I am sure loads of you neuroscience buffs out there will be interested in hearing that a new book on neuroaesthetics has just been published. Edited by myself and Oshin Vartanian, it is published by Baywood. You can buy it directly from Baywood, or from retailers such as Amazon. To learn more about the book, read the introduction [pdf].
Research into the neurobiology of aesthetic behavior, one of the truly unique human traits, has undergone a revolution in the last ten years. In large part due to the possibility of imaging the human brain in various non-invasive ways it has become possible to investigate the neural mechanisms behind the perception of visual and auditive art, creative behavior, or aesthetic valuation of works of art. Quite a few psychologists and neuroscientists have heeded this call.The result is an ever-increasing number of research reports in peer-reviewed journals. Still, many of these results remain unknown, even overlooked. To take an example, when science writer Jonah Lehrer recently wrote a short article entitled “Unlocking the mysteries of the artistic mind” in Psychology Today, he restricted his discussion to a rehash of Semir Zeki [pdf] and V.S. Ramachandran’s [pdf] two famous papers published ten years ago in the Journal of Consciousness Studies. True, these two papers in many ways ignited the recent interest in neuroaesthetics, but much have happened in the decade since, and one of our ambitions in publishing this new book lies in the highlighting of this body of work.
Besides a lack of publicity, the field of neuroaesthetics is also marred by two other concerns. The first and most important is a lack of a coherent theory of what neuroaesthetics amounts to and, consequently, which kind of questions neuroaesthetics should be concerned with. This kind of methodological befuddlement is hardly unheard of in the early days of a new scientific field, but to make any headway naturally such questions need to be raised and debated. A central aim of the book is to further this debate. Secondly, research on the major art forms are too separated from each other. Scientists interested in visual art seem to know very little about the work going on in the labs of music researchers, and vice versa. To rectify this misère a little, and to insist that neuroaesthetics encompass all art forms, we have included chapters on visual art, music, literature, and film in the book. (If the book had been put together today, it would also had been possible to include chapters on dance and architecture as distinct forms of visual art.)
I shall not be the judge of whether or not the book accomplishes these goals. But I do hope that some of you will take the time to take a look at it.
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Just noticed this very attractive title by the Brafman brothers- The book, Sway — the irresistable pull of irrational behavior, “will challenge your every thought”, according to a NY Times review. And it gets similarly good reviews from other prominent people, like Michael Shermer, the author of the recent book The mind of the market, which I blogged about recently.
I found a couple of good videos on this book that’s good to share:
A longer version with more nuances can be seen here:
So after this, you get the idea: unconscious, automatic thought patterns act out and cause irrational behaviours, sometimes at the worst possible time and place.The questions raised are, of course, interesting and important. Why do we sometimes make horrific decisions, despite having all the information available to make better ones? Why do prominent people, like George W. Bush, suffer from loss aversion, leading to billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost? Because it’s “too late” to pull out? Because the pain of acknowledging defeat, error or insufficiency is bigger than the benefit of sparing yet more money and lives?
Other examples can be found at the Wall Street, military, aircraft captains, and even yourself. Maybe even on a daily basis. Taken together, the examples presented in these videos and the book demonstrate that we are all susceptible to make these kinds of errors. The next and better step is, of course, to identify these errors in ourselves (and others) and act upon them in time. Coaching, anyone?
I guess I should read the book, if the publishers will send me the book 8)
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I’ve received two new books on the relationship between economics and the brain. I soon discovered that they are quite different. While the first book definitely springs out from an economic point of view, is dry and scientifically speaking to the point, the other is written as a popular science book with several allusions, anecdotes and with an emphasis on the story itself.
Unless you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about Peter Politser’s “Neuroeconomics” and Michael Shermer’s “The mind of the market“. Both books are extremely attractive to both newcomers to the field as well as well established scholars. (I wonder who is really a “neuroeconomist” today, or anybody would call themselves this).
You’ve guessed right: Michael Shermer is the witty and alluding popular science writer that writes a book with such an energy and enthusiasm that one may become a bit envious. By drawing on life experiences as diverse as his old graduate rat-project and working with and developing professional bikes, Shermer tells the story about economics and the relationship to psychology, evolution and the brain in the most wonderful and inspiring way. One thing I found remarkable was Shermer’s ability to tell these stories in a coherent way. His digressions into his experience with bicycles got me wondering what this book was really about — a self-biography? — but I soon realized that Shermer had other plans. The idea was to present how markets and products are shaped in a way analogous to darwininan evolution (although the analogy is not complete). In a way, I think Shermer may have made a new topic of study: the evolution of markets and products, much in the same way we have seen the debate about memetics (i.e., how ideas are formed and evolve with time and within communities).
Peter Politser’s contribution could easily be seen as a dried out academic paperwork that, despite its few 150 pages, would seem endless to get through. However, if you appreciate a sober approach to neuroeconomics, with less stress on story telling and more weight on facts, theories and formulas, your inner academic economist will certainly cheer all the way through the book. And it did so for me, too. politser provides an interesting take on neuroeconomics, with what I see as an approach from the economists view. Thus, one could ask for the treatment of more neuroscience, but let’s see if there will not be a sequel, or another book with more stress on the brain side of things.
