Archives for category: Interesting bits

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Flipper is a smart fish.

Not only can he do my favourite trick of warding off sharks, but he also uses his sleep time with an effectiveness most new parents can only dream of.

When sleeping, dolphins can’t afford the luxury of physically stopping for a kip. Instead they need to keep swimming, and crucially breathing, to stay alive.

So how do they sleep?

Scientists have found that they actually manage to switch off half their brain, so that the active part can control swimming and breathing, while the rest rests.

Better than that, they team up in pairs to sleep, switching off the respective inner hemispheres (halves) of their brains, so that the outer halves are alert for predators, attack, Elijah Wood, Paul Hogan etc.

Talk about teamwork.

Check out this highly educational video offering rare insight into dolphins and their brains at work.

Note, if you do not find this funny, we prescribe that you need more sleep.

The world’s most elegant woman, Coco Chanel, was said to have advised the following when dressing with accessories:

“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and¬†take one thing off.”

Taking this sage advice from a woman who was far ahead of her time, what would you “take off” from your calendar of 1001 things to do today?

If you could do one less thing, what would it be?

Try it.

Coco says to ūüôā

While we have all heard that dogs are man’s best friend, U.S. researchers at Miami University and St. Louis University have ¬†made some significant scientific connections between the companionship a pet can bring, and an increase in physical and mental health.

In particular, pet owners with non-aggressive dogs expressed a higher sense of self-esteem, we more extroverted, got more exercise, reported a great closeness to significant others in their lives, and significantly, were less lonely, and less fearful about getting close to other people.

The study participants were also asked to write about a time when they felt socially excluded and then write about a favorite pet or a favorite friend; writing about pets was just as effective as writing about a friend in terms of minimizing feelings of rejection, the researchers found.

In short: get a pet!

Read more at www.washingtonpost.com.

Psyche, revived by the kiss of Love. Antonio Canova, Italy, 1793

The word “psyche”¬†has been used as far back as ancient Greece, by philopsophers such as Artistotle in his ‘Treatise On The Soul’.

The basic meaning of the Greek word ŌąŌÖŌáőģ (psŇęch√™) was “life”. Derived meanings included “spirit”, “ghost”, and ultimately “self”, “conscious personality”.

‘Metamorphoses’ (a.k.a. ‘The Golden Ass’) written by the 2nd century AD novelist and rhetorician, Apuleius, is an¬†ancient Greek mythological story which includes the tale of “Cupid and Psyche” (or “Amour and Psyche”).

The story of Psyche, goddess of the soul, and Cupid (or Eros), god of love, revolves around the Cupid’s nasty mother Venus who, jealous of Psyche’s beauty, curses her to fall in love with a hideous beast. Cupid, sent to shoot the cursed arrow, instead, himself falls in love with her.

Furious, Venus places a curse on Psyche that keeps her from meeting a suitable husband, or any husband at that. As she does this, it upsets Cupid greatly, and he decides as long as the curse stays on Psyche, he will no longer shoot arrows, which will cause the temple of Venus to fall.¬†After months of no one ‚ÄĒ man or animal ‚ÄĒ falling in love, marrying, or mating, the Earth starts to grow old, which causes concern to Venus, for nobody praises her for Cupid’s actions.

Finally, she agrees to listen to Cupid’s demands, allowing him one thing to have his own way. Cupid desires Psyche. Venus, upset, agrees to his demands only if he begins work immediately. He accepts the offer and takes off, shooting his golden arrows as fast as he can, restoring everything to the way it should be. People again fall in love and marry, animals far and wide mate, and the Earth begins to look young once again.

Though Cupid now visits Psyche every night, he demands she does not look at him in the light. But one night her wicked sisters trick her and she sees his face illuminated. Cupid flees.

In despair, Psyche searches the world for her lost love, and eventually begs Venus to help her find him. Venus sends Psyche into the Underworld to complete three seemingly impossible tasks, and she succeeds at these tasks with the help of some friends. The final of these tasks is to find a box containing beauty which Venus needs to replace her ailing looks.

Psyche retrieves this, however, she decides to open the box and take a little bit of the beauty for herself. Inside, she can see no beauty; instead an infernal sleep arises from the box and overcomes her. Cupid, who had forgiven Psyche, flies to her, wipes the sleep from her face, puts it back in the box, and sends her back on her way.

