Tufte Xing

•February 3, 2013 • Leave a Comment

It most certainly does.

When Edward Tufte is not teaching us how to best visualize information, criticizing the use of PowerPoint, or making the case that poor graphs contributed to the space shuttle Challenger tragedy, it turns out he also makes art.  We stumbled across his gallery in Chelsea the other day, where he is currently exhibiting an exhaustive collection of Feynman diagram sculptures, a large smiling fish, and some road signs that I thought I’d share to assist your navigation.

-David Groppe


Keep on truckin’.

Ye olde quip about whether or not the brain is capable of understanding itself

•January 26, 2013 • Leave a Comment

xkcd: "I don't understand how my brain works"

A friend recently sent me the above xkcd comic about the potential difficulties of the brain trying to understand itself.  I’ve commonly heard variants of this quip since college and suspect it goes back a long long time.  Indeed, while flipping through Ambrose  Bierce’s definition of “mind” in his Devil’s Dictionary several years ago, I learned that it at least goes back to 1906:

MIND, n. A mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain. Its chief activity consists in the endeavor to ascertain its own nature, the futility of the attempt being due to the fact that it has nothing but itself to know itself with. From the Latin mens, a fact unknown to that honest shoe-seller, who, observing that his learned competitor over the way had displayed the motto “Mens conscia recti,” emblazoned his own front with the words “Men’s, women’s and children’s conscia recti.”

Anyone know of any older (or other particularly witty) takes on this theme?
-David Groppe

Who is the brainiest of them all?

•December 22, 2012 • 2 Comments
Eurasian harvest mouse

The Eurasian harvest mouse is 5 times brainier than you.

Fun neurofact of the week: The human brain, though large for our body size, is far from the body-mass-adjusted biggest in the animal kingdom.  This point was made William T. Wcislo is his recent brief letter to Science (14 December 2012, p 1419):

“In the news focus story “Why are our brains so big?” (5 October 2012, p 33) M. Balter claims that “the size of the Homo sapiens brain outstrips that of any other animal” once an adjustment is made for body weight.  When expressed as a percentage of body mass, the brain masses of some small mammals considerably exceed the approximate 2% value for humans [e.g., the brains of Eurasian harvest mice (Micromys minutus) comprise roughly 10% of the their total mass].  Many invertebrate animals have brains that are relatively even larger, including tiny ants with brains that account for nearly 15% of their body mass.  Perhaps this is one reason Darwin noted that “the brain of an ant is one of the most marvelous atoms of matter in the world, perhaps more marvelous than the brain of man”.

Perhaps our real claim to fame is having the biggest ego.

-David Groppe

Einstein’s EEG

•September 15, 2012 • 3 Comments

I’ve been reading through neurological atlases of the intracranial electroencephalogram to research the frequencies of oscillations that are characteristic of different brain areas in health and disease.  Today I was able to exhume from a library Epilepsy and the Functional Anatomy of the Human Brain, a 1954 book by the pioneering Wilder Penfield and Herbert Jasper.  In it is an amusing anecdote about the EEG alpha rhythm and Albert Einstein:

‘The familiar blocking of the occipital alpha rhythm when the eyes are opened also occurs when the eyes are opened in a totally darkened room, “trying to see.” (Adrian and Matthews, 1934.)  It is the attention rather than the visual stimulus as such that causes the reaction.  This is shown also in problem solving.  Simple arithmetical operations cause no appreciable effect, but when a difficulty is encountered which requires special concentration, the alpha waves are blocked, to reappear promptly when the problem is solved.

For example, Einstein was found to show a fairly continuous alpha rhythm while carrying out rather intricate mathematical operations, which, however, were fairly automatic for him.  Suddenly his alpha waves dropped out and he appeared restless.  When asked if there was anything wrong, he replied that he had found a mistake in the calculations he had made the day before.  He asked to telephone Princeton immediately.’ [pgs. 189-190]


The secret to legendary hair? Conductive EEG paste.

I had heard Einstein’s EEG had been recorded (one of the many attempts at trying to understand the mechanism of his genius), but had not heard of any results.  Does anyone out there know if any of his data were ever published?

-David Groppe

Postdoctoral fellowship opportunity at UCSD Center for Research in Language

•April 11, 2012 • Leave a Comment

For any of you neurolinguists out there, the University of California’s Center for Research in Language has a postdoctoral fellowship opening in its training program entitled “Language, Communication and the Brain” for the 2012-13 academic year. This training program emphasizes new technologies and new theoretical frameworks in cognitive science and neuroscience. They are looking for scientists interested in the mental and neural mechanisms that underlie language learning, language use and language disorders.

The application deadline is April 23rd. Since it is an NIH-funded position, the recipient must be a US citizen or permanent resident.

Detailed information and application instructions can be found at the following website:



The Center for Research on Language is a great community to be a part of and is well connected with UCSD’s more general world-class neuroscience and linguistics communities.  It’s a great opportunity.

Emily Dickinson on Brains

•December 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Everyone should have at least one joke memorized for emergency situations.  One poem is probably worth burning into your brain as well for the occasional apropos moment.  For you neurogeeks out there, perhaps this could do the trick:

The Brain — is wider than the Sky —
For — put them side by side —
The one the other will contain
With ease — and You — beside —

The Brain is deeper than the sea —
For — hold them — Blue to Blue —
The one the other will absorb —
As Sponges — Buckets — do —

The Brain is just the weight of God —
For — Heft them — Pound for Pound —
And they will differ — if they do —
As Syllable from Sound —

-Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

John Baldessari’s painting "Brain/Cloud"

-David Groppe

Video lectures/tutorials on fMRI/MRI methods

•December 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I started working with MRI/fMRI data for this first time this summer and haven’t had the opportunity yet to take an official training course in MRI/fMRI methods. Thankfully, at least a couple of groups have made videos of such workshops freely available online. The most comprehensive set of videos I know of is from the UCLA Advanced Neuroimaging Summer Program:

introduced to me by Miklos Argyelan at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.  The videos cover everything from MR physics and basic experimental design to more contemporary techniques such as network analysis, genetics, and pattern classification.

Recently, the folks at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging have placed online a series of videos as well:

The videos are from a course for using their SPM MATLAB-based software for neuroimaging, but the topics (e.g., general linear models, dealing with a large number of statistical tests) should be informative regardless of what software package you use.

A tip of my hat to the speakers and everyone else responsible for making those videos and placing them online. It takes a good amount of work to make that happen but it’s a great resource for the cognitive neuroscience community. I hope such resources are developed further (more exercises please) and that other groups follow their lead.

-David Groppe