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Day April 14, 2011

Welcome to Seven Deadly Synapses

I’m Jim Hutchins. You can find out more about me at the “About” page.

I’ve started this blog after a successful experience commenting at Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com blog and, after he moved to the New York Times, on an independent site called logarchism.com. I recommend both of those blogs if your interests tend more to politics than science or ethics. I will still comment on those sites under the username Monotreme. Like a spiny echidna, I’m a bit unclassifiable and exotic.

In the next few months, I’ll be working on a book project I call Seven Deadly Synapses. What can modern neuroscience tell us about the Seven Deadly Sins? How does neuroscience fit into the 1600-year history of the Seven Deadly Sins? Can we link Dante and Damasio?

Or, in the poetry of Rubén Darío (“Los Motivos del Lobo“),

Mas empecé a ver que en todas las casas
estaban la Envidia, la Saña, la Ira,
y en todos los rostros ardían las brasas
de odio, de lujuria, de infamia y mentira.

As the wolf exposes himself to human behavior and frailty, he laments:

But I began to see that in all the houses
There dwelled Envy, Spite, Ire,
And that in all the faces blazed the embers
Of hatred, lechery, infamy, and lies.

(Thanks to Nereyda Hesterberg for introducing me to Darío’s poetry and helping with the translation.)

If Darío’s wolf were a lupine neuroscientist, what would he see? What are the brain mechanisms — anatomy, chemistry, physiology — underlying envy, spite and ire? What is the evolutionary advantage, if any, to these invidious behaviors?