GUEST AUTHOR ARCHIVES
May 28, 2004
"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind."
~ Winston Churchill, September 5th, 1943
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May 26, 2004
RNI Stanford Theoretical Neuroscience Lecture:
Don't miss this week's special lecture by Alex Pouget. Dr. Pouget's research focuses on two main topics: neural coding and spatial representations. Dr. Pouget's laboratory is part of the Center for Visual Science and the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. His talk is titled: "Revisiting Population Codes". This talk is also part of the Stanford University Department of Neurobiology's "Frontiers in Neuroscience" seminar series. Stanford's faculty host is Jennifer Raymond.
Location: Munzer Auditorium, 279 Campus Drive, Stanford University Thursday, May 27, at 4:15pm.
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May 25, 2004
For over 20 years The Gruter Institute has been assembling biologists, legal scholars, primatologists, economists, anthropologists, and more recently neuroscientists, to discuss how human legal behavior is both facilitated and constrained by our biological nature. One principle consistently guiding the Institute is that "if law is fundamentally aimed at affecting human behavior, then it makes sense for the law to understand human behavior."
While last year's theme was sensory systems and the law with an emphasis on the neurobiology of decision making, this year's meeting at Squaw Valley, explored the intersection of Law, Human Behavior and the Brain. Here are a few highlights from the first day:
Owen Jones began the meeting with an ambitious list of questions that legal scholars should be asking behavioral scientists. Among them was this one: "What proof do we have that evolutionary biology and cognitive neuroscience will be important 20 years out?" Hopefully, my talk on our emerging neurosociety and the important role that biochips and brain imaging will play in driving future societal change put this question to bed.
After lunch legal scholar J.B. Ruhl explored how complex adaptive systems research could inform legal research and policy. J.B. was particularly interested in the policy implications of neurotechnology, an area I am sure we will be hearing more from him in time.
Peter Huang gave a very forward thinking talk titled "Effective Regulation of Affective Investing: Regulating Emotional Investing in Bipolar Securities Markets." Peter's knowledge of neurofinance and the potential policy implications was extremely impressive.
In the last talk of the first day, the ever insightful neuroeconomist Kevin McCabe provided an overview of his latest neuroeconomic research. Let's just say that Kevin understands intelligent experimental design is critical to getting anything out of an fMRI.
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May 22, 2004
Here is a shorter interview I recently had with US News.com in their Friday Forward column.
Here is an overview:
Next News: What is the current state of neuroscience? Give me a feel for where we are right now.
Lynch: We have learned more about the human brain in the past five years than in the previous 25. The reason for this dramatic increase comes from the convergence of information being created by two technologies. First, from the outside, today's brain imaging technologies now make it possible to track the electrical and chemical activity occurring across the brain in real time. This means that we can distinguish the parts of the brain that are involved in different kinds of emotions and thoughts. Second, breakthroughs in biotechnology allow neuroscientists to understand what is occurring inside the cells in the brain.
Using both of these technologies, neuroscientists are now able to look at the brain from both the outside and inside. I call this the "Reese's Peanut Butter Cup effect," because just like chocolate plus peanut butter creates a better result than either one alone, so too do brain imaging and biotechnology create a much clearer understanding of the brain.
Next News: What real-world application do you see stemming from advances in neuroscience over the next five years or so?
Lynch: The most important application will go toward developing better tools for treating mental illnesses. Today, five of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwidemajor depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, substance abuse, and obsessive-compulsive disordersare mental issues. These problems are as relevant in developing countries as they are in rich ones. And all predictions point toward a dramatic increase in mental illnesses as people live longer.
In the next five years, neurotechnology tools that influence the human brain will prevent memory loss in aging baby boomers. Memory Pharmaceuticals is one recently public company that is currently working on this problem. We are also going to see the development of "neuroceuticals" that will enable the average worker to perform their daily activities in a safer and more effective manner. A good example of this is Provigil, short for "promotes vigilance." Provigil was originally developed to keep narcoleptics from falling asleep. But recently, the FDA approved its use for shift-line workers and truck drivers. This is just the beginning of a much larger trend, where safe neuroceuticals will be used by common individuals to enable them to perform their work more effectively.
