Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

Tag: Neuroscience

Your Local Phrenologist

Have a drink with: Your Local Phrenologist

Lumps & bumps.
Ask him about: The 10-Year Challenge

Facial recognition technology is fun: particularly when you can log into your phone as an Animoji lion. But is it reliable, particularly when entrusted with decisions about security – and when profiling is a likely outcome? Suggestions that facial recognition technology can identify bad actors echoes the 19th century belief that phrenology could help identify criminals, and is woven through with the same social anxieties and pseudoscience. I’m over at the Washington Post’s Made by History site today digging into biometrics, phrenology and the problems with using biology to make decisions about criminal guilt, innocence or predisposition.

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Leonardo da Vinci

Have a drink with: Leonardo da Vinci
Polymath, painter, engineer, left-handed gay underdog genius

Ask him about: flying psychic unicorn voyages of the mind

Leonardo da Vinci

The surgeon and writer Leonard Shlain was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008 and died less than a year later, just a week after finishing the manuscript for his book “Leonardo’s Brain.”  Released late last year with the help of Shlain’s surviving family, the book purports to use what we know of Leonardo da Vinci’s life and work to tell us about the capability, potential and future evolution of the human brain.

Shlain starts with the premise, hardly arguable, that da Vinci stands alone in artistic accomplishment and diversity of skill.  It is no exaggeration to claim that few if any humans throughout history have even begun to approach Leonardo’s explosively creative, integrative mode of thinking, and to execute on it so well and so beautifully. To suggest candidates – he tosses out Omar Khayyam, Galileo, Goethe, Freud – is only to drive home the achievement gap.

It’s one thing to say that every artist, ever, was influenced by da Vinci, to suggest that he presaged the discoveries of Newton and Bernoulli, or even to claim he discovered arteriosclerosis (all of which Shlain does).

But that’s small potatoes once you bring up the psychic flying.

Maybe we should back up a little.

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