Category Archives: blogs

Why Science Matters: a Year of the Science 2009 question

COPUS has been celebrating the Year Of Science 2009 and on the their main page their is a link to Why Science Matters that links to Alom Shaha’s site Why is Science Important.

Now we all know that EDGE asks an annual question to leading figures in academia/ intelligentsia and compiles their answers together and publishes as a book. That to me has always provided a rich perspective on contemporary matters. Alom and COPUS, in a similar vein, have asked a very topical question for the Year of Science 2009, which is as to Why Science Matters. This question they have put to prominent people in science education, research, writing, teaching and journalism (bloggers included). People who have answered include scientists  like Dr Susan Blackmore, and there are a variety of perspectives from scientists steeped in diverse fields ranging theoretical physics to molecular biology.

I have been honored to participate in the same and you can read my full response here. Below, I am just providing a small teaser so that you indeed go to the main site to read my and others opinions as to why science matters.

Consider the problem posed by some people whose behavior is crazy or erratic as compared to the rest of the ‘normal’ and ‘sane’ individuals. These might have been labeled heretics or witches in the dark ages and deemed to be possessed by demons / spirits. Lacking a scientific insight into what really haunts and ails this ‘mad’ condition, the cure advised for the treatment / containment of the problem (insanity) would also be similarly non-scientific and irrational. Thus the burning at stakes in the middle ages of those who were perhaps suffering from some form of a mental illness, but were nevertheless characterized as being possessed by ‘spirits’ and thus in need of exorcism. If insanity is seen form this dualistic lens of an alien spirit having possessed the body, then one can easily see how witch-burning might have been a legitimate solution to the problem of insanity.


Get High on Encephalon #62

Welcome to the 62nd brain-dope edition of the brain carnival Encephalon.

Sci@Neurotopia, sets the stage by asking the question whether Prozac and other anti-depressants can be called addictive. While we all know that drugs like cocaine and heroin can be addictive, yet can other benign drugs that we take to relive symptoms that are problematic in the first place, can also be classified as being addictive based on the fact that these drugs show at least two of the DSM criteria for addiction- tolerance and withdrawal? What about their non-high nature or non-craving properties? An interesting discussion ensues, but Sci also seemingly puts her-foot-in-her-mouth by trying to argue that there are two types of addictions- physical and psychological! She makes amend for the same by writing a subsequent post that clarifies that she is not a Dualist who believes that psychological symptoms of addiction like craving are not a result of brain chemistry but indeed does believe that they are as physical in origins as the ‘physical’ withdrawal symptoms such as constipation. An undertone of the post and comments was that perhaps we need different categories for addiction – one based solely on substance abuse and other more general addiction based on craving and other psychological components included too. DrugMonkey however, seemed to think that this opens a Pandora box for other spurious addictions like net or video-games addiction.

Daniel@Neuroanthropology however is not afraid of rocking the boat, and clearly and persuasively argues for recogintion of psychological as well as physical aspects of addiction. He argues that the fact that we use two systems of inferring causality- the intention based model applied to human interactions and the billiard-ball model of physical causality applied to non-animate interactions; is relevant to addiction and how that is viewed in terms of a disease model or a morality model.Based on his interaction with his class students, he is inclined to believe that we apply intentional model and subjectivity when referring to our own obsessions and to substance dependence, but a disease model when applied to substance abuse. Dependence, involving psychological components , he believes to be more critical.

Although Daniel mentions facebook and related obsession and dependence and not in terms of addiction per se, we all know too well Vaughan’s view on the matters of internet and related addictions. This time however, Vaughan@MindHacks is in not a critical mood, but laughing all the way  with the recent discovery that laughing gas (N2O), not to be confused with the brain neuro transmitter nitric oxide, has some hitherto unknown effects on those inhaling it. Laughing gas is a popular anesthetic and it has been found that it increases imagination and suggestibility.It can be safely concluded that suggesting that the surgery will not cause pain, would just enhance the anesthetic effects of N2O by using its suggestibility effects too to the fullest. All that remains to be seen is is N2O addictive and if so would people line up for repetitive surgeries or dental procedures given the ability-to-make-one laugh (and thus imaginably get oneself ‘high’:-)  effects of the gas!

While inhaling the N20 may not really present an addictive conundrum, what about Deep Brain Stimulation for Pleasure? Sajid@BrainBlogger reports that some studies at Oxford are being carried to ascertain the DBS effects in orbital PFC and how that may affect reward/ pleasure/ Libido. The benefits are to be found in female sexual dysfunction, but bypassing the normal brain circuitry and directly stimulating the brain for pleasure may be more akin to the way the addictive drugs act. what about tolerance and increasing DBS to get the same quantity of reward? What if someone removes the implant , would there be withdrawal effects?

A different type of conundrum is posed by Maria@BrianBlogger as she reports on the face transplant follow-up studies that found that the woman who received face transplant was pleased with the effects though she ostensibly sees a different face in the mirror daily.   She concludes that one should not just screen for organ compatibility, but also psychological coping mechanisms in the case of face transplant as psychological issues are involved here.

When one talks of Psychological coping, who else needs more support than the one being stalked? In the national stalking awareness month swivelchair@NeurologicalCorrelates focuses on stalking and highlights research that found that stalking involved many components of OCD like cognitive inflexibility (being obsessed and feeling compelled) and source-monitoring issues with memory (inability to recall the source of memory) apart from other deficits like lacking an ability to take others’ perspective. while we treat stalking as related to OCD, should we also extend and relate it to addiction in general? Is craving for a non-responding beloved the same as craving for a substance as the beloved has been ‘objectified’ and is worth only as a an object and not as a person? should the same environmental sensitivity and cue based approaches to addiction recovery be applied to stalkers too? Does it make sense to restrict the stalkers from any access to the ‘drug’ or any environment that reminds them of the ‘drug’?

Swivelchair@NeurologicalCorrelates also sends in a post regarding  a hypothesis that aggression may be a result of excessive pruning of white matter tracts. He arrives at this by putting the fact that an ErbB4 gene variant leads  to demyelenation/ less connectivity of left frontotemporal brain region. This region, is also implicated in aggression/hostility and thus his deduction. I have doubts as he mentions the same gene and brain region also implicated in schizophrenia/Psychosis and I disagree that psychotics are in general more aggressive than the normal human population. (although, to be fair, this is not explicitly claimed by Swivelchair anywhere).

Talking of Schizophrrenia, how did such a disease evolve and get fixed in the human population at such a high level of incidence? Walter@HighlightHealth writes about a study that found that genes in the human lineage that were under recent selection pressure and diverged from the chimpanzees , were also related to energy metabolism in the brain and on the same locus are present some of the schizophrenia genes. Thus, he concludes that Schizophrenia is a direct costly byproduct  to the cognitive demands placed during human evolution especially the demands of brain metabolism and maintaining a big brain for greater cognitive work and thus the need to increase efficiency of metabolisms etc. Thus, the assertion that Schizophrenia is a direct result of  changes in metabolism during human brain evolution.

Talking about evolution and comparative methods, did you know how manual dexterity evolved in humans? Mo@Neurophilosophy illustrates how manual dexterity evolved in humans giving us the ability of fine motor control. He notes that we have a direct (synapsing directly on motor neurons)  as well as indirect (involving inter neurons) path from the primary motor coretx to the motor neurons. Also, their appear to be two distinct sub regions of M1- one involving neurons synapsing directly onto the motor neurons and the other synpasing via inter neurons in the spinal chord. Also doing a comparative analysis on Capuchin (who have a prominenet direct as well as indirect pathway like humans)  and Squirrel monkey (who only have the weak direct path) reveals that Capuchins are manually dexterous while Squirrels are not, thus confirming that it is the direct pathway which is anatomically recent and used in fine motor control. Now this is called cutting edge science reporting.   

DoctorSpurt@EffortlessIncitement reports on a study that found correlation between physicological traits like EMG and skin conductance and political attitudes like high support for preserving the social structure form internal/ external threats. In brief, and in a crude reading it found that ‘conservatives are cowards’. Put other way, using a variety of measure sit was found that threatening stimuli caused more physiological reaction in those who were of a conservative bent of mind. Now that is some correlation between political attitudes, personality and fearfulness.  