As neurotechnology becomes more precise, all aspects of business, including the art of marketing, will be reinvented. Using brain imaging, marketing firms will use brain imaging to understand how and why people buy different products. But "neuromarketing" has a long way to go before we can predict a person's purchasing decisions. But with billions of dollars at stake, the search for the brain's "buy button" will definitely be an area of heavy investment.
Next News: OK, let's be a bit more speculative. What are the possible applications over the next five to 10 years and their impact?
Lynch: Like any new technology, neurotechnology represents both promises and problems. On the upside, we will see new cures for mental illness and expanded opportunities for economic growth. Yet these same technologies raise important ethical questions, especially around brain privacy and your freedom to think about what you want. For example, should the government be able to scan your brain as you walk through an airport to detect if you have been thinking about illegal activities? Simply thinking about an issue, any issue, is not the same as acting on it. Neuroethicists at think tanks like the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics are working hard to promote legislation to protect our freedom to think, without unnecessary government intrusion. Brain privacy is an issue that will come to the forefront of ethics and politics in the coming years.
For more, see the full article here.
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May 19, 2004
If you are interested in why I became interested in neurotechnology and how I think it will impact our future, then you should read this 13-page interview that appears in this month's Neofiles. For me, it all began on a trip to India when I was 13...
The NeuroAge: Zack Lynch In Conversation With R.U. Sirius
NEOFILES: How did you get involved in brain research and brain science?
ZACK LYNCH: Well, my background is in evolutionary biology and economics and my wife is a neuroscientist. My brother, who is six years older than I am, was a major influence on me. He is a genetist and has recently starting a company called Sound Pharmaceuticals to restore hearing to the deaf. I did my graduate work in economic geography, which is the historical study of global political economy. Economic geographers try to understand why economies rise and fall where they do.
My passion for the future started when I was thirteen and my mother took me to India. The six weeks I spent at an ashram there changed my life. We were getting in a cab in New Delhi going home. I looked up to my right and I saw this sixty-story building being built. And there was all this scaffolding build out of random wood tied together with random rope and ties of every nature you could possibly think of. And these guys were up 100 feet (plus or minus 35 feet in either direction). And Im going Gosh
man along with all the Zebu (cows)
that is a tough way to make a living. Here were these glorious buildings being built along unpaved streets with people living in cardboard boxes with their Zebu (cows). I felt very fortunate to be in the world that Id been born into.
Well, we got on the 747 flying back to San Francisco and stopped off in Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. I dont know if youve ever been to the airport there, but its all marble with Rolex clocks on the walls with diamonds
. And thats when I realized that Im already dead. I thought, when those people find out what these people have
the level of disparity, no matter whether or not its fair, those people are going to kill these people. So Ive spent my entire life trying to figure out how, in my own particular way, I could accelerate the project of the peaceful coexistence of humanity.
Here is the link to the full interview:
R.U. Sirius has also interviewed many other individuals that I greatly respect, including:
Steven Johnson in "Hey, Look at My Brain"
Mark Pesce in "Chaos as a Creative Space"
Robert Anton Wilson in "Hang the Tsar"
Wrye Sententia in "Is It Your Brain?"
Cory Doctorow in "Digital Utopia and its Flaws"
David Pearce in "Feeling Groovy, Forever"
Susan Blakemore in "I Mine Meme"
David Pescovitz in "Tools for Brains"
Blogging will be light over the next week as I am off to the 2004 Gruter Institute conference. If it is anything like the 2003 meeting (and it will be) then get ready for some very interesting topics over the following months. Thank you for your continued interest in Brain Waves.
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May 18, 2004
According to the developers, "HyperSonic Sound Technology is simply the most revolutionary sound reproduction system of this century. Not since the development of the "cone" loudspeaker more than 75 years ago has any technology provided such significant departure from conventional loudspeakers and such a remarkable new approach to the reproduction of sound."
