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The Science of Sarcasm? Yeah, Right

Neuroscience Challenges Old Ideas about Free Will Do we have free will? It is an age-old question which has attracted the attention of philosophers, theologians, lawyers and political theorists. Now it is attracting the attention of neuroscience, explains Michael S. Cook: Why did you decide to tackle the question of free will? Gazzaniga: I think the issue is on every thinking person’s mind. Now, after 50 years of studying the brain, listening to philosophers, and most recently being slowly educated about the law, the issue is back on my front burner. Cook: What makes you think that neuroscience can shed any light on what has long been a philosophical question? Gazzaniga: Philosophers are the best at articulating the nature of a problem before anybody knows anything empirical. Having said that, philosophers can’t have all the fun. Cook: Do you think that neuroscience, as a field, needs to tackle these questions? Gazzaniga: We all need to understand more about free will, or more wisely put, the nature of action. The world is not flat.

How People are Fooled by Evidence Rationality is the crowning achievement of our species. The ability to use evidence is true the cornerstone of science, medicine, and our legal system. We use rational methods, too, in daily life – we assess an applicant’s resume, a child’s IQ, or the mileage of a used car to predict the likelihood of good performance later on. There is a line of psychological research that studies precisely this, by measuring how accurate we are at making probability judgments. Imagine, for example, that you are in a library (assuming people still do such things), and you’ve become lost. Book 1: Piers Anthony’s Blue Adept: The Apprentice Adept Book 2: J. You’re not sure how to categorize Book 1, so it’s not good evidence for either Science Fiction or Fantasy. Here’s where things get interesting. Researchers Whitman and Woodward recently demonstrated this effect in a controlled laboratory setting. Changing how information is displayed may be something we do without realizing it.

The Benefits of Daydreaming A new study suggests that a daydreaming is an indicator of a well-equipped brain Does your mind wander? During a class or meeting, do you find yourself staring out the window and thinking about what you’ll do tomorrow or next week? Well, psychological research is beginning to reveal that daydreaming is a strong indicator of an active and well-equipped brain. A new study, published in Psychological Science by researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science, suggests that a wandering mind correlates with higher degrees of what is referred to as working memory. For example, imagine that, when leaving a friend ‘s house, you promise to call when you get home safely. In the study, the researchers sought to examine the relationship between people’s working memory capacity and their tendency to daydream. Surprisingly, there was a correlation between mind wandering during the first task and high scores on the working memory test.

The Evolution of Grief, Both Biological and Cultural, in the 21st Century | Culturing Science Three months ago, I received an email informing me that a high school friend, Pat, had died. I read his obituary and my body stopped functioning. I froze on the spot, limbs tense but trembling. My mouth went dry, my vision blurred. As I waited for my train in the packed station, I could barely stand as my muscles turned to jelly and legs folded beneath my body. I tried to maintain composure in the public space, but my contorted face betrayed my sorrow. It was shocking to me: I felt real physical pain — a biological response brought about by stress hormones — in response to death. Evolutionary biologists think that grief is passed on not because it provides benefit in itself, but rather it is a side effect of having relationships. In more social animals, such as humans, those reciprocal relationships extend beyond parent-child. This idea was endlessly comforting in my mourning. Grief is the price we pay for friendship. Digital love The onslaught of mourning continued, nonetheless. Images:

Why Daydreaming Makes You Smarter and More Creative Editors’ Note: Portions of this post appeared in similar form in an October, 2011, post by Jonah Lehrer for, in an August, 2008, column by Lehrer for the Boston Globe, and in his previously published book “Imagine.” We regret the duplication of material. Humans are a daydreaming species. At first glance, such data seems like a confirmation of our inherent laziness. In recent years, however, psychologists and neuroscientists have redeemed this mental state, revealing the ways in which mind-wandering is an essential cognitive tool. Virginia Woolf, in her novel “To The Lighthouse,” eloquently describes this form of thinking as it unfolds inside the mind of a character named Lily: Certainly she was losing consciousness of outer things. A daydream is that fountain spurting, spilling strange new thoughts into the stream of consciousness. Subjects were then randomly assigned to one of four different conditions. What does this mean? Editors’ Notes: Photograph by Peter Marlow/Magnum.

Thinking in a Foreign Language Makes Decisions More Rational | Wired Science To judge a risk more clearly, it may help to consider it in a foreign language. A series of experiments on more than 300 people from the U.S. and Korea found that thinking in a second language reduced deep-seated, misleading biases that unduly influence how risks and benefits are perceived. “Would you make the same decisions in a foreign language as you would in your native tongue?” “It may be intuitive that people would make the same choices regardless of the language they are using, or that the difficulty of using a foreign language would make decisions less systematic. Psychologists say human reasoning is shaped by two distinct modes of thought: one that’s systematic, analytical and cognition-intensive, and another that’s fast, unconscious and emotionally charged. 'Would you make the same decisions in a foreign language?' Equally plausible, however, is that communicating in a learned language forces people to be deliberate, reducing the role of potentially unreliable instinct.

The Evolution of REM Dreaming New studies reveal that more animals are dreaming than we thought. In fact, all mammals and birds have REM, and if J.M. Siegel is correct, reptiles may have REM as well. REM, or Rapid Eye Movement sleep is a regularly occurring stage of sleep in which, when people are awakened and asked, dreams are often reported. In this stage of sleep, which occurs about six times a night for an average of twenty minutes each, our eyes move under our eyelids as if we were awaking and scanning some scene, hence the designation Rapid Eye Movement sleep. After the 1953 discovery of REM in humans by modern science, researchers began testing other species for REM and searching for signs of dreaming in all kinds of creatures. A theory developed that dreaming was an evolutionary advance to keep the mammalian brain warm and alert and to not let it sink too deeply into inactivity. Who's dreaming the most? Sleep itself is somewhat different for every species. J. Just what this means is unclear. Conclusions

The Overjustification Effect The Misconception: There is nothing better in the world than getting paid to do what you love. The Truth: Getting paid for doing what you already enjoy will sometimes cause your love for the task to wane because you attribute your motivation as coming from the reward, not your internal feelings. Office Space – Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Money isn’t everything. Money can’t buy happiness. Don’t live someone else’s dream. Maxims like these often find their way into your social media; they arrive in your electronic mailbox at the ends of dense chains of forwards. Money, fame, and prestige – they dangle just outside your reach it seems, encouraging you to lean farther and farther over the edge, to study longer and longer, to work harder and harder. If only science had something concrete to say about the whole thing, you know? The researchers discovered money is indeed a major factor in day-to-day happiness. If you find that hard to believe, you aren’t alone. Time Magazine in 1971