Archive for the Science Category

Festival Season: Upcoming Appearances

Posted in Culture, Events, Geography of Madness, Science, Travel on October 13, 2017 by frankbures

It’s festival season again, and over the next few weeks I’ll be speaking at two. First, on Sunday October 29th I’ll be talking about the power of belief at the Chicago Humanities Festival. The following weekend on Saturday, November 4, I’ll be in Madison for the Wisconsin Book Festival. If you’re near either one, please stop by! Details below:

CHF_Logo-No_Tagline_RedThe Geography of Madness
Sunday, October 29, 4 – 5 PM
Chicago Athletic Association, Stagg Court
12 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

Is there a connection between mental health, disease, and belief? In Geography of Madness, journalist Frank Bures offers a resounding yes. In tracking the delusion that one’s genitals can be stolen—a relatively common complaint in countries ranging from Nigeria to Singapore—Bures sought to uncover the roots of a whole range of “culture–bound syndromes,” and how people’s beliefs about their health shape their physical experiences of health. Join Bures for a conversation about penis theft, placebos, and the intersection of Western and Chinese medicine.

main_logoThe Geography of Madness
11/04/2017, 4:00pm
Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, DeLuca Forum

The Geography of Madness is an investigation of “culture-bound” syndromes, which are far stranger than they sound. Why is it, for example, that some men believe, against all reason, that vandals stole their penises, even though they’re in good physical shape? In The Geography of Madness, acclaimed magazine writer Frank Bures travels around the world to trace culture-bound syndromes to their sources–and in the process, tells a remarkable story about the strange things all of us believe.

Presented in partnership with the Wisconsin Science Festival.

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How To Be Wise

Posted in America, Books, Clips, Culture, Science on September 3, 2017 by frankbures

Cutler2017007-2 copyMy latest column from The Rotarian:

Recently I was looking through some of my grandmother’s things and came across her tattered, softcover Bible. As I paged through it, a yellowed newspaper article fell out. It was from a 1966 edition of the Minneapolis Star, written by a certain Dr. Walter C. Alvarez. It was titled “You Can Grow Old Gracefully.”

Nowadays, that sentiment is not very widespread. Growing old has become something to be dreaded, feared, and, if possible, avoided. This is partly rooted in America’s youth-oriented culture, which differs from that of places like Japan or parts of Africa, where older people are seen as repositories of wisdom and authority.

Still, I liked the headline of Dr. Alvarez’s column, even if the useful advice in his article was limited to exhortations to read widely, be friendly, and try to cultivate an interesting persona in youth and middle age. If you become a good and interesting person when you’re young, he wrote, you will be a good and interesting person when you are old.

My grandmother did, in fact, age gracefully. She never become bitter or isolated or hopeless, even though her husband died – after falling off a ladder – just four years after she cut out that article. For as long as she could manage, she played bridge, went to water aerobics, and worked the crossword puzzle, and she always seemed able to see the humor in things. That she kept that article – in her Bible no less – meant that she must have had some faith that aging gracefully was something she could do.

Read the rest here.

The Kiwis’ Edge in America’s Cup: Drones

Posted in Clips, Outdoors, Science on July 1, 2017 by frankbures

From the New York Times:

Nick Bowers heard his phone ring at 5 one morning in September 2015. He struggled out of bed and answered. On the line was a boat maker from Holland with an urgent request: Could he be in Italy that night to shoot video of the A-Class World Catamaran Championships?

Bowers, who lived in Lake Geneva, Wis., where he ran a small video production company, packed his drones and hurried to the airport in Chicago.

Word of Bowers’s dramatic sailing footage had been spreading through the sailing world. It was gorgeous and mesmerizing.

Bailey White, president of the United States A-Class Sailing Association, who recruited Bowers for the race in Italy, remembers his first impression. “I had never seen anyone be able to shoot the angles he was shooting,” White said. “While the boat was up in the air foiling, he was getting so low flying this drone that he was actually below the boat, so you got a sense for exactly how the boat was performing and how the sailors were doing.”

