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  • January 28, 2011
  • 12:48 AM
  • 1,306 views

Brand Anthropology: New and Improved, with Extra Diversity!

by gregdowney in Neuroanthropology

Since graduating from high school, I’ve several times worked as a salesman, first flogging reference books door-to-door over summers while an undergraduate and later, while writing my dissertation, getting involved in the ‘design consulting’ business where I helped sell something a lot less tangible.  Sales was a great training ground for an anthropologist: nothing prepares you for quickly manufacturing social relations like slogging around door-to-door with a sample case, and a large lecture room of first-year students is a lot easier to sell than a skeptical dairy farmer in Wisconsin.
Marquesan tattooing (rear), by Von de Steinen.
I’ve often given anthropological colleagues advice that could have been taken verbatim from my stints in sales school — they would probably be mortified if I knew about the dual purposing.  At times, I worry about my colleagues because I think that a whole series of situations in academia actually resemble sales situations: job interviewing, ‘open day’ for prospective students, grant writing, and even the first few lectures in an introductory class, when you’d be well served if you could persuade the assembled students that you’ve got something to say worth hearing.  
Anthropologists sometimes don’t seem terribly good at selling what they do. If you couldn’t convince a starving man to eat a sandwich, how can we persuade diverse audiences to pay attention to anthropology?
After my previous post on the ‘Vital topics forum,’ reader Jason Antrosio asked my opinion about Ulf Hannerz’s article from the same American Anthropologist: ‘Diversity is Our Business.’  Since I had been banging on about anthropology promoting itself as the study of human diversity, Jason probably assumed, quite reasonably, that I had already read Hannerz’s piece.  Alas, I hadn’t.  One of the many downsides of being laid up at home is that I only read the forum online and hadn’t really browsed the contents of the latest AA because my hard copy is likely still sitting in my office mailbox.
Hannerz’s piece, ‘Diversity is Our Business,’ is well worth the read not just because he explores how the field is misrepresented in the public eye; Hannerz asks what we might do as a field to counter-act anthro-bashing.  He wades into water that I prefer to plunge into neck deep here: what kind of brand is ‘Anthropology,’ how do we tell people about what we do, and do we need to perform a bit of brand management?
Perhaps provocatively, in drawing on a characteristic current vocabulary, I would argue that anthropology needs to cultivate a strong brand. Those who feel ill at ease with that term, thinking that in its crassness it sullies their noble scholarly pursuits, can perhaps just as well continue to call it “public image” or even just “identity,” but in times of not just neoliberal thought but also of media saturation and short attention spans, it may be that “brand” is a useful root metaphor, a word to think with in the world we live in. (These days, too, not only corporations or consumer goods are linked to brands but also for example cities and countries.) Brands should attract outsiders: customers, visitors, members of the public. At the same time, they should preferably offer a fully acceptable identity for whoever may count as insiders to reflect on and be inspired by. (Hannerz 2010: 543)
Hell, yeah, we should think about Anthropology as a brand! With no trace of irony, I’d argue that we get serious about our collective self-promotion as a discipline.  Hannerz gets off to a good start, but I think we could even step up the campaign a bit, making use of the traditional strengths of our discipline to promote our intellectual and research potential.  And I’m going to take this opportunity, as well, to reply to some of the issues Daniel outlined in his piece, Anthropology and Publicity, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

Anthropology bashing
Hannerz begins his discussion with a reflection on Pres. Barack Obama’s use of ‘anthropological’ to describe when, during his campaign, Obama apologized for sounding out of touch.  Obama said he was sorry that he sounded as if he was ‘talking to a bunch of wine-sipping San Francisco liberals with an anthropological view toward white working-class voters.’ As Hannerz explains, Obama’s assumptions embedded in this apology grate for anthropologists because he takes for granted a public stereotype so at odds with our self-conception (and so ironic given that Obama’s late mother was an anthropologist):
Here it seems to me, then, that the candidate Obama assigns a stereotypically distant view, lacking in empathy, to anthropology—and then proceeds to sketch, as its opposite, precisely the sort of close, contextualizing understanding that we as anthropologists are much more likely to claim for ourselves. And from this particular source, we may find the stereotype so much more surprising because we might have thought this candidate should have got his anthropology right—but more about that later. In any case, here is an instance of a recurrent phenomenon that we might call “anthropology bashing.”  (Hannerz 2010: 541)
According to Hannerz, ‘anthropology bashing’ comes in four basic flavours:

Anthropologists are portrayed as cold and distant observers, ‘at worst, as someone who uses his skills to manipulate situations in ways which are detrimental to the human beings about which he has built up an expertise’ (Hannerz 2010: 541).  This image is of the ‘handmaiden’ of colonialism, a superior-feeling expert at manipulating natives, depriving them of their patrimony, and speaking in place of the cultures that we study.
Anthropologists, in contradiction, are depicted as ‘bumbling, incompetent observer who does not get even obvious realities right,’ as Hannerz puts it, less capable of ‘getting it’ than locals or even amateur observers.  This image is the anthropologist as dowdy professor-type who is ill-suited for life beyond the Ivory Tower but utterly oblivious to this fact.
As part of academia, Hannerz also worries that we are ‘easy target for a kind of populism that proclaims that research in and about far-away places is useless and that money devoted to it is therefore not well-spent.’  Here, Hannerz suggests that anthropologists are particularly prone to populist abuse, such as the ‘Golden Fleece Awards’ given by US Senator William Proxmire, often to projects that receive federal funding but have the bad luck to possess titles that Sen. Proxmire finds easy to mock.
Finally, Hannerz argues that anthropologists are bashed as being anachronistic and slightly out of date, pictured in pith helmets and safari suits with a mirthful chuckle that our field even still exists.  Ironically, I believe that one of the senior administrators at my own university had a giggle at our expense for this very reason, as if it was comical to think that anthropologists still were out there, wandering around, doing this funny old anthropology thing we do.

