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Our brain and mammograms

The utility of mammograms in improving survival from breast cancer suffered another blow. From a rational point of view, the idea that women without any risk factors will benefit from regular mammograms is dead and buried, 6 feet under with the coffin nailed shut. And yet, many women feel a strong pull to get a mammogram. I think there are generally two reasons. First, we humans are spectacularly irrational, emotionally driven animals. I can not do any better than Chris Mooney did in a Mother Jones article in explaining this. So I strongly recommend that you check out Chris’ article: In brief, put an emotional viewpoint in the ring with a logical laying out of the facts, and the emotional viewpoint will score a knock-out in no time flat. Regardless of their content or source, facts and reason don’t stand a chance against emotionally held beliefs. The second reason that women still want mammograms despite a complete lack of evidence for their efficacy in improving survival is that most women have no way to make sense of mammograms’ lack of efficacy. This essentially puts emotion in an uncontested fight. There is no logical framework within which to understand the evidence regarding mammograms. So here is a framework. Cancer cells have a natural history. They are in a competition with other cells for the body’s resources. Some cancer cells are successful and consequently wreak havoc. But many other cancer cells […]

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Why is looking at blue-footed boobies on a rocky boat easier than carrying a cup of tea?

As I carried my cup of tea from the kitchen to the living room this morning, I once again thought about the wonders of the vestibular system, wonders which I feared may have been lost in the length and detail of my previous post. So here goes, a quick and bottom-line account. If I could keep my hand as steady as I can keep my gaze I could run with that cup of tea and not spill a drop. There is only one part of the body that gets the royal treatment. Lots of brain power is devoted to fixing (in the sense of keeping steady) gaze in space. We care very much about our hands and mouth but we can’t keep them steady. The one steady point that we have is gaze. Pretty cool, don’t you think? A steady gaze is such a given in everyday life that we will always notice and be extremely bothered when something goes wrong with our vestibuloocular reflex or VOR (a brainstem reflex that moves our eyes to oppose head movements; see last post). Without an operational VOR, the world does not stay steady, we become nauseated and as you may imagine, unhappy enough to seek medical help. And to return to the topic of blue-footed boobies, here is a picture of a particularly fetching one:

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Autism and the optical gestalt

Can you read this? The first lines are the hardest. So if you have trouble, scroll down a bit. Once you have the hang of it, you probably will have no problem reading it from the start. This is a great example of perception as interpretation. We are not cameras and tape recorders. In the case of vision, we use […]

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