We have talked about aggression and fearfulness and we have talked about evolution. And we know that people differ from each other in their baseline aggressive and fearfulness rates. How does this difference come about. I@TheMouseTrap present evolutionary perspectives on personality traits and I owe a post that would  link the evolution of personality traits to evolution of co-operation/ altruism.

Now, if you have read the Mouse Trap posts, you may wonder if some of the correlations I see between different personality traits and evolutionary adaptive tasks are not spurious and voodoo like? A different kind of voodoo correlation is examined by Neurocrtic , this time referring to the exaggerated and spurious correlation found between fMRI brain regions identified in social cognitive neuroscience and behavioral and personality measures. I haven’t read the Vul et al paper, but Neurocritc presents a good summary and details the points-counterpoints that are raised. One thing that caught my attention, off-the-bat,  was the confusion of state personality variables with trait variables (anxiety or empathy can be measured as both trait and state variables). While the trait variable correlations in personality psychology may be low (~ 0.7); I’m not sure the measures that measure state variables (like anxiety at the present moment ) suffer from same level of reliability concerns (but how can we test-retest a state…isn’t the state bound to change with each experiment). Anyway the discussion is very enlightening and Neurocritic rejoices in seeing the others slither in pain as their studies are put to question . Oh Schadenfreude.!   

One thing however that Neurocritic does put into question is the allure of fMRI brain scans and how having a brain scan in a study can lead to credibility.Dr Deb at her blog links to a provocative study that found that more brain areas lit up when net surfing than when reading. So do we conclude that net surfing, is good for your health? If so, as its effects are largely beneficial, can we still consider it as an addiction? We seem to have come a full circle.

Before I conclude, just a brief note to let all of you know that you can now subscribe to the encephalon feed here and to many other health and medicine related carnivals here.

That is all for this edition. hope you got your kicks and are dependent on the fortnightly dose of enecpehalon to maintain your sanity. BTW, did anyone miss the 5 Jan edition of encepahlon….did someone suffer from withdrawal symptoms? do let us know via comments!

101 Fascinating Brain blogs

OEDB has put together a list of 101 fascinating Brain blogs and it is an excellent list with most of the usual suspects and some new ones too. The descriptions of the blogs are good and informative. The Mouse trap has been featured under Multidisciplinary blogs and I cannot agree more. The focus of this blog has been multi-disciplinary and I am by nature drawn to anything and everything that is remotely tied to brain, no matter what the discipline or the methods.

On a related note, I had thought that the mouse trap being featured in WIKIO Science top 100 was a one-off affair, but it seems that the ranking has only improved this month (the mouse trap is up at #78 this month); so thanks again to all the readers of this blog for continuing to read and link. BTW, I saw a significant drop (about 10%) in the number of RSS feed subscribers after my 26/11 and ‘Beyond revenge’ post; maybe the subscribers thought that I had decided to leave science blogging for good and thus unsubscribed; political blogging for me may lie in the future, but not for now; for now I intend to continue blogging about brains only. The Mouse Trap blog, at the least, will always remain focussed on psychology and neuroscience only. If  I do decide to blog about political matters I’ll maybe start a new blog, just like The Fool’s Quest blog which I use for poetry and literature.

Guest Post: Matters of the Monkey Mind

I was recently contacted by a reader of this blog, who wanted to do a guest post on The Mouse Trap, and I thought why not! Guest posts allow those who might not have their own blog to start getting familiar with the Media and for those who already have their blogs, an exposure to a new audience. As long as science blogging wins I don’t mind publishing posts on my blog, which are not authored by me, though I’ll typically like to restrict the Mouse Trap to my own musings. So if you want to do a guest post on the Mouse Trap, you are welcome, but the theme has to fit in with the overall theme of the mouse trap.

Without much ado, I’ll now publish the first guest post on Mouse Trap. Do send me in your feedback, as to whether it is worth doing guest posts here , and whether you liked this one.

What follows is a guest post by Sarah Scrafford.

The human mind is extremely complicated – we can never say for certain why people act the way they do. Some of us are even confused about our own actions, and there are times when we don’t know why we did certain things and other times when we regret the things we do the moment they’re done. And there are times when the mind is like a monkey, jumping randomly from one thought to another till you don’t know where one begins and the other ends. While some people emphasize the importance of a steady mind that’s able to focus, there are times when monkey minds are ok and even desirable, and that’s when:

Emotions rule: When you’re upset and tend to think with your heart rather than your head, you’re bound to do something stupid if you’re not careful. But when your mind jumps from one thought to another with not much time to dwell on one emotion alone, it’s kind of therapeutic and prevents you from acting blindly upon your emotions.
You need to forget: In my book, the greatest ability of the human mind is the one to forget – hurts, disappointments and failures. Without this ability, we would all be nervous wrecks without an ounce of positivity in our blood. Love affairs gone sour, the death of a loved one, or a humiliation that we’d rather not think about – these are all things that we want to leave behind in our past as we move into the future. When the mind is capable of moving rapidly from one emotion to another, one thought to another, it’s easy enough to forget these negative things.
You’re bored and need mental stimulation: An active mind allows you to live out fantasies, in your imagination, of course. So if you’re bored and need to entertain yourself but are stuck without a laptop, phone or even a book, daydreaming is the next best thing to do. Thinking of positive make-believe scenarios has an uplifting effect on your mood, and you feel good about yourself.
You need to multitask: Not many people are able to multitask efficiently without any major mistakes being made. And the ones that do are the ones who are able to change thought processes very quickly or even run thought processes that are parallel. Being able to control your thoughts, even though there are a large number jostling for attention in your mind, is a good thing when you’re trying to handle more than one job at the same time. Of course, efficiency increases with the mundane nature of the jobs, but some people are able to process both simple and complicated tasks simultaneously.

This article is contributed by Sarah Scrafford, who regularly writes on the topic of Radiology Technician Training. She invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries at her email address:

Get Enchanted with the Enecpehalon # 59

Ionian Enchantment has published the 59th edition  of the brain carnival Encephalon and it contains some of the best blogging from the usual suspects.

I found the new technique of cooling a brain region to slow the neural activity (spike rate I believe) and thus to deduce as to which particular brain region in songbirds is associated with Rhythm very fascinating. Girrlscientists at Living the Scientific Life does a great job of describing the study.  Greg at Neuroanthropology discuses the work of Andy Clark with reference to massive modularity and innate/learned controversy and concludes that a middle-of-the-road neuroconstructivist approach is the best.

Other cool stuff includes new findings that some cognitive auditory abilities may be enhanced in late Huntington disorder and a writeup of the hallucinatory states induced by Ganzfiled procedure.  There is more cool stuff, so go and have a look!

The Science Blog Meme

A meme, that started in Nature Networks  , has slowly gained momentum and as many science bloggers have participated, I think I might as well jump in.

1. What is your blog about?
It is definitely not about catching mice, though I sometimes regret why I chose this particular name from the available zillions. My blog is solely focussed and devoted to psychology and neurosceince; within them some pet themes keep emerging; it started with a focus on cognitive maps; another is the focus on stage theories; then still another is focus on Autism and Schizophrenia as diametrically opposed on a continuum.but I take pride in the fact that most reviewers of this blog have determined this blog to be focussed diffusely on disparate subjects.

2. What will you never write about?
about my day-to-day humdrum existence as I lack the capacity to make that sound interesting. Also I like to keep the personal separate from professional as far as possible.

3. Have you ever considered leaving science?
The question is a bit odd, as I am not a working scientist and my science focus is part-time; but leaving science as a hobby/ part-time vocation seems unthinkable – perhaps if all the applied uses of science have been exhausted I may think of leaving sceince; but till the time there is much to be discovered and applied in the real world; there is no parting company.

4. What would you do instead?
Social Work (though for some reasons I don’t like the word..juts like the concept of working for the disadvantaged)/ Education and guidance—of course the assumption is that I have all the resources to enjoy my present lifestyle and only then in my free time instead of science do these things.

5. What do you think will science blogging be like in 5 years?
It should replace scince journalism even before that and might perhaps be replaced by somemore disruptive technologies. It would be more actual science and less reporting. The science would be prominent over the blogging part and both will happen collaboratively.

6. What is the most extraordinary thing that happened to you because of blogging?
In the real world, not much! In the online world, I met and befreinded many interesting, prominent and like-minded people. Overall, blogging provided me a much needed outlet for sharing all the knowledge/information that I was accumulating but finding no outlet for.

7. Did you write a blog post or comment you later regretted?
Yes, one or two blog posts I regret to have written. even today, I feel embarrassed when someone comments on them.

8. When did you first learn about science blogging?
I believe it must have been 3 years back; as soon as I learnt about that I started my own blog!!

9. What do your colleagues at work say about your blogging?
Not many at my work place read my blog or are aware of its existence; for those who are aware its more of a personal eccentricity and a freaky thing – though I have received some very positive feedback too from some; but most say it is incomprehensible and too technical for them (my workplace is not in a scientific setting/ concerned with psychology/ neuroscience)

10.Extra credit: are you able to write an entry to your blog that takes the form of a poem about your research?
I believe I am able, for I pride myself as the next big thing- an undiscovered poet/ creative writer that is just waiting for the right break; the bad part is that I maintain a dedicated creative writing blog , that is separate from my scientific blog, so have never mixed the too, so am not quite sure!!

Thats it folks! I love these memes, especially those that come without any tagging requirements!!

Not Exactly Rocket Science : the book

Some of you may be familiar with Ed Yong’s blog Not Exactly Rocket Science . He is an excellent writer and his blog postings are always well researched , readable and informative. I’m a a regular follower and can vouch for the quality of hits article length blog posts. For those of us , who like to do some off line quality reading, Ed has published his best blog posts in the form of a book that is currently available from Lulu. I encourage all of you to buy the book , either for yourself, or as a gift for a loved one: it will make for an excellent present!! While I feel happy for Ed, I wonder, if and when, can at least one of my articles appear in a book form; maybe openlab2008 is it; maybe I have to wait longer:-( Anyway, its happy to see that blog form is being recognized and I wish Ed and all prospective blogger-writers all the best!

Nominate The Mouse trap

If you like what you read here, you may like to nominate the Mouse Trap blog for either the Weblog Awards 2008 (category science) or submit one of your favorite articles from this blog  to the OpenLab 2008. The submissions links for both can be formed in the side bar on the blog, so please visit the blog (the links are not present in the RSS feeds)  and nominate the Mouse Trap or your other favorite psychology and science blogs and writings using the banners in the side navigation bar.

Encepahlon #58 now Out: Decide to read it now!!

The 58th edition of Encephalon, is now available at the Highlight Health blog. This decision making edition that implores you to take stock of your needs, preferences, values and emotions to arrive at a decision to read and appreciate the best in last fortnight’s brain blogging, is very ably hosted and presented by Walter.

The articles I liked in particular were a comprehensive review of  gender differences in aging by Chris at Ouroboros; an article on whether, to what extent and at what age do fetuses start feeling/ experiencing pain by Paul at the Combining Cognits blog; a review  of gender differences in depression and its treatment by Dr Shcok; and various other interesting articles like the five-clover luck theory by David at ScienceBase or the bullies get kick out of seeing pain of others deconstruction by the the Neurocritic. There is more available including reports on psychopathy, multi-tasking, addiction etc, so rush on to the original Encephalon edition for more stimulating posts.

The Mouse Trap is in the WIKIO 100 Top Science Blogs!!

I would like to thank all the readres of this blog, especially those who have linked to my posts or commented here; as a result of their patronage the humble Mouse Trap blog has made it to the top 100 Science blogs list maintained by none other than Wikio. It is a great honor to share the same space as that of BPS research digest, Cognitive Daily, Sharp Brains, Mixing Memory and  Developing Intelligence, to name a few of my admired blogs. I note that my ranking is 93 and prone to slip from the top 100 list next time; that doesnt bother me- this recognition, even if not sustained, but for one time only, acts as  a booster to motivate and spur towards more and more quality blogging.  

Thanks again to all the readers.