I could fiddle with this classification, but I think the list is quite good on the whole and demonstrates the key problem: not a single critique, but a lack of control over how we are perceived. Anthropologists need to invest more in getting our version of what we do before the public eye rather than let ourselves be defined by others.
If we look closer, what we find in a lot of the critiques are caricatures of us put forward by other people: indigenous ‘advocates’ who attack anthropologists, cultural studies scholars who try to make game of us, and the out-of-touch who assume that, if they don’t know what’s happening, there must not be anything happening in our field.  We often don’t take strong stands against these caricatures, or we take nuanced opposition to them that doesn’t do much to abate the more powerful rhetorical thrust of the criticism.
For example, when criticized for being complicit in colonialism, most cultural anthropologists will tend to roll over and go along with the criticism, conceding that, in fact, anthropologists have given indirect assistance and even philosophical justification for colonialism.  I think that this is a losing strategy in the public sphere.
Cui Yin Mok at the Open Anthropology Cooperative similarly argues that anthropologists have sort of lost their mojo as they’re going too self-critical ‘baggage’ that stops them from better describing their field to the public.
Anthropology’s troubled past and its roots in colonialism might... Read more »

Hannerz, U. (2010) Diversity Is Our Business. American Anthropologist, 112(4), 539-551. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2010.01274.x  

  • January 28, 2011
  • 12:48 AM
  • 1,173 views

Brand Anthropology: New and Improved, with Extra Diversity!

by Daniel Lende in Neuroanthropology PLoS

Since graduating from high school, I’ve several times worked as a salesman, first flogging reference books door-to-door over summers while an undergraduate and later, while writing my dissertation, getting involved in the ‘design consulting’ business where I helped sell something a lot less tangible.  Sales was a great training ground for an anthropologist: nothing prepares you for quickly manufacturing social relations like slogging around door-to-door with a sample case, and a large lecture room of first-year students is a lot easier to sell than a skeptical dairy farmer in Wisconsin.
Marquesan tattooing (rear), by Von de Steinen.
I’ve often given anthropological colleagues advice that could have been taken verbatim from my stints in sales school — they would probably be mortified if I knew about the dual purposing.  At times, I worry about my colleagues because I think that a whole series of situations in academia actually resemble sales situations: job interviewing, ‘open day’ for prospective students, grant writing, and even the first few lectures in an introductory class, when you’d be well served if you could persuade the assembled students that you’ve got something to say worth hearing.  
Anthropologists sometimes don’t seem terribly good at selling what they do. If you couldn’t convince a starving man to eat a sandwich, how can we persuade diverse audiences to pay attention to anthropology?
After my previous post on the ‘Vital topics forum,’ reader Jason Antrosio asked my opinion about Ulf Hannerz’s article from the same American Anthropologist: ‘Diversity is Our Business.’  Since I had been banging on about anthropology promoting itself as the study of human diversity, Jason probably assumed, quite reasonably, that I had already read Hannerz’s piece.  Alas, I hadn’t.  One of the many downsides of being laid up at home is that I only read the forum online and hadn’t really browsed the contents of the latest AA because my hard copy is likely still sitting in my office mailbox.
Hannerz’s piece, ‘Diversity is Our Business,’ is well worth the read not just because he explores how the field is misrepresented in the public eye; Hannerz asks what we might do as a field to counter-act anthro-bashing.  He wades into water that I prefer to plunge into neck deep here: what kind of brand is ‘Anthropology,’ how do we tell people about what we do, and do we need to perform a bit of brand management?
Perhaps provocatively, in drawing on a characteristic current vocabulary, I would argue that anthropology needs to cultivate a strong brand. Those who feel ill at ease with that term, thinking that in its crassness it sullies their noble scholarly pursuits, can perhaps just as well continue to call it “public image” or even just “identity,” but in times of not just neoliberal thought but also of media saturation and short attention spans, it may be that “brand” is a useful root metaphor, a word to think with in the world we live in. (These days, too, not only corporations or consumer goods are linked to brands but also for example cities and countries.) Brands should attract outsiders: customers, visitors, members of the public. At the same time, they should preferably offer a fully acceptable identity for whoever may count as insiders to reflect on and be inspired by. (Hannerz 2010: 543)
Hell, yeah, we should think about Anthropology as a brand! With no trace of irony, I’d argue that we get serious about our collective self-promotion as a discipline.  Hannerz gets off to a good start, but I think we could even step up the campaign a bit, making use of the traditional strengths of our discipline to promote our intellectual and research potential.  And I’m going to take this opportunity, as well, to reply to some of the issues Daniel outlined in his piece, Anthropology and Publicity, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

Anthropology bashing
Hannerz begins his discussion with a reflection on Pres. Barack Obama’s use of ‘anthropological’ to describe when, during his campaign, Obama apologized for sounding out of touch.  Obama said he was sorry that he sounded as if he was ‘talking to a bunch of wine-sipping San Francisco liberals with an anthropological view toward white working-class voters.’ As Hannerz explains, Obama’s assumptions embedded in this apology grate for anthropologists because he takes for granted a public stereotype so at odds with our self-conception (and so ironic given that Obama’s late mother was an anthropologist):
Here it seems to me, then, that the candidate Obama assigns a stereotypically distant view, lacking in empathy, to anthropology—and then proceeds to sketch, as its opposite, precisely the sort of close, contextualizing understanding that we as anthropologists are much more likely to claim for ourselves. And from this particular source, we may find the stereotype so much more surprising because we might have thought this candidate should have got his anthropology right—but more about that later. In any case, here is an instance of a recurrent phenomenon that we might call “anthropology bashing.”  (Hannerz 2010: 541)
According to Hannerz, ‘anthropology bashing’ comes in four basic flavours:

