Connect With Us:

Fat Tuesday: Dieting Morals

Barack Obama is sworn in as President

On Tuesdays, we discuss the neuroscience and psychology of hunger, satiety, weight gain and weight loss.

When did we start thinking of eating choices as moral choices? We say that a chocolate croissant is bad, and a raw carrot is good, but not only in terms of our health. We feel virtuous when we eat healthy foods in reasonable portion sizes and dissolute when we hit the drive thru or the vending machine. Time to stop the shame! New research suggests that we may be able to use the guilt trip to our dieting advantage. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely found that people lie and cheat less (for instance, in their tax returns) after they take a formal oath to be honest. Since succumbing to high-calorie, high-fructose corn-syrupy foods is considered “cheating”, maybe taking a solemn vow to eat healthily every morning, or even before each meal or snack, will help us to get slimmer?

I, Steve Macknik, swear on my honor to stick to my diet today. I vow to chew slowly and deliberately, putting my fork down between bites. I promise to make healthy food choices and to stop eating as soon as I have satisfied my hunger.

Before you conclude that this is preposterous, you should know that belief in the oath is not necessarily critical to its effectiveness. Ariely’s research showed that swearing on a bible deterred cheating even in atheists.

Would you make a “dieting oath” now? If so, come back here and let us know how that worked for you.

-Stephen Macknik

Illusions Column on Pareidolia

“Face on Mars” photographed by Viking 1

Steve and I  write the Illusions column for Scientific American Mind. Our article in the September/October issue, already released, discusses pareidolia: a type of illusion in which a vague or random stimulus seems distinct and meaningful.

A preview of the article is available on the Scientific American website.



A Faithful Resemblance

When seeing is believing

By Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik


Also, don’t miss Phil Plait’s disquieting account of showering with Lenin.

What’s your favorite pareidolia?


-Susana Martinez-Conde

Neuroscience in Fiction: Total Recall

“I was sent in as a security measure. I'm afraid to tell you this Mr. Quaid, but you have suffered a schizoid embolism, we can't snap you out of your fantasy. I was sent here to try to talk you down”. -Dr. Edgemar, Total Recall (1990)

After a long hiatus, Steve and I are back on the blogosphere. We intend to blog Monday through Friday, usually taking turns, about the interaction of neuroscience and daily experience. One daily, or at least weekly, experience that we enjoy is fiction. We are avid book readers and movie watchers, and many of our favorite books and movies have a neuroscience core, or relate to neuroscience in some way. On Fridays, we’ll recommend a neuroscience-y book or movie that you can check out during the weekend.

Post here if you’d like to discuss it.

This Friday’s recommendation is the new Total Recall movie, in theaters today. The 1990 version, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was a sci fi revelation, and I hope the remake will deliver! Without giving away too many spoilers, the story centers on the fallibility of memory and our limitations to link subjective experience to objective reality.

For extra credit, read Philip K. Dick’s original story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”.

-Susana Martinez-Conde

Black Art in Dance

Sleights of Mind features a wonderful group of French magicians, The Ostrowsky family, who produce a show called “Omar Pasha“. Its a wonderful and mystical show in which the protagonist magically manipulates objects and people on stage. Everything appears and disappears to the notes of Bolero. The inevitable decapitations and recapitations proceed seamlessly, and right before your very eyes, as you watch from the audience. To find out more, read Sleights of Mind.

But in the meantime, check out this related new dance video by Fighting Gravity, from their America’s Got Talent! appearance, in which a group of dancer’s uses magical Black Art methods in a new and exciting dance exhibition.

Fighting Gravity — America’s Got Talent! 2010

Book Tour!

Our book tour has launched! We signed copies of sleights of mind in the worth publishers booth at the society for neuroscience’s annual conference in San Diego last monday-Tuesday. On Thursday night, we were at the new York academy of sciences, for a joint presentation with James (aka the amaz!ng) randy, skeptic extraordinaire and founder of the one million dollar paranormal challenge, for anybody who can demonstrate psychic abilities in a controlled environment. Randi spoke about the dangers of making unfounded assumptions, both as spectators of magic shows and in life. Some of randi’s recent endeavors include debunking claims from homeopathic medicine. I highly recommend watching randi’s Ted lecture of 200?, in which he swallowed a “lethal” dose of homeopathic sleep pills onstage. A great stunt, here is the link:

Come see us in San Diego at SFN!

Our next appearance will be at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego (Publisher’s Row) on Monday, Nov 15th at 11am-12am. See you there!

Attend our lecture with James Randi in NYC, Thurs Nov 18th!

Come see our public appearance with James Randi (The Amaz!ng Randi) at the New York Academy of Science next Thursday ovember 18th at World Trade Center 7 in New York City. Its sponsored by Scientific American. Afterwards we’ll have a book signing of our new book Sleights of Mind, as well as our cover story in Scientific American Mind (Mind over Magic), and a reception. Online registration:

The Scientific American Book Club reviews Sleights of Mind

“Sleights of Mind makes brain science so much fun, you’ll swear the authors are as clever as Houdini.”

The Scientist reviews Sleights of Mind

The Scientist reporter Vanessa Schipani published a great review of Sleights of Mind today. We made the top of the homepage:

ScienceNews review of Sleights of Mind

Laura Sanders of ScienceNews just wrote a terrific review of Sleights of Mind! See it here: