I can’t be the only scientist who feels like a fraud. But we don’t talk about it. No one volunteers to proclaim their inadequacies. In fact, scientists go to great lengths to disguise how little we know, how uncertain we feel, and how much we worry that everyone deserves to be here but us. The result is a laboratory full of colleagues who look so impossibly darn confident. They’re the real scientists, we tell ourselves. They can follow the entire seminar. They read journals for pleasure. Their mistakes only lead them in more interesting directions. They remember all of organic chemistry. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Maybe the idea of science is easier to love than the minutiae of science. Or maybe the veneer of professionalism is important to protect the integrity and authority of scientists. Or maybe that’s a cop-out.
Clippings and half-formed thoughts on nature, conservation, technology, history, architecture, & other nerdery. Lovingly selected for you by Hannah Waters. Follow me on twitter @hannahjwaters and read my blog Culturing Science.
So why does chemistry’s role in accidents get highlighted, and whose fault is it that people are so scared of chemicals?
Simple - mine. It’s my fault, and my grandfather’s. We are responsible for chemophobia. Why? Well, grandfather’s sodium demo certainly fuelled my enthusiasm for chemistry. But it didn’t spark it - that happened somewhere else. And sparking an interest is what he should have done and what I should be doing.
Pouring fuel onto the flames of enthusiasm is easy, especially with chemistry. The theatre is easy, too - the bangs, the flames, the explosions, the pops, the whizzes, the smoke and the rockets are fabulously entertaining. I love it, and I love the whoops and cries and applause from the audience.
But at the end of the day, what did the audience remember? Just those bangs - and not a jot of chemistry. Explosive, flaming chemistry demos do nothing to show what chemistry can build and everything to highlight what it can destroy. And in the process, they blow out any flickering interest in chemistry and replace it with fear.
That, Barrett told me, is what the mind does with emotions. Just as that first picture of the bee actually wasn’t a picture of a bee for me until I taught myself that it was, my emotions aren’t actually emotions until I’ve taught myself to think of them that way. Without that, I have only a meaningless mishmash of information about what I’m feeling. In other words, as Barrett put it to me, emotion isn’t a simple reflex or a bodily state that’s hard-wired into our DNA, and it’s certainly not universally expressed. It’s a contingent act of perception that makes sense of the information coming in from the world around you, how your body is feeling in the moment, and everything you’ve ever been taught to understand as emotion. Culture to culture, person to person even, it’s never quite the same. What’s felt as sadness in one person might as easily be felt as weariness in another, or frustration in someone else.
So there’s no such thing as a basic emotion? It sounds crazy. But this is where all sorts of brain science is headed. Researchers once assumed that the brain stored specific memories, but now they’ve realized that there is no such stash to be found. Memories, the new science suggests, are actually reconstructed anew every time we access them, and appear to us a little differently each time, depending on what’s happened since. Vision works in a similar way. The brain, it turns out, doesn’t consciously process every single piece of information that comes its way. Think of how impossibly distracting the regular act of blinking would be if it did. Instead, it pays attention to what you need to pay attention to, then raids your memory stores to fill in the blanks.
This reads like pretty basic thought experiment stuff — “what if what i think is red is a totally different color to you?” — but it goes deeper than that. What were early experiences that first defined anger for a person? Do they carry that subtlety and severity with them for life?
Doesn’t this sound familiar? It’s the de-evolution of man into something not quite human but subhuman. An unrecognizable family member demonically possessed by some unfathomable but instantly recognizable animal instinct. The frothing at the mouth, the lucid madness, the lost humanity: it’s all here and stems from our ancient, tragic history with rabies and canines. To be human is a sacred and inviolable thing; rabies infection breaches that principal. The animal bite and the transmission of disease represent a moment of transgressive contact between animal mouth and human flesh, the possibility of losing one’s humanity and regressing to an animal state. Our horror stories capitalize on this lurid fear.
What was the purpose of the study? Some clinicians describe patients who report problems decreasing their sexual behaviors, such as viewing many hours of sexual films online every day, as sexually “addicted” or “hypersexual”. Our study tested whether people who report such problems look like other addicts from their brain responses to sexual images. Studies of drug addictions, such as cocaine, have shown a consistent pattern of brain response to images of the drug of abuse, so we predicted that we should see the same pattern in people who report problems with sex if it was, in fact, an addiction. What is the main finding in your study? We found that the brain’s response to sexual pictures was not predicted by any of three different questionnaire measures of hypersexuality. Brain response was only predicted by a measure of sexual desire. In other words, hypersexuality does not appear to explain brain differences in sexual response any more than just having a high libido. Does this prove sex addiction is a myth? If our study is replicated, these findings would represent a major challenge to existing theories of sex “addiction”. The reason these findings present a challenge is that is shows their brains did not respond to the images like other addicts to their drug of addiction.
Source: The New York Times