Anthropologists are portrayed as cold and distant observers, ‘at worst, as someone who uses his skills to manipulate situations in ways which are detrimental to the human beings about which he has built up an expertise’ (Hannerz 2010: 541).  This image is of the ‘handmaiden’ of colonialism, a superior-feeling expert at manipulating natives, depriving them of their patrimony, and speaking in place of the cultures that we study.
Anthropologists, in contradiction, are depicted as ‘bumbling, incompetent observer who does not get even obvious realities right,’ as Hannerz puts it, less capable of ‘getting it’ than locals or even amateur observers.  This image is the anthropologist as dowdy professor-type who is ill-suited for life beyond the Ivory Tower but utterly oblivious to this fact.
As part of academia, Hannerz also worries that we are ‘easy target for a kind of populism that proclaims that research in and about far-away places is useless and that money devoted to it is therefore not well-spent.’  Here, Hannerz suggests that anthropologists are particularly prone to populist abuse, such as the ‘Golden Fleece Awards’ given by US Senator William Proxmire, often to projects that receive federal funding but have the bad luck to possess titles that Sen. Proxmire finds easy to mock.
Finally, Hannerz argues that anthropologists are bashed as being anachronistic and slightly out of date, pictured in pith helmets and safari suits with a mirthful chuckle that our field even still exists.  Ironically, I believe that one of the senior administrators at my own university had a giggle at our expense for this very reason, as if it was comical to think that anthropologists still were out there, wandering around, doing this funny old anthropology thing we do.

I could fiddle with this classification, but I think the list is quite good on the whole and demonstrates the key problem: not a single critique, but a lack of control over how we are perceived. Anthropologists need to invest more in getting our version of what we do before the public eye rather than let ourselves be defined by others.
If we look closer, what we find in a lot of the critiques are caricatures of us put forward by other people: indigenous ‘advocates’ who attack anthropologists, cultural studies scholars who try to make game of us, and the out-of-touch who assume that, if they don’t know what’s happening, there must not be anything happening in our field.  We often don’t take strong stands against these caricatures, or we take nuanced opposition to them that doesn’t do much to abate the more powerful rhetorical thrust of the criticism.
For example, when criticized for being complicit in colonialism, most cultural anthropologists will tend to roll over and go along with the criticism, conceding that, in fact, anthropologists have given indirect assistance and even philosophical justification for colonialism.  I think that this is a losing strategy in the public sphere.
Cui Yin Mok at the Open Anthropology Cooperative similarly argues that anthropologists have sort of lost their mojo as they’re going too self-critical ‘baggage’ that stops them from better describing their field to the public.
Anthropology’s troubled past and its roots in colonialism might... Read more »

Hannerz, U. (2010) Diversity Is Our Business. American Anthropologist, 112(4), 539-551. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1433.2010.01274.x  

  • January 27, 2011
  • 11:05 PM
  • 697 views

A species by any other name...would leave us with the same problem

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

This is a great big week for anthropology coverage. The sequencing of the orangutan (Pongo species) genome made the cover of Nature. It's grant-writing-dissertation-formulating-prelim-studying time for me so I haven't had a chance to read this one yet. Science has a couple paleoanthropology-related stories, including two by Ann Gibbons. The first is about recent research on ancient DNA, and how this informs the debate about 'modern human' origins. But there's also a short blurb on what the eff "species" means.
This is a great effing question! The textbook species definition is that proffered by Ernst Mayr: populations of actually or potentially interbreeding individuals, capable of producing viable (and fertile) offspring. Cool, so a dog and a cat are different species because if they mated (ew) no ungodly animal would come from this monstrous union. Expensive high-tech multivariate Scientific reconstruction simulations show the abomination would probably look like this:
But there are many "good" plant and animal species that do mate and reproduce successfully ('hybridize'). Very often these hybrids are sterile, but then very often they're not. This has led researchers to come up with scores of other ways to define species (Holliday (2003) has a great discussion on the matter).
Worse, there's no way to measure, genetically or morphologically, just how different things should be before they can be called different species. The late Morris Goodman and others (Wildman et al. 2003) argued that humans and chimpanzees are so genetically similar that chimps, now in the genus Pan, should be moved to our genus Homo to denote how similar we are. But any other, non-genetic comparison would put our chimp cousins in a very different group from us. Moreover, the effects of hybridization seem, to me at least, to be fairly unpredictable, at least superficially. That is, the outcome of hybridization is highly contingent on what animals are hybridizing, and on these lineages' own evolutionary histories (this is the intractable problem that made me abandon doing hybrid work for my dissertation. Some day though...).
A major issue relates to what I blogged about yesterday: both 'species' and 'hybrid' are terms we've found ourselves with, but they have no inherent meaning in themselves, other than whatever we give them. So it's funny to read this from Gibbons' story:In the real world, [Jean-Jacques Hublin] says, Mayr's concept doesn't hold up: "There are about 330 closely related species of mammals that interbreed, and at least a third of them can produce fertile hybrids."But is it Mayr's species concept that's flawed, or was it misguided to have put these hybridizers into different species in the first place? Should we delineate species based on our a priori conception about whether two things are different, or should a definition of 'species' determine what we call them? Or does it even matter?
To this end, Gibbons's other story describes the morphologically-unremarkable Denisova fossils as belonging to "a new type of human." Well, now what the eff does that mean? We're back to "The Species Problem" (the title of Gibbons's article), but with a new term. And pretend for a moment that the Denisovan fossils didn't yield DNA: the pinky and tooth probably would not have made headlines. Pretend they did have diagnostic cranial remains - would we have recognized them as being so distinct as their genes indicate?
For that matter, I wonder how many arguably 'modern' human fossils would still retain the modern moniker if we could analyze their genes...
ReferencesGibbons, A. (2011). The Species Problem Science, 331 (6016), 394-394 DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6016.394
Gibbons, A. (2011). A New View Of the Birth of Homo sapiens Science, 331 (6016), 392-394 DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6016.392
Holliday, T. (2003). Species Concepts, Reticulation, and Human Evolution Current Anthropology, 44 (5), 653-673 DOI: 10.1086/377663
Wildman, D. (2003). Implications of natural selection in shaping 99.4% nonsynonymous DNA identity between humans and chimpanzees: Enlarging genus Homo Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100 (12), 7181-7188 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1232172100... Read more »

  • January 27, 2011
  • 10:56 PM
  • 963 views

125 Year Old Hand Axes From Jebel Faya, UAE

by Kambiz Kamrani in Anthropology.net

Hans-Peter Uerpmann of the University of Tubingen has lead a team excavating the Jebel Faya site in the United Arab Emirates, right near the Straits of Hormuz. They’ve found 125,000 year old stone tools that look like early modern human tools … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • January 27, 2011
  • 08:13 PM
  • 1,293 views

