Happy New Brain Year!

My dearest Benjamin Franklin and I (see picture below) spent the last days racking our brains about a reading list. We needed to come up with something useful for an independent study in the upcoming Spring semester. The class on the history and culture of the mind and brain sciences in the 20th and 21st centuries will formally be taught by John Tresch,1 but I came up with the first draft of the syllabus and I don’t want to withhold it from you. You can download the pdf here. It will serve as a foundation for brain/mind science history reading list in preparation for my Orals Examination in May 2016. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any suggestions to complete and improve it! Continue reading

  1. He’s also the one who came up with the title “Life of Brain” in commemoration of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” []

Inside the Pennopticon

We just had an amazing class today, referred to as the “mega-week” by our instructor. Since he decided to cancel class last week in favor of a mid-term break, we had to cram many, many great and thought-provoking readings1 in a three-hour discussion. As our weekly ritual requires, I had to hand in a response paper by 10 am this morning, dealing with thoughts, questions and reactions to the readings. Usually, I love putting the paper together the night before class, after reviewing the readings and my annotations.2 Last night, however, I could not come up with any idea to formulate a response paper as I ordinarily would. Thus, I decided to frame my experiences in grad school so far using some of the concepts reiterated in the readings. It would probably be to your advantage to be familiar with the readings, and this piece might be a little messy since I wrote it late at night, but I hope it can give you an idea of my life and work anyhow. Continue reading

Localizing “Culture” in the Brain

Today was the second day of classes. Everybody still can hardly wrap their head around the fact that the new semester started before Labor Day … To me, however, it already feels like I have been at the Department for weeks: So much talking, advising, reading, having dinner and coffee together, so many skilled faculty members (with a sense of humor!!), and, of course, amazingly helpful and friendly fellow graduate students. Since I will almost certainly want to write a lot about the readings for my courses later (three to five standard history of science/technology works plus primary sources and articles each week), I want to seize today’s opportunity and share some earlier thoughts stimulated during a discussion in January: One of my professors mentioned a conference on evolutionary psychology he had attended years ago where a research group presented a paper1 explaining that they had managed to locate culture in the brain by using fMRI. Wow! How could anyone ever define “culture” precisely enough in order to allow setting up an experiment on the brain’s reactions when it is opposed to culture, let alone localize (material foundations of) culture in the brain?! Continue reading

Incompatible Systems?

This morning, I received an e-mail containing the syllabus and suggested readings for one of the fall 2013 seminars at my department. (Great to know that my professor works at 7am on Sundays.) I was planning to audit the course, and had registered as “audit” in the online registration tool. From my professor’s response, however, I learned that the class list lists me as a regular attendee. So, here is what might have happened: The HSS Department’s class list generating system does not need or want as much information as the detail-obsessed online registration tool acquires during its course registration process. Instead of not listing me at all, the class list therefore contains my name without any further specification. I find this quite interesting because it serves as an example that one system being informed by a more detailed one—and without the capacity of representing all of the specific information—can actually cause misconceptions, instead of only nescience. One might have thought that information being transferred between incompatible systems would simply be lost, and not create “false” knowledge. (Yes, I have already told the Professor.) Continue reading