3×5: Culture, Neurosci, Psychiatry Roundup – fMRI, Ian Hacking, A Historic Exchange (Bateson, Wiener, von Neumann)


Russell Poldrack (UT Austin) discusses the use of fMRI in cognitive neuroscience and the more recent focus on brain connectivity on UT San Antonio’s Neuroscientists Talk ShopRegarding fMRI, one of the issues he mentions is that the brains of, say, Chinese speakers and English speakers, look far more alike than expected due to the method’s high threshold for significance (see Lieberman & Cunningham, 2009 on Type I and Type II error concerns in fMRI research).

The opposite problem seems to occur in resting-state fMRI. Micah Allen has an insightful post on some possible confounds (“Is the resting BOLD signal physiological noise? What about resting EEG?”).

What’s the best tool for studying psychopathology? Is HCP the answer? Here’s a useful roundup of studies focusing on structural and functional connectivity which appeared in Barch et al. (2013): autism (Vissers et al., 2012), schizophrenia (Fitzsimmons et al., 2013Fornito et al., 2012Repovs et al., 2011 and Whitfield-Gabrieli and Ford, 2012), ADHD (Fair et al., 2012) mood disorders (Hulvershorn et al., 2011 and Strakowski et al., 2012), addiction (Sutherland et al., 2012),

Ian Hacking on Autism

Many thanks to The Center for Medical Humanities for posting a link to a podcast available on the British Society for the History of Science website featuring Ian Hacking: “Making Up Autism,” Inaugural C. L. Oakley Lecture in Medicine and the Arts, University of Leeds (May 13, 2013).

Ian Hacking’s website includes a list of related publications (see “The Making Up People Project“).

The First Macy Conference

Anthropologist Emily Martin (@hanmuli) via Somatosphere has unearthed a fascinating paper by Steve Heims that gives us a sense of the synergy at the first Macy conference (“Teleological Mechanisms”). The interdisciplinary Macy conferences (1946–1953) allowed scientists and scholars time and space to discuss mechanisms underlying biological and social systems and develop a common language (they were also the inspiration behind the FPR).  The first conference in 1946 brought together Gregory Bateson (cultural anthropology) and mathematicians John von Neumann (game theory) and Norbert Wiener (cybernetics). The Heims paper ends with a really lovely paragraph about Norbert Wiener. We need more peripatetic interdisciplinary geniuses like NW and Ian Hacking!

Wiener’s humane reflections and moral decision was one part of his public role. Another was his heralding, recognition, and interpretation of a new era: the era dominated by the concerns and the technology of communication, control, information, and organization. This recognition and interpretation of the present era was imbedded in and supported by a rich texture of historic and philosophical insight and a wide-ranging familiarity with contemporary science and high technology; morever, it was presented with literary fluency, style, and passion. His public function had become not that of a “mere” scientist, but that of an intellectual, an original thinker about the state of our society and civilization, one who also had a first-hand acquaintance with science and technology. Without that first-hand knowledge, he would not have been nearly so convincing. At MIT he came to play the role of peripatetic interdisciplinary genius, wandering from department to department, bending any willing listener’s ear with ideas, concerns, and suggestions, which might deal with topics in mathematics, physics, biology, engineering, psychology, or philosophy. Often, however, they dealt with humane and human concerns.


Allen, M. (2013, May 16).  Is the resting BOLD signal physiological noise? What about resting EEG? [Blog post]. Retrieved from  http://neuroconscience.com/2013/05/16/is-the-resting-bold-signal-physiological-noise-what-about-resting-eeg/

Barch et al. (in press). Function in the human connectome: Task-fMRI and individual differences in behavior. NeuroImage. Available online 16 May 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.05.033

Burklund, L., & Lieberman, M. (2011). Advances in functional neuroimaging of psychopathology. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 18(4), 333–337. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/ppp.2011.0054

Heims, S. P. (1977). Gregory Bateson and the mathematicians: From interdisciplinary interaction to societal functions. Journal fo the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 13, 141–159. Heims_1977.pdf

Lieberman, M. D., & Cunningham, W. A.  (2009). Type I and Type II error concerns in fMRI research: Re-balancing the scale. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 4(4), 423–428.

Poldrack, R. (Guest). (2013, March 7). Episode 96 [Audio podcast]. In Neuroscientists talk shop. Retrieved from http://snrp.utsa.edu/Podcast/Entries/2013/3/7_Russell_Poldrack_PhD.html

This entry was posted in challenges of interdisciplinary research by Constance A. Cummings. Bookmark the permalink.

About Constance A. Cummings

Constance A. Cummings, PhD, is Project Director of the non-profit Foundation for Psychocultural Research, which supports and advances interdisciplinary research and scholarship at the intersection of brain, mind, culture, and mental health and illness. She is co-editor (with Carol Worthman, Paul Plotsky, and Dan Schechter) of Formative Experiences: The Interaction of Caregiving, Culture, and Developmental Psychobiology (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and (with Laurence Kirmayer and Rob Lemelson) the forthcoming Re-Visioning Psychiatry: Cultural Phenomenology, Critical Neuroscience, and Global Mental Health (Cambridge, 2015). She received her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from New York University.

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