Still a favorite: Using space and time to encode vibrotactile information: toward an estimate of the skin’s achievable throughput

Since 2015 there’s a paper that has absolutely eaten me alive, neuron by neuron. It’s called “Using space and time to encode vibrotactile information: toward an estimate of the skin’s achievable throughput (Eagleman, Novich)” and causes my mind to be absolutely paralyzed by possibilities. Sensory substitution! What a thought, Eagleman!

Of course, Paul Bach-y-Rita was one of the original OG’s in this realm.

& now, Elon Musk continues to seek talent for up-&-coming Neuralink – which promises to offer high-bandwidth brain-to-computer interfaces. Hm. Not a bad idea, especially when you consider the therapeutic applications of existing brain-to-computer technologies.

To research or work on any of these technologies would be the opportunity of a lifetime, & I’d cancel pretty much everything in my life right now to pursue them if only I knew how. In the meantime the opportunity to sit back and learn is available & my cynical little mind is already shouting out some words of caution.

BRAIN-TO-COMPUTER-INTERFACES-ARE-NEVER-GONNA-HAPPEN!, says cynical brain

Well, nothing interesting that ever happened was ever-going-to-happen. New inventions are just crazy, that’s how it is! 

(this back-and-forth arguing continues). The primary concern is whether or not a high-bandwidth brain-to-machine interface for general-purpose use would be a good thing. Musk & others are right when they say that a keyboard isn’t enough to transmit a certain amount of information back-and-forth. But is that enough to support the overall claim that as it relates to human beings using and interfacing with information technology, quality of communication is proportional to the bandwidth of the information being passed along? Childish idealism runs rampant in my thoughts now – I’d like to go to coffee w a clever human like Elon & ask them, ‘will the problems you foresee with AI actually be solved by brain-machine interfaces or will they be worsened? Will the malicious capabilities of technology be diminished if humans are more closely linked w technology?’ It seems even a pen and paper (even morse code!) are often not enough for humans to communicate effectively, promptly, or sufficiently. It leads me to wonder if the tech-augmented hippocampus & cortex, adorned with messy glued-on silicon chips, might not be a devastatingly unhealthy Matrix-esque nightmare of limbic slop.

That coffee date won’t be happening anytime soon so in the meantime I’ll have to scroll from afar & hope these technologies work, & serve the common good.

Still a favorite: Empirical explorations of mindfulness (Conceptual and methodological conundrums)

& a must-read – especially for anyone hoping to be well-informed about health claims related to mindfulness, meditation, yoga, etc

http://aging.wisc.edu/pdfs/2506.pdf

The Optimist

While digging through a “Free Swap” area on campus I came upon a forcefully optimistic series of etchings laid out on some sort of a plaque situation

The Optimist Creed:

  • To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind
  • To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet,
  • To make all your friends feel that there is something in them,
  • To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true,
  • To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best
  • To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own
  • To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievement of the future
  • To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile
  • To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others
  • To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble

Neat. A swirl of reactions shared that space behind my eyes after I located and skimmed over this. One reaction tasted like Wow this is psycho this is brainwashing and another reaction had some sort of a Yeah but you need it, you sick fuck type of overtone. Grabbed the thing, brought it home and made a commitment to memorize it. Thought I’d elect one item on the list as a area to focus on (optimistically, of course) & choose another that seems to be going ok. On typing out the list one jumped out as urgently in need of work and it was less clear which item I’m doing best with. Following that I’m curious to find/post at least an article or two on the neural substrates of positive/negative thinking.

Urgently in need of work: To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize othersThis one screamed at me.

Doing best: Maybe To make all your friends feel that there is something in them, or To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future? The former case makes me smile because I think friends would have good things to say about that. The issue with the latter would be the hours spent daily ruminating about past/current failures. But the feedback I often get from adults is that in the long game I am overwhelmingly more resilient and future-focused than the other young folks they run into. The discrepancy between that externally-imposed feedback and the actual inner experience/introspective assessment is really jarring but hey, that’s psychology.


Materials & readings on optimism, pessimism, & associated neural bonanza:

Richie Unplugged: My #1 role model explains to you how and why to keep your mind right. Had to start with this

  • Bonus- no powerpoint or reading necessary

Richie, plugged back in: A lovely overview of ~current research taking place in the Davidson lab back home in Madison. You’ll note some brief descriptions of research under WELL-BEING & BEHAVIOR that seem to dig most closely towards this gem called optimism

  • This is a pile of summaries about what Richie is working on in Madison. If you’re not salivating upon reading those studies (just consider all the other thousands of studies being funded in the biomedical sciences) you might not be optimistic enough!

