Another grab bag

Feeling a little lazy and self-indulgent. despite a liter of diet cola. Gonna share links today.

Please hold your applause until the end of the performance.

First off, something cool and sciencey that I just could not bear to sit on till next Friday because it is not just cool and science-tastic, it is about one of my all time favorite scientific arenas, the Thunderdome brain science.

Check out this neato keen little video and we will discuss it when you return.

Don’t worry, there probably won’t be a quiz.

(By the way, have you heard the one about the professor who was fond of giving particularly brutal pop quizzes that he called his “little quizzies”? This prompter one fresh new student to exclaim “Wow, if these are your little quizzies, I can’t wait to see your big testies… ” )

Pretty neat stuff, huh? It is amazing to think that just imagining doing something can give you any of the benefits of doing it. But it makes sense, given what we are learning about the fascinating world of mirror neurons and the plasticity of the human mind.

Mirror neurons are the prime way we learn actions by observing others. We can watch someone doing something and imagine doing it ourselves, and studies have shown that when we do so, the same areas of the brain light up with activity as if we were doing it ourselves.

This particular form of motor empathy is particularly important when we are children and first learning how to walk, talk, and handle objects. We learn these skills much faster when we have other people around to monitor and imitate.

So it makes sense, at least to me, that we can get some of the same effect by simply imagining doing the action ourselves. In a way, we are copying the actions of everyone else we have seen doing similar actions. After all, we have all seen people playing the piano, even if only on the screen. But in another sense, we are copying off ourselves and our own imaginations.

So really, the video should have been called “the power of imagination”, but let’s not quibble.

I also find the video interesting because it deals with an aspect of the brain I find fascinating, which is the vital distinction between internal and external stimuli. After all, the people imagining that they were playing the piano knew they were not. There was never any doubt. And yet, they got some of the same benefit as actually doing it.

Clearly, then, while their consciousness knew they were not doing it, other parts of the brain were fooled, so to speak.

As someone temperamentally inclined to sitting and imagining things rather than doing them, I find I take great comfort in this idea.

Next up, we have a hilarious story from the annals of deep nerdity. Darling of the Internet Felicity Walker sent me this story of notoriously bellicose and thoughtless (not to mention touchy) comics legend John Byrne actually attacking himself.

For those outside the blessed circle, John Byrne is a big deal comic artist and writer who has been around forever.

But unlike most other legends of the comic world, he seems quite fond of the Internet (well, kinda…) and especially the forums on his own personal website, where he wields his power as the head honcho supremo of this little universe of his own like the flaming sword of an archangel, punishing those who offend him by casting them out of the light and into the outer darkness via banning them from his forum.

And it does not take much to set him off, the prickly old crab that he is, and if he is not actually banning people, he is usually attacking them for being so very Less Than Him.

So to see that his attack dog instincts have finally progressed in their pathology enough that he attacks statements that he himself made is downright hilarious. BYRNE BURNS HIMSELF makes a kickass headline.

I think we should encourage this as much as possible. All the fans currently surviving on his form should scour the archives for the most outrageous and offensive things he has said, and re-post them as their own thoughts, and watch him flame himself into tiny floating embers.

It would be priceless.

Finally, here’s a fun list to read if you are interested in biological exuberance : The 25 Gayest Animals.

I will not go into the thought processes that lead me to type “gayest animals” into Google, as tracking the way my mind works would require some sort of N-dimensional grid, so we will just call it “a whim” and leave it to that.

But for a lot of reasons, most of them obvious, I find the recent revelations of the prevalence of homosexual activity in the animal kingdom very interesting.

After all, being gay myself and somewhat of a scientist (at least, in theory…), I have wondered what is up with homosexuality. On the surface, it does not seem to make any evolutionary sense. What purpose can there be in sex that is so clearly nonreproductive?

But my theory is that nature has decided (via natural selection) that it is better for animals to be so horny they will mate with anyone willing, or even an inanimate object if it is the next best thing.

After all, Mother Nature does not give out instructions, only impulses. Drives. Urges. And the urge is to take care of that maddening sensation in your genitals, so to speak.

Exactly how it is taken care of is not that important. As long as most of the animals take care of it in the reproductive way (and most always will), some slippage is irrelevant.

Nature would vastly prefer some “false positives” than have there be any risk of there not being enough sex to keep the species going come mating seasons.

So it does make sense that evolution has selected for horniness rather than eliminate all possibilities of homosexual attraction and activity.

And that does not even taken into account the benefits of non-competing members of a social species.

Well, that’s all for today. Later folks!

4 thoughts on “Another grab bag

  1. So if you spend your mental imagination time teaching yourself how to obsess over your perceived helplessness and problems and inability to deal with something, instead of finding solutions and dealing… you form your brain that is excellent at obsessing and not dealing with things.

  2. “The Power of Thought” idea reminds me of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, in which Professor Brian O’Blivion argues that things experienced vicariously are nevertheless experienced and influence the brain (and therefore TV is “real”). So Cronenberg called it!

    • Oh yeah, you’re right!

      This also connects with my theories about why people think crime is a lot more common than it is because of all the crime they see on TV.

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