Caveat lector: This blog is where I try out new ideas. I will often be wrong, but that's the point.

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Hey. Sup?

So my last post drew a lot of new readers.

Because there are so many new people here, I'd like to play a couple of games.


The first I learned from Ed Yong:

1. Who are you?! Please leave a comment and tell me who you are and what your interest is in neuroscience (which is, I presume, why you're here). If you're a neuroscience student, tell me what you're studying!

The second is a game I first played on twitter a few months ago.

2. Ask me any neuro question and I'll try to answer it.

That one was fun, but it can take a while, since I try to support my answers with actual research. So bear with me!

For some reason my last post got passed around the internet a lot... with a strange phrase added to it in some places: "our senses would amaze us, if only we gave them our full attention, as animals do," which sounds a little... fluffy. I certainly didn't say that.

If you're expecting a blog by someone who would write something like that, I'm sorry to say you might be disappointed.

I tend to be a pretty hard skeptic. Especially so for neuroscience and my own work. Which isn't to say I don't sometimes do or say weird things. I just don't say weird things that sound like that.

Now I'd like to introduce myself a bit: I'm a neuroscience post-doc working at the University of California, Berkeley. In a few months I'm headed over to UCSF. This blog started as a way to write more openly about my own research and to share some of the analysis code I've written and projects I'm running.

For example, I run brainSCANr with my wife, Jessica Voytek, which is an experiment wherein we're quantifying connections between concepts in the neuroscience literature.
Bradley Voytek brainSCANr

I'm also kinda known as the zombie neuroscience guy because of some of my public lecturing. But don't let that fool you. It's mainly a subversive way for me goof off while also trying to be more critical about neuroscience. This is a tough field, the problems we think about are difficult, and the media plays a strange role in feeding into some weird neuroscience myths.

To share some of my favorite posts, I'd like to point out "how to be a [critical] neuroscientist", which discusses how I do my first-pass read on cognitive neuroscience research, as well as "scientific acupuncture", which looks at media reporting on neuroscience.

There's also my general take on the whole media doc phenomenon:
(Click to enlarge)

I'm also partial to neuroscience history, because there are so many amazingly weird people involved. Check out "Sir Henry Head's self experimentation" or "Brown-Séquard, spinal cord research, and sperm injections".

Finally, the vanity part. I do talk about my own research. But the biggest motivation isn't vainglory, I swear. I'm a huge believer in the idea that, if I can't explain my research in a simple manner, it's because I don't actually know what I'm talking about. It's very easy to trick myself into believing that my over-education has taught me something, only to find that when I try to explain an idea simply all I'm actually doing is parroting back phrases that don't really mean anything.

So to avoid boring all my friends at the pub all the time, I use this blog to work out ideas. Here are my research posts:

Bradley Voytek Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience Giffords Hemicraniectomy



  1. Hey Brad,

    We've talked before, but I'm a neuropsychologist, currently trying to finish my PhD about frontal lobe brain injury and caregiver stress. Basically, I'm interested in how all these different aspects of cognition (working memory, attention, task switching, decision making, inhibition, theory of mind and empathy) for which various PFC areas are critical fit together in a simplified model of executive function. Its gotta be simple enough to be useful for clinical psychologists in a cognitive sense, as I can't imagine anyone could study all of these areas in as much detail as you're studying attn & WM and the PFC & basal ganglia - the model would be so complex it wouldn't be useful. This is especially true when we have to explain to a relative of a brain injured person how their relative has been affected by the brain injury. I've also run some classes for brain injured people themselves.

    I'm hoping to either work as a clinician or academic (not sure yet) but either way its great to hear about some of the latest neuroscience as its directly applicable to my field.

    So a question for you - having worked with people with right and left PFC injuries, how do these different lateralities of lesion affect people differently in terms of WM and attention in a qualitative sense? (I asked you this before and you said you hadn't got enough participants to answer this quantitatively, but what's your theory or hunch on the matter?)

