13 If you spill some salt and walk under a ladder at the Exploratorium’s new Superstition Obstacle Course, you won’t have to knock on wood—you’ll be conducting these rituals as you learn why our brain is evolutionarily primed to concoct superstitions and how these beliefs shape our actions, emotions and judgment. The course of breakable mirrors and cracked sidewalks is a temporary addition to the science museum’s permanent “Mind” collection.
13 When a wheelchair-bound radio journalist meets a healthy woman who envies his paralysis in the movie Quid Pro Quo, he finds his own identity challenged as he uncovers the reasons behind her seemingly strange desire. (Learn more about the real-life diagnosis of body integrity identity disorder in “Amputee Envy,” by Sabine Mueller; SciAm Mind, December 2007/January 2008.)
25–28 Explore music’s roots and effects in our brain at the third triennial Neurosciences and Music conference. Discover how musical study enhances intellect, why music can act as a pain reliever and where disorders such as amusia (the inability to perceive tone or rhythm) arise in the brain. At night, conduct your own musical investigations at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which neatly coincides with the conference.
26–29 As brain-imaging technology becomes more advanced, scientists are inching closer to literally reading people’s minds—and many of them are becoming concerned with the ethics involved in wielding such power. Join in the discussion at the Society for Philosophy and Psychology’s 34th Annual Meeting, featuring a symposium on neuroethics.
23 Although language may be uniquely human, some of its underlying genes are also found in songbirds. In this episode of NOVA scienceNOW, a weekly science news-magazine broadcast Wednesday nights, find out how studying the brains of zebra finches has given scientists a better understanding of how children learn to speak. Watch the segment online if you miss it on the air.
24 On this date in 1824 the Harrisburg Pennsylvanian newspaper conducted the first public opinion poll, which correctly predicted that military man Andrew Jackson would win the popular vote over Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in the presidential election. (When no candidate got the electoral college majority, however, the House of Representatives later declared Adams president.) Over the past two centuries, social scientists have greatly improved their sampling methods—the first poll was conducted only in Delaware—and opinion polling has since assumed an integral role in American democracy.