Monday, December 26, 2005

2006 book 1:
A symphony in the brain. jim robbins, 2000.
It's about neurofeedback, the current buzzword for biofeedback.
In the 70s, biofeedback was a new-agey fad related to a growing understanding that body and mind are interrelated.
The book, by a guy who's esssentially a journalist, spends a lot of time on whether this is solid science or quackery.
So it's not just a fascinating story about an emerging technology, it's also a case study in Kuhn's thesis, in 'structure of scientific revolutions' of how new ideas fight to get recognized by science.
EKG EEG machines show electrical activity in the brain, which has some correlation with functioning.
I've had those a couple of times.
Biofeedback, to oversimplify, lets people monitor their brainwaves and learn to control them.
Certain ranges of wavelengths have been labeled alpha, beta, delta theta, for arbitrary historical reasons.
Epilepsy, autism, ADD, and depression are some of the conditions which, at least anecdotally, respond to neorofeedback.
It can also be used by athletes and business execs, anybody who is interested in enhancing performance.
The book is a gift from a family member who, like me, has issues with depression, and who is considering the treatment.
The book is consistent with what wikipedia [insert link] has to say on the topic, going through a history of chance discoveries, a handful of dedicated pioneers, resistance from the establishment, lack of funding to do the scientific studies that might lead to more funding.
The book does a good job of telling the story.
In the 70s, people like me faced hostility from the drug-and-cut medical mainstream, and have had a long fight to enter the mainstream. In the 80s I studied buddhist and western psych at naropa institute, and in the 90s worked for jigme norbu, a tibetan exile leader, so i'm not completely unfamiliar with the worldview of these folks.
Also in the 80s I worked at the U of Delaware's office of computer-based instruction, which grew out of a project by a music professor to use computers to do ear training, into a visonary plan to deliver education by computer, which turned out to be just too far ahead of its time. The internet now is doing most, but far less than all, of what we were trying to build back then.
I don't expect to do anything anytime soon with the ideas this book has presented.
But there's potential there. If I were king, or had the ear of the bill & melinda gates foundation, I'd want to look into having someone like Dean Kamen redesign the neurofeedback machines, to be smaller, cheaper, and suitable for mass production in asia, to take this out of the niche markets and make it generally available, something like the ipod.
That would be a step in the general direction of nanotech, when we'll have little robots monitoring our bodies' chemical and electrical systems for vastly improved health. Lots of depresssed people just give up, either killing themselves or becoming resigned to getting by without really thriving. Which is where I've been for about 5 years, just treading water and hanging on. Because I believe that the singularity is coming, via Moore's law, and a flood of new technlogies will be able to fix things that we've taken for granted as unfixable - death, taxes, lost socks.
I'd also combine it with my ideas on medical tourism. If there are already sound economic reasons to get your major medical work done in India instead of Indiana, this could be combined with some of these new technologies, and some tradition Indian techniques of meditation, diet, etc.
Am I going to rush out and sign up for neurofeedback sessions, or order a build-it-yourself kit? Well, no. Am I going to start tracking this interesting development, now that I understand it better? Yes.
Would I recommend the book? Yes. Is it free online? No. There is a yahoo group, and a google search for neurofeedback leads to wikipedia which has a links to sites by people in the industry. From what little followup I've done so far, the industry is in about the same state it was in 2000 - a few more demonstration pilot projects, but no dramatic breakthrough.

2006 Book 2:
Boss Rule: portraits in city politics. Salter, 1935.
best part was profiles of a handful of gop precinct leaders in philly, part of the vare machine.

Book 3: The CIA and congress: the untold story from Truman to Kennedy
- haven't read it yet, xmas gift from mom.

Book 4: F. Lee Bailey, the defense never rests. War stories - I like this kind of book. Written when he's 37, and summing up a lifetime career. I'm 45 and wondering what I'll do when I grow up. So far it's both a fun read and a serious exploration of injustic in the american courts.

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