Language learning and height

by Ingrid Piller in Language on the Move

Are you tall enough to learn English? Have you ever reflected on the relationship between height and language learning? Well, I haven’t, and I’ve been in language teaching and learning for almost 20 years. So, I assume that most of … Continue reading →... Read more »

Chang, Leslie T. (2009) Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China. Spiegel . info:/

  • January 27, 2011
  • 05:27 PM
  • 914 views

The scions of Shem?

by Razib Khan in Gene Expression

The media is reporting rather breathlessly a new find out of Arabia which seems to push much further back the presence of anatomically modern humans in this region (more accurately, the archaeology was so sparse that assessments of human habitation seem to have been made in a vacuum due to absence of evidence). Here is the major objection:
This idea is at odds with a proposal advanced by Richard Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford University, that the emergence of some social or behavioral advantage — like the perfection of the faculty for language — was required for modern humans to overcome the surrounding human groups. Some kind of barrier had to be surmounted, it seems, or modern humans could have walked out of Africa 200,000 years ago.
Dr. Klein said that the Uerpmann team’s case for an earlier out-of-Africa expansion was “provocative, but in the absence of human remains, it’s not compelling.”
The stone tools of this era are all much alike, and it is hard to tell whether early modern humans or Neanderthals made them. At the sites of Skhul and Qafzeh in what is now Israel, early modern humans were present around 100,000 years ago and Neanderthals at 60,000 years, ...... Read more »

Simon J. Armitage, Sabah A. Jasim, Anthony E. Marks, Adrian G. Parker, Vitaly I. Usik, & Hans-Peter Uerpmann. (2011) The Southern Route “Out of Africa”: Evidence for an Early Expansion of Modern Humans into Arabia. Science. info:/10.1126/science.1199113

  • January 27, 2011
  • 04:50 PM
  • 1,029 views

Cortico-thalamic dissociation in Sleep Paralysis

by Daniel Lende in Neuroanthropology PLoS

By Paul Mason
Paul Mason is a PhD student at Macquarie University and frequent contributor to Neuroanthropology.  He is well on his way to finishing his thesis, but occasionally shares his insightful columns on a wide range of topics here.  Please note that the former ‘Fattest Man in the World’ is a different Paul Mason.

Have you ever woken up and not been able to move your body? For those people who have experienced this sensation, it is unnerving, surreal, and often quite stressful. Rest assured though, that this condition is benign, harmless, and your body will wake up after a minute or two. People also report that their body wakes up when someone touches them, or even at the sound of a surprising noise. Despite the temporary sensation of uncanny paralysis upon wakening, you can ride the episode out with the knowledge that it has not been associated with any medical disorders.
This condition, known as sleep paralysis, is rare but not uncommon. Funnily enough, in the last year, three of my friends have asked me about this condition—two of them medical doctors. Sleep paralysis is a parasomnia usually associated with REM sleep. Episodes typically last one to three minutes and disappear spontaneously by themselves or by someone else’s touch. Dreams can potentially superimpose onto reality during this period. However, the condition is usually experienced as a dream state without the dreams. In other words, your body has still turned off control of its muscles as though you are dreaming, but your brain is strangely awake. In medical terms, the condition is considered a dissociated REM state where the motor atonia of REM is present in isolation. That basically means that control of your muscles has been turned off but consciousness has been switched on.
When my friends asked me what I thought about the symptoms they described, I was reminded of my undergraduate study in neuropsychology where I learnt about lesion studies in cats that disrupted areas in the brain to do with sleep, dreaming, and muscle control. In this study, researchers performed lesions to areas of the brain in cats that normally inhibit motor control during sleep. The lesion was performed to the ventral locus coeruleus of the Pons (it’s weird what you remember sometimes). This lesion caused the cats to exhibit strange sleepwalking behaviour that allowed researchers an uncanny little window into Kitty dreams.
I’m not sure, but if you google ‘dream enactment’, then you should find plenty of information on the web. Anyway, my first thought about sleep paralysis was that there must be some kind of delay in switching off the area inhibiting motor control during a hypnopomic or postdormital sleep paralysis episode. I’m not suggesting that sleep paralysis is associated with anatomical problems, merely an occasional physiological hiccup—something as simple as say pins and needles in an otherwise healthy organ. Possibly the hiccup can occur in the Pons… Possibly, as recent research indicates, it could be somewhere else…
