Alva Noë

The brain has evolved over evolutionary time scales of millions of years. So, what is the likelihood that the relatively recent advent of reading and writing, or motorized transport, or the Internet, could have changed our brains?

In Wim Wenders' wonderful movie Wings of Desire, angels hear what a person is thinking and feeling as they hover nearby. As angels move among people, voices come in and out of focus for them.

Last week, in this space, we looked at fascinating evidence of deep and far-reaching sameness when it comes to humans and our great ape cousins. They, like us, are attuned not only to what those around them are doing but to why they are doing it.

Have you ever noticed that time seems to speed up as you get older?

An afternoon could stretch on without end, in childhood, and a summer could be almost a lifetime. In childhood, so it seemed, and so it seems now, time was a slow, steady, tick tock.

But not so in adult time. We are racing forward into the future so fast that it sometimes seems as if our days are over before they have really begun.

Can We See Taste?

Sep 23, 2016

Eaters and cooks know that flavor, in the jargon of neuroscientists, is multi-modal.

Taste is all important, to be sure. But so is the look of food and its feel in the mouth — not to mention its odor and the noisy crunch, or juicy squelch, that it may or may not make as we bite into it. The perception of flavor demands that we exercise a suite of not only gustatory, but also visual, olfactory, tactile and auditory sensitivities.

Neuroscientists are now beginning to grasp some of the ways the brain enables our impressive perceptual power when it comes to food.

In a post a few weeks back, Tania Lombrozo drew attention to research showing that students using laptops and other digital devices in the college classroom are less likely to perform as well as students not using them.

It used to be that if you were a pitcher and you blew out your ulnar collateral ligament — the ligament that holds your elbow together — you were done.

Goodbye, playing days.

According to a new hypothesis put forward by an international team of geneticists and archeologists, dogs may have been domesticated in two different places from genetically distinct wolf populations in Europe and in East Asia.

Here in California we worry a lot about the "Monkey Mind." You know, the noisy thoughts that jump and trip and interrupt your meditation.

But what's really going on inside the mind of a monkey?

A bunch of my Facebook friends — cognitive scientists, professors, students of the mind, one and all — were more excited than a barrel of monkeys this week over some videos of monkeys and apes confronted with stage magic that have been making the rounds.

Take exhibit one, for example, here.

We haven't been too lucky with our new car. How else to characterize the experience of buying a spanking new Volkswagen diesel two weeks before word broke that VW had been cheating regulators. And then, Sunday morning, my partner, running late, backed up before I had a chance to shut the passenger door. I could hear the door squeal on its hinges as we reversed into the tree in front of our house.

I filed a claim — and it was with a heavy heart that I brought the car to the body shop to estimate the damages. What happened next impressed me greatly.

Carlo Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, originally published as a series of essays in an Italian newspaper, was just released in book form in the U.S. on March 1. I read the book by the noted physicist in a single sitting with pleasure and mounting excitement.

It is a very clear book and it is likely to provoke in readers, as it provoked in me, a desire to learn more about space, time, quantum reality, the nature of the gravity, our universe and, finally, about ourselves.

The answer as to whether a DNA test can tell you your ethnic identity? Yes — and no.

Consider these facts, culled from writings here:

  • You share no DNA with the vast majority of your ancestors.
  • You have more ancestors — hundreds a few generations back, thousands in just a millennium — than you have sections of DNA.
  • You have 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents — but if you are a man, you share your Y-chromosome with only one of them.

For the holidays, I bought my science-loving 11-year-old tickets to "An evening with Neil deGrasse Tyson" at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. The big night was last Friday.

Some intellectuals bring out the immense complexity behind simple phenomena and others, like the estimable Dr. Tyson, excel at bringing complicated ideas down to earth. My son and I are both Cosmos fans but, still, we didn't really know what to expect.

We don't know why our ancestors made paintings deep inside caves in France and Spain as long ago as 30,000 years ago.

Was it to celebrate or tabulate or hallucinate or worship? We can only speculate. This much is pretty sure, though. The caves, inaccessible now, were — or so at least there is every reason to believe — pretty inaccessible then. You needed to climb and crawl and squeeze in. And once you were there, you were shrouded in darkness.

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