  2. Luke11:07

    Hey, have been reading since the new year. I'm a second year psychology undergraduate at UCL and starting reading blogs in favour of textbooks as I rarely find textbooks satisfactory.

    Recently came across the free energy principle, in that perception is used to create internal model of the environment by making predictions about the outside world, while memory, attention and action collaborate to reduce error in those predictions (an incredibly simplistic account, but I have a drugs exam to study for). However I would like to know how the free energy principle accounts for error management theory (the phenomenon that agents prefer to make type 1 errors in favour of type 2 errors).

    If a situation arose that each error would be equally probable, would they be coded for any differently. A type 2 error would be considered more costly than a type 1 error in terms of survival, but is this difference actually accounted for by the free energy principle?

  3. 1) I am a neuroscientific dilettante with no credentials in the field. I'm generally interested in how the brain works, the origin and nature of subjectivity, and how brains can be manipulated.

    2) What are your thoughts on the emergence of the research chemical scene? I've been conducting experiments on myself with various substances, it's been very educational personally; but I wonder, how do the professionals view this?

  4. Anonymous01:48

    *) I am BA philosophy student and I'm just generally interested in how the brain works with body, how whool body can be manipulated, included the brain.

    *) What are your thoughts on consciousness as wave field or physical field ? I've been thinking on myself consciousness as various physical hierarchy substances actice states to passiv states.

  5. Sorry for the delayed responses everyone! Been a busy week... was on vacation and I'm changing jobs and moving. Hard to find a stretch of time for any meaningful conversation right now.

    Tom: Of course I remember you! So, what if the model of how these models interact isn't simple? Or, specifically, isn't "simple enough to be useful for clinical psychologists"? To answer your question, I just honestly haven't worked with enough lesion patients to build up any "feel" for left vs. right hemisphere lesion effects. I wish I had a better answer for you on that one... but since my two PhD research papers with lesion patients I haven't seen any new ones. I've been working more with patients with subdural electrocorticography lately.

  6. Luke: Funny, this came up on reddit a few days ago, too. Was that you that asked that? His work is quite dense and mathematically sophisticated. I've not had time to sit down and chew through his ideas, but a few of the comments on that reddit thread seem somewhat insightful

  7. Ultranaut: Nice to meet you! Those are some tough questions you're interested in tackling. What do you mean when you say "and how brains can be manipulated?" and "the research chemical scene?" Is that a euphemism for taking drugs? There's definitely no consensus among "professionals" about drug use and altered states of consciousness, but I certainly know many neuroscience researchers and faculty who got interested in the field at least partly because of personal experiences with altered states of consciousness (drug, brain injury, etc.)

  8. svenand496: same question for you as I had for ultranaut: what do you mean what you say "manipulating" the brain and body?

  9. By "how brains can be manipulated" I mean literally that. I phrased it that way because I'm interested in all methods, from "socio-cultural" to straight electrical current wired right in there!
    The research chemical scene isn't exactly a euphemism, but it's close. There are scientists who cook up exotic psychoactives in Chinese labs and sell them "for research purposes only". Because of how the law is written, it's at least technically legal. Some of the drugs are indeed fun, but is there really anything wrong with that?

  10. Anonymous00:45

    Sorry, I thought, how can we use the neuroscience information eugenicaly, can we do so called human GMO? (If we say consciousness is wave field or physical field type a thing, then we can think we can use it to transformation platform, or even if consciousness is something else, mankind can use it to research how humans individually can change artificially.)

  11. Hey Brad,

    I've been able to work with a number of people with left and right hemisphere stroke, as well as some persons with lesions to left and right PFC regions, so maybe I'm better placed to throw qualitative hunches at you, which you can turn into more specific hypotheses.

    What I'll do is email you my thesis when its written up, as it should be a nice overview of various FL and PFC contributions to executive function in general, as well as other aspects of psychology like working memory and operant conditioning - it might give you guys some ideas for hypotheses which you can test with far greater precision than I can do with my neuropsych test kit :)


  12. Tom: That sounds great. Would love to chat more.