Saturday, October 13, 2007

Are men really from Mars? Women really from Venus?

Deborah Cameron, writing in the Times of London, thinks not. In “Talking tosh on Mars and Venus”, we are told, she argues that it’s a myth:
The bones of Cameron’s argument, set out in The Myth of Mars and Venus, are that Gray et al have no scientific basis for their claims. Great sheaves of academic papers, says Cameron, show that the language skills of men and women are almost identical. Indeed, the central tenets of the Mars and Venus culture – that women talk more than men, that men are more direct, that women are more verbally skilled – can all be debunked by scientific research. A recent study in the American journal Science, for instance, found men and women speak almost exactly the same number of words a day: 16,000.
“The main thing about the book is that I wanted to offer people more than the evidence-free rubbish they get every day,” says Cameron. “My pitch was basically the CSI pitch: let the evidence tell the story.”

Hmmm. I’m not sure. I’ve met many men and women who conformed to the Mars-Venus stereotype and many that didn’t. But I never did the numbers thing .... Her book, The Myth of Mars and Venus, is surely worth a read.

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Palliative care doctor on The Spiritual Brain

He kindly writes,

Just wanted to let you know that I just finished reading the latest book you co-wrote and found it to be dynamite.

My favorite was at the bottom of p.99 where you pointed out that if the materialist view is right then we'll just have to accept it despite it going against all of our observations about human nature and that we'll just have to live with "cognitive dissonance" due to materialism's assumptions. But the best part was the materialist's need to deny that the human brain could have evolved in a way that made us believe in materialism.

I'm not sure if you've heard this quip by C.S. Lewis when he was told that a belief in God is "only a creation of the mind". He said "so is the belief in materialism" The corollary of the materialist argument being that if one can believe in there being a "God gene" then logically there must also be the possibility of an "Un-God gene" and that explains why materialists "believe" as they do. - palliative care doctor, friend of co-author Denyse O’Leary

Thanks, Doc! Mario and I really hope that The Spiritual Brain will be just the sort of crossover science and religion book that can communicate with people in science who are also people of faith! - d.

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The inner lives of people classed as “vegetative”

A must-read for anyone who could find themselves in a vegetative state (= you and me) is a recent article in the New Yorker by Jerome Groopman, summarizing the recent findings about the inner life of many people who appear to others to be no more responsive than zucchinis:
Bainbridge had not spoken or responded to her family or her doctors, although her eyes were often open and roving. (A person in a coma appears to be asleep and is unaware of even painful stimulation; a person in a vegetative state has periods of wakefulness but shows no awareness of her environment and does not make purposeful movements.) Owen placed Bainbridge in a PET scanner, a machine that records changes in metabolism and blood flow in the brain, and, on a screen in front of her, projected photographs of faces belonging to members of her family, as well as digitally distorted images, in which the faces were unrecognizable. Whenever pictures of Bainbridge’s family flashed on the screen, an area of her brain called the fusiform gyrus, which neuroscientists had identified as playing a central role in face recognition, lit up on the scan. “We were stunned,” Owen told me. “The fusiform-gyrus activation in her brain was not simply similar to normal; it was exactly the same as normal volunteers’.”

One fellow, recently reawakened, recalled his social security number from over two decades earlier and helpfully offered it to his mother while she was on the phone with a bureaucrat.

Kate Bainbridge herself, ex-vegetable, wrote to Groopman to offer an opinion:
Kate Bainbridge, the first vegetative patient that Adrian Owen studied in Cambridge, has also made considerable progress, recovering the use of her arms, and much of her mental function, although she is unable to walk. She still has difficulty talking, and uses a letter board to communicate with people who are not used to her speech. “Most scans show what is wrong with your brain, which doctors need to know,” Bainbridge wrote to me in an e-mail. “But Adrian Owen’s scans show what is working. I say they found parts of my brain were working. It really scares me to think what might have happened to me if I had not had the scans. They show people it was worth carrying on even though my body was unresponsive.”

Something to think about, when we hear people say - about old or sick or developmentally delayed people - "Oh, So-and-so doesn’t understand what we are saying." The Mindful Hack humbly suggests: Don’t risk it. And if it not something that shows concern for them, don't say it. Don't even think it.

For Mindful Hack stories on brain absent people, go here “How much brain does a man really need?”, and here “Just how much brain do YOU need?”.

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Lennox-Dawkins debate: South takes it in stride and civility

Naomi Schaefer Riley reflects on the Lennox-Dawkins debate: Famous Oxford science types on whether God exists:
Perhaps Mr. Dawkins was surprised by this reception. He recently referred to the Bible Belt states as "the reptilian brain of southern and middle America," in contrast to the "country's cerebral cortex to the north and down the coasts." This debate marks the first time Mr. Dawkins has appeared in the Old South. Maybe his publishers suggested it would be a good idea. After all, "The God Delusion" and similar atheist tracts have been selling like hotcakes (or buttered grits) down here.

But why? Are Christians staying up late on Saturday night to read these books and failing to show up at church on Sunday morning, as Mr. Dawkins might hope? So far, the answer is no, according to Bill Hay, senior pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church just outside of Birmingham. ...

Didn’t the same thing happen to H. L. Mencken? He persistently portrayed Dayton, Tennessee as a rural backwater - though he actually knew otherwise. Here is my view of why and how that happens, riffing off Leon Kass.

Note: For more resources on the debate, go here.


Amazon blog for The Spiritual Brain

One reason I have fallen behind in posting is that I have been setting up an Amazon blog for The Spiritual Brain. You can find the blog at the book’s site here or at its own site here. There I will cumulate reviews, commments, et cetera, as well as a rotating selection of posts from The Mindful Hack.