Bowers, whose work would earn him a spot with one of the two teams currently racing in the finals of the 2017 America’s Cup, came on this style almost accidentally. At first, he started filming without a monitor because he couldn’t afford one. He learned to work by watching the drone instead of watching the video feed. But he quickly found this gave him both better control and better footage.

Read the rest here.

 

Ill Winds: On Fan Death

Posted in Asia, Culture, Geography of Madness, Press, Science, Uncategorized on June 14, 2017 by frankbures

lead_960Had a nice interview with Katie Heaney for her story at The Atlantic:

Is My Electric Fan Going to Kill Me in My Sleep?

When I was a kid, someone told me that running a fan too close to my face was dangerous to my health, and I’ve kind of believed it ever since. For the 20-some years since, I’ve assumed that person was one of my parents, but when I mentioned this to them recently, neither had any idea what I was talking about. “That doesn’t sound like something I’d believe,” my dad said, and he’s right, it doesn’t. But I know someone in my home once told me to move my fan further away from my bed so I wouldn’t get sick overnight, and if it wasn’t my parents, then who was it? My best guess at this time is a paranoid babysitter. No matter that I never encountered any substantiating evidence; the idea of a fan’s concentrated breeze making me sick held enough intuitive sway in my childhood psyche that it stuck there. Even though I know now that it isn’t exactly true, I wonder if there’s something to the idea—it had to come from somewhere. Right?

In fact, many cultures across the globe have their own stories of wind-based illnesses, says Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness. In his book, Bures writes that some ancient Chinese medical texts warned readers of “wind insanity” and even “wind stupidity.” Variations on these beliefs persist today, too; in Italy, people wear scarves around their necks to protect against colpo d’aria (a hit of air), and in the Czech Republic, some people fear the wind from air conditioners and refrigerators, believing they cause rheumatism, among other health issues. Most (if not all) Americans have been told not to go outside with wet hair lest we “catch a chill”—a belief in a cause-and-effect model with little scientific backing. Perhaps the most extreme form of these supposed illnesses can be found in Korea, where they call it something else: fan death, or the belief that running a fan in an enclosed room will actually kill you.

Read the rest here.

 

Teaching a Stone to Fly: The World Rock Skipping Championship

Posted in America, Clips, Culture, Outdoors, Science, Travel on May 30, 2017 by frankbures

From Minnesota Monthly:

Late one afternoon last summer, our family arrived at a campsite on the western shore of Lake Michigan. We had been driving all day, across Wisconsin on our way further east. The four of us—my wife and two daughters, ages 7 and 10—set up our tent, made dinner, then went down to the water. Two-foot waves were rolling across the lake, a taste of what lay ahead: We were going to the Mackinac Island Stone Skipping Competition—the oldest, most prestigious rock-skipping tournament in the United States, if not the world. Every Fourth of July, elite skippers (many former and current world-record holders) take turns throwing their stones into the waters where lakes Huron and Michigan meet, also known for having rolling, two-foot waves crashing on the beach.

I looked down, saw a decent skipping stone, and picked it up. My daughters were watching. The older one spoke up.

“Are you prepared for the fact that you probably won’t win?” she asked.

I threw the stone.

“Four,” she said. “But it caught a wave.”

My shoulders sagged.

“Don’t doubt yourself, Daddy!”

Her younger sister looked at her. “But you doubted him,” she said.

“That’s different.”

Prepared or not, I knew I had a knack for skipping. Some years earlier, I’d been driving through the mountains when I stopped at a roadside lake. The water was smooth as glass. I bent down, picked up a wide, flat stone, and sent it skimming across the water. It went on for what felt like forever, until it finally hit the rocky shore on the other side.

Behind me, a young boy spoke up.

“Wow,” he said. “You must be the world-champion rock skipper.”

