Monday, December 23, 2013

Lili's festive thought for the day

Too much sloth and gluttony will make you fat and unfit, and that can give you diabetes 2, and that can give you Alzheimer's dementia. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lili's next thought for the day

I thought about using the word "complaints" as a tag in this blog, but I thought again and realized that it would be redundant, as this whole blog is one great big never-ending collection of complaints. 

Lili's thought for the day

The summer holidays are upon us, and the world is raving about Morrissey's new Autobiography, and the book is in all the bookshops ready for the Christmas retail frenzy, and the state library service of New South Wales don't even appear to have the book on order, and South Australian public libraries appear to be waiting on only two copies? 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lili's unaustralian thought of the day

There is evidence that needless deaths of babies are happening in Australia's asylum-seeker detention centres, but the headline of this story reflects concern about mental health? How totally f***ed up are the moral priorities of Australians? We are more concerned about people's emotional reaction to unnecessary hardships than we are concerned about the actual hardships and injustices? And most Australians are happy for it all to happen as the policy of their government? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Lili's flabbergasted thought of the day

Natasha Stott Despoja as Australia's new ambassador for women and girls is going to be touring around the world telling other countries that they aren't doing the right thing by women and girls? WHAAAAAAT? Australia has such a good record as a feminist nation that we have the moral authority to tell other countries how to treat women? In which parallel universe is this true?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Daniel Tammet explained in 2001 how you can get a MEGA memory

"People always ask me if I was born with this ability. The short answer is no."

No? Well then, I'm confused. I thought Daniel Tammet was an autistic synaesthete savant. Aren't those things that a person is born with? Something isn't right here.

One book about Daniel Tammet includes this and many many more links to enlightening information about Daniel Tammet. What is to be believed about Daniel Tammet? Not much, I'd say.

Daniel Tammet: the Boy with the Incredible Story

Monday, December 09, 2013

Lili's thought for the day

There are two kinds of people in this world; those who can abide Virginia Trioli and those who cannot. 

Asperger diagnosis does nothing to solve the mystery of Susan Boyle

The Scottish singer and pop culture legend Susan Boyle was reportedly diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (AS) a year ago. I am no longer convinced that Asperger syndrome is a useful or scientifically valid label, regardless of whether or not it is listed in the latest edition of the DSM,  So what am I to make of this latest celebrity AS disclosure? I think we are all open to believing that Boyle is markedly different in some way besides her extraordinary vocal ability and it is clear that there must be some reason why most of her life has been spent on the margins of society. 

It is reported that Boyle was deprived of oxygen at birth, was labelled as brain damaged and was bullied as a schoolgirl and was labelled as "simple" by her peers. I'm always skeptical about claims about brain damage as the result of birth trauma. Epidemiological research has debunked the popular idea that cerebral palsy is caused by birth trauma of oxygen deprivation at birth. If this were true then the incidence of this disorder would have dropped with the rise in popularity of caesarian section deliveries, but it hasn't. Genetics are now being considered as a possible cause. I've seen a number of anecdotal cases in which peculiarities in people are blamed on subtle brain damage due to birth complications when in fact the trait explained clearly runs in the family. Some parents apparently can't live with the idea that they have dickey genes and they passed these dickey genes on to a child. I can't rule out the possibility that Boyle has atypical genes, and her weight and slightly odd-looking face would be consistent with some kind of genetic syndrome, I know not which, but it couldn't be pervasively damaging if her IQ is really above average, as was recently claimed. 

What kind of disorder impairs a person socially but leaves intelligence not only spared but superior? It must be a selective or specific disorder, or a disorder in their social environment, or some combination of both. The idea that Boyle might be brain damaged appears to be debunked by the recently reported information that her IQ was tested and found to be above average, but there is the definite possibility that she has an inborn or acquired highly selective cognitive disability caused by genes or brain injury, because there are many such conditions. Science is still discovering new varieties of cognitive, perceptual, sensory or learning disabilities, and the list of known conditions is already long: dyslexia (there are at least two different types), dyscalculia, dysgraphia, prosopagnosia, auditory processing disorder, developmental topographical disorientation (DTD), amusia, time perception disorder or time agnosia, and disorders in perception of touch, taste or smell. Many of these conditions are compatible with a genuine high level of intelligence, but many of these conditions could also undermine social functioning enough to make the person with the disability appear to be stupid. I think it is certainly possible that Boyle has one or more of the known or unknown specific disorders (rule out amusia and ADP though), but we will probably never know because I doubt that her assessment for Asperger syndrome tested for many or any of these disorders, and if it did become apparent that she had one of them it is likely that it would have been seen as just one manifestation of the broad and mysterious diagnostic category known as Asperger syndrome. 

Susan Boyle has decided that the label of Asperger syndrome will serve her interests, and she has every right to further her own interests after having lived such a difficult and limited life before her rise to fame. An international community and an infrastructure of support can be unlocked with the key of an Asperger syndrome diagnosis, so this must be a very tempting choice. Boyle will be able to claim to be a disabled person while also being able to claim to have normal or high intelligence, because it is almost universally accepted that Asperger syndrome is a social disability that is consistent with normal or even gifted levels of intelligence. It is nice to see in a news report confirmation that Boyle is not mentally impaired, but for any sensible person this should be no surprise at all, because it would be impossible for Boyle to sing with such incredible ability if she was generally cognitively challenged. 

There are some important advantages to the Asperger syndrome label and most of us believe that Susan Boyle deserves to have some advantages in life, but I would argue that this label is not much more than the formalization and medicalization of existing beliefs and prejudices that marginalize some people. I would argue that an Asperger syndrome diagnosis is the replacement of informal social marginalization with formal social marginalization that comes with some protections and some advantages. An Asperger syndrome diagnosis might improve a person's quality of life and place in society, but this cannot change the fact that Asperger syndrome is an all-encompassing, vaguely defined and non-specific category with an unknown cause, and is thus virtually meaningless as an explanation or clinical/medical diagnostic category. Susan Boyle could well meet all of the clinical diagnostic criteria for "Asperger's Disease", but this still tells us virtually nothing about Susan Boyle. 

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Recent pop science or pop psychology books that Lili likes

The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science
by Will Storr
Storr travelled the world meeting all manner of crackpots, deniers and conspiracy theorists, including Lord Monckton and David Irving. I picked this book up thinking it was going to be another skeptical festival of condescention in which people who have eccentric and irrational beliefs are ridiculed, and there is a bit of that, but this book is clearly not a one-sided view of the skeptic versus eccentric war. The last chapter before the epilogue exposes the hero of the skeptics movement James Randi as a most unpleasant man who has displayed little regard for the truth. I was amazed to discover that evidently the skeptics couldn't be very skeptical at all, as they hold such an authority in high esteem. This book is worth your attention for that chapter alone, but I wish it had an index.

Blind Spot: Why We Fail to See the Solution Right in Front of Us
by Gordon Rugg and Joseph D'Agnese

I wrote a short review of this interesting book here:

Saving Normal: An Insider's Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life
by Allen Frances

Dr Frances was the head of the task force that produced the fourth DSM (the bible of American psychiatry), but he is now an outspoken and scathing critic of psychiatry as it is practiced in the US and around the world. Australians might know of Dr Frances as the most prominent critic of Prof Patrick McGorry. McGorry has influenced (some would say dictated) Australian federal government policy on mental health.

Will Mozart make my baby smart?
by Andrew Whitehouse

Associate Professor Andrew Whitehouse is the head of the Developmental Disorders Research Group at the prestigious Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, but don't be intimidated by that because this is a readable and enjoyable book for parents.

Far from the tree: Parents, Children And The Search For Identity
by Andrew Solomon

Solomon writes about families in which a child differs from the parents in some major way, and many interesting and complex states of being are discussed, including autism, being the child of rape and transgenderism. This book has a particular significance to me as this year I was saddened by the death of a young transgender woman who I knew and admired. This huge book is the ultimate compilation of true human interest stories. If this is to your taste it will keep you occupied for many hours. 

Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception
by Claudia Hammond

This book is one of the four winners of the 2013 book awards from the British Psychological Society. I like it because there's some interesting stuff in it about synaesthesia and it's written by a synaesthete who is a very capable science journalist and a psychologist. Claudia talks about her research on time-space synaesthesia in this podcast of the radio show Science for the People:

Daniel Tammet: the Boy with the Incredible Story
by Lili Marlene

Yes this is my book. I'm allowed to give my own book a plug, aren't I? Many people have known for a long time that the life story of the author, celebrity and performer of intellectual feats Daniel Tammet which has been told countless times in books, television and journal papers is incomplete in ways that matter and questionable in too many ways to count. Let me take you by the hand and show you the alternative story hiding in plain sight. Buy my book!

Lili's bemused thought of the day

You have a degree from which university? We both know it wasn't a university back in the days when we studied there. 

Lili's thought of the day

I'm sure the general state of humanity in South Africa will become so much worse now that Mandela is gone....

Man to man advice

These are the first of five fathering tips from "No 1 parenting educator" Michael Grose:

"1. Go on dates with your daughters.

 2. Have adventures with your sons."

But don't take your daughters along on adventures or go out for the evening with your sons! I'm not sure what would happen if you did these things, but the numero uno parenting educator doesn't advise it. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Memory sport champion explains savant tricks (apparently)

I have not read the book How to be Clever by memory sport legend Ben Pridmore, but it certainly sounds like an interesting read. Mr Pridmore has arguably more authority to teach and theorize about the workings of the human memory and the human mind than psychologists because he has proven many times that he knows how to make it work to do incredible things, because he has done it himself.

Lili's thought for the day

Alexander Downer is making me feel ashamed to be an Australian all over again.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Surprised? Really?

Popping the hood on synaesthesia – what’s going on in there?
by Dr Kevin Mitchell
Wiring the Brain.
November 3rd 2013.
"With this as background, we designed a neuroimaging study aimed at probing the functional involvement in the synaesthetic experience of areas with structural differences. What we found surprised us."

"When we looked more closely at the responses in these areas we found something really surprising. Two of them showed a clear difference in response to letters, but this was driven by a very strong reduction in activity in synaesthetes."

"Actually though, this finding is not completely novel – cortical deactivations were previously reported in response to synaesthesia-inducing stimuli in a PET study, some in the same areas we observe. Whether they have occurred in other fMRI studies is a little hard to know – experimental designs focusing on specific regions or looking specifically for positive differences may have missed these kinds of effects."

This Irish neuroscience and synaesthesia researcher was surprised to find deactivation in his synaesthesia study? If that's the case, he'd have to have a major gap in his knowledge of early synaesthesia research and also a major gap in his knowledge of popular writing on the subject. The pop psychology book The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Dr Richard Cytowic was I think the first book in the genre about synaesthesia and is a widely read book. The centrepiece of the book is a single case study, of Michael Watson, who is the synaesthete man who tasted shapes. The most exciting part of the book is the account of the "CBF" brain study by Dr Cytowic and Dr David Stump, of Mr Watson experiencing synaesthesia. What they found surprised them. 

"....the average blood flow in Michael's left hemisphere dropped to three times below the lowest acceptable limit of an average person's!" (Cytowic 1993 p.150)

"....the most important point is that instead of an increase in metabolism, which is what I expect with any kind of activation, your brain shows a profound decrease in cortical metabolism during synesthesia." (Cytowic 1993 p.151)

The appropriate time for a synaesthesia researcher being surprised about finding a localized decrease in brain activity associated with synaesthesia ended twenty years ago, in 1993. Dr Mitchell has never read the book? In 2013 Dr Mitchell should not have been particularly surprised by the results of his synaesthesia study. When a leading researcher in a field of study shows a basic lack of knowledge about the area that he specializes in, and it appears that other researchers in the field don't bother to even look for what is possibly a most distinctive and striking characteristic of the subject of their study (deactivation in synaesthesia) it really is time to ask questions about the quality of neuroscience research today. 

Lili's thought for the day

Funny how a book review at Richard Dawkin's foundation for whatever doesn't get around to mentioning the chapter in Will Storr's terrific book in which the skeptics' hero and champion of truth and science and all that stuff James Randi is exposed as a serial liar. It turns out that the skeptics aren't so skeptical and the hero doesn't deserve a place on any pedestal. If it looks like a cult and it sounds like a cult, it's a cult.