HyperSonic Sound is already being used by Coca Cola throughout the streets of Tokyo, sending sounds of the ice cubes dropping into the glass and the soda making that "psst" can-opening noise directly to into the ear drums of those passing by. But this is just the beginning. Most recently, the US Army has begun to deploy this technology for use in the field. Indeed, some are suggesting that we are entering the age of "hypersonic messaging", in which advertisers will use this technology to bombard people's brains with signals to trigger purchases.
While some claim this more directed form of information communication will reduce the clutter we here in our daily lives, many others are concerned that this technology breaches the divide between "public" and "private" space. Accordingly, some are already offering advice on how to construct an Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie, a hat made from tinfoil described as "an effective low-cost solution to combating hypersonic sound. As technologies become more precise at directly targeting our sensory systems, the right to personal brain privacy and one's own cognitive liberty will grow. This particular technology is just a preview of what is going to come.
So, what are your rights?
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May 17, 2004
The Washington Post reports on the increasing problem facing nano-scale researchers and the nanotechnology "industry" as a whole, a lack of any real scientific or industry taxonomy to describe products. Without an intelligent and consistent taxonomy to describe new materials, products and companies, the nanotechnology industry risks confusing investors and attracting unwanted attention of government regulators.
"Now scientists are tackling the difficult process of creating one. The effort is young; experts are just now organizing a series of conferences to hammer out a system. But the process offers an unusual peek into the arcane world in which chemists decide how to categorize the tangled skeins of new knowledge.
"It's like developing a new language, and I don't want this to become Esperanto," said Vicki Colvin, director of the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology at Rice University in Houston and a prime organizer of the new nano nomenclature effort.
Of particular interest to regulators and toxicologists is emerging evidence that some substances that are normally biologically inert can cause worrisome reactions in the body when present as nanoparticles. Similarly, some substances that are normally safe in the environment seem to have the potential to be ecologically disruptive when dispersed as nano-size particles.
Colvin hopes to receive funding to begin a series of nano nomenclature meetings this August and expects it could take as long as two years to get a solid framework. These meetings will include biologists, environmental scientists and others, reflecting the many potential applications for nanoproducts....In some cases, existing terms may suffice. In others, words may have to be invented, experts said."
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May 14, 2004
Randall Parker's post Brain Scans Show Money Gained From Good Performance More Meaningful is an excellent example of the progress being made in the neuroeconomics field.
Money that comes as a result of reasons unrelated to one's own performance causes less activity in the area of the brain associated with reward processing than when the money comes as a result of good performance. (same article here)
Human beings are more aroused by rewards they actively earn than by rewards they acquire passively, according to brain imaging research by scientists at Emory University School of Medicine. Results of the study, led by first author Caroline F. Zink and principal investigator Gregory S. Berns, MD, PhD, of Emory's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, are published in the May 13 issue of the journal Neuron.
The Emory scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain activity in the striatum, which is a part of the brain previously associated with reward processing and pleasure. Although other experiments have studied and noted brain activity associated with rewards, until now these studies have not distinguished between the pleasurable effects of receiving a reward and the "saliency" or importance of the reward.
Study volunteers in the Emory experiment were asked to play a simple target-detection computer game. During the game, a money bill appeared occasionally and automatically dropped into a bag of money on the screen. The participant was given the amount of money that dropped in the bag at the end of the game, but because receiving the money had nothing to do with their performance on the computer game, it was not particularly arousing or salient to them.
In another version of the game, a money bill occasionally appeared on the screen and the participant had to momentarily interrupt the target detection game and push a button to make the bill drop into the bag. In this case, whether or not the participant received the money did depend on their performance, which made the appearance of the money bill more salient to them.
In yet another version, participants played the same computer game except the bag on the screen did not appear to have money in it and a blank "blob" dropped into the bag instead of money.
The investigators performed fMRI on the subjects while they were playing the game, particularly focusing on the reward centers. They found that some reward centers of the brain were activated whenever the money was received, but that other parts, particularly the striatum, were activated only when the participants were actively involved in receiving the reward.
"Scientists have conducted tests with monetary rewards in the past and noted that the striatum was activated, but it has been unclear whether it was because of the pleasure surrounding the money or the fact that the money was presented to participants in a salient or behaviorally important manner," said Zink. "We differentiated the saliency aspect by having the participants receive money that had nothing to do with their actions and having them receive money through active participation."
