Ayahuasca, the Psychedelic Antidepressant?

By Neuroskeptic | June 17, 2018 6:09 am

A traditional Amazonian psychedelic brew is an effective and rapid-acting antidepressant, according to a paper just published. But the new study revives some long-standing questions.

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MORE ABOUT: drugs & addiction

“The Love of Neuroscience” and the Neuroscience of Love

By Neuroskeptic | June 9, 2018 10:50 am

There is a growing research literature on the ‘Neuroscience of Love’. But what exactly is this ‘love’ that is being studied?


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CATEGORIZED UNDER: history, papers, science, select, Top Posts

The Philosophy of Roseanne’s Ambien Tweet

By Neuroskeptic | June 2, 2018 1:39 pm

As everyone knows, Roseanne Barr posted a racist tweet. She claimed that the sleeping medication Ambien affected her behavior, but her show got cancelled anyway.


Now, I think this scandal raises some surprisingly interesting philosophical questions about moral responsibility and the nature of self-control. What follows is a dialogue between two hypothetical speakers exploring some of these questions. To be clear, this is a post about philosophy, not about Roseanne. I don’t know or care if she really took any Ambien or what her views on race are.


ROSE: “Roseanne’s Ambien Defence is absurd. Ambien doesn’t make you racist. It doesn’t put racist thoughts in your head. She came up with that tweet all on her own.”

ANNE: “But what if the Ambien affected her judgment, her ability to inhibit impulses? Sure, the idea of writing that tweet didn’t come from the drug, but maybe if she hadn’t been on Ambien, she’d have thought better of it. So, while Ambien didn’t put the racism in her head, maybe it caused it to come out.”

ROSE: “Well, that doesn’t change anything. The racism came from within her, so she is still responsible for it, and deserved to lose her show.”

ANNE: “Perhaps, but she didn’t lose her show for being a racist; she lost her show for a specific action, the tweet. There are surely others out there who dream up worst tweets than hers, but who never post them. Is it fair to punish Roseanne, and not the others, just because she took Ambien, and they didn’t?”

ROSE: “It would be fairer to punish all of them, but that doesn’t mean Roseanne should get away with it.”

ANNE: “So people should be punished just for thinking of doing bad things, even if they never do them? Have you ever thought about breaking the law or saying something terrible?”

ROSE: “Yes, but I’d never do it.”

ANNE: “Maybe you would, if you took an Ambien.”

ROSE: “I don’t like where this is going. According to your logic, shouldn’t we excuse people who do or say bad things when drunk, on the grounds that alcohol is what made them lose control? Should we forgive drunk drivers?”

ANNE: “No, because people freely choose to drink. Unless someone’s drink gets spiked, that person is responsible for getting drunk. With Ambien, it’s different, because it’s a medication taken for health reasons – at least when used as prescribed. So the Ambien Defence is stronger than the Alcohol Defence because the choice to drink is freer.”

ROSE: “Hmm, well then, what about the Personality Defence?”

ANNE: “What’s that?”

ROSE: “Some people are more reckless and impulsive than others. This is their personality, based on genes and environment, neither of which people get to choose. Some people, so to speak, are born on Ambien. Can we blame them for failing to suppress their impulses?”

ANNE: “I see. You’re saying that if the Ambien Defence works, the Personality Defence must also work?”

ROSE: “The Personality Defence is even stronger. Most people would say that we have much more choice over whether to take a pill, than we do over our own nature.”

ANNE: “But if we follow that argument, how can we be held responsible for anything – our thoughts, or our actions? Our genes and environment determine both.”

ROSE: “Perhaps moral responsibility itself is an illusion. Determinism is a harsh philosophy but we must accept it.”

ANNE: “Hang on, three minutes ago, you were the one saying that Roseanne was responsible for her own racism, and now you’re denying that responsibility exists! Isn’t that a bit inconsistent?”

ROSE: “Yes, but don’t blame me – that’s just who I am.”


CATEGORIZED UNDER: ethics, law, media, philosophy, select, Top Posts

Power Doesn’t Cause Brain Damage

By Neuroskeptic | May 28, 2018 12:44 pm


An Atlantic article from July 2017 has been widely discussed on Twitter over the past few days. It’s called Power Causes Brain Damage and I remember that it was fairly popular at the time of publication. Its recent revival was prompted I think by Harvey Weinstein’s arrest and more generally the abuses of power revealed by the #MeToo movement. The article itself, of course, dating to the pre-Fall of Weinstein era, isn’t specifically about this.

In my view, while power is certainly all too often abused, this article has very little to tell us about Weinstein, his fellow offenders, or other powerful people. Read More

Very Bad Wizards Cite Neuroskeptic

By Neuroskeptic | May 23, 2018 7:06 am

I was honored yesterday to learn that I’ve been featured on popular philosophy and psychology podcast Very Bad Wizards. You can listen to the episode here.

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Slug Life: About That Injectable Memory Study

By Neuroskeptic | May 18, 2018 1:15 pm

A study claiming that a “memory” could be transferred from one animal to another in form of an injection has caused a lot of excitement. The Futurist said that Scientists Transferred Memories From One Snail to Another. Someday, They Could Do The Same in Humans. But I have to say I’m not convinced.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: animals, genes, papers, select, Top Posts

Is “Dendritic Learning” How The Brain Works?

By Neuroskeptic | May 11, 2018 11:12 am

A new paper in ACS Chemical Neuroscience pulls no punches in claiming that most of what we know about the neuroscience of learning is wrong: Dendritic Learning as a Paradigm Shift in Brain Learning

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: papers, select, Top Posts, Uncategorized

Sternberg-er And Fries

By Neuroskeptic | May 7, 2018 5:03 am

A new scandal hit the world of psychology last week when it emerged that Robert J. Sternberg, an eminent experimental psychologist and former President of the American Psychological Association (APA), has been engaging in text recycling aka self-plagiarism.


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CATEGORIZED UNDER: ethics, science, select, Top Posts

Why I Became a Neuroscientist

By Neuroskeptic | April 29, 2018 8:23 am

I’ve been thinking lately about the question of what leads scientists to choose a discipline. Why does someone end up as a chemist rather than a biologist? A geneticist as opposed to a cognitive neuroscientist?

We might hope that people choose their discipline based on an understanding of what doing research in each discipline involves, but I don’t think this often happens. I know it didn’t happen in my case. Here, then, is how I became a neuroscientist.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: blogging, fMRI, science, select, Top Posts, you

We’re Good At Recognizing Distorted Faces

By Neuroskeptic | April 22, 2018 10:06 am

A new paper from MIT neuroscientists Sharon Gilad-Gutnick and colleagues reveals that we are remarkably good at recognizing faces even if they are highly distorted. Not only is this scientifically interesting, the deformed images used in this study are rather hilarious.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: funny, papers, select, Top Posts


No brain. No gain.

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