false, says my mother,
They'll tell you wicked, loving lies.
The very next day, they'll court another,
Leave you alone to pine and sigh.

My daddy is a handsome devil,
He's got a chain five miles long,
And on every link a heart does dangle
Of another maid he's loved and wronged.

Go court another tender maiden,
And hope that she will be your wife,
For I've been warned, and I've decided
To sleep alone all of my life.
Also, on this page of the pretty excellent audioblog Broken Silence, have a listen to Starfucker's cool interpretation of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. It's… fun!


Dr. Arya Sharma on how The Biggest Loser promotes weight bias

Dr. Sharma, an Edmonton, Alberta-based obesity researcher (and I think bariatric surgeon?) posted a short but excellent entry about the pernicious effects that weight-loss reality shows like The Biggest Loser promote negative and incorrect attitudes about the obese.


He describes one of the conclusions reached by researchers who conducted a study on this show as follows:
Interestingly, amongst the participants, those who had lower BMIs and were not trying to lose weight had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals following exposure to The Biggest Loser compared to similar participants in the control condition.

These results clearly indicate that anti-fat attitudes increase after brief exposure to weight-loss reality television, especially perhaps in people with lower BMI.

wtf is up with these customized Google SERPs?

So I posted an article yesterday about a book review I'd read about a brain researcher named Michael Gazzaniga, and then this morning I got a Google Alert for my name which referred to the article. But it tagged my LJ version of the article instead of my own personal writing site, which I don't totally understand but whatev…

But the real kicker I don't get is that when I Googled the reviewer's name and the author's name together, the third result on the SERP was my LJ article. But I'm totally positive that my no-traffic/no-inbound-linked LJ post about this book could possibly be that high on Google's search results. And sure enough, when I Googled the same thing on my iPhone, my article was nowhere to be found in the search results.

So, my question: does Google spoon-feed me my own writing in search results I make from my own heavily cookied, Google-indexed web browser? And if so, why? Because I could be sitting here thinking, "YES, this is AWESOME, I'm #3 Google result on this search" and it is totally and completely bogus.

See for yourself:


This LJ post of mine isn't on your search results page, is it?

(BTW, for the non-geeks out there, a SERP is a Search Engine Results Page.)

On Michael Gazzaniga’s book, “Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain”

University of Victoria philosophy professor Jeffrey Foss, himself author of a book called Science and the Riddle of Consciousness: A Solution, reviewed this recent book by scientific researcher Michael Gazzaniga in Saturday's Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. Gazzaniga's book looks at the ancient question of whether or not humans have free will from an interesting angle: namely, by asking who's actually in charge of synthesizing the data in our brains which ultimately result in decisions being made. More specifically, he transforms this question through his profound scientific understanding of the human brain. To begin the discussion, Professor Foss explains: "[The human brain] is at least the surface at which our consciousness (or soul) contacts our body, even if it is not, as Gazzaniga believes, the very engine of our consciousness (though he admits we currently do not understand how consciousness emerges from the brain)."

Gazzaniga examines this question by reviewing the fascinating research that he and others have conducted on split-brain patients whose left and right brain hemispheres can no longer communicate with each other due to a separation (often surgical, employed to treat extreme epilepsy) of the corpus collosum, which is the body that transmits data from one side of the brain to the other.

(Technical sidebar: The Wikipedia article on split-brain provides a useful overview of how the right and left hemispheres of the brain work together, wherein the left hemisphere (typically considered analytic or logical) and the right hemisphere (typically considered holistic or intuitive) each controls and receives sensory inputs from the opposite side of the body. In split-brain patients, there's a sort of cognitive breakdown in the way that objects are perceived or understood by one side of the body when picked up or perceived by the opposite hemisphere of the brain; studying this breakdown has allowed Gazzaniga to develop insights into the way the two hemispheres interact.)

From Jeffrey Foss's review of the book comes these interesting insights:
Gazzaniga (with his teacher, Nobel laureate Roger Sperry) discovered the split in human consciousness that results from splitting the human brain into right and left hemispheres, a split that consciousness itself doesn't even notice. We have accepted our internal divisions long, long ago, and have, over the millennia, used them to explain our capacity for good and for evil. But whereas we can actually feel ourselves being influenced by Mars or Satan or our combative instinct, no amount of soul-searching can reveal to split-brain patients the resulting rent in their very selves.

The explanation for this is quite simple. The left brain, where language processing occurs, is the mechanism of the soul searching itself, and cannot, in split brains, access or report the activity of the right brain and its input into the brain-as-a-whole.

The brain, split or unsplit, has no centre of control, no centre of consciousness, no centre period: no self. Gazzaniga marshals countless scientific studies of the brain that reveal it to be a rag-bag collection of specialized modules for everything from facial recognition and counting through to distinguishing self from other.

It's quite amazing how these modules make us identify the thoughts and actions of our brain as our own, even when the cause is known to be external control of our brain via transcranial magnetic stimulation. It's quite amazing, that is, to think that our sense of self is achieved by some dozens of such modules working in loose formation with one another -- in the absence of any real self at all.

So, as Gazzaniga and the many scientists of his sort see it, they, you and I are but the imaginary focuses created by our nervous systems in order to better serve the evolutionary demand of our trillions of component cells to survive and reproduce.
I'm deeply drawn towards scientific research which reveals what I find to be essential truths about the nature of consciousness and self: namely, that we possess no particular, identifiable self as such, and that the myriad thoughts and insights that we attribute to a seemingly separate entity called "our self" are simply a collection of evolution-serving, neurochemical, electrical and biological processes that are in place solely to continue the species, and not for any particularly meaningful purpose higher than that.

I find these insights to be enormously liberating. It gives me the license to stop worrying about what's happening; to loosen up my expectations over the way I think things should be; and to allow myself to just let go and let things unfold as they will, because "I" have no control to exert over the system. The universe is taking care of itself without any express input from "me," so why don't I just stop worrying about it?

Foss adds a sidebar to his review listing five essential books on the question of free will:
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman (2011)
Freedom and Belief, by Galen Strawson (2010)
Freedom Evolves, by Daniel Dennett (2003)
How the Mind Works, by Steven Pinker (1997)
The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation, by Matt Ridley (1996)

From the David Feldman comedy podcast

From a recent episode of one of my favourite satirical podcasts by the darkly hilarious stand-up comedian and comedy writer David Feldman:

The worst thing I ever did to my father-in-law was marry his daughter. Happy Anniversary... It's Feb 3rd, which is our 22nd anniversary, and I'm proud to say that I can still fit into her wedding dress.

The Florida primary was Tuesday and Newt Gingrich lost big, but Newt is not dropping out. He assured his supporters that he's not leaving, because his race for the presidency is not some cancery chick he's tired of banging.

Mitt Romney was unapologetic about going negative in this week's Florida primary. Mitt said, "When taking fire, I shoot back." Mitt learned that the hard way during the Vietnam War, when he was a brave Mormon missionary in Paris.

In that same interview Romney said, "A leader can focus on the very poor, but that's not my focus." If elected, Romney won't focus on the poor, unless you count creating more of them.

Romney won big on Tuesday by spending millions telling Florida that Washington has stop thinking every problem can be solved by throwing money at it.

This week, voters in Nevada go to the polls, and Mitt Romney looks like he's going to win big after picking up an endorsement from Donald Trump. Donald Trump and Mitt Romney are living proof that there is no limit to what you can achieve in this great country of ours, so long as you're willing to have incredibly rich parents.