The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter

Here is my review of David Sax’s “The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter” at the New York Journal of Books:

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter

“What makes a tool superior to another . . . has nothing to do with how new it is. What matters is how it enlarges or diminishes us.”

Digital technology makes life easier in many ways, but the analog interactions we have ditched in the name of progress made life more meaningful if not substantial. Or so argues David Sax in The Revenge of Analog, his call to reexamine the first-hand, in-person experiences we have given up in the name of technological progress. Continue reading

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Thomas Murphy: A Novel

Here is my review of Roger Rosenblatt’s “Thomas Murphy” at the New York Journal of Books:

Thomas Murphy

“Everyone is disabled. Love exists for our disabilities. And forgotten things, though they remain forgotten, have a life of their own.”

Roger Rosenblatt is blessed with the ability to write in almost every literary genre, to elide different forms beautifully, and to step between them with grace. That skill is on dazzling display in Thomas Murphy, a memento mori that recalls two of Rosenblatt’s earlier books—Making Toast and Kayak Morning—each of which dealt with loss while appearing to be about something else. Continue reading

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Body Language Says it All: Hillary Hides, Donald Emotes

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

The best way to judge people trying to persuade you is with the volume off!

Source: Creative Commons DonkeyHotey https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/24564574914

Source: Creative Commons DonkeyHotey https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/24564574914

I wrote about Ted Cruz’s repellent facial expressions to show how words and gesture often say different things. I also commented here and in The Washingtonian on the body language of the other presidential candidates.

During the surreal experience that was the first presidential debate each contender’s body language sent one consistent message:  Hillary hides and Donald runs on emotion. Continue reading

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Utopia Is Creepy: And Other Provocations

Here is my review of Nicholas Carr’s “Utopia Is Creepy: And Other Provocations” at the New York Journal of Books:

Utopia Is Creepy: And Other Provocations

“. . . Carr’s best hits for those who missed the last decade of his stream of thoughtful commentary about our love affair with technology and its effect on our relationships . . .”

For those who missed Nicholas Carr’s stream of thoughtful and thought–provoking commentary over the past decade, Utopia Is Creepy and Other Provocations is a handy collection of his best hits for readers who want to see what all the buzz was about. Continue reading

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$50m Judgment Says Brain Training a Sham

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

“Activate A Better You,” says Lumosity with “Brain games scientifically designed.”

Braing Training

“Activate A Better You,” says Lumosity with “Brain games scientifically designed.” Image source: Idealearning.co.uk

As a brain doctor, Lumosity’s sponsorship messages on NPR make me cringe. A welcoming voice invites listeners to play its brain–boosting games “based on neuroscience.” Tens of millions are already doing so, the ad informs you, cleverly playing on the fear of being left out: Here you are tuned in to All Things Considered hoping to stay merely informed while thousands of others are one step ahead working out in a secret brain gym.

So far Lumosity’s marketing has rattled more than 70 million target members who have flocked to it, registered an account, and ponied up for training in the belief that playing the company’s software games will stave off age–related mental decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even the pernicious side effects of chemotherapy.

Not so fast said the Federal Trade Commission, perhaps smelling snake oil. In a unanimous ruling its Bureau of Consumer Protection slapped a $50 million judgement against parent company Lumos Labs for deceptive advertising (because of the company’s precarious balance sheet it paid only $2 million to the Commission and had the rest suspended) [1, 2]. Continue reading

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A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age

Here is my review of Daniel Levitin’s “A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age” at the New York Journal of Books:

A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age

Daniel Levitin wants us to eat our spinach, an unsavory chore for an increasingly innumerate society. Yet we need the critical thinking he advocates to cut through the tangle of mistakes, manipulations, and outright lies encountered in everyday life.

“Just because there’s a number doesn’t mean that the number was arrived at properly,” says Daniel Levitin, the prolific musician, neuroscientist, and educator at McGill University. His Field Guide to Lies lays out three kinds of misinformation: numerical, verbal, and scientific. It serves as a kind of Strunk & White for sloppy thinkers. Continue reading

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Muscle Memory—It’s In Your Head, Not Your Limbs

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Exercise can help you learn, but when you do it affects results.

2016-08-24-1472082126-1914888-PennStateU.jpgIf only we could jack in our brains and download new knowledge and skills the way The Matrix films depict. But learning — whether historical facts, musical mastery, or athletic aptitude — takes effort and time. The long duration of childhood is surely evidence enough of that. So sorry, would-be Einsteins, there are no shortcuts.

But if accelerated learning is the stuff of myth and science fiction, then are there any tricks that actually can help us master new material? There are, and here are four of them.

Repetition is important whether it involves textbook study, mentally going over your notes, or physically perfecting your tennis swing. But it’s not as important as you think. You may have heard Malcolm Gladwell’s claim that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a given skill. That’s the equivalent of 90 minutes a day for 20 years, an extraordinary burden of time that makes Gladwell’s simplistic popularization suspect.

Professor Anders Ericsson at Florida State University, on whose work Gladwell based his claim, actually stressed that it was the quality of practice that mattered rather than its quantity [1]. Repetition and rote drills have their place but are hardly the whole story. Continue reading

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Good Morning, Midnight: A Novel

Here is my review of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s “Good Morning, Midnight: A Novel” at the New York Journal of Books:

Good Morning, Midnight: A Novel

A debut novel with an intriguing premise. . . . What is left when everything is gone? What does it mean to be alive in the universe and the grandeur of vast emptiness?