The investigators confirmed that the appearance of money that required a response was more salient to participants than money received passively by measuring skin conductance responses during the game -- a measurement of general arousal used as part of lie detector tests. The active participation in receiving the reward was the only condition that elicited a higher skin conductance measure, indicating greater arousal.
"Being actively engaged in the pursuit of rewards is a highly important function for the brain, much more so than receiving the same rewards passively," Dr. Berns explains. "It is like the difference between winning the lottery and earning the same amount of money. From the brain's perspective, earning it is more meaningful, and probably more satisfying."
It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective that the brain is wired up to reward itself for successfully engaging in activities that bring gains to one's position. History has already provided copious quantities of evidence that the political philosophy of Karl Marx is incompatible with human nature. Even before communist revolutionaries swept into power there were older theories of human nature that predicted the failure of a creed based on "from each according to his ability and to each according to his need". But advances in brain imaging technology has produced tools that are allowing reductionist brain scientists to start unravelling the deep seated mechanisms of our brains that alwayts doomed Marxism to failure.
A more general observation here is that by discovering the mechanisms that govern our behavior science is discovering limits to the malleability of human nature. As brain science advances its results are increasingly going to be used to judge whether proposals for changes in social order are going to compatible with human nature as science comes to understand it. Radical advocates of new social orders are going to increasingly be challenged by results from scientific research labs.
However, science will not only play a conservative role in opposition to proposed changes. Some proposals will be found to be compatible with human nature. Also, and more worringly, eventually scientific advances in the understanding of the brain and in ways to manipulate neurons will serve as the foundation for the development of technologies for changing human nature. Any future radicals who manage to seize power will be able to use biotechnologies to rework the brains of their subjects to be compatible with their imagined utopias. We will no longer be able to count on human nature to serve as a source of resistance to radical utopians because human nature will become more malleable.
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May 13, 2004
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May 12, 2004
Amsterdam, 23 April 2004 - Brains sciences are not only about treating diseases, they form an important narrative about what it is to be human. That is why it is important to have a societal discussion about what is going on in the field, said Andreas Roepstorff, a medical anthropologist from the University of Aarhus (Denmark). Roepstorffs statement was one of the important conclusions of the expert-stakeholder workshop Connecting Brains and Society, the Present and Future of Brain Sciences: what is possible, what is desirable?
This summary of the meeting put together by Peter Raeymaekers, Karin Rondia and Marjan Slob. It is the first in a four part series covering the key topics discussed at the meeting.
The meeting represented the overture of the European Citizens Deliberation project. Before involving citizens in the discussions on brain sciences, the members of the steering committee of the ECD felt that an overview of the technological and societal aspects of brain sciences was needed.
A Timely Topic
A citizens debate on the different aspects of brain science was welcomed by all participants of the workshop. Considering that 35% of the burden of all diseases is caused by brain diseases, these diseases have received relatively little attention, said Jes Olesen, president of the European Brain Council.
-- Is there enough teaching of neuroscience and brain diseases at medical and nursing schools?
-- Is a reasonable proportion of research funds allocated to basic and clinical neuroscience?
-- Are the efforts in prevention, primary care and hospital treatment sufficient?
The huge burden of brain diseases requires a response to all these questions. Society must also address the fact that the burden of brain diseases will further increase in the next 1020 years.
Baroness Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, considers brains sciences a timely topic for debate, Appreciating the dynamism and sensitivity of our brain circuitry, the prospect of directly tampering with the essence of our individuality seems to become a possibility.
A well selected group of 25 European top level scientists and stakeholders were invited to this informative workshop to give their views on the developments in brain sciences from their own perspectives. Among them physicians, neuro-, psychiatric, cognitive and social scientists, philosophers, artists and representatives of stakeholder organisations i.e. the pharmaceutical industry, the European Brain Council, the European Federation of Neurological Associations and the Global Alliance of Mental Illness Advocacy Networks, and The European DANA Alliance for the Brain. Unfortunately, the president of the Federation of the European Neuroscience Societies, Pierre Magistretti, was in the end not able to attend the workshop. But CCLE's Wrye Sententia attended from the USA to discuss our emerging neurosociety.