Then Cupid flies to Mount Olympus and begs Jupiter (Zeus) to aid them. Jupiter calls a full and formal council of the gods and declares that it is his will that Cupid marry Psyche. Jupiter then has Psyche fetched to Mount Olympus, and gives her a drink granting her immortality. Begrudgingly, Venus and Psyche forgive each other.

Finally, Cupid and Psyche are permitted to be together forever and they have a daughter named Hedone (Pleasure).

So… the soul + the heart = pleasure.

Nicely put, Apuleius.


The first ever mind-controlled bike has arrived! ¬†The ‘PXP’, from Toyota,¬†Saatchi & Saatchi LA,¬†Deeplocal, and¬†Parlee Cycles¬†reads your thoughts via a specially built helmet to change gears as you ride.

The bike helmet, designed by Deeplocal, incorporates a built-in EEG array that lets you shift gears just by thinking about it!

The helmet learns to read your thoughts after a ten-minute “training” session to distinguish your “shift up” thoughts from your “shift down” thoughts.

“When you see the bike shift for the first time, it’s kind of like magic,” Matthew Pegula, Deeplocal Lead Engineer, tells Co.Design.

“…we’re not too far off from this being commercially viable.”

Cadel Evans, you have to get this new toy.

COOOOL.

Read more at¬†Fast Code Design¬†and John Watson’s blog.

My first class at The School Of Life in Bloomsbury, London, explored ‘The Art of Conversation’.

Presenter John Paul Flintoff, columnist for the Sunday Times, delved into the history of conversation and discovered Irish novelist Johnathan Swift was in fact shy as a mouse and hated conversation. However, he was determined to have a good one, so he persevered…
If a man of his verbosity was felt like he had nothing great worth saying to people, then surely there’s hope for us all.

It’s been proven that conversation is a currenecy as important as money; psychological studies have shown that those who have deeper conversations rate themselves as happier than those who regard their conversations as largely superficial.

So here are six ways to have better conversations, courtesy of Mr Flintoff and The School of Life.

Six ways to have better conversations:

1/ Have curiosity about strangers – everyone is different but similar to you. Find out how much so.

2/ Take off your mask – everyone has one. See what changes when you make space for others to do the same.

3/ Empathy + lack of assumptions – we all know how to be kind but we forget. We also tend to box each other before we know them from a bar of soap. Remember your kindness (and how much you dislike being labelled), and you’ll find you have more connections with people.

4/ Get behind the job title – we are all more than our current job title. NEVER ask what people do! The curiosity might kill you for the entire length of the conversation, but it’s much more fun.

5/ Adventurous openings – try to avoid the formulaic. Ultimately people will thank you for it. We had some interesting ideas come up which revolved around asking people ‘the craziest things they’d ever done’ and ‘what is your biggest secret’. But if you think that’s off your richter scale of comfort, just aim to ask something about people’s appearance eg ‘where did you get your shoes’. People love that shit.

6/ Courage – it’s scary striking up conversations with strangers. After all, we’ve all been told not to do that from a young age. But with a spirit of adventure, great conversation can pull you apart, refresh you and make way for a new you. Don’t be shy…
Thanks to The School of Life and John Paul Flintoff for a wonderful evening. Book in, if you can, for more classes at www.theschooloflife.com.

Imagine hearing colours, feeling sounds or tasting shapes.

If you look at the letter ‘4’ and see the colour “green” or have a relationship between the sound of a car horn and feel a pain in your right leg, or smell jasmine when you see a triangle, you could be a part of the less than 1% population who experience Synaesthesia.

Synaesthesia is basically a mash up of senses. A synaesthete receives the same sensory information as you or I, but somewhere in their somatosensory cortex (the parts of your brain that receive sensory information from your body parts) and association areas (the part that is involved in complex mental processes eg forming perceptions), they process the information differently and thus they experience an altered perception Рor an altered state of consciousness.

Parts of a synaesthete’s brain when looking at a letter register a letter and a colour at once.

Neuroimaging studies using PET and fMRI demonstrate significant differences between the brains of synaesthetes and non-synesthetes. The degree of white matter connectivity (white matter being the fat that coats the grey nerve cells) in the fusiform gyrus correlates with the intensity of the synaesthetic experience. There is some dispute over the functionalities of the fusiform gyrus, but it is generally accepted that it is involved in:

  1. processing color information
  2. face and body recognition (see Fusiform face area)
  3. word recognition
  4. number recognition [questionable: may only be as a result of a global response of any generic recognition tasks, further statistical evidence needed]
  5. within-category identification

Some famous synaesthetes you might know include French poet Baudelaire, Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt and Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, who was said to hear tones and chords as he painted; for example yellow was the colour of middle-C on a piano or a brassy trumpet blast. For him, the combinations and associations of colours produced vibrational frequencies akin to chords played on a piano.

