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Vote for your favorite science book ever

The discover magazine has unveiled its collection of 25 best science books ever and has also put up these books for online voting, whereby you can vote for your favorite science book from the 25 shortlisted, or vote for a book of your choice that is not listed.

Interestingly, Darwin’s The Origin of Species wins hands down in the online voting; with only Newton and Einstein giving some challenge. Also, as many as ~15 % of voters have voted for books not in the shortlist. More interestingly, Freud has just been able to get an honorable mention!

The accompanying article by Kary Mullis is a nice read.

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and vote for your favorite amongst such writers as Gould, Wilson and Dawkins (why do they shortlist so many evolutionary thinkers…and on a similar note why do we have so many blog postings on evolution, especially defending/proving evolution?) ..and then there is Oliver Sacks and James Watson too, so plenty of choices for the regular readers of this blog.

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Insanity in Films: A Rendezvous with Madness

Insanity has been typically depicted in a very stereotyped manner in both Bollywood as well as Hollywood. Moreover, the depiction is often insensitive and hackneyed, with the consequent stigmatization of all mental health issues.

While some recent Bollywood films like “Black” have drawn attention to some oft ignored neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s; it is the depiction of schizophrenia and mental wards/asylums that has remained problematic.

While an occasional flick like “A beautiful mind” or”15 park Avenue” may end up portraying the schizophrenic condition sensitively and realistically, for each such film there are countless other films that associate the disorder with violence, bad intrusive thoughts and character defects of the protagonist. Thus, in my view, the need for films that provide a positive spin to the disease and counter the negative stereotype.

“Lago Raho Munnabhai” is one such film and it does so in a very subtle manner. While the film has been getting rave reviews for reviving Gandhian values and for making them trendy and cool for the Generation X by reincarnating those values as Gandhigiri, it has also been successful in making people sympathize with the Schizophrenic condition and do away with their prejudices that the auditory/visual hallucination accompanying Schizophrenia have to be negative/disturbing in nature. In this movie, Gandhi appears as a hallucination and guides Munna as per Gasndhian values , to resolve everyday problems.

The trigger of the illness in Munna, following some sleepless,no-nutrition, stressful days and nights, reading Gandhian Literature to the exclusion of everything else, is quite realistic and highlights some of the things that those vulnerable to schizophrenia need to avoid, to prevent relapse or triggering of the illness. The implied assertion that the ‘split personality’ may be due to a split between the Gandhian values that Munna has recently learned, and his old Bhai style violence-driven personality, though not technically correct as per current views, provides an antidote to the psychodynamic theories that posited that the disorder is a result of suppressing negative personality and thoughts: it is refreshing to consider the possibility that the negativity has so much shadowed our normal selves and become so common place, that if anything needs to be suppressed it would be positive and tender emotions and values.

The high point of the film is when Lucky Singh , the nemesis of Munna, launches an Ad Hominem attack on Munna and discredits all the good work he had done in spreading Gandhian values, by ‘exposing’ his insanity and by making him a laughing stock. Quite predictably, the general public in the movie leaves the side of Munna to let him fight his own devils (this time the devil is Gandhi:-), but surprisingly, the general public, that is the audience of the movie, stays with him and empathizes with him and laments not on his disease or his condition, but more so on the disease that is plaguing the Lucky Singhs of this world- that of corruption/ evil and on their own prejudices, insensitive and immature reaction to the ‘insane’. If not for anything else, this alone should have ensured that this movie represented India in the Oscars rather than “Rang De Basanti”.

Also heartening to note is, that though the film ends on a positive note, it doesn’t offer any magical cure for Schizophrenia and makes it clear that Gandhi is there to stay with Munna. What it does manage to do is, that it rechristens the ‘Furies’ that tormented Orestes as ‘Eumenides’ or ‘The Kindly ones’ and by doing this ‘cures’ the real underlying disease- our prejudiced view of hallucinations as evil/tormenting/disturbing.

On a related note, the one conclusion that stands out in the Stephen Fry documentary “The Secret Life of the Manic-Depressive” is the strong reluctance of many suffering from the disease to pull the genetic switch (if there was one) that would have prevented them from their illness and all the resultant experiences. In the words of one of the people interviewed there, ‘it is enough to have walked with angles, and everything else is a small price to play” (paraphrasing). While glamorization of mental illness is not exactly the right antidote to the pervasive stigmatization, yet an occasional association of positive affect, experiences and values with mental illness would go a long way in making us more sensitive and open about mental health issues.

