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David Eagleman, Lavin speaker and author of Incognito, will unveil an exciting new talk, entitled “The Science of Hatred and Dehumanization”, at Intelligence Squared in London on May 24th. Here’s the official talk description:
Which side were you on? The Jets or the Sharks? The Capulets or the Montagues? The Greeks or the Trojans? Antony or Caesar? William or Harold? And so the list goes on…Indeed, maybe the whole of human history is the story of group-making and group-breaking. The passions of loyalty and love for the in-group are matched by the de-humanising indignation and hatred for the out-group.
But what’s actually going on in the chemical soup of the brain when Agamemnon gathers his heros-to-be and sets sail after Helen? Will peering into that soup – as neuroscientist David Eagleman is now doing – actually give peace a chance? Maybe utopia can come out of the lab. Will a scientific understanding of love and hate deliver social programmes that undermine the nastiness without sacrificing the good?
David Eagleman’s study of human time perception has inspired a post on MSNBC around why people are so fascinated by slow motion video. One reason—Eagleman offers a total of three here—is that it unmasks things we’d never normally see. Just check out the video above for some good examples of what you’re missing.
"We open our eyes and we think we’re seeing the whole world out there. But what has become clear—and really just in the last few centuries—is that when you look at the electro-magnetic spectrum we are seeing less than 1/10 Billionth of the information that’s riding on there. So we call that visible light. But everything else passing through our bodies is completely invisible to us."
"Rather than trying to make people laugh, it eventually morphed into me talking to the audience about the things I thought were important. The skills I learned paid off though, in terms of giving an engaging scientific talk."
"You live in the past. About 80 milliseconds in the past, to be precise. Use one hand to touch your nose, and the other to touch one of your feet, at exactly the same time. You will experience them as simultaneous acts. But that’s mysterious — clearly it takes more time for the signal to travel up your nerves from your feet to your brain than from your nose. The reconciliation is simple: our conscious experience takes time to assemble, and your brain waits for all the relevant input before it experiences the “now.” Experiments have shown that the lag between things happening and us experiencing them is about 80 milliseconds."
“Vision is a grand illusion,” neuroscience speaker David Eagleman told an audience last week. Even though vision seems effortless, it’s not. It’s a construction of your brain. Your vision does not work like a camera, objectively taking in everything in front of you; vision is an internal model of what you think is happening out there. (Audience reaction at 1:55 is priceless!)
I’ve been collecting people’s experiences about this for a while. When people find themselves in an optionless, life-threatening situation (such a sliding on ice toward an oncoming truck, or skidding toward the edge of a cliff on a motorcycle), they will commonly describe the experience of having all their memories present at once. This is not so much a cinematographic “flashing” of their life before their eyes, but instead a simultaneously present “panorama” of memories. And not necessarily big, important memories, but instead small, banal, perhaps meaningless ones. How can we understand what’s going on here?
First, in the 1950s, neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield stimulated the temporal lobe of patients undergoing brain surgery, and he discovered that a little buzz of electricity in the right spot in the temporal lobe could trigger a vividly experienced memory—such as standing in a parking lot speaking with someone, or listening to a particular symphony. So we know the memories are stored in there. When the brain is driven into an extraordinary situation of impending doom, it moves out of its normal operating range and somehow all these memories bubble into conscious awareness. It may well be that the brain is ‘searching’ for any possible solution to a very bad problem, and in its desperation pulls out all the stops. I see panoramic memory as a terrific inroad into understanding consciousness.