I wasn’t. At least not yet. But I’d been skipping stones my whole life, ever since I was around my daughters’ ages, always getting better and better. There was almost nothing I loved better than the feeling of knowing—even before it hit the water—that you had a perfect throw, one that defies nature by making a stone both fly and float.

Mackinac, I had learned, was the place where such things were decided. These were my people—the ones who could spend hours on a beach looking for just the right stone, who would fill bags and boxes with skippers from secret locations, who would throw until their arm gave way, lost in the simple sorcery of stone skipping.

Read the rest here.

Paperback Writer: Geography of Madness

Posted in Books, Clips, Culture, Geography of Madness, Science on May 12, 2017 by frankbures

Paperback Release

I’m very happy to announce the publication of the paperback edition of The Geography of Madness by Melville House. The past year has been full of fascinating conversations on everything from missing members to the mysteries of PMS. It seems like the tide is turning toward a more nuanced, less mechanistic, view of how the body and mind interact. If Geography helped advance that discussion, I am glad.

Below is a roundup of reviews and interviews that have come out since the hardcover publication, for which I’m deeply grateful. I want to thank everyone who bought and read the book. I hope it rang true on some level.

Interviews
The Atlantic: Diseases You Only Get if You Believe in Them
Toronto Globe and Mail: Penis thieves? Voodoo death? Frank Bures suggests such maladies aren’t all in our heads
Meaning of Life TV: Culture-bound syndromes
Rain Taxi: The Fluidity of the Human Brain
The Isthmus: On the trail of penis thieves

GoMmech.indd

 

Reviews
New Scientist: Stolen penises and other exotic psychological tales
The Australian: From penis thieves to voodoo
The Guardian: Is your penis really shrinking?
Maclean’s: Penis thievery and other strange syndromes
Star Tribune: “Ambitious and exhaustively reported, this thoughtful book examines culture, beliefs and madness.”

 

Further discussion
Slate: We’re not scientists, but PMS is real.
Vox: Of course PMS is “real.”
New York: Yes, PMS IS Real

 

Reviews in other languages:
Enfermedades que tienes sólo si crees en ellas
Più crediamo di essere stressati più lo siamo veramente
Kroppen, själen, penistjuven
Er zijn ziektes die je alleen hebt als je gelooft dat ze bestaan

Creepy Clowns, Pizzagate and American Panics

Posted in America, Asia, Clips, Culture, Geography of Madness, Science on May 4, 2017 by frankbures

526388637From Powells.com

To a village dweller on Hainan, the Great American Clown Panic of 2016 would certainly seem strange, while the 1985 ghost panic of Hainan would make a certain amount of sense. This was largely because they had heard the stories about genital-stealing ghosts before. Older residents “vividly remembered previous epidemics in 1948, 1955, 1966 and 1974” that had also affected hundreds of people. Our culture is the ecosystem of narratives that we belong to. One study found that the difference between victims and non-victims was 100 percent of victims had prior knowledge of the danger of the fox ghost, and 100 percent of them had a fear of death due to genital retractions. Culture-bound syndromes and mass panics emerge from the stories that we believe could be true.

Dark CarnivalFor the same reason, the clown panic makes a certain kind of sense to us: we have heard this story before. “The story always sounds real,” says Robert Bartholomew, author of Outbreak! The Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior and many other books on the topic. “A pedophile or sadist trying to lure people into the woods. Yet when you look into it, these stories go back for centuries. Folklorists have a name for them: bad clown narratives, or killer clown, phantom clown, stalking clown. For me, phantom clowns are the bogeyman in another guise. They are living folklore. They are a modern myth in the making.”

Clowns, in our culture, have a long and complicated history. According to Bartholomew they were viewed positively until the late 1800s, when they began to appear in operas as murderers. Around the Great Depression in 1930, traveling circuses hit hard times, so they spun off into smaller sideshow carnivals. These were called “Dark Carnivals” (like the Ray Bradbury novel of the same name) and there clowns were dark, creepy, and scary.

Read the rest here.

Clowns._America