Not Just Ladders Trigger Superstitious Behavior

 

I am appearing at this years Secret Garden Party where the theme is Superstition….though with David Icke on the bill, general wackiness might be more appropriate as a theme. Anyway, it has been a while since I posted (The new book is nearly done!). So I was pleased when my Icelandic friend Hjalti Hjalmarsson sent me this photograph of a public path in Russia. It is not a ladder but clearly there is some superstitious thinking going on. It reminds me of an old 1974 study where they found that people would be more likely to walk under a ladder after observing a someone else tempting fate, but not when they were unobserved.

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Updates & Next Year

It has been a while since I last blogged but it’s not because I did not have anything to say but rather there has been too much happening. I was abroad touring most of April and have yet to write up my account of China and S. Korea as well as Sweden. I hope to get to them soon as I have some interesting insights.

Then there was the outcome of the trial of Jim McCormick, the businessman who sold dowsing rods as bomb detectors on the day of my return to the UK. There is still more to come from that story over the coming months as Gary Bolton and others face the wrath of the law.

In the meantime, it has been exam period so that has been busy. I  have also been fitting in a bit of  TV here and there but increasingly I am finding that I have to turn down invitations – which is a good thing I guess. One thing I did do this week was Dara O’Briain’s Science Club – a popular BBC2 science show which was a great laugh. I will post nearer the broadcast date but here is a picture of me with this giant of a man – he really is – I look like his glove puppet in this pictureImage

I have just finished marking the final year exam papers for my undergraduate and aside from some project students and admin, I am nearly the completion of the 2012/13 academic year.

So what of next year? Well I am finally taking that sabbatical fellowship I was awarded last year by my wonderful University who have been incredibly supportive in my activities. I doubt another institution would have been so good – how many workers get to say that about their employers? I really cannot say how much I enjoy being at Bristol.

Even though I could just sit about on my backside, the reality is that I will be working harder than ever. I have a new book published by Penguin which is currently going through the edit stage but due out in the summer of 2014. I also have a controversial new grant starting in September which I will tell you more about then. There are various other seeds that have been planted but the one thing that I am most excited about is that I am making an independent documentary based on the content of “SuperSense” that will be filmed over the course of the next year. These are definitely unchartered waters but after years, I am finally been given the opportunity to do something that I want.

So hopefully I will be able to keep you posted with updates of the various events along the way – if I get the time.

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Not Exactly the Drug Company I Had Expected

Over the past couple of years, I have done quite a few public speaking events as well as corporate engagements. When I received an invitation from Jay to speak at a “Science and Cocktails” in Copenhagen, I checked out the website and assumed on the basis of the sleek and stylish design that this was another corporate gig. Maybe a pharmaceutical company with a plethora of web designers, polished steel and glass sculptures. It also had the Niels Bohr endorsement.

I guess I should have reconsidered when I was asked if I wanted to stay at a house in the community of Christiania where the event was being held. I try to avoid, if I can, staying with hosts because a) it is good to have space and b) some hosts can be well-intentioned but fail to gauge what speakers need.  So I declined and accepted a room in a hotel in downtown Copenhagen much to my later regret.

If I had had the time and inclination then I should have checked out Christiania as I was confused by a place that seemed to exist inside Copenhagen. Even the email from my friend Susan Blackmore, telling me that I was going to have a great time did not twig in my overly occupied brain. I should say that from December, I have been teaching full time (when I was supposed to be on sabbatical), finishing the first draft of my new book (more about that later), submitting grants (I’ve let this slip with all the other commitments) and co-writing papers with my students and colleagues (sometimes you have to be very pushy here). Moreover, I had block-booked April for speaking engagements. I’m off to China and South Korea at the end of the week and I am hoping that I return un-nuked for a speaking engagement at the end of the month in Sweden.

When I arrived at Copenhagen, I was met by Jay (a theoretical physicist with dreadlocks), Costas (a theoretical physicist who knows a thing or two about string theory) and Rob (who knows a thing or two about making cocktails). They kindly escorted me to the hotel and then we made our way over to Christiania for dinner.

Christiania established in 1971 on the site of a former military ammunitions site is a massive 84 acre site with around 1,000 hippies. Also known as “Freetown” it has its own TV station, garbage collection and other municipals.

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A Christiania Garbage Truck

There are three rules when entering Christiania, “Have fun. Don’t Run and Don’t Take Photographs.” The many cannabis dealers that line a dirt track through the middle of the campus known as “Pusher’s Road” are breaking the law and to be frank, are less hippie and more “pop a cap in your ass” types. Of course, just about everyone smokes pot in Christiania but the heavy dealers aspect of the set-up is less savory.

