Throughout his career Dr. Oliver Sacks, neurologist and acclaimed author, whose book Awakenings was made into a Oscar-nominated feature film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, has encountered myriad patients who are struggling to cope with debilitating medical conditions.
While their ailments vary, many have one thing in common: an appreciation for the therapeutic effects of music.
NOVA follows four individuals — two of whom are Sacks’s case studies — and even peers into Sacks’s own brain, to investigate music’s strange, surprising, and still unexplained power over the human mind.
It is America of the 1950s and 1960s, when a woman’s most important contribution to society is generally considered to be her ability to raise happy, well-adjusted children.
But for the mother whose child is diagnosed with autism, her life’s purpose will soon become a twisted nightmare. Looking for help and support, she encounters instead a medical establishment that pins the blame for her child’s bizarre behaviors on her supposedly frigid and detached mothering. Along with a heartbreaking label for her child, she receives a devastating label of her own. She is a “refrigerator mother”.
Refrigerator Mothers paints an intimate portrait of an entire generation of mothers, already laden with the challenge of raising profoundly disordered children, who lived for years under the dehumanizing shadow of professionally promoted “mother blame.”
Once isolated and unheard, these mothers have emerged with strong, resilient voices to share the details of their personal journeys. Through their poignant stories, Refrigerator Mothers puts a human face on what can happen when authority goes unquestioned and humanity is removed from the search for scientific answers.
Preview below, with a link to watch the rest:
A 6-part documentary series from the UK’s Channel Four in which Niall Ferguson asks why it was that Western civilization, from inauspicious roots in the 15th century, came to dominate the rest of the world; and if the West is about to be overtaken by the rest. It accompanies his book Civilization: The West and the Rest.
Ferguson reveals the killer apps of the West’s success – competition, science, the property owning democracy, modern medicine, the consumer society and the Protestant work ethic – the real explanation of how, for five centuries, a clear minority of mankind managed to secure the lion’s share of the earth’s resources.
Competition: The first programme in the series begins in 1420 when Ming China had a credible claim to be the most advanced civilization in the world: ‘All Under Heaven’. England on the eve of the Wars of the Roses would have seemed quite primitive by contrast.
Science: In 1683 the Ottoman army laid siege to Vienna, the capital of Europe’s most powerful empire. Domination of West by East was an alarmingly plausible scenario. But Islam was defeated: not so much by firepower as by science.
Property: Professor Ferguson asks why North America succeeded while South America for so many centuries lagged behind. The two had much in common (not least the subjugation of indigenous peoples and the use of slavery by European immigrants), but they differed profoundly on individual property rights, the rule of law and representative government.
Medicine: The French Empire consciously set out to civilize West Africa by improving public health as well as building a modern infrastructure. Yet in other European empires – notably Germany’s in southwest Africa – colonial rule led to genocide. What was the link from medical science to racial pseudo-science?
Consumerism: Today the world is becoming more homogenous and, with increasingly few exceptions, big-name brands dominate main streets, high streets and shopping malls all over the globe.
Work: The sixth element that enabled the West to dominate the rest was the work ethic. Max Weber famously linked it to Protestantism, but the reality is that any culture, regardless of religion, is capable of embracing the spirit of capitalism by working hard, saving, and accumulating capital.
You can also watch his lecture Empires on the Edge of Chaos on fora.tv (from ABC’s Big Ideas) or The Ascent of money: An evolutionary approach to financial history from Gresham College.
Another thematically related lecture: Ian Morris: Why the West Rules – For Now
Update: Does Islam Stand Against Science? (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
Who Are We? is the title of the final episode from the BBC series The Story of Science: Power, Proof and Passion.
Michael Mosley takes an informative and ambitious journey exploring how the evolution of scientific understanding is intimately interwoven with society’s historical path.
We now know that the brain – the organ that more than any other makes us human – is one of the wonders of the universe, and yet until the 17th century it was barely studied.
The twin sciences of brain anatomy and psychology have offered different visions of who we are. Now these sciences are coming together and in the process have revealed some surprising and uncomfortable truths about what really shapes our thoughts, feelings and desires.
And the search to understand how our brains work has also revealed that we are all – whether we realise it or not – carrying out science from the moment we are born.
Richard H. Thaler, Director of the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, is the father of Behavioral Economics. In preparation for a new book he asked EDGE contributors to answer this question:
The flat earth and geocentric world are examples of wrong scientific beliefs that were held for long periods. Can you name your favorite example and for extra credit why it was believed to be true?
As of today, there are 61 responses which make for fascinating reading on how science has corrected itself and our views of nature.
The contributors include Neil Shubin, Garrett Lisi, Peter Schwartz, David Deutsch, Haim Harari, Alun Anderson, Irene Pepperberg, John Holland, Derek Lowe, Charles Simonyi, Nathan Myhrvold, Lawrence Krauss, Steven Strogatz, Cesar Hidalgo, Eric Topol, Christian Keysers, Simona Morini, Ross Anderson, James Croak, Rob Kurzban, Lewis Wolpert, Howard Gardner, Ed Regis, Robert Trivers, Frank Tipler, Joan Chaio, Jeremy Bernstein, Matthew Ritchie, Clay Shirky, Roger Schank, Gary Klein, Gregory Cochran, Eric Weinstein , Geoffrey Carr, James O’Donnell, Lane Greene, Jonathan Haidt, Juan Enriquez, Scott Atran, Rupert Sheldrake, Emanuel Derman, Charles Seife, Milford H. Wolpoff, Robert Shapiro, Judith Harris, Jordan Pollack, Sue Blackmore, Nicholas G. Carr, Lee Smolin, Marti Hearst, Gino Segre, Carl Zimmer, Gregory Paul, Alison Gopnik, George Dyson, Mark Pagel, Timothy Taylor, David Berreby, Zenon Pylyshyn, Michael Shermer, and George Lakoff.
