Don’t ask me, ask my brain.

BrainDid you know that sun can damage your skin?  How likely are you to increase your sunscreen use this week?  No, don’t tell me.  Chances are, you will be a less reliable indicator of your own behavior than a brain scan will.  It may sound crazy, but this is the conclusion of a study published June 23, 2010 in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The research team, led by Matthew Lieberman, a psychology professor at UCLA, had subjects watch a public service announcement about the benefits of sunscreen while in an fMRI machine.  The researchers looked for an increase in activity of the medial prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with values, preferences, and self-reflection.  Then, the researchers Continue reading “Don’t ask me, ask my brain.”

A Spectacular Spring? Wait and see…

"As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door"... Gustave Doré's 'The Raven'

Conservationists are predicting that after a long, cold winter the UK is going to see the most spectacular Spring in years. Why? This year’s winter seems to have gone on longer than most, which has been reflected in the belated arrival of Spring blooms and other wildlife (mothers across the country may have been disappointed by the shortage of daffodils on March 14th, for instance). The late arrival of Spring, though, may be a blessing, or so suggests Matthew Oates of the National Trust:

“We’ve effectively gone from late winter straight into early summer in recent years. One of the problems with early, rushed springs is the flowers and butterflies then get clobbered by foul and abusive [spring] weather. A cold winter slows everything down. And a late spring is more safe and secure. It gives us an opportunity to appreciate spring, rather than having to try to catch a glimpse of it in one weekend.”

Let’s hope so. But we in the UK are no doubt by now sceptical of future natural, environmental and meteorological forecasts (‘Barbeque Summer’, anyone?)

Perhaps. However, maybe philosophy can come to the aid of meteorologists and naturalists beleaguered by the danger of making predictions. Continue reading “A Spectacular Spring? Wait and see…”

No Flying Cars by 2010?!

There are some things everyone knows about the future: there will be flying cars, disease will be a thing of the past and there will be regular shuttles to Mars.  Unfortunately, in this context, “the future” isn’t well defined.  For many people living in the 1970’s, the year 2010 was “the future,” but for us, 2010 seems a lot more like “the present.”  So, frustratingly, having arrived at 2010, we still have to wait for a lunar vacation.

A recent article in Scientific American laments, “10 Science Letdowns of the New Millenium.”  Some disappointments are technological: there are no flying cars, no regular flights to Mars, and no sources of unlimited, cheap energy.  Others concern failures in research: there is no cure for cancer, no vaccine for aids, and the intricate workings of the brain still baffle our best scientists.  Still other failures Continue reading “No Flying Cars by 2010?!”