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May 11, 2004
How does a mind arise from the biology of the brain?
What are the neural bases of cognition, personality, and self-awareness?
How can we characterize intelligence and creativity from an interdisciplinary perspective?
What are the limits of nervous system plasticity in cognitive function, and how does training influence cognitive-neural organization?
If you are interested in these questions, then you should know about the new Center for Mind and Brain at UC Davis.
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About 70 million Americans suffer from sleep problems, according to the National Center for Sleep Disorder Research. Each year, sleep disorders, sleep deprivation, and sleepiness add an estimated $15.9 billion to the national health care bill. Additional costs to society for related health problems, lost worker productivity, and accidents have not been calculated. But help seems to be on the way.
Recently, Sepracor won FDA approval for it's new anti-insomnia drug, Estorra while Neurocrine Biosciences expects to apply for approval this year and bring Indiplon to market in the second half of next year.
While many might argue that there is a strong profit motive behind "medicalizing sleep," Carl Hunt, director of the federal government's National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, said the opposite problem is still true: "The issue is not over-diagnosing. The issue at this point in time is still under-diagnosing."
If you are having trouble sleeping you might consider testing your sleep I.Q., checking out these basic tips for a better nights sleep, or if you are an animal lover, then you might look to blame them.
Update: The U.S. market for prescription sleep products, not including off-label (not indicated for the treatment of insomnia) use of central nervous system agents for the treatment of insomnia, was approximately $1.5 billion in 2002. The U.S. prescription sleep agent market grew at a rate of almost 25 percent for the past two years, according to IMS Health information.
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May 7, 2004
Financial organizations have always been at the forefront of adopting, testing and disseminating the latest driving technology. Always searching for the latest way to increase transaction effectiveness and improve decision accuracy, financial analysts have continuously sought out the latest tools to attain competitive advantage.
During the water mechanization wave (1770-1820), banks were among the first organizations of penny post which partially relied on cheaper transportation costs afforded by the build out of canals throughout England. Most recently, we witnessed during the 1970s and 1980s the emergence of a global financial trading system allowing instant currency and financial movements which at the core was built on the back of microchips. The neurotechnology wave will be no different.
With instantaneous information at their fingertips, information or the ability to analyze and act on it is no longer the competitive differentiator it was for financial traders. In fact, information overload is increasing stress levels and impacting the emotional effectiveness of today's financial traders. In a brilliant paper written in 2002 by Lo and Repin's -- The psychophysiology of real-time financial risk processing -- they analyze this very point:
"A longstanding controversy in economics and finance is whether financial markets are governed by rational forces or by emotional responses. We study the importance of emotion in the decision-making process of professional securities traders by measuring their physiological characteristics (e.g., skin conductance, blood volume pulse, etc.) during live trading sessions while simultaneously capturing real-time prices from which market events can be detected."
As I've written previously in Forecasting happiness, Finance with feelings, and
Anthroscopes to improve team productivity, emerging neurotechnologies will increasingly be used by financial institutions to attain neurocompetitive advantage.
While some continue to question the validity of neuromarketing, interest in neurofinance is quickly gaining attention. Today companies like HeartMath and Quantum Intech are focused on providing biofeedback management techniques, while those on the cutting edge are seeking out the nexus of neuroscience and the financial markets: real-time neurofeedback.
Wouldn't you want the best tools humanity could develop if you had billions of dollars on the line?
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May 6, 2004
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May 4, 2004
Today's NYTimes article, "Has the Romance Gone? Was it the Drug?" highlights a major problem with today's psychopharmaceuticals, side effects. "Up to 70 percent of patients on antidepressants report sexual side effects," the article reports. But the problem does not end there.
"We know that there are real sexual problems associated with serotonin-enhancing medications," said Dr. Helen Fisher, author of "Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love". "But when you cripple a person's sexual desire and arousal, you're also jeopardizing their ability to fall in love and to stay in love."
Dr. Fisher and a colleague, Dr. Anderson J. Thomson Jr., have studied the brains of people in love and pored over research from the last 25 years on the neurological basis of romance.
