In Brains - And Garth Sundem - We Trust
    By Hank Campbell | February 28th 2012 12:51 PM | 6 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

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    If you are anything like me, and you had a chance to sit around with Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, you wouldn't ask fanboy questions like 'will we ever understand the soul?' or 'how much should I make fun of evolutionary psychology surveys about sex?' you would instead lean in conspiratorially and ask, 'what's the best way to get out of a speeding ticket?'

    That's what makes Garth Sundem's new book, Brain Trust (shipping March 6th - if you buy it through that link we get a nickel or something), so much fun.  Garth is just like us.  He asks the questions you either would want to ask or wish you had thought to ask.  And then he does it 92 other times.

    There are no hard rules in psychology, of course, people are too different.  Consumer research does well with applied psychology but as far as global theories, well, there are none. Instead, just like playing Poker, you play the odds and when the odds look like they are in your favor, you bet big.  But in Poker, you can practice easily.  Getting pulled over by the police, not so much, thus Pinker's practical answer is a lot like consumer research methods; try and funnel the decision your way using his tried-and-true methods but if you meet an objection, exit the situation gracefully.   Oh, that applies to getting dates as well but anyone reading this article is already awesome at getting dates.  Getting out of speeding tickets is hard.

    Wait, you can't get dates?  Fine, the next time you are at that all night seminar on Euclidean geometry, try out these handy icebreakers:

    Oooooh, your IQ is 140? I likes 'em beautiful and dumb!

    According to the second law of thermodynamics, you're supposed to share your hotness with me.

    But enough about me, let's talk about mu.

    It isn't just esoteric science stuff, there is practical sports knowledge too. Hugh Herr is a mountain climber in the Sports Hall of Fame and lost his lower legs to frostbite. His contribution from MIT was to show home users how to make their own garage-style augmentative-technology exoskeleton using, basically, rubber bands.  See?  Fun!

    I got the book in galley form in January and I was intrigued by the Salk Institute's Satchidananda Panda hypothesis about the liver so I had plenty of time to test it out; Panda says if you make a diabetes map of the US with a nighttime satellite map, they overlay quite well and that the incidence of metabolic disease is much higher for people who work at night. We're defying biology, basically, by eating late but if we defy culture and only eat for 8 hours each day, we will lose weight even if we ingest the same calories as we would if we ate in a 12-16 hour span.  I am not much for pop medical advice - I ridicule Drs. Oz, Chopra and the other Four Horsemen of the Alternative too much to suddenly change now - but this was self-experimentation on a subject of one so I decided to give it a try.  Each day I would not eat until 10AM and I would not eat after 6PM. Did I lose weight? No, I did not but the experiment was rather short in time.  It has a feeling of truthiness to it and if a regulatory biologist says my liver needs to have plenty of time for mitochondria to divide, so be it.   Tests show it works in mice even with a high-fat diet so if anyone else out there tries it, I think the results would be interesting to hear about.

    Each of these 93 nuggets is a digestible 250-500 words, he truly pares the collective wisdom of these Nobel laureates, National Medal of Science and MacArthur geniuses into their most condensed form. Sundem is basically your geeky friend who is willing to spend hundreds of hours interviewing people so you don't have to, and then writing it all up.  The cost for all that combined knowledge?  A very civilized $14.00.

    So you should buy it.

    Now if you will excuse me, I'm going to collect some crab shells so I can stave off Armageddon this December.  He shows us how to do that in the book too.


    It is lab-tested? Irresistible! :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Undoubtedly a page turner.

    Is it a deplorable thing to admit that I found Brain Candy rather taxing?

    Anyway, on the subject of brains:


    Eine runde weiche Sache,
    ist das Hirn bei Frau und Mann,
    und es ist nicht auszudenken,
    was man damit denken kann.
    Aber leider kennen viele
    nicht den Wert dieser Substanz:
    Hilflos gehen sie durchs Leben
    Wie ’ne Katze ohne Schwanz.


    A round soft thing
    Is the brain in women and men,
    and there is no telling
    what one can think with it.
    But unfortunately many people
    Do not know the value of this substance:
    Helpless, they go through life
    Like a cat without a tail.

    by Heinz Erhardt.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Well, men of a certain age are not as enchanted by homework so I also did not do all of the puzzles.  This new book has optional homework (maybe like extra credit) but I liked his snapshots of the latest cool stuff.   It isn't often on a site like this I will stumble on something I did not know was being worked on at all but it happened about two dozen times while reading it.
    Garth Sundem
    Like mathematician and puzzler Ian Stewart trying to use rotational mechanics to get his malfunctioning cat to land on its feet? I also love stats guru, Wayne Winston, yelling at LeBron James in the background of our conversation because his model predicted a wider point spread for USA basketball. You can't get this stuff from abstracts -- and interviewing nearly 130 Nobel, MacArthur, and National Medal of Science winners (cut down to 93 in the book) in six months nearly drove me batty. You know, in a good way. Cheers, Hank.

    Garth Sundem, TED speaker, Wipeout loser and author of Brain Trust

    It is unfortunate that although Mr. Sundem states that the scientists were interviewed, several of them were not and have never heard of him.