Famous novelist Vladimir Nobokov wrote that he associated the letter ‘r’ with a senstion of ‘a sooty rag being ripped’, while the letter ‘a’ he associated with weathered wood.

Needless to say, it helps in the creative process!

For more information on the sensory clashes go to http://www.uksynaesthesia.com/.

Thank you to Wikipedia, and ‘Psychology 2’ by Burton, Westen and Kowalski.

As well as exploring many other patient’s stories, Sacks’ own anecdote in his latest novel ‘The Mind’s Eye” (Picador, 2010) candidly talks about his experiences with an ocular melanoma in his right eye.¬†The treatment required cutting the eye muscle to insert a radioactive plate for 72 hours, zapping the malignant cells. When unsuccessful, this is eventually followed by laser treatment which damages the fouvea – the part of your eye which delivers your central vision.

In the following weeks of recovery he experiences is extraordinary explosions of vision, with the brain suddenly spurting blowouts of bright light and colour as it tries to heal its burned, charred parts and reconnect tissues and messages between optical nerves and occipital lobe.

Colour becomes a riddle for him. Holding up a green apple in his peripheral vision, it is green, but when moved in front of his body (and thus it is viewed by the fouvea) it becomes black; same for bluebells in a meadow – with the untreated eye they remained blue but seen with the damaged eye the flowers became green with the grass.

Similarly, the scotoma or black hole in his central vision behaves as if a sci-fi beast, changing its pattern and colour to suit his surrounds; black when he opens his eyes, if looking at a white wall, the shape would suddenly change to white to match it, or to match the pattern when looking at brick walls, or chess boards.

The colour soon returns to the apples, and he experiences a heightened sense of vision whereby he sees images in his memory long after the event; a kind of heightened visual memory.

It’s an incredible cerebral experience told by such an eloquent physician.

Among his many books, Oliver Sacks has also written ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’, ‘Awakenings’, and ‘Musicophilia’.
www.oliversacks.com

Oliver Sacks’ most recent book ‘The Mind’s Eye’ looks at the curious relationship between your brain and your eyes.

He follows the patient Sue, who was born stereo-blind (that is, without binocular vision which is necessary to construct a sense of depth).¬†Born cross-eyed she had surgery at ages 2 and 7 buy was told there were no corrective exercises that would be done to help her gain a 3D vision of the world. In her 40’s, with the help of a developmental optometrist, ¬†she decided to try corrective exercises anyway and realised her 3D vision was able to be activated, suddenly seeing the steering wheel and doors “popping out” into the world once the binocular cells in her brain were activated to see the world this way. Without exercises however, this ability faded and she lost her 3D vision, demonstrating the incredible elasticity of the brain’s capacities.

The fusiform face area (FFA) is a part of the human visual system which might be specialized for facial recognition, although there is some evidence that it also processes categorical information about other objects, particularly familiar ones.

Good news! That horrible feeling when you cannot, for the life of you, recognise that person enthusiastically greeting you like a long-lost friend, actually has a name – Prosopagnosia – or face-blindness. More than that, it’s a fairly common thing.

Up to 2% of the US population – that’s 6 million people – can’t quite recognise their husbands, children, wives, teachers and colleagues, but this strange impediment isn’t even a household name.

Recognition depends on knowledge; familiarity  is based on feeling, and thus has an entirely different neural base including the amygdala and hippocampi which store memory and emotion.

Prosopagnosia comes in the form of the “hyper-familiar” ¬†– people who greet strangers at the bus stop enthusiastically feeling them know them, while also realising they don’t quite know where they know them from, if they know them at all.

The opposite is type Capgras syndrom, definitely the sadder of the two, where someone recognises a face but has no emotional memory of them – thus the Capgras patient will argue that the person (eg their daughter or son) cannot be the real thing – they must be imposters or counterfeits.

According to case studies, Prosopagnosia seems hereditary.

But with practice, the brain can be trained to remember people’s faces highlighting the plasticity of neural circuits adapting to create new memories… so there is hope for all those yet who can’t remember people’s faces!

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