Of my friends who shared their symptoms with me and asked me for my thoughts, one was doing shift-work, the other was suffering from severe jet-lag, and the third slept odd hours due to an erratic rotation schedule at her job. I’m not a medical doctor, but the suggestion of sucking a melatonin tablet under the tongue before bed for only a couple of nights worked wonders for my friend with jet-lag. But, you also have to consider that episodes of sleep paralysis are rare, so they probably disappeared by themselves. For my other friends I suggested potassium rich foods such as bananas, which are always yummy to eat anyway, (those friends haven’t told me of any episodes since, but then again that is anecdotal as well).
From scant research reports on the subject, it appears that sleep paralysis occasionally occurs in a familial form, affects females more often than males, and has an X-linked dominant transmission. Talking with my Indonesian friends suggests to me that the condition is not as rare as Western medical practitioners think. But then again, I have lived with Indonesians who have some extremely erratic sleeping schedules.
I am fascinated in the phenomenology and neurophenomenology of sleep paralysis episodes. One of my friends reported a hypnagogic auditory hallucination accompanying an episode of sleep paralysis. Not surprisingly, she is not the only person in her family to occasionally suffer from the condition.
In my own experience, I have had a hypnogogic visual hallucination as a child of five or six years of age. Before my teenage years, I also had an episode of what I now understand to be sleep paralysis. I woke up in the morning and could not for the life of me open my eyes. My eyelids were as heavy as lead (Pb), and then it felt like bees were performing the waggle dance all over my closed eyes. It was an overwhelming experience at the time but I can’t recall if I woke up or went back to sleep afterwards. If I’m not making stories up, I was eventually able to open my eyes, but then I shut them again and went back to sleep.
As a sidenote, the word ‘hypnagogic’ says so much to me about medical practice. A ‘hypnagogic hallucination’ is literally just a hallucination that one experiences just before or just after falling asleep. We don’t actually have an explanation for ‘hypnagogic hallucinations’, but we do have a fancy label with two lovely multi-syllabic words. On numerous occasions, friends have shared private stories about hallucinations with me. If they have been stressed by the episode then calming them simply involved asking if they were in bed at the time, which they have thus far always confirmed, and then I merely say,
“Don’t worry, you just experienced a hypnogogic hallucination. It’s not unusual in the slightest.”
On every occasion, labeling the episode makes a friend happy. I have even seen colleagues in medicine calm other acquaintances using the very same words. It’s fantastic, but it really makes me wonder how much people seek a label and how much people seek an explanation.
In research published in PNAS only in February last year (Magnin et al. 2010), researchers have made headway in describing the physiology underlying hypnagogic hallucinations. Using electrodes implanted into the brains of epileptic patients (a common pre-surgical practice to localise the origins of epileptic seizures), researchers opportunistically—but ethically—used the data to reveal what happens in the deepest parts of the brain during sleep onset. The activity of deep structures in the brain is difficult to image because MRI is too slow and EEG is too superficial. This electrophysiology research revealed a surprising finding:
The thalamus (a small but dense deep brain structure highly interconnected to body and cortical regions and involved in receiving sensory information) goes to sleep some ten minutes before the cortex.
When falling asleep, the thalamus shuts us off from the outside world, but the cortex continues to function which could explain, as the researchers hypothesise, how hallucinations can arise when we fall asleep.
A hypothesis about Sleep paralysis:
The finding that extensive cortical regions remain activated for several minutes after thalamic deactivation at sleep onset might explain forms of insomnia associated with lesions to the thalamus, and it also might be the reason that hypnagogic experiences commonly occur during the wake–sleep transition.
In the thirteen people studied, they did not find desynchronisation of the thalamus and cortex during awakening. But that was only thirteen people. If someone who experienced an episode of sleep paralysis was under observation, would we find that awareness with paralysis upon waking was associated with a desynchronisation of the thalamus and cortex? If the cortex reactivated before the thalamus could sleep paralysis be the result?
An episode of sleep paralysis typically only lasts a few minutes. Knowing that desynchronisation of the thalamus and cortex during sleep onset lasts only several minutes, then it is not implausible to hypothesise that there could be a lapse between the reactivation of the cortex and the reactivation of the thalamus in sleep paralysis that lasts only a few minutes. If the cortex wakes up before the thalamus, people might be lucid but unable to move.
The cessation of sleep paralysis by physical touch might be explained by the idea that touch might be igniting sensory systems that activate the thalamus. As an ostensibly benign condition, and one that occurs rarely and unpredictably, sleep paralysis might not be the most accessible or indeed imperative area of medical research, but as a case of dissociative consciousness it is a deeply fascinating research venture into the awareness of who we are.
References:
... Read more »