Augustine, a 78-year-old astronomer accustomed to remote outposts and solitude, is working at an Arctic research station when catastrophe strikes the planet. Everyone leaves. He remains behind “for the sake of his life’s work.” An enigmatic child then appears, apparently left behind during the hasty evacuation.

Who she is and where she comes from we are not told. She rarely speaks. And yet the hermetic Augustine develops an intensely caring attitude toward her. Questions of loss and identity begin to unfold. Continue reading

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Paradime: A Novel

Here is my review of Alan Glynn’s “Paradime: A Novel” at the New York Journal of Books:

Paradime: A Novel

What a fun book this is. The plot moves. It twists. What we fear will happen does happen. Then unexpected complications set in. And we end up in a place we never could have imagined.

Take this book on a plane. Take it to the beach. But take it with you on a journey that makes you wonder, How much of my life is really mine? Do I control as much of it as I think I do?

The book isn’t about fate or destiny. It isn’t about conspiracies either, although powerful players do conspire in this tale. No, it’s about choices—or failing to make them—and the consequences that follow. It’s about how little, innocuous-seeming actions can set momentous change into motion and challenge us as never before. Do we rise to the occasion with resilience and show our grit? Or do we cave? Continue reading

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The World According to Star Wars

Here is my review of Cass Sunstein’s “The World According to Star Wars” at the New York Journal of Books:

The World According to Star Wars

Why does Star Wars speak to billions? Studio heads hated it. The actors thought it ridiculous. George Lucas feared catastrophe. Yet it became a spectacular success that appealed on many levels.

Star Wars is a modern retelling of The Hero’s Journey, the universal tale of calling and fulfillment described by mythologist Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and later recounted in conversations with Bill Moyers to rapt PBS audiences.

But at the time of the film’s release studio heads had no faith in it. The actors thought it was ridiculous. George Lucas feared catastrophe. And yet Star Wars became a success that appealed on multiple levels to billions worldwide. Continue reading

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Stressed Out? Try Looking at Some Trees

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

The mere sight of greenery will calm your nervous system, guaranteed.

Trees are a natural restorative.

Everyone knows that nature is restorative. But why? New studies suggest that viewing even an image of a tree or a forest canopy bolsters the parasympathetic division of the central nervous system that naturally induces calm. The so–called autonomic nervous system has two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Both operate outside of conscious control.

The sympathetic division leaps into action during times of fight–or–flight: heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure all increase, adrenaline surges into the bloodstream, pupils dilate, our mouth goes dry, we start to sweat, and our guts switch to standby so that fuel can be diverted to muscle as it turns its stored glycogen into glucose for bursts of quick energy.

By contrast, the parasympathetic division activates the rest–and–digest response: blood pressure eases, pulse rate slows, breathing becomes calm, digestive juices flow, the intestines resume their motility, and the skeletal muscles loosen up. Continue reading

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The Prisoner of Hell Gate: A Novel [Review II]

Here is my review of Dana Wolff’s “The Prisoner of Hell Gate” at the New York Journal of Books:

The Prisoner of Hell Gate

Don’t read this book if you live alone in a remote cabin. Don’t read it if you whistle in the dark to settle your nerves. Its creepiness will unsettle you but good.

Dana Wolff adds a fresh twist to the historical tale of Mary Mallon, the Irish cook better known as “Typhoid Mary” who was the asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever in the early 1900s. Mallon worked for affluent New York families, unwittingly infecting members who subsequently fell sick and died. Finally incarcerated, she spent nearly three decades in permanent quarantine by order of public health officials.

In this suspense thriller, Dana Wolff’s heroine is Karalee Soper, graduate student of public health and great-granddaughter of George Soper, the physician who initially tracked down Mallon and locked her away where she could no longer harm others. Until now, apparently. Continue reading

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Face of a Winner – Washingtonian Magazine, April 2016

Reading candidates’ tics may tell us more than reading their platforms does. A DC neurologist explains.

See article online.

Cytowic_candidates.1

Cytowic_candidates.2

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The Science of Why You Hate Ted Cruz

via Quartz.

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Why Ted Cruz’s Facial Expression Makes Me Uneasy

Note: This piece generated a lot of buzz, even getting me a mention on the Late Late Show with James Corden!

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

What message are the Senator’s atypical facial gestures sending?

Source: Gage Skidmore via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s hard to look at Ted Cruz’s face. He’s said to be a brilliant orator with a sharp legal mind. But his expression unsettles me. I understand that my reaction is visceral and automatic, but as a neurologist it is my business to notice things out of the ordinary and probe them. The Senator’s atypical expressions leave me uneasy.

It’s remarkable how many colleagues and former associates say that they “loathe” Cruz. A Bush alumnus told The New York Times‘ Frank Bruni, “Why do people take such an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? It just saves time.” Former Senate Majority leader Bob Dole says, “Nobody likes him,” while Rep. Peter King sees “malice” behind his visage. According to The Washington Post, screenwriter Craig Mazin, Cruz’s former Princeton roommate, calls him a “huge asshole,” and “creepy.” He’s Tweeted, “Getting emails blaming me for not smothering Ted Cruz in his sleep in 1988.” The distaste for Cruz extends well beyond the US: Germans say Backpfeifengesicht, meaning a face in need of a good punch. Continue reading

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