Wednesday Round Up #161

Lalage Snow, We Are Not The Dead: Soldiers’ faces before, during and after serving in Afghanistan
*Photographer Lalage Snow photographed UK soldiers as they deployed and returned home, and interviewed his subjects about their experiences. Some strong photojournalism, published in The Telegraph.
Private Matthew Hudgon’s photo series touched me the most, I think, along with the accompanying commentary:

11th March, Edinburgh: “Aye I am looking forward to it now that we are going but I am scared of losing my best mates more than myself. It’s the casualties that I am afraid of. There are going to be so many.”

19th June, Compound 19, Nad Ali, after an IED: “It was really frightening. You see the IED blast and you wonder who got hit. It wasn’t a nice thing to see. It dawns on you how real it all is and then you try not to think about it. You try not to think about it at all. That patrol was pointless and now an Afghan soldier is missing his legs and for what?”

12th October, Edinburgh: “You try and explain what it was like where you were but people have not got a clue. The food — not getting a proper meal or sleep. And you are just drained after a patrol. Absolutely drained. And it was pretty scary at times. When you are in contact at first it’s just ‘get down’. Afterwards it hits you… ‘I was getting shot at, that was close’. At the time you don’t think about it you do what you have to. Now I am home I find I get frustrated at smaller things. I get wound up. I never used to though.”

John Wood, Sand Grouse
*John Wood, professor of anthropology at UNC Asheville, gives us an excerpt from his forthcoming novel The Names of Things, which draws on his ethnographic work among the Gabra pastoralists of East Africa

They startled a brace of sand grouse from under a deka bush beside the trail. He heard the sudden whir of rushing wings. He did not see the birds at first but streaks of light and shadow passing before them. Only when the birds rose above the horizon and got far enough away to be seen from behind did they become distinguishable as two birds. They darted from the stones like fighter jets from an aircraft carrier, climbed into a robin-shell sky, banked in separate directions, then gathered together again, one a little ahead of the other.

Constance Cummings, Beyond DSM 5: Levels of Explanation in Psychiatry (the “fuzzy set” approach)
*The highlights an alternative way to think about the diagnosis of mental illness, and plans for beyond DSM 5.

Boyd uses a phrase, “‘homeostatically’ sustained clustering of properties or relations,” that has a nice, systems-oriented ring to it. This seems like a good direction for DSM 6.0 and beyond. The next ten years may reveal an even more radical rethinking of all sorts of boundaries that will create deeper understandings of brain and mind in social, cultural, and physical contexts in terms of complex systems that have the potential of underwriting more collective and powerful responses to our “problems of living.”

-That excerpt resonated with something I read by Laurence Kirmayer in the past week on trauma, dissociation, diagnosis, and the DSM model:

“like most of the diagnostic entities in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, dissociative disorders are constructed as polythetic categories, with many possible ways to fulfill the criteria. The different forms of dissociation are linked by family resemblances. Thus, there need be no single essence that characterizes the various conditions grouped together as dissociative disorders.”

Royal Institute Christmas Lectures 2011, Meet Your Brain
*Professor Bruce Hood delivers the presents on this most marvelous structure

Bradley Voytek, A Time Article that Literally Makes My Brain Lobes Explode
*Great coverage/critique of a piece of neuro-trash reporting in Time magazine. And yes, the “brain lobes explode” title is lifted from the article in Time!

Andrew Wilson, Embodied Cognition Is Not What You Think Is
*Back in November, the blog Notes from Two Scientific Psychologists put out this great post on embodied cognition, highlighting why embodiment-lite just doesn’t cut it.

Embodiment is not the weak claim that you can see small effects of the behaviour of the body in our mental representations of the world. Embodiment is the radical hypothesis that the brain is not the sole resource we have available to us to solve problems. Our bodies, and the meaning-filled perception of the world they allow, do much of the work required to achieve our goals, and this simple fact changes utterly what our theories of ‘cognition’ will look like.

Stephen Casper, 20 Tips for Teaching a 3:3 or 4:4 without TAs
*Great advice from someone who has been in the teaching trenches!

Terrence Deacon, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter
*The author of The Symbolic Species turns to the evolution of mind in his latest tome.

The fact that minds emerged from life and life emerged from inanimate matter leads Deacon to reexamine this mystery from the bottom up. While the same kinds of atoms make up rivers, bacteria, and human brains, Deacon shows how their dynamical relationships produce their different properties. In Incomplete Nature he reveals a missing link: emergent processes that are neither fully mental nor merely material, which provide a bridge connecting the two. He demonstrates how functions, intentions, representations, and values-despite their apparent nonmaterial character-can nevertheless produce physical consequences.

