We’re looking for touch-typing data-geeks who’d like to have their brainwaves recorded, all in the name of science. All you have to do is be able to touch-type, and be willing to come to see us at the Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield for an hour and a half. We’ll record your neural activity while you show off your typing skills for us. Afterwards, we’ll provide you with your brainwave data, and the behavioural data of what you actually typed.
We collect a record of what your brain is doing using an 128-channel EEG net. This looks like this and works by recording electrical activity at the scalp. This electrical activity changes depending on the activity of your brain cells – as they produce the billions of electrochemical signals that are the basis for your every thought and action. We’ll be analysing this data ourselves, because we’re interested in typing as an example of complex skill performance, but we’d also like to give everyone who helps us out the chance to take away their individual data. We’re really curious to see how people outside of the Psychology department might use it. EEG data contains lots of oscillations and lots of spreading and merging waves of activity. As well as telling us something about when and how certain brain regions become active, this means it can also be used to generate cool pictures and sounds! If you’re comfortable with processing numbers and would like to try out your skills on some numbers that come direct from your most intimate organ, please get in touch!
It’s t dot stafford at sheffield dot ac dot uk or @tomstafford
My worry is that there is so much news that that it is hard to keep attention on the things we think are important. Or, rather, the deluge of information means that we’re more likely to accept someone else’s prioritisation of what is important. (Did you notice how the Guardian’s liveblog of the financial crisis was dropped to make room for the liveblog of events in Libya?)
Similarly, there’s a dark thought I sometimes have, where everybody will know the truth about some of the great ills of our society but nobody will have time or will to do anything about them. Something like a cross between a “somebody else’s problem field” and a late-modernity version of 1984 (it won’t be that everybody knows we have always been at war with Oceania, or really does love big brother; instead everybody will know these are lies, but they will be lies we live by rather than fight). In this grim meathook future we’ll know we’re decimaiting non-human species, or that Tony Blair lied about Iraq, or that our government is eroding vital civil liberties and we’ll care, but we just won’t get round to doing anything for some reason (oh look at this!)
A small example would be the family served with an eviction notice by Wandsworth Council because the son was arrested in the recent London riots. Not even found guilty, just charged! Now I heard this, and I thought it was scandal and symptomatic of a deep problem with the way some of us think about justice. But apart from the excuse of writing this blog post, I never followed it up, never found out if the reported headline reflected the truth. I hoped, vaguely, that someone was fighting this decision. Thought it was probably illegal. Thought a bunch of things, but basically got on with my life. Wouldn’t it be nice if, once something in the news caught my attention, something I decided was important to me, there was an easy mechanism for bringing follow ups on that story to my attention.
What I think I want is something like buyafuckingshovel.com for news stories. I want a personalised sidebar on the news website I use, and I want it filled with follow ups on the stories that I tag as important to me. This tagging should be as easy as ‘liking’ something on facebook. Now I can get joined up news, which will give me a more coherant and less vulnerable to bias view of the world, and also ensure that I can work with the media to focus on what really matters to me, rather than just the enless succession of the ten thousand things.
“Neuro” is fashionable these days, from neuroethics to behaviour change (one of which is philosophy, and the other of which is psychology, but both are promoted on their connection with neuroscience). Something which is under-discussed is that psychology has a rich set of fundamental, and different, perspectives on how we ought to think about the mind and brain. These compete with, and complement, each other. The one you adopt will dramatically affect how you read a situation and the “psychological” solutions you are inspired to propose. Probably most people are aware of the neuroscience perspective, and the associated worldview of the mind as a piece of biochemical machinery. From this we get drugs for schizophrenia and brain scans for lie detection. This is the view of the mind which is ascendant. Probably, also, most people are vaguely aware of the Freudian perspective, that dark territory of the undermind with its repressed monsters and tragic struggles. From here we get recovered memory therapy and self-esteem workshops for young offenders. Although people will be aware of these perspectives, will they also be aware of the contradictions between them, and the complements, or the fact that both are viewed by some professionals in psychology as optional, or even harmful, ways of thinking about the mind? And what about the chorus of other perspectives, not all necessary contradictory, but all catalysing insights into mind and behaviour; evolution, cybernetics, cognitivism, situationism, narrative approaches, dynamic systems theory. Each of these will not just give you different answers, but promote entirely different classes of questions as the central task of psychology.
I’d love to work on an theatre or exhibition piece about conceptions of the mind, something which dramatised the different understandings of mind. I think it could be a freshing change from a lot of “art-science” pieces about psychology, which unthinkingly accept the cog-neuro consensus of anglo-US psychology and/or see their purpose as bludgoning the public with a bunch of information they have decided “people should know”. Something about perspectives, rather than facts, would inherantly lend itself to art-dramatic intepretations, and open a space for people enage with how they understand psychological science, rather than being threatened, as is so common, with what scientists thing they should understand.