Magnin, M., Rey, M., Bastuji, H., Guillemant, P., Mauguiere, F., & Garcia-Larrea, L. (2010) Thalamic deactivation at sleep onset precedes that of the cerebral cortex in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(8), 3829-3833. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0909710107  

  • January 27, 2011
  • 04:50 PM
  • 1,236 views

Cortico-thalamic dissociation in Sleep Paralysis

by gregdowney in Neuroanthropology

By Paul Mason
Paul Mason is a PhD student at Macquarie University and frequent contributor to Neuroanthropology.  He is well on his way to finishing his thesis, but occasionally shares his insightful columns on a wide range of topics here.  Please note that the former ‘Fattest Man in the World’ is a different Paul Mason.

Have you ever woken up and not been able to move your body? For those people who have experienced this sensation, it is unnerving, surreal, and often quite stressful. Rest assured though, that this condition is benign, harmless, and your body will wake up after a minute or two. People also report that their body wakes up when someone touches them, or even at the sound of a surprising noise. Despite the temporary sensation of uncanny paralysis upon wakening, you can ride the episode out with the knowledge that it has not been associated with any medical disorders.
This condition, known as sleep paralysis, is rare but not uncommon. Funnily enough, in the last year, three of my friends have asked me about this condition—two of them medical doctors. Sleep paralysis is a parasomnia usually associated with REM sleep. Episodes typically last one to three minutes and disappear spontaneously by themselves or by someone else’s touch. Dreams can potentially superimpose onto reality during this period. However, the condition is usually experienced as a dream state without the dreams. In other words, your body has still turned off control of its muscles as though you are dreaming, but your brain is strangely awake. In medical terms, the condition is considered a dissociated REM state where the motor atonia of REM is present in isolation. That basically means that control of your muscles has been turned off but consciousness has been switched on.
When my friends asked me what I thought about the symptoms they described, I was reminded of my undergraduate study in neuropsychology where I learnt about lesion studies in cats that disrupted areas in the brain to do with sleep, dreaming, and muscle control. In this study, researchers performed lesions to areas of the brain in cats that normally inhibit motor control during sleep. The lesion was performed to the ventral locus coeruleus of the Pons (it’s weird what you remember sometimes). This lesion caused the cats to exhibit strange sleepwalking behaviour that allowed researchers an uncanny little window into Kitty dreams.
I’m not sure, but if you google ‘dream enactment’, then you should find plenty of information on the web. Anyway, my first thought about sleep paralysis was that there must be some kind of delay in switching off the area inhibiting motor control during a hypnopomic or postdormital sleep paralysis episode. I’m not suggesting that sleep paralysis is associated with anatomical problems, merely an occasional physiological hiccup—something as simple as say pins and needles in an otherwise healthy organ. Possibly the hiccup can occur in the Pons… Possibly, as recent research indicates, it could be somewhere else…
Of my friends who shared their symptoms with me and asked me for my thoughts, one was doing shift-work, the other was suffering from severe jet-lag, and the third slept odd hours due to an erratic rotation schedule at her job. I’m not a medical doctor, but the suggestion of sucking a melatonin tablet under the tongue before bed for only a couple of nights worked wonders for my friend with jet-lag. But, you also have to consider that episodes of sleep paralysis are rare, so they probably disappeared by themselves. For my other friends I suggested potassium rich foods such as bananas, which are always yummy to eat anyway, (those friends haven’t told me of any episodes since, but then again that is anecdotal as well).
From scant research reports on the subject, it appears that sleep paralysis occasionally occurs in a familial form, affects females more often than males, and has an X-linked dominant transmission. Talking with my Indonesian friends suggests to me that the condition is not as rare as Western medical practitioners think. But then again, I have lived with Indonesians who have some extremely erratic sleeping schedules.
I am fascinated in the phenomenology and neurophenomenology of sleep paralysis episodes. One of my friends reported a hypnagogic auditory hallucination accompanying an episode of sleep paralysis. Not surprisingly, she is not the only person in her family to occasionally suffer from the condition.
In my own experience, I have had a hypnogogic visual hallucination as a child of five or six years of age. Before my teenage years, I also had an episode of what I now understand to be sleep paralysis. I woke up in the morning and could not for the life of me open my eyes. My eyelids were as heavy as lead (Pb), and then it felt like bees were performing the waggle dance all over my closed eyes. It was an overwhelming experience at the time but I can’t recall if I woke up or went back to sleep afterwards. If I’m not making stories up, I was eventually able to open my eyes, but then I shut them again and went back to sleep.
As a sidenote, the word ‘hypnagogic’ says so much to me about medical practice. A ‘hypnagogic hallucination’ is literally just a hallucination that one experiences just before or just after falling asleep. We don’t actually have an explanation for ‘hypnagogic hallucinations’, but we do have a fancy label with two lovely multi-syllabic words. On numerous occasions, friends have shared private stories about hallucinations with me. If they have been stressed by the episode then calming them simply involved asking if they were in bed at the time, which they have thus far always confirmed, and then I merely say,
“Don’t worry, you just experienced a hypnogogic hallucination. It’s not unusual in the slightest.”
On every occasion, labeling the episode makes a friend happy. I have even seen colleagues in medicine calm other acquaintances using the very same words. It’s fantastic, but it really makes me wonder how much people seek a label and how much people seek an explanation.
In research published in PNAS only in February last year (Magnin et al. 2010), researchers have made headway in describing the physiology underlying hypnagogic hallucinations. Using electrodes implanted into the brains of epileptic patients (a common pre-surgical practice to localise the origins of epileptic seizures), researchers opportunistically—but ethically—used the data to reveal what happens in the deepest parts of the brain during sleep onset. The activity of deep structures in the brain is difficult to image because MRI is too slow and EEG is too superficial. This electrophysiology research revealed a surprising finding:
The thalamus (a small but dense deep brain structure highly interconnected to body and cortical regions and involved in receiving sensory information) goes to sleep some ten minutes before the cortex.
When falling asleep, the thalamus shuts us off from the outside world, but the cortex continues to function which could explain, as the researchers hypothesise, how hallucinations can arise when we fall asleep.
A hypothesis about Sleep paralysis:
The finding that extensive cortical regions remain activated for several minutes after thalamic deactivation at sleep onset might explain forms of insomnia associated with lesions to the thalamus, and it also might be the reason that hypnagogic experiences commonly occur during the wake–sleep transition.
In the thirteen people studied, they did not find desynchronisation of the thalamus and cortex during awakening. But that was only thirteen people. If someone who experienced an episode of sleep paralysis was under observation, would we find that awareness with paralysis upon waking was associated with a desynchronisation of the thalamus and cortex? If the cortex reactivated before the thalamus could sleep paralysis be the result?
An episode of sleep paralysis typically only lasts a few minutes. Knowing that desynchronisation of the thalamus and cortex during sleep onset lasts only several minutes, then it is not implausible to hypothesise that there could be a lapse between the reactivation of the cortex and the reactivation of the thalamus in sleep paralysis that lasts only a few minutes. If the cortex wakes up before the thalamus, people might be lucid but unable to move.
The cessation of sleep paralysis by physical touch might be explained by the idea that touch might be igniting sensory systems that activate the thalamus. As an ostensibly benign condition, and one that occurs rarely and unpredictably, sleep paralysis might not be the most accessible or indeed imperative area of medical research, but as a case of dissociative consciousness it is a deeply fascinating research venture into the awareness of who we are.
References:
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Magnin, M., Rey, M., Bastuji, H., Guillemant, P., Mauguiere, F., & Garcia-Larrea, L. (2010) Thalamic deactivation at sleep onset precedes that of the cerebral cortex in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(8), 3829-3833. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0909710107  

  • January 26, 2011
  • 11:38 PM
  • 1,128 views

Review of the Orangutan Genome on Primatology.net

by Kambiz Kamrani in Anthropology.net

If you don’t follow or subscribe to our sister blog Primatology.net, I want to make you aware of an anthropological post I just put up on the newly published orangutan genome. Click here to read about some of the findings, but … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • January 26, 2011
  • 10:26 PM
  • 678 views

Statistics: Friend or Foe?

