Can We Reverse Engineer The Brain?

“The brain can do things computers can’t. We still don’t know the software of the brain, so we have to study its wiring and circuitry and build computer systems that work the same way,” says David Cox, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Computer Science, Harvard University.

Author: David Cox is an Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and of Computer Science, and is a member of the Center for Brain Science at Harvard University.

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Socialization, labelling and modelling: Lamilly


Lammily is an American fashion doll developed in 2014, conceived as an “average” alternative to Mattel’s Barbie, whose body image and proportions have been criticised. Complete with stickers of acne and scars, Lammily’s body is based on the proportions of an American 19 year old female. This is how her target audience received Lammily:

Parapsychology: can someone tell when someone is watching them?

According to parapsychologists, a commonly reported form of distant mental influence on human beings is “the feeling of being stared at,” which is closely related, historically, to the notion of the “evil eye.” Considerable folklore endorses the idea that gazing at someone carries special powers, favors, or influence. Folklore aside, contemporary opinion polls confirm that the feeling of being stared at is known in all cultures (Radin 1997).

According to some parapsychologists it not only can but does, and they insist that it has been confirmed in several laboratory studies, (e.g., Braud, Shafer, and Andrews 1993a; Braud, Shafer, and Andrews 1993b; Schlitz and LaBerge 1994 and 1997; and Peterson 1978). Wiseman, on the other hand, in a series of studies (Wiseman and Smith 1994; Wiseman, Smith, Freedman, Wasserman, and Hurst 1995) as well as a study carried out with Schlitz (Wiseman and Schlitz 1997) found no evidence of psychic functioning. In fact, psi (extrasensory perception) proponents are the only ones who seem to obtain evidence for psi while skeptics do not and, as Wiseman notes (Wiseman and Schlitz 1997), this fact may provide strong support for “the experimenter effect” (Palmer 1989), i.e., the experimenter somehow controls the outcome of the study. Such an effect, however, would be as mysterious-if not more so-than the alleged “staring effect” itself. In another context Wiseman (1999) suggests that the positive results might well represent a “file drawer” effect, i.e., people who failed to obtain impressive positive results simply filed the study away and didn’t bother to report it. Nevertheless, Blackmore, who is a severe critic of parapsychology in general (Blackmore 1996), has stated that most contemporary parapsychologists believe this phenomena to be true and offer it as valid proof of psi.

This ability is largely believed to be an evolutionary trait buried deep in our subconscious. If something’s looking at us, it may be a threat and so can be perceived easily. Studies that record the activity of single brain cells find that particular cells fire when someone is staring right at you, but—amazingly—not when the observer’s gaze is averted just a few degrees to the left or right of you (then different cells fire instead).


Baker (2000)

Shrira (2011)

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

Three types of conspiracy theory (CT) (Barkun, 2003):

  • Event conspiracies (E.g. JFK assassination)
  • Systemic conspiracies (E.g. Freemasons/Illuminati/Jews)
  • Superconspiracies (Multiple linking e.g. JFK assassinated by Freemasons to ensure US remained in Vietnam war so Illuminati could us captured UFO technology to fake moon landings so they could draw attention away from how fluoridising tap water was allowing the CIA to control minds of US populace…)

Features of CTs (Keeley, 1999):

  • The ‘classic’ CT…
  • –Runs counter to ‘official’ account
  • –Attributes nefarious motives to conspirators
  • –Ties together apparently unrelated events
  • –Alleges a ‘cover up’ by powerful figures
  • –Focuses on errant data


Personality: Locus of control (the measure of how far people see themselves as in charge of their own destiny)

Internal LOC – in control of things

External LOC – controlled by external circumstances (high in those with a belief in CTs)

Whitson & Galinsky (2008):

  • PPs whose sense of control was undermined were significantly more likely to perceive random patterns as meaningful images.

Intergroup processes & CTs:

  • Social Identity Theory

–People’s sense of self is derived from their membership of social groups e.g. cultural, religious, political, occupational, sporting, interests…

–We divide the world into in-groups (those we belong to) and out-groups

–We enhance our self-esteem by overvaluing in-groups and undervaluing or denigrating out-groups



Evolution and violence in intimate relationships


Whilst public conceptions of violent crime often centre on the risk of being victimised by a stranger, the majority of violent crimes take place between people who know each other: members of the same family, friends or intimate partners. Both sexes are the targets if intimate partner violence but women are more likely to be victimised in this way (28% of women v. 18% of men; BCS, 2005). Abuse in domestic settings is very common. 20% of violent crime in the UK is domestic abuse (635,000 reports per year). 50% of cases also involve harm to children. In the UK, on average, two women are killed each week by their intimate partners.

The evolutionary approach suggests that psychological and behavioural traits are passed on genetically. Evolutionary psychologists believe that patterns in Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) are the result of genetic influences. These have evolved because differences in male and female reproductive physiology have created selection pressure for particular ways of acting in men. Both sexes have a vested interest in the survival of any children they produce, since their offspring will pass on their genes to their offspring and so on. They therefore have a motive to invest resources in their offspring, as this increases their viability. However, whilst women can always be sure that the offspring are theirs – and so carry their genes – men cannot. Men are therefore vulnerable to sexual infidelity by their partners. Evolutionary psychologists argue that this creates a selection pressure for behaviours that decrease the likelihood of sexual infidelity by their mates.

Men seem to be more bothered by sexual infidelity than women are (although women appear to be more troubled than men by the thought of emotional infidelity; Buss, 2000). IPV is often precipitated by a man’s fear of sexual infidelity by or losing control of his partner (Morgan, 2009). In abusive relationships violence is often accompanied by ‘checking up’ e.g. dropping in on the partner unexpectedly or phoning constantly. There are often attempts to separate the female partner from other men e.g. by controlling her social or employment activities and/or by filling her time with domestic and childcare activities (Buss, 1988). Domestic violence is worse when the victim is young and attractive (Buss & Shackleford, 1997) and when the victim is pregnant or near ovulation (Gangestad et al, 2002). Some of the most serious ‘danger signals’ for IPV are when a man (1) insists on knowing his partner’s whereabouts at all times; (2) tries to limit her contact with friends; (3) drops in unexpectedly; and (4) saying ‘I’d die if you ever left me’ or similar (Wilson et al, 1995; Shackleton et al, 2005).

Source: Sammons (2010) Violence in intimate relationships. URL: