Nuking Dreams

This is from a recent issue of Science:

In 2004, a research team led by Pierre Maquet of the University of Li├Ęge, Belgium, used positron emission tomography (PET) to monitor brain activity in men playing a virtual-reality game in which they learned to navigate through a virtual town (actually a scene from the shoot-’em-up video game Duke Nukem). The same regions of the hippocampus that revved up when the subjects explored the virtual environment also became active when the men slipped into slow-wave sleep that night.

Well first, that’s pretty neat. I guess dreams aren’t a waste of time after all.

But: Duke Nukem?? In 2004? Assuming they meant Duke Nukem 3D and not the 1991 original, that game is almost 10 years old. By today’s standards, the graphics are horrible and unrealistic. You’d think that they would get better results using a game that resembles real life; and, um, less meaningful results with a game where you walk around a pixely city fighting cartoony 2-dimensional pig-people with a freeze ray.

Of course, if they really wanted a Duke Nukem game to use, that was their only choice. The sequel to Duke Nukem – Duke Nukem Forever – is one of the most hilarious things in the video game world. It’s been in development since 1997, and was scheduled to be released in 1998. It is still not out. It’s now almost 10 years over its scheduled relase date. What’s funny is that every few years, news of the game will come out, usually saying that it will be out soon, accompanied by a tiny screenshot. Nobody will admit that it’s been cancelled. The fact that it has “forever” in the title, and abbreviates to “DNF” (i.e., did not finish) makes it even better. Still, there are plenty of games, out now, that have gorgeous graphics which psychology researchers could easily use to simulate real life. Look at Gears of War.

And this, friends, is why spending countless hours playing video games is no more a waste of time than dreaming. It’s pretty much studying for school and my future career as a psychologist.

I’ve now outed myself as a pathetic geek to everyone on Facebook.

To be all intellectually honest, here is the full source of the quote in glorious APA format:

Miller, G. (2007). Hunting for meaning after midnight. Science, 315 (5817), 1360 – 1363.

Bonus picture:

ROFLCOPTER

So I was reading this article on the top 10 mysteries of the mind, and one of them was about the purpose of laughter. Nobody really knows what it is.

And when you think about it, laughter is pretty strange. Someone says something “funny”, and in response, your lips curl up and you start grunting. Why?

Some researchers guess that laughing signals to other people that you meant something “in fun”, but this seems kinda circular. People would only do something “in fun” if it was funny, and then that just gets us back to asking what funny means. Others think that laughter is a playful response to things that don’t make sense. Ok, sure, but what’s the point of going into a fit every time something doesn’t make sense? Since I’m in personality psychology, I’d also point out that there are huge individual differences in laughter. Some people laugh at South Park, while others think Hope & Faith is hilarious (note: I’ve never watched it. Maybe it is.)

My guess is that, like most things, laughter is complicated. It serves multiple purposes depending on the situation, and depending on who’s doing the laughing.

Hah! Laughter. It makes me laugh. LOLX0rS.

Reality Television Secrets

So I TiVo’ed American Idol last night and watched it this morning. I discovered that, if you fast forward through the commercials and useless filler, you can watch a 2 hour episode of Idol in approximately 40 minutes. That means about 66% of the show is skippable. It’s not a good sign when you’re watching a show in which the majority of its material can be discarded without detracting from it. Why do I bother?

Still, I’m glad that this season there are TWO funny chubby guys. They’re always good to watch. And one of them is named “Sundance Head”, which is a pretty damn funny name. Though with a last name of “Head”, pretty much any first name is funny. If it were my last name, I’d name one of my kids Richard so he could be Dick Head. Another one would be Harold, so he could be Harry Head, which would become ironically hilarious when he inherited my baldness genes.

You know what show has even more filler though? Deal or No Deal. If you skip the crap, it’s approximately 30 seconds long (i.e., “I pick case #4! *FAST FORWARD* Ohhh, look, your case contained 2 dollars. Should’ve made a deal. *FAST FORWARD* Here are shots of all the models *FAST FORWARD* See you next time! I’m Howie Mandel! I’m mentally ill…isn’t that funny!?”)

I do find the fact that it’s popular pretty fascinating. I have a feeling it’s getting down to basic psychological principles; like the need to resolve uncertainty (i.e. what’s in each case), the reward that results from resolving it (i.e. opening cases), and the fact that people will keep watching what’s, basically, a person playing a giant scratch-and-win ticket, just for these little rewards. It’s sorta like rats pushing levers over and over if it will sporadically release a reward. In some cases, they’ll just keep pushing until they die. Perhaps people aren’t exaggerating when they say that reality TV will bring about the end of the world.

Skeptiko

A new podcast, called Skeptiko, has just started releasing episodes. It’s about controversial scientific issues, and the scientific method. I’ve enjoyed the two episodes so far, so if you’re interested in this sort of thing, you can download the shows from the official site or the usual way through iTunes.

The reason I mention this is to follow up my review of Dean Radin’s book below. He was just on Skeptiko talking about the book and more. What I found quite cool is that the interviewer gave Radin several opportunities to put down “skeptical” critics – for example, by accusing them of fiddling with statistics in order to support their own agenda – but Radin did not go for it. Instead, he (rightly) pointed out that it’s a double-edged sword. Every scientist, consciously or not, is going to focus on the results and methods that support their hypothesis, which is why it’s good that there are proponents of both sides of the issue to bring balance.

Apparently Dr. Radin is now working on some research involving one of my favourite things in the world: chocolate. This place is where he gets the chocolate. I wish it was possible to taste things through a computer screen. If this research works out, I just might have to change my PhD dissertation to a replication of it. Of course, it will require constant sampling of the chocolate to make sure it’s still good. For science.