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

In this week's Science, Greg Miller describes recent uproar about a study that claims to have scientific support for the existence of extrasensory perception (ESP). Of course, ESP being in the realm of the paranormal, it ought to be somewhat outside the purview of Big Science.But who cares about ESP?! What comes under scrutiny is statistics, the mathematical theory underlying hypothesis testing. And inference. The brief story is worth a read, as it cites statisticians on what these statistical tests actually tell us, as well as the ups and downs of Bayesian stats.An important thing to keep in mind is that no matter how mathematical, statistics is nevertheless like everything else in science - a human endeavor. No matter how creative and insightful humans can be, there's always a limit to our ability to decipher the world around us. I'm certainly not decrying statistics, but it's important to keep in mind that these aren't just handed down to us from on high. We human beings play a critical (and often subjective) hand in how we apply statistics to address our research questions.Along these lines, just last night I was reading about body mass variation in the Gombe chimpanzees (Pusey et al. 2005), and the authors provide a very insightful quote from statistician George Box:All models are wrong; some models are useful.As I added to this on Facebook, "... some models can be hott."ReferencesMiller G (2011). Statistics. ESP paper rekindles discussion about statistics. Science (New York, N.Y.), 331 (6015), 272-3 PMID: 21252321Pusey, A., Oehlert, G., Williams, J., & Goodall, J. (2005). Influence of Ecological and Social Factors on Body Mass of Wild Chimpanzees International Journal of Primatology, 26 (1), 3-31 DOI: 10.1007/s10764-005-0721-2... Read more »

  • January 26, 2011
  • 02:00 AM
  • 775 views

A tale of ‘shacking up’: forces affecting cohabitation

by SAGE Insight in SAGE Insight

Shacking up: an autoethnographic tale of cohabitation From Qualitative Inquiry There is little doubt the landscape of family life has changed over recent decades. As divorce rates thrive and step families are far more common, family relationships may be more complex for many compared to previous generations. This paper is an autoethnographic account of the [...]... Read more »

  • January 25, 2011
  • 12:11 PM
  • 1,351 views

The Religion Gene (II)

by Cris Campbell in Genealogy of Religion

In his paper purporting to show that a beneficial, baby-making “religion gene” will sweep through a population and eventually make everyone religious, Robert Rowthorn ignores this inconvenient fact: nearly everyone in the world is already religious. Here is how it breaks down:

Because fifty percent of the “Non-Religious” group is theistic but not “religious,” we can [...]... Read more »

Rowthorn, R. (2011) Religion, fertility and genes: a dual inheritance model. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.2504  

  • January 24, 2011
  • 03:38 PM
  • 746 views

"Packing" Autistic Kids: A French Scandal

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Back in the bad old days of autism they thought it was caused by "refrigerator mothers".Well, right now, some psychiatrists have decided that the best treatment for autism is something not that far removed from sticking them in a refrigerator - literally. Enter "Le Packing", which is the target of an unprecedented consensus statement just out from a list of 18 big-name autism experts (available free here).This alleged therapy consists of wrapping the patient (wearing only underclothes or naked in the case of young children) several times a week during weeks or months in towels soaked in cold water (10°C to 15°C). The individual is wrapped with blankets to help the body warm up in a process lasting 45 minutes, during which time the child or adolescent is accompanied by two to four staff persons.The alleged goal of this technique is to “allow the child to rid him- or herself progressively of its pathological defense mechanisms against archaic anxieties,” by achieving “a greater perception and integration of the body, and a growing sense of containment.”No, really. Frankly, they could have stopped there, because the description is condemnation enough, but they go on to write:We have reached the consensus that practitioners and families around the world should consider this approach unethical. Furthermore, this “therapy” ignores current knowledge about autism spectrum disorders; goes against evidence-based practice...and, in our view, poses a risk of preventing these children and adolescents from accessing their basic human rights to health and education.Le Packing, as the name suggests, originated in France, and its use seems to be confined to France and other French-speaking areas. This is the first I'd ever heard of it. Little has been written about it in English (though see this long article and this piece from 2007) so here's my loose translation of the the article on the French Wikipedia:Packing is used in children with autism, but also in others: psychotic adults (specifically when they're recovering from an acute psychotic episode), in the elderly, etc.It's intended to restore "awareness of the body image".It's extremely controversial. Well, duh.The technique was invented, in France, by a "controversial American psychiatrist" called M. A. Woodburry. It was intended for the treatment of severely autistic children and adolescents, especially those with severe behavioural problems such as self-harm, aggression, and refusal to eat.The patient is wrapped in towels covered in cold water: two towels for the torso, and one for each arm and leg. They're then additionally wrapped in a sheet and then blankets, over the towels. The cold water quickly warms up thanks to body heat: the child is never actually hypothermic.After this session, the child is "frictionné" (I guess this means massaged) and taken to their living quarters and offered a snack "in a friendly atmosphere".Le Packing is intended to recover a physical sense of their own body. It should be used as part of a wider package of care, and only with the consent of the patient's parents.The cold water is optional; some, e.g. a Dr A. Gillis, use warm water nowadays. The key point is the restraint, i.e. the fact that their attempts to move their body are restricted temporarily. Hence "le packing", huh.The scientific status of Le Packing is controversial. A group called "Léa pour Samy" say it should be banned, and replaced by the (much more orthodox) method of ABA. However, in 2007, authorities approved a randomized controlled trial led by a "Dr Goeb" of the CHU hospital in Lille.Critics accuse Le Packing of being an unethical, inhuman and degrading treatment, maybe even torture. There are allegations of cases in which the towels were much colder than 10°C, e.g. straight out of the freezer.There are also allegations of its use without parental consent. A Professor Pierre Delion, of the CHU in Lille, reportedly defended this in remarks to The Lancet "if a child is in danger following a road accident, you do not wait for the parents' agreement to give him a transfusion." But this is actually a misquote. In the Lancet piece, he was referring to the patient's consent and said parental consent was always sought.In 2009 a government minister told the French Senate that Le Packing should only be used under strictly controlled conditions according to a protocol - but others, e.g. the "Léa pour Samy" group, want it banned altogether.This rather speaks for itself, but I'll say this. If someone is suffering these kinds of severe behavioural disturbances, the temptation to do something dramatic must be intense. Indeed, if someone's disturbed to the point of trying to mutilate themselves, or refusing to eat, almost by definition you're going to have to restrain them, either physically or with sedatives, temporarily. While Le Packing may be a French peculiarity, it's not like psychiatrists in other countries never resort to drastic measures.Amaral D, Rogers SJ, Baron-Cohen S, Bourgeron T, Caffo E, Fombonne E, Fuentes J, Howlin P, Rutter M, Klin A, Volkmar F, Lord C, Minshew N, Nardocci F, Rizzolatti G, Russo S, Scifo R, & van der Gaag RJ (2011). Against le packing: a consensus statement. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 50 (2), 191-2 PMID: 21241956... Read more »

Amaral D, Rogers SJ, Baron-Cohen S, Bourgeron T, Caffo E, Fombonne E, Fuentes J, Howlin P, Rutter M, Klin A.... (2011) Against le packing: a consensus statement. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 50(2), 191-2. PMID: 21241956  

  • January 24, 2011
  • 02:22 AM
  • 1,249 views

Imitation and Social Cognition in Humans and Chimpanzees (II): Rational Imitation in Human Infants and Human-Raised Chimps

by Michael in A Replicated Typo 2.0


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In my last post I wrote about two experiments on imitation in young children and chimpanzees by Lyons et al. (2005) and Horner & Whiten (2005).  Their results suggested that young children tend to copy both the ‘necessary’ and the ‘unnecessary’ parts of a demonstrator’s action wh0 shows them how to get a reward out . . . → Read More: Imitation and Social Cognition in Humans and Chimpanzees (II): Rational Imitation in Human Infants and Human-Raised Chimps... Read more »

Buttelmann D, Carpenter M, Call J, & Tomasello M. (2007) Enculturated chimpanzees imitate rationally. Developmental science, 10(4). PMID: 17552931  

Gergely G, Bekkering H, & Király I. (2002) Rational imitation in preverbal infants. Nature, 415(6873), 755. PMID: 11845198  

  • January 23, 2011
  • 11:35 PM
  • 818 views

Holy Wars in Holy Lands

by teofilo in Gambler's House

In the year AD 1098 a spruce tree was chopped down in the Chuska Mountains, which run roughly along what is now the border between Arizona and New Mexico.  We don’t know who cut it down, exactly, since the people living in the area at the time had no system of writing and have therefore [...]... Read more »

Rubenstein, J. (2008) Cannibals and Crusaders. French Historical Studies, 31(4), 525-552. DOI: 10.1215/00161071-2008-005  

  • January 22, 2011
  • 11:18 PM
  • 797 views

Sacred Ridge

by teofilo in Gambler's House

The best-known of the various instances of alleged cannibalism in the prehistoric Southwest are a set of several that occurred around AD 1150 in the area around the modern town of Cortez, Colorado.  There are also scattered examples of similar assemblages dating to both before and after this and located both in southwestern Colorado and [...]... Read more »

  • January 21, 2011
  • 06:25 PM
  • 1,375 views

When & Were Grapes Domesticated

by Kambiz Kamrani in Anthropology.net

I got some archaeobotany for you to start your weekend off right with — a new open access study in PNAS announces a genome wide association of 8,000 years of grape domestication, spanning the Eastern Caucasus to Western Europe. Lead … Continue reading →... Read more »

Myles, S., Boyko, A., Owens, C., Brown, P., Grassi, F., Aradhya, M., Prins, B., Reynolds, A., Chia, J., Ware, D.... (2011) Genetic structure and domestication history of the grape. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1009363108  

  • January 21, 2011
  • 09:45 AM
  • 1,598 views

Tears as a human female adaptation to limit rape

by Greg Laden in Greg Laden's Blog

This came up a while ago and I assumed the idea would die the usual quick and painless death, but the idea seems to be either so fascinating or so irritating to people (mainly in various blog comment sections) that it still twitches and still has a heartbeat, but only as a result of the repeated flogging it is getting.
Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Gelstein, S., Yeshurun, Y., Rozenkrantz, L., Shushan, S., Frumin, I., Roth, Y., & Sobel, N. (2011) Human Tears Contain a Chemosignal. Science, 331(6014), 226-230. DOI: 10.1126/science.1198331  

  • January 20, 2011
  • 08:32 PM
  • 962 views

Toumai and the Sabercats

by Laelaps in Laelaps

“They fight! And bite! They fight and bite and fight! Fight fight fight! Bite bite bite!”
That’s the theme from “The Itchy and Scratchy Show” – the ultra-violent riff on Tom and Jerry regularly featured on The Simpsons - but it could be easily applied to almost any documentary about prehistoric animals that you care to [...]... Read more »

de Bonis, L., Peigné, S., Taisso Mackaye, H., Likius, A., Vignaud, P., & Brunet, M. (2010) New sabre-toothed cats in the Late Miocene of Toros Menalla (Chad). Comptes Rendus Palevol, 9(5), 221-227. DOI: 10.1016/j.crpv.2010.07.018  

  • January 20, 2011
  • 11:00 AM
  • 611 views

Dobzhanksy on Posh Hybrids

by zacharoo in Lawn Chair Anthropology

Long-time readers may recall that one thing I wish I did active research on is hybridization: the crossing of divergent species or lineages, the developmental abnormalities arising from hybridization, and the potential role of hybridization in human evolution. One such developmental abnormality is "heterosis," a.k.a. 'hybrid vigor.' In general, heterosis refers to any trait in hybrids that is larger than the average of the two parents' (or the parents' species) values for that trait. The phenomenon was recognized in plant domestication as far back as the 19th century - crosses between different plant (namely corn) strains produced hybrid strains with much greater yield than their parent species.Implicit in the term is that heterosis, or larger size, is a more adaptive condition than found in the parents. Here's what the late, brilliant Theodosius Dobzhansky (1950: on hybrids: 557) had to say on the matter.The advisability of applying the term "heterosis" to cases in which heterozygotes are larger in body size, or show "increases" in any "traits," but no evidence of higher adaptive value compared to the corresponding homozygotes, is open to question. Perhaps the word "luxuriance" would be a better designation for such cases, the word "heterosis" or "euheterosis" to be used for adaptive superiority of heterozygotes to homozygotes. . . . it is clear that the mechanisms underlying euheterosis and luxuriance are quite different.I wonder if these luxuriant (not heterotic) hybrids also love diamonds, yoga and kopi luwak coffee? ReferenceDOBZHANSKY T (1950). Genetics of natural populations. XIX. Origin of heterosis through natural selection in populations of Drosophila pseudoobscura. Genetics, 35 (3), 288-302 PMID: 15414931... Read more »

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