From the NYT: Turning negative thinkers into positive ones

  • Mentions some neat research by a researcher by the name of Barbara Fredrickson (creates new bookmark) who I haven’t heard of before.

Good summary (on Oprah’s website! Ayyye!) of the merits of choosing happiness, featuring a boatload of neuroscience references

  • The article mentions a David Lykken, PHD, here in Minnesota at the U. Haven’t heard of him until now – (adds new bookmark to Brainman folder) – eager to see what he’s about and if he’s around these days. Bad news – on looking the guy up turns out he passed 12 years ago. Oh well.
  • Make sure to scroll all the way down in this reading – it’s actually 5 full pages long but one can easily get the impression it stops when the first page stops.

The association between resting functional connectivity and dispositional optimism (Ran, J. Yang, W. Yang, Wei, J. Qiu, Zhang)

  • Haven’t read this one all the way through but not surprisingly the abstract mentions the vmPFC. Heck!!!

“What is Unrealistic Optimism?” (Jefferson, Bortolotti, Kuzmanovic)

  • Absolutely necessary adjunct reading for anyone getting too hyped, biased, or fundamentalist about optimism
  • Uses the term positive illusion as an umbrella term encompassing their defined notion of unrealistic optimism. Positive illusion would be/is my overall characterization of optimism but it seems these authors demarcate between optimism as being rational/a proper assessment of circumstances (no illusion here) and optimism sometimes being irrational/an improper assessment of circumstances (illusory).

 

Playing with Clay

Even dancers can’t dance like he did. Sometimes, especially lately, his words go buzzing between my ears. “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” This video is really pretty. The smack of the gloves at 1:07 is the most electrifying feeling on earth. I hope everyone, in their busy lives and busy worlds, has their own way of feeling that smack

 

 

Man’s best friend vs. Malignant Glioma

Easily the coolest research I’ve cut up & snorted in a while. 

It is commonplace to be forcefed research and ideas that are popular and meaningful. Neither popularity though meaning, however, make a given project or consideration in academia practical in the real world. In my experience it is rare to taste research and ideas that are practical. Past that point it is nearly impossible to come across research and ideas that are practical, simple, and clearly overlooked. A lovely bit of writing came up lately that seemed immediately worth reading, considering, and sharing. The fact that is is (all at once) so practical, so simple, and so clearly overlooked gripped me and hasn’t released my wandering, daydreaming self since the moment I printed this paper off some weeks ago. There’s always 10 motherfuckers out there trying to start a new conversation for every 1 team of people hoping to resolve, clean up, or challenge an old one. My response to this early quote was of feeling like these authors were bringing some serious love and professionalism to old conversations:

The framework of this study originated from the desire to explore and combine non-conventional modalities to overcome the limitations of conventional methodologies

It’s rude of me to be offering quotes without offering the paper. You probably won’t print it off and carry it with you for weeks (especially if you didn’t download the .pdf from the link above yet…….) but here’s a reminder of the title

The Effect of Pet Therapy and Artist Interactions on Quality of Life in Brain Tumor Patients: A Cross-Section of Art and Medicine in Dialog (published 2018)  

 

This paper is directly helpful to people. The authors explore the application of pet therapy and art therapy (or, more simply, pets and art) to health-related quality of life – HRQoL – in patients diagnosed with malignant gliomas. In laymen’s term a malignant glioma is a terminal brain tumor, with a median survival time of less than 2 years after diagnosis. This is notable given that many other diseases can be significantly slowed in their course or even eliminated with the best treatments available today. The early claim by the authors is that the traditional goals of medicine are survival and disease-free survival. They go on to assert that traditional medicine does not tend to the needs of those who will not survive and are disease-ridden or terminally ill, and that there are (presumably unexplored) means for improving HRQoL. Though there is perhaps an anecdotal, personal, or folk account for this shortcoming in traditional medicine we should not proceed in reading this paper without questioning this starting point. Many of us will have experiences in healthcare – from birth to the beyond – that are more wholesome, more forward-thinking, and already aware or attuned to the loving tools described in this paper. It would not serve the reader (in my opinion) to get ahead of themselves and act as if traditional medicine has never been aware of how art, pets, or ‘art therapy/pet therapy’ assist HRQoL, including during the process of dying.

With that said let’s stop with a few questions worth pondering. If they make any sense (or if they don’t), jot these down, carry them around, digest them, disagree with yourself, repeat. Google whatever doesn’t make sense. It’s worth it:

In this paper, we describe our unique study that was designed to address two critical questions: (1) can pet therapy in the outpatient setting help improve HRQoL of brain tumor patients? and (2) can patient’s facial expression be used as a proxy measure for their overall HRQoL?