Topics (with comments on both bad and correct science or beliefs) include: plate tectonics, cosmic inflation, prions, quantum entanglement, the force of gravity, the great chain of being, bird intelligence, the four humours of human physiology, luminiferous aether, bad air disease theory, Peripatetic Mechanics of Aristotle, stress theory of ulcers, intelligent design/creationism, the age of the Earth, cell regeneration, spontaneous generation of life, vitalism, unifunctional components of the brain, security by obscurity, whales as fishes, group selection, unilinear cultural evolution, static universe, Lamarckism, nature/nurture, the existence of a vacuum, the human brain vs. the heart, and more…
Bonus: Thaler on his field Behavioural Economics:
(…) Hofstadter’s essay on the ‘paranoid style’, in which he examined right-wing conspiracy theories, effectively set the tone of much of the research that was to follow. The paranoid style, Hofstadter argued, was a result of ‘uncommonly angry minds’, whose judgement was somehow ‘distorted’. Following this vein, some scholars came to view conspiracy theories as a product of psychopathology, such as extreme paranoia, delusional ideation or narcissism. In this view, the incorrectness of conspiracy theories was usually assumed a priori and, more than this, the delusional aspect of conspiratorial beliefs was thought to result in an incapacity for social or political action.
While it is possible that some people who believe in conspiracy theories suffer forms of psychopathology, this in itself is an incomplete explanation given how widespread conspiracy theories are. Hofstadter, however, has remained influential for his interest in why people acquire conspiracy theories, suggesting that a belief in conspiracy theories was more likely to emerge among those who felt powerless, disadvantaged or voiceless, especially in the face of catastrophe. To use a contemporary example, believing that the 7/7 London bombings were perpetrated by the British or Israeli governments may be, for some individuals at least, a means of making sense of turbulent social or political phenomena.
To the extent that conspiracy theories fill a need for certainty, it is thought they may gain more widespread acceptance in instances when establishment or mainstream explanations contain erroneous information, discrepancies, or ambiguities. A conspiracy theory, in this sense, helps explain those ambiguities and ‘provides a convenient alternative to living with uncertainty’. Or as Young and colleagues have put it, ‘[T]he human desire for explanations of all natural phenomena – a drive that spurs inquiry on many levels – aids the conspiracist in the quest for public acceptance.’
In addition, it is also thought that conspiracy theories offer explanations of the world that are not contradicted by information available to adherents. In the context of extremism, Hardin has discussed what he calls a ‘crippled epistemology’: in some cases, extremism is not an irrational response, but rather stems from the fact that people have very little correct or accurate information. Sunstein and Vermeule apply a similar perspective to conspiracy theories: those who believe in conspiracy theories may be responding rationally and logically to what little information they receive, even if that information appears absurd in relation to wider, publicly available knowledge.(…)
The last paragraphs of the excerpt also seem to point in the direction of what in some cases appears to be functions of the ultimate and lasting conspiracy theories better known as religions.
Also see several updates (via related links) at the end of this post.
System that controls sleep may be same for most mammals (PhysOrg)
In a novel mathematical model that reproduces sleep patterns for multiple species, an international team of researchers has demonstrated that the neural circuitry that controls the sleep/wake cycle in humans may also control the sleep patterns of 17 different mammalian species.
Astronomers pioneer new planet-observing technique (PhysOrg)
Using the world`s largest optical telescope, a team of University of Florida astronomers has pioneered a new method of observing planets outside our solar system. The method suggests that large Earth-based telescopes could play a leading role in rapidly accelerating research on `extrasolar` planets.
Rape in war ‘a deliberate military strategy’ argue researchers (EurekAlert!)
Since the second world war, the use of rape as a weapon of war has assumed strategic importance, and is now a deliberate military strategy, argue researchers in an editorial published on bmj.com today.
Pregnant women who fast for Ramadan risk damage to their babies, study finds (The Independent)
Pregnant muslim women who fast during Ramadan are likely to have smaller babies who will be more prone to learning disabilities in adulthood, according to new research.
Genetics in bloom (EurekAlert!) >
Some of the molecular machinery that governs flower formation has been uncovered in the daisy-like Gerbera plants. Researchers writing in the open-access journal BMC Plant Biology have published a pair of articles detailing how the complex Gerbera inflorescence is formed and how this process differs from other model plants, such as the more simple flowers of Arabidopsis species.
For child readers, ‘once more with feeling’ (PhysOrg)
Rupal Patel, an associate professor of speech-language pathology and audiology at Northeastern, is developing innovative reading software that helps youngsters learn to read aloud with more expression in their voices via a novel interactive computer program.