Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Staring into the Zombie Abyss

By Guest Contributor Marc Merlin, Director of the Atlanta Science Tavern.

In his excellent review of the recent Zombethics Conference, Ross Gordon covers the central themes discussed during its morning session: a hypothetical neuroanatomy of zombies that would account for their hostile behavior, the possibility of the existence of philosophical zombies, soulless humans walking among us and, finally, the always-vexing question of free will, as it concerns both zombies and us.

Without a doubt these discussions have much to say about neuroscience and the philosophy of mind. What is less clear to me is what they have to say about ethics. They help us think more carefully about zombie behavior, but they offer little additional understanding of own our behavior, which is, after all, the grist for the ethics mill.

The Piano Kill, via Zombieland

Doing Neuroscience, Doing Feminism: Interview with Dr. Sari van Anders


Dr. Sari van Anders
After attending the Neurogenderings Conference in Vienna, where participants debated whether it would be possible to conduct feminist neuroscience research, I decided it would be useful to interview an actual practicing feminist neuroscientist – and I knew just who to talk to. Dr. Sari van Anders is an Assistant Professor in Psychology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. She earned her Ph.D. in Biological & Cognitive Psychology from Simon Fraser University. In her social neuroendocrinology lab at the University of Michigan, she conducts feminist neuroscience research on a variety of topics, with a principle focus on the social modulation of testosterone via sexuality, partnering/pair bonding, and nurturance. She has received grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Institute of Bisexuality and has published articles in Hormones and Behavior, Archives of Sexual Behavior, and Psychoneuroendocrinology, among others.

I asked her to talk about what she sees as feminist about her own behavioral neuroscience research, how she has secured support for her work from other behavioral neuroendocrinologists, and what advice she would give to early career scientists who want to incorporate feminist concerns into their research. Read on for Dr. Van Anders’ thoughtful and thought-provoking answers.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Zombie Philosophy: Is It Coming For Your Brain?

When I told my friends I was helping to put together a conference on zombie ethics with the Emory Center for Ethics, I invariably received one of two responses:

1) That’s really cool! Where do I sign up?
2) Sorry, what?

If you’re in category (1) and didn’t manage to make it to the conference, read on to find out what happened. If you’re closer to category (2), keep an open mind. There may be more going on with zombies than initially meets the eye.

Anatomy of a Zombie
Dr. Steven Schlozman, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, delivered the first talk of the morning via Skype. Dr. Schlozman, a zombie fanatic who grew up reading zombie stories and watching movies like Dawn of the Dead, has speculated extensively on what a zombie brain might look like. First, Dr. Schlozman suggests, zombies likely suffer from an underactive frontal lobe that leads to impaired impulse control. Frontal lobe dysfunction might stem from an overactive amygdala, where high levels of activity have been linked to strong feelings of anger and lust. The anterior cingulate cortex, which mediates the signal between the amygdala and the frontal lobe, could also be impaired in a way that eliminates moral restraint. Together, brain dysfunction in these three critical areas could lead to the insatiable bloodlust that characterizes most classical zombies.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Exquisite Corpse: Why a Frighteningly Multifaceted Imaginary Creature can Help Tie Neuroscience to Society

Signs of the times:  candy corn is on clearance, already-cheap makeup and costumes are further discounted in bins at Wal-mart, and you're wondering when the next occasion will be where it is socially acceptable to dress like a sexy Klingon in public.  To add to the post-Halloween zeitgeist, here's a report on a recent zombie-themed neuroethics conference.
AMC's The Walking Dead. Which, if you aren't familiar with it, is about the zombie apocalypse and is watched religiously by all of your friends. From http://blogs.amctv.com