Brain High Low

Today I listened to a podcast (the podcast is in German) about the study of Emotions. The podcast is great and highly recommendable.

Two more comments:
Jaak Panksepp seems a cool guy: he tickles rats for science. Here is a video of him tickling rats (I’ve watched only the first minute of the video.). When tickled they become all trustful and friendly. Apparently they even burst out in ultra-sonic squeaky laughter. I will remember this technique and try it on my brother’s hamster.

All this is of course no proof of rats experiencing pleasure the same way humans do. Just because we cannot even know whether our best friend is experiencing pleasure the way we do (the old philosophical zombie problem). Though in the same Podcast Bud Craig from the University of Phoenix gave an argument, which annoyed me. He said something along the lines: rats surely do not experience pleasure the same way people do, because they don’t have higher brain regions.
So what, Bud, do you mean by higher brain regions? The prefrontal cortex? Rats have that. Six layered cortex? Rats have that too.
Whatever Bud meant, I think he used the wrong term. Higher brain regions is not only misleading but utterly WRONG. Usually people refer with ‘higher’ to the cortex as being the latest invention of evolution and its gift to the pride of creation: humans (if sarcasm does not work in blogs, announcing sarcasm does).
Though it turns out that the cortex is neither necessary for emotion nor for learning. Children born without a cortex are capable of expressing emotions, interacting socially and recognizing places and people (link to an article about this – it’s a pdf).

The cortex is not high. There is no hierarchy in the brain. So stop playing high-low with brains!

What do Reinforcement Theory and the Spaghetti Monster have in common?

My Gospel of the Spaghetti Monster

I do what I think is best for me: I’m striving for rewards and try to avoid punishment. Easy! And intuitive. This is basic reinforcement theory.

You can apply reinforcement theory to every behaviour, because everything can be rewarding, even punishment, just think of Sado-Masochists.

Reinforcement theory cannot be disproved: if I fail explaining behaviour with reinforcement, it’s either inherent noisiness of behaviour, the reward was not rewarding enough or the participant was wrong (damn depression!).

Though wait – if a theory cannot be falsified its not scientific.

I, personally, believe in the Spaghetti Monster. I cannot prove its existence, nor can anyone prove it doesn’t exist. That is why Spaghetti Monster is a believe and no science. As is reinforcement theory.

Old meets Young

Yesterday I met Henry Bennet-Clark, a retired professor in Oxford.

Birgit with 6 years

Never got a pony, had to compensate.

He told me the story of fly song recording, beginning in the 1950s and ending with his last publication on fly song in 1995. That year I just turned six. On hearing this, Henry chuckled and said ‘sweet’.

After talking for two hours over lunch we got up. Me being two heads taller then him. He showed me were to put my tray and gave me a napkin. It was full of notes from an old scientist for a young one.

Thanks Henry, it was a pleasure.


The Oxford bike experience


Oxford hates bikes.

Up on the bike, on the road, it begins to rain, puddles from the last rainfall are stirred up, you drive through them, on your right a bus, only centimeters away, the bus-driver overtakes, drives slightly more to the left, so you can’t drive next to him anymore, he stops, you stop, you wait, in a puddle.

Riding your bike can be a pain in Oxford. Yes. But Oxford makes you yearn for this pain. Simply by depriving you from your bike.

Lunch at College, returning to the bike racks, spotting a bike next to yours, it’s new, it’s locked to yours, you are stuck. No way to get out of this other than waiting. The police won’t help and a locksmith will charge you 50 quid.

Today, dear bike I had to leave you behind. Oxford has seized you.