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The Bath House Where I Was “Goosed” During the Midnight Sauna

Speaking of which, I ate some delicious vegetarian food when I was Christiania, some of the best I have tasted. I also arrived on a special day of the month when the Bath House stays open until midnight for mixed saunas. This is one for the bucket list. Fifty men and women (a record I am told) were squeezed into a sauna, while a shamanic “goose master” flavored the hot air with essential oils and gesticulations as he wafted the scented steam over the naked bodies. When I was told there would be a goose master, I wondered exactly what he would do. Apparently goose or something very close to it, means “misty” in Danish.

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Bar Staff in Lab Coats Mixing Wicked Cocktails

Anyway the next day, I had my gig to a packed audience of over 300 in the cinema which had a bar at the back. The cocktails very really excellent and the volunteers were a wonderful mixed bag. Rob & Costas made an amazing frozen cocktail sorbet using liquid nitrogen that was sublime. Unlike other meetings were the audience tends to be pretty partisan, this was a mixed bunch. The thing about Christiania it attracts all types. There is even a bar called “Woodstock” that seemed to be entirely populated with Inuit – a legacy of the time that Denmark ruled over Greenland.

Anyway, I had a great time and while I know that I am not really suited to this kind of lifestyle, part of me felt that there was more to life that slogging from one corporate gig to another. I look forward to being invited back one day.

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Essential Bears

I am finishing off the first draft of my next book which is one reason why I have not been updating my blogs recently. I also have several spinning plates up in the air related to various projects I am working on – all will be revealed later!

In the meantime, while researching the book, I came across this company, “Treasured Teddy Bears” of New Jersey that makes teddy bears our of sentimental garments that have belonged to loved ones. Again, essentialism is the best explanation for this type of thinking which is supported by the testimonials provided by satisfied clients,

I can feel my Grandmother’s spirit in Kathryn the Bear
Kay in Cincinnati, OH
Absolutely Magnificent! These Bears have a personality all their own”
Maureen in Newark, NJ
When I opened the box and saw the Bears, I had tears in my eyes. They are beautiful”
Ronna in Savannah, Ga

What would they do with Jeffrey Dahmer or Fred West’s clothing? Probably make a Chucky DollImage

 

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The Brain Bank

The Most Amazing Thing in the Universe

The Most Amazing Thing in the Universe

This time last year, I was presenting the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, “Meet Your Brain”that were filmed for the BBC. It was a major life event that took four months of preparation. One of the major hurdles was coming up with demonstrations that would work well for a young audience. To my surprise this was a lot harder than I imagined as there were not that many “off-the-shelf” examples to illustrate the basic principles of neuroscience that we teach our students.

In the end, we came up with three shows-worth of material and demonstrations that went down really well (excellent ratings by the TV pundits & over 4 million viewers). It seems like a distant memory now that I have returned to day job as an academic but I must confess I miss the spotlight and attention that the Christmas Lectures generate.

One legacy is that we have created a free online resource based around the content of the three lectures called “The Brain Bank.” This has all been down to an amazing amount of hard work by my longtime collaborator and friend, Dr. Natalia Gjersoe.

It contains video clips, demonstrations, images and Q&A discussions all aimed at a teenage audience. There are three sections that deal with architecture, functions and the social brain. It is especially good for UK teachers as it explains difficult concepts and tells you which part of the school’s curriculum each of the points cover but it has international appeal. After all, brains are pretty much the same wherever you are!

I really hope it gets used and inspires the next generation of brain scientists.

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Science, It’s a Girl Thing

A couple of months back, the European Commission spent over £80,000 on a video to encourage more girls to take up science. A just cause but an atrocious video, I am sure you will agree. 

It looks like it was made by Berlusconi and it would be funny if they were not deadly serious. It caused a major outcry and in response, the ‘girls’ in my department decided they could do better with a budget of £7.66. What do you think? 

Did I mention I work in the best department in the world?

 

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Modern Witch Burning Shock

I just saw this pop up on my Twitter feed from Derren Brown about a US magician who was set alight by the host of TV show in the Domican Republic. Here is a link to the article and details are still very sketchy but apparently, the host ignited a liquid that is used to exorcise witches, and threw it over the head of US magician Wayne Houchin.

Wayne suffered severe burns and is currently in hospital though he has just Tweeted that he may not be permanently scarred. Doesn’t matter, he could have been killed. This is such a strange attack as the host seems to offer assistance but we are assured that this was not a stunt to get publicity. Derren Brown tweets that the host set fire to Wayne to rid him of evil spirits. It doesn’t look like a stunt and so reminds me of the blog I wrote about modern beliefs in witches and the horrific examples of witch burning in Africa as shown in this distressing footage. WARNING – NSFL . So it is not just, primitive, uneducated natives in Africa who don’t know better (BTW I am being deliberately facetious!) but also Westernized, presumably well-educated TV presenters.

Here is another blog that provides more details and a translation of the statement released after the attack.

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November 30, 2012 · 1:43 pm