So which book should you go for? If this is your first try at neuroeconomics, Shermer’s a safe try. If you want to go straight to the topic, Politser is the guy. But why not do both? They are actually important contributions and may serve as each other’s refreshments in a combination.
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The New York Academy of Sciences runs a nice little website. Here, they offer a series of audio files with interviews and presentations which are available for download as podcasts. Recent editions I have enjoyed include a talk by Michael Schermer on his new book (on evolutionary approaches to economics) and a lecture by anthropologist Randall White on paleolithic body ornamentation.
Of the many, many interesting items – including podcasts with Steven Pinker and Craig Ventner, or Vittorio Gallese on mirror neurons and art – I want to highlight a recent edition which contains a highly interesting short presentation by neurophysiologist Donald Pfaff on neurobiological underpinnings of altruistic behavior. Pfaff has recently published a slim volume on this topic, The Neuroscience of Fair Play, which is notable for the fact that it deals mostly with very basic physiological processes underpinning motivational behavior – in contrast to most writings on moral neuroscience that (for good reasons) tend to focus on the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the integration of emotion and cognition in moral behavior.
I plan to review Pfaff’s book later this spring, and also to write more on moral neuroscience.
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My new book, Følelser og kognition (see below), is starting to garner some attention in the Danish press. Tuesday I appeared on the Danish National Radio’s premiere current affairs show, Orientering, to talk about the role of emotions in politics. If you speak Danish you can hear the programme here. First there is an interview with American psychologist Drew Westen who is famous for having conducted an fMRI experiment where, during the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign, republican and democratic voters were presented with contradicting statements about the two candidates, Bush and Kerry. In essence, the results showed that, whereas the subjects had no problem accepting that the opposing candidate would issue conflicting statements, they were loath to accept their own candidate’s statements as contradictory. And this defensive behavior correlated with enhanced neural activity in a number of areas usually thought to subserve emotion processing. Westen recently published a book called The Political Brain, and most of the interview with him is about this book. Afterwards, the host and I talk more generally about the relation between emotion and cognition in human behavior.
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Posted in book, neuroimaging on August 25, 2007|
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While we’re still at books news from the Brainethics duo, here is another new thingy:
The excellent new textbook entitled “Cognition, Brain and Consciousness”, edited by Bernard Baars and Nicole Gage, is finally out from Academic Press. It’s a highly readable book, rich in illustrations and examples. Judging from the reviews it has received so far, it’s going to be a popular book.
I participated in writing the two chapters on brain imaging methods, one on the “surface intro level”, and another more in-depth description of methods (an appendix). In a similar vein, other authors have contributed to both an easy introduction as well as more in-depth discussions, making the book accessible to both a broad audience as well as an update to those already in the field of cognitive neuroscience (I learnt a lot by reading other author’s chapters).
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Posted in blog, book, emotions on August 22, 2007|
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We are back in business after a two months hiatus. I apologize for the lack of posting, but both Thomas and I have been working on a number of projects that haven’t left us much time for thinking about Brainethics stuff. But we are back now, although we are probably not going to be able to post more than once or twice per week. In the meantime we have reached the 100.000 hit mark. Naturally, such a puny number is not going to impress John Hawks and his ilk, but we are pretty happy!
One of the things I myself have been working on is a book called Følelser og kognition, or Emotion and Cognition. It is in Danish, so if you are one of the more than 5 billion human beings that cannot understand this curious Germanic language you can skip the following paragraphs. Together with my co-editor Thomas Wiben Jensen I have been working on this book for more than 2 years but now it is finally being published. The official publication date is October 1, but you can already order it from the publisher’s homepage.
Our main goal in putting out this book has been to introduce a non-neuroscience audience to our rapidly advancing understanding of how emotion and cognition interact to produce many forms of human behavior. Examples include decision-making, social cognition, economics, moral cognition, and aesthetic behavior, all topics we have written about often here at the blog. The initial surprise was the realization that input from brain structures thought to subserve emotion was necessary for decision-making to proceed in a normal fashion. But recently it has become clear that cognition also modulates emotional processing in important regards. For instance the perception of emotional faces appear to be influenced by top-down modulation, as described in this review paper by Lisa Feldman Barret et al. in the recent issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences. In fact, emotion-cognition interaction is such a hot topic that TICS has started a special series of papers on it.
Since Følelser og kognition is intended to introduce readers to the area of emotion-cognition research it deals more in elementary topics than in cutting edge research. It is composed of two parts, the first containing 5 chapters written by leading Danish neuroscientists providing a basic introduction to the neurobiology of emotion. The second part, then, contains chapters demonstrating how emotion interacts with cognition to produce social cognition – including Theory of Mind – consciousness, and art and film experience. We would have liked to include chapters specifically on neuroeconomics and moral cognition, but when we first started putting the book together we couldn’t find any Danish authors working in these areas. Since then this has changed.
When the book hits the bookstores, and we start getting any feedback I will post more about the reactions to the book. Also, Thomas Wiben and I will appear at this year’s Bogforum – an annual Danish book faire – on November 17, where we will be interviewed by journalist Jan Skøt. Stay tuned for more information about that.
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