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Michio Kaku on the science of dreams

Michio Kaku describes how our prefrontal cortex disengages as we dream, thus suppressing the fact-checking component of our consciousness.

Michio Kaku: There’s a whole lore about dreaming. In fact, Sigmund Freud wrote a book called The Interpretation of Dreams which many people think is the foundation of psychoanalysis. Well scientists now have looked at Freudian psychology and the brain using all these modern techniques. And first of all we realize that perhaps Sigmund Freud wasn’t totally wrong. There are many textbooks which simply dismiss Freudian psychology calling it nuts. That is nothing but the sexual fantasies of a repressed Venetian scientist of the last century. But now we realize there’s more to it. First of all the unconscious mind. We can actually see the brain in motion and we realize that much of the activity is totally unconscious. Just like what Freud predicted.

And Freud also said there is the ego, the id and the superego, that we are in a constant battle with our desires and our conscious. And we see that now with brain scans. The ego is basically your prefrontal cortex. That is who you are. When you wonder where am I anyway. Well, you’re right there. You are sitting right behind your forehead. And then your desires. We see the pleasure center right there at the center of the brain. That is the libido. We see where the pleasure center is located. And then your conscience is right behind your eyes. The orbital frontal cortex right behind your eyes is where your conscience is. And so we actually see that in motion.

If you were to see a chocolate cake you would see these three parts of the brain going zippity back and forth like a ping pong ball because you’re constantly debating the pleasure of eating a chocolate cake versus how fat you’re gonna become and all the sugar and the calories that you don’t really need. So we see the beginnings of Freudian psychology coming out of brain scans. And now dreams. Freud had a whole collection of interpretation of dreams. Scientists have looked at and said, “Nonsense.” Now we understand the physiology of the dreaming process. And we realize that it comes at the back of the brain, the very primitive part of the brain and that certain parts of the brain are shut off when you dream. First of all your prefrontal cortex is basically shut off, it’s quiet. Your orbital frontal cortex that is your conscience is also shut off. But that part of the brain is your fact checker. The part of the brain that said, “Hmmm, that’s not right. Something’s wrong” is right behind your eyes. That’s shut off.

What is active when you dream is your amygdala. Now what does your amygdala govern? Fear and emotions. And so right then you know that when you dream the active part of the brain is not the fact checker, not the rational brain – it’s the emotional brain, the fearful brain that is active when you dream. And then there’s some superstition called lucid dreaming where you can actually control the direction of the dream. Well that superstition last year became science fact. At the Max Planck Institute in Germany they were able to show once and for all that lucid dreaming is testable, reproducible – it is real. And here’s how they did it. They took a person who was about to go to sleep and told them that when you dream clench your right fist and then clench your left fist. Now when you dream you are paralyzed. You cannot move when you dream.

Otherwise we’d be able to carry out all sorts of horrible things and destroy ourselves. So we are paralyzed when we dream. But when this person went into a dream state you can clearly see that the brain initiated orders to clench your right fist and your left fist. In other words, he was conscious while he was dreaming. There are many Buddhist texts, many texts hundreds of years old that give you the outlines of how to control dreams. Lucid dreaming. We now know that it’s not hogwash that you can actually do this. You can actually direct the course of your dream. And then one day we may be able to brain scan the brain as you dream and put it on a screen. In which case somebody will be able to see you dream and know the direction of the dream and you are conscious of the process. In other words, the movie Inception is not totally hogwash.

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Michio Kaku describes how our prefrontal cortex disengages as we dream, thus suppressing the fact-checking component of our consciousness.

Why it’s hard to tell when high-class people are incompetent

A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
  • Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
  • However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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Mother bonobos, too, pressure their sons to have grandchildren

If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.

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Surprising Science
  • Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
  • The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
  • Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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