Three brain systems, all interrelated, the researchers say, control lust, attraction and attachment. Each runs on a different set of chemicals. Lust is fueled by androgens and estrogens. Attachment is controlled by oxytocin and vasopressin. And attraction, they say, is driven by high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, as well as low levels of serotonin. As a result, they say, increasing levels of serotonin with antidepressants can cripple the sex drive but also set off an imbalance among the three systems."
So how might we develop an anti-depressant that increases lust? Or is that even possible?
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May 3, 2004
CCLE Announces Campaign to Return Choice to Parents (directly from CCLE, please spread the word):
"In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of American school children diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder), and treated with medications like Ritalin or Adderall. In some cases, parents are reporting that school administrators are telling them that their child may not attend school unless the child is placed on psychostimulant drugs.
"Government benefits should not be conditioned on the use or nonuse of a psychotropic medicine," says Richard Glen Boire, legal counsel for the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (CCLE), a nonprofit policy center devoted to protecting freedom of thought.
The CCLE today launches "Making Choices for Children," a national campaign designed to call attention to this issue, and to educate parents on their legal right to make medication decisions for their children, free of coercion by school authorities.
While pro-Ritalin and anti-Ritalin groups have garnered most of the attention in this debate, the CCLE hopes to bring a new perspective to the problem, one that focuses on parental choice rather than on the drugs themselves.
"Parents need to know that they are the ones vested with the legal power to make medication decisions in the best interest of their children," says CCLE legal counsel Boire. "Some parents may decide to place their children on Ritalin, and others may decide not to. Our campaign aims to support a parent's free and informed decision either way."
To that end the CCLE plans to publish a free Parent's Rights Kit, which will contain plain-language information on informed consent rights and additional resources for parents facing coercive school medication practices in their communities.
The CCLE is also working to educate policymakers on the problem, and supports legislation such as the Child Medication Safety Act (HR 1170), a bill currently before Congress that would block federal education funds from going to schools that condition a child's attendance on the use of a medication like Ritalin.
To learn more, obtain helpful resources, or to get involved in returning medication decisions to parents, visit the campaign's website."
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May 1, 2004
Neurotypical syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity. According to The Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical (INST), as many as 9625 out of every 10,000 individuals may be neurotypical. (Yes, that means you too)
Neurotypical individuals (NTs) often assume that their experience of the world is either the only one, or the only correct one. NTs find it difficult to be alone. NTs are often intolerant of seemingly minor differences in others. When in groups NTs are socially and behaviorally rigid, and frequently insist upon the performance of dysfunctional, destructive, and even impossible rituals as a way of maintaining group identity. NTs find it difficult to communicate directly, and have a much higher incidence of lying as compared to persons on the autistic spectrum.
Take this online test to find out if you have neurotypical syndrome.
Note about the humor behind the ISNT:
"This site is an expression of autistic outrage.
About a year ago I learned I was on the autistic spectrum. Inspired by this discovery, I read everything I could get my hands on about the autistic spectrum. Much of it makes sense-- for the first time in 41 years, I had a description, albiet an unexpected one, that fit me.
But a lot of what I've found out there, mostly written by "experts" and "professionals", has been arrogant, insulting, and just plain wrong. My bête noire of the moment is finding my emotions described as "flat". As someone with considerably greater expertise in my emotions than the "experts", I can state unequivocally that my emotions are not "flat". They are different, yes, but they are most certainly not "flat."
Perhaps tomorrow I'll be fired up over being described as "lacking empathy". Or I'll be outraged at an exceptionally clueless "training" method being inflicted upon autistic kids. Or maybe it will be some new paper written by some "expert" from the perspective that neurotypical perception is correct, and my brain is a genetic mistake.
My brain is a jewel. I am in awe of the mind that I have. I and my experience of life is not inferior, and may be superior, to the NT experience of life.
Hence, this "Institute". Persons on the autistic spectrum and NT supporters are invited to submit papers to the Institute, and to share your observations in "Current Research" (the guestbook)."
If you feel like laughing right now, go here.
Update 5/9: In NYTimes Week in Review: The Disability Movement Turns to Brains
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