Dimitris Papadopoulos, The imaginary of plasticity: neural embodiment, epigenetics and ectomorphs
*2011 Sociological Review paper on how embodiment and neural plasticity work in historical and sociological ways as they rise towards becoming a dominant narrative

Every epoch has its brain. The embodied brain seems to be today at the forefront of attempts to establish post-positivistic approaches in social science and social theory as well as non-reductionist conceptions of the brain and body in neuroscience, developmental science and psychology. But embodiment not only challenges prevalent epistemic and cultural assumptions in these disciplines; it also opens avenues for exploring the plasticity and the emergent epigenetic nature of the brain and body. Plasticity occupies the brain-body imaginary of today’s epoch. At the heart of the imaginary of plasticity lies the possibility of recombining brain-body matter and understanding the making of ecologically dependent morphologies in a non-determinist manner. But plasticity as recombination becomes not only a radical challenge to determinist assumptions about the brain-body in Western thought, it becomes also a forceful element of its own regeneration and actualization.

Eri Lander, From the “Genetic Code” to the “Genetic Code”
*A fabulous lecture at NIH which gives a great overview of the history and progress in work in genetics. Hat-tip to Open Helix, which has more discussion of Lander’s lecture.

John Lyons, Cocaine: The New Front Lines
*Great overview in the Wall Street Journal on changes in the cocaine trade in Latin America, documenting the fall in coca fields and cocaine production in Colombia and subsequent ballooning elsewhere

Mr. Morales [of Peru] describes his policy as “Coca yes, Cocaine no,” a nod to the central role the leaves have played for centuries in Indian culture. Coca is traditionally chewed by Andean Indians as a mild stimulant. To mark the change, Mr. Morales took office in a mountaintop ceremony conducted by an Aymara Indian shaman in flowing robes.

But “Coca yes, cocaine no” turns out to be a hard ideal to follow. Valentin Mejillones, the shaman who swore Mr. Morales into office and acted as his personal spiritual guide, was arrested in 2010 with more than 500 pounds of liquid cocaine in his home. He denies wrongdoing.

Barbara Fister, Collision Course: RWA versus Knowledge
*The Research Works Act proposed legislation is getting a lot of press. Here’s a good place to start to understand why it’s bad policy

Robert Lent et al., How many neurons do you have? Some dogmas of quantitative neuroscience under revision
*Shaking up established wisdom. For some good commentary, see The Neuro Times. Here’s the abstract below

Owing to methodological shortcomings and a certain conservatism that consolidates wrong assumptions in the literature, some dogmas have become established and reproduced in papers and textbooks, derived from quantitative features of the brain. The first dogma states that the cerebral cortex is the pinnacle of brain evolution – based on the observations that its volume is greater in more ‘intelligent’ species, and that cortical surface area grows more than any other brain region, to reach the largest proportion in higher primates and humans. The second dogma claims that the human brain contains 100 billion neurons, plus 10-fold more glial cells. These round numbers have become widely adopted, although data provided by different authors have led to a broad range of 75–125 billion neurons in the whole brain. The third dogma derives from the second, and states that our brain is structurally special, an outlier as compared with other primates. Being so large and convoluted, it is a special construct of nature, unrelated to evolutionary scaling. Finally, the fourth dogma appeared as a tentative explanation for the considerable growth of the brain throughout development and evolution – being modular in structure, the brain (and particularly the cerebral cortex) grows by tangential addition of modules that are uniform in neuronal composition. In this review, we sought to examine and challenge these four dogmas, and propose other interpretations or simply their replacement with alternative views.

Jim Verhulst, Florida Higher Ed: From STEM to Stern to Liberal Arts and Funding
*Passionate defense of the pragmatics and possibilities of liberal arts education, and why STEM vs. liberal arts set up a series of false choices

Annie Murphy Paul, What Your Eyes Say About Who You Are
*For those of you thinking about using eye tracking in your research, here’s some quick highlights of some of the latest research

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3 Responses to Wednesday Round Up #161

  1. Constance Cummings says:

    Thanks for the mention, Daniel! Laurence Kirmayer (at whose feet I happen to sit) is lead editor on a forthcoming volume based on the FPR-UCLA 2010 conference on cultural and biological contexts of psychiatric disorder (Rob Lemelson and I are co-editors).

  2. I greatly appreciate the hat-tip and essay by Constance Cummings is really fascinating. Thanks for drawing it to my attention.

  3. ryan a says:

    Thanks for the link to Barbara Fister’s article about RWA. I need to read more about all of this…