Your Brain: Your Garden

brain-gardenMy son likes to watch Mr. Bean, which is a little worrisome for me, as I do not believe in ‘harmless  and silly fun’. While good humor and puns certainly  stimulate your brain-cells (aka neurons), I think that part of the reason people are amused by Mr. Bean, Charlie Chaplin (or any of the  situation comedy heroes who are typically getting into trouble because of their stupidity) is because watching such shows offers them comfort and relief in the knowledge that some other person can be dumber than themselves – and the feeling of having a relatively higher intelligence is enough to boost their self-esteem and actually make them laugh.

The above is just an unproven personal theory, and since I’m not a psychologist by trade, so I will probably not bother to research this idea any further, but that doesn’t stop me from telling my son that “If you watch too much Mr. Bean, your brain will slowly shrink into a pea-brain and you will start acting like Mr. Bean”. I believe it is fair, since he also knows that his brain grows and expands whenever he reads or plays games, so that he can balance the Mr. Bean silliness with some reading or games.

It seems that I am not that far away from the truth, as this recent neuroscience study from Leicester University suggests that we tend to dedicate whole neurons in our brains to a celebrity or even a fictional character. The study involved showing pictures of celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Oprah Winfrey to test subjects, and detecting the neurons that were fired! After this calibration, it is possible to tell whether a person is looking at a picture of Jennifer Aniston or of Halle Berry simply by monitoring their brain cells.

This phenomenon must have a lot of applications  in the Neuromarketing and the Psy-Ops markets, and is definitely the basis for  celebrity sponsorships and endorsements, but more importantly, it has implications within our own relatively ordinary daily lives. The next time you sit in front of the TV for a few hours of entertainment, or decide to watch a movie, you might want to assess whether the neuron-to-entertainment-value trade-off is worth it for you before giving away a few more precious neurons in your brain. Of course, if you don’t intend to use all those extra neurons, then you don’t really need to watch what you are watching.

So what kind of neurons are you growing in your brain, and what kind of stuff is your head filled with?  If you can spare a few, please stare at my avatar for 3 minutes without blinking 🙂

FBI is Confused About Dr. Aafia Siddiqui

aafia-normalWhile a tiny percentage of our Pakistani population is protesting for fair treatment to Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, it looks like the US FBI is as confused as we are about the truth regarding her case.

The official FBI page on one of the most wanted women in the world has her picture with the caption “In Custody”, and on the same page it states:

“Aafia Siddiqui’s current whereabouts are unknown.”

The page also says:

“Although the FBI has no information indicating this individual is connected to specific terrorist activities, the FBI would like to locate and question this individual.”

Maybe the FBI’s left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, or maybe their webmasters are too busy working on more important tasks. Either way, some God-fearing media monitor from their government should poke the FBI to change/fix the text before people start getting the wrong impression from this slip.

I found the link to the FBI page from Mind Hacks, a neuroscience blog that I subscribe to, which also has a summary of her area of research. The research topic does not have anything to do with the military application of neuroscience (an area that Uncle Sam seems to be an expert at). The Mind Hacks page also has links to her thesis and research papers, in case anyone is interested.

The Many Faces of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui

I have always been impressed by the mainstream media’s expertise in selecting the perfect image of a person with just the right expression to support what is being said in the text. For example, in his pictures, Musharraf may look proud, happy, confused, tired, sweaty, adamant, dancing, drunk, defeated or victorious, depending on the publication and the affiliation of the publisher (just search google images if you don’t want to take my word on it).

I think the big media guys accomplish this by using high-speed cameras to take a few hundred images per session, and then tagging each image with the expression it conveys before putting them into their image archives. This way, the authors can probably pick up the right image by a simple tag search.

If my theory is correct, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui has four popular images on the internet right now, and they are probably tagged…

“Normal Aafia”



“Muslim Aafia”, “Taliban Aafia”



“Convict Aafia”, “Guilty Aafia”, “Prisoner Aafia”



and finally “Victim Aafia”, “Latest Aafia”



The last picture the least used. In fact, I have only seen on a few Pakistani websites and have yet to see it used by an American publication. Do let me know if there are any more images around and I can add them to this list.


Its been one year since I started working with the Blue Brain Project team. Dr. Felix Schürmann, the Project Manager of the Blue Brain Project, informed me last week that the project is officially entering its next phase very soon, which has got me pretty excited.

Meanwhile, here's what the rest of the world of Brains (aka. neuroscience) has been up to recently:

PS. On the number of 'n's in the post title (18), I became curious how people actually spelled brai(n)+s, and spent the next 5 minutes charting out the Google hits. Here are the results:


B(ack)log Links – Part One

I just took a look at my 'FOR BLOG' bookmarks folder and was amazed to see the number of pages (66) I have bookmarked during August, with the intention to write about them here, but never got the chance. So, in an attempt to cross that task from my TODO list, I'm posting some of them here (minus the planned commentary/discussion/blogging) and deleting the rest. They should have converted into 66 posts, but oh well!

I need a break from all the copy/pasting now, and will have to split this post in two parts. So these are the things that have been using up my brain cycles this month. If you find any of the above things useful/fun/entertaining/offensive, do leave a comment so that I can justify spending the last hour or so on this.