There is a film festival being organized in Toronto, Rendezvous with Madness, showcasing some of the international films dealing with the mental health and stigmatization issues and hopefully its selection of movies is good. I find the section “Where there is Love there is Life” particularly interesting as the blurb contains reference to Gandhi.

Where There Is Love There Is Life: A Family Program
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Where There Is Love There Is Life celebrates the resilience of children who struggle with loss and mental illness. This program of three Canadian shorts and a foreign feature presentation offers a hopeful portrait of such serious subjects as children caring for a mentally ill parent and also experiencing extreme anxiety. Themes like the power of forgiveness, the imagination, and of self-knowledge are introduced as tools for personal growth and survival in this mix of narrative drama and animation, which children and parents alike will find educational and entertaining. Rated PG.

It’s sad that “Lage Raho Munnabhai” is not part of this festival, but I’m sure as an independent entry in the Oscars, it would be able to reach more audiences and destigmatize the issues surrounding mental health

A free Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience textbook and the Citizendium initiative

I have recently become quite interested in collaborative writing and was initially thinking of submitting a book proposal to the Psychology Press for their series on Cognitive Neuroscience. That option is still open and if someone wants to collaborate you are welcome to contact me (write to : sandygautam[AT]yahoo[DOT]com) !!

But what I have discovered is that there are other emerging models of collaborative publishing. Triggered by news regarding a Global Text Project, which aims to create 1000 online textbooks in due course of time, I came across Wikibooks. It seems Wikibooks already has a free Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience Textbook that one can contribute to and refine and is featured as the book for the month. Have just casually browsed through one of the chapters, but it seems an interesting idea and one to which we bloggers can lend our expertise. This should definitely help third world students who may lack the monetary resources to buy costly textbooks and may have to rely on online resources. However the ‘chapters’ are too sketchy and more of Wikepedia entries than a summary of relevant research (with citations) in that field.

That brings me to the Citezendium, a new Citizen’s Compendium, which aims to do away with the deficiencies of the Wikepedia and encourage Academics to get involved with the collaborative encyclopedia initiative with special powers and responsibilities given to the experts over the normal contributing authors. Would definitely like to contribute there. hopefully, the readers of this blog will also find these collaborative initiatives interesting and contribute in their own small ways.

Follow Fifi and others as they roam around the Gombe Chimpanzee Park

As per this new Google initiative, one can now follow Fifi and other Chimpanzees in real-time as they roam around the Gombe Chimpanzee park using the Google Earth Featured Content. All you have to do is download Google Earth , choose the Jane Goodall’s Gombe Chimpanzee Blog in the Featured Content section visible in the left sidebar and enjoy!

Although, I was not able to zoom in a live image of a chimpanzee ( as all of them were foraging in the dense forest and thus not visible), but with perseverance one may catch a live video of a chimp playing in an open area. Also, this would be of help to the primatologists amongst us, who could track the movements of these chimpanzees.

More power to Google!

Book proposals sought in Cognitive Neuroscience

If you have always been interested in writing a book concerned with Cognitive Neuroscience, Psychology press is currently soliciting proposals for the same. More information at Cognitive Neuroscience Arena.
Please find below the detailed requirements
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Contemporary Approaches in Cognitive Neuroscience

Psychology Press are launching a new series called “Contemporary Approaches in Cognitive Neuroscience”.

Series Editors:

* Stanislas Dehaene, Collège de France, Paris
* Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Harvard Medical School
* Jamie Ward, University College London

Invitation to Authors:

Reflecting contemporary and controversial issues in the study of cognitive neuroscience, the series aims to present a multi-disciplinary forum for cutting edge debate that will help shape this burgeoning discipline.

It offers leading figures in the field and the best new researchers an opportunity to showcase their own work, expand on their own theories and place these in the wider context of the field.

If you would like to submit a proposal to be included in this series we would like to hear from you! Titles in the series may be authored or edited; the only requirement is that each book must aim to make a contribution to a specific topic by reviewing and synthesising the existing research literature, by advancing theory in the area, or by some combination of these missions.

Please send your proposals to: book.proposals@psypress.co.uk
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