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{Wednesday, July 09, 2003}

towards a democracy of the senses

seeing with tongues
"The gear I'm wearing was invented by Paul Bach-y-Rita, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Bach-y-Rita has devoted much of his career to a single, revolutionary concept: that our senses are interchangeable. The brain, Bach-y-Rita and many other neuroscientists believe, is an organ of astonishing plasticity ...
"We don't see with our eyes," Bach-y-Rita is fond of saying. "we see with our brains." The ears, eyes, nose, tongue, and skin are just inputs that provide information."
Michael Abrams

synesthesia, in which a person's senses are mixed, creates surprising brain changes
Sensory information within the cerebral cortex was thought to flow from lower to higher stages of processing: the lower, or earlier stages are thought to simply process elementary features of stimuli while the higher, or later, stages are believed to integrate the bottom up flow of sensory information with behaviorally relevant, internal state-dependent, components of tasks. The early cortical areas are generally believed to passively reflect changes in the environment, showing limited plasticity even to changes in sensory input.
"Our work overturns this view," [Mriganka] Sur says. "We show that neurons in the primary visual cortex, the very first stage of visual processing within the cortex, rapidly alter their responses when non-visual inputs such as those related to reward are altered. In similar behavioral experiments, we show that visual discrimination is similarly altered. Thus, neurons early in the visual pathway can quickly acquire information about reward conditions and then change their responses (and visual perception) depending on the expectation of reward."
The results suggest that rapid plasticity in the visual cortex may combine with slower, more persistent, forms of plasticity observed in the higher brain areas in order to modulate behavioral decisions.
In the work on synesthesia - the unusual phenomenon of seeing sounds or seeing specific colors upon seeing specific numerals ...

Neuroscience and Thomas Aquinas
The task Aquinas assigned to the "interior sense" sensus communis -- the ability to synthesize input from the various external senses -- is now studied by neuroscientists as "the binding problem."

Paul Buhle - The New Scholarship of Comics
"Comic books were, after all, overwhelmingly our first reading matter ... "

Andrew O Baoill - Slashdot and the Public Sphere <> Drucilla Cornell - Enlightening the Enlightenment
"Immanuel Kant's ironic claim that - "if I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all" - was part of a clear case in favour of the use of rational thought in decision-making, protected from the influence of church and state."

Bruce Bower - Science News Online, May 24, 2003
Scripted Brains: Learning to read evokes hemispheric trade-off
"From childhood through adolescence, budding readers display gradually intensifying neural activity in parts of the brain's left hemisphere that discern relationships between sounds and letters ..."

Michelle Goldberg reviews 'Persepolis' & 'Reading Lolita in Tehran'
"To assert your humanity in a totalitarian regime is to risk having it snuffed out. To not assert it is to risk the same thing."

'Do I Have Life? Or Am I Just Breathing?'
"Dearest Manna,
... Do you remember when we were [both] in Iran we always complained how our story, our reality was narrated by someone else: the Islamic regime, the Western academics or journalists .... It is important that we tell our story, no matter how dark, no matter how filled with despair. I think the first step toward our liberation is to take back our voices from those who have confiscated [them]."


One of the pleasures of "Blue Cats" is that Duffy lavishes time on details that a lot of her nonsynesthete predecessors failed to properly appreciate. She doesn't just mention that letters have colors, she analyzes how those colors blend and mutate when they find themselves side by side in a word. She explores the way many synesthetes organize the world spatially. Numbers, for instance, are often fixed in space on what she calls a "number trail."
Alison Motluk

Orhan Pamuk's - 'My Name is Red' reviewed by Conor O'Toole
"An artist should never succumb to hubris of any kind, he should simply paint the way he sees fit rather than troubling over East or West."

Kristanna Loken on Terminator 3
Is it fun to be bad?
Yeah, it is. It is fun because you get to do things that in your real life you�d never get to do.
You don�t have a bad side?
Yeah, I do, but I�m not shooting children. Not that I want to be doing that, but isn�t there a time when you wish you could just pull your .45 out of your handbag and just, you know, on the freeway.

Coming Soon
Dirty Harry, Beatrix Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Crime Scene Memories
"Memory is a creative event, born anew every day," says Elizabeth Loftus, a University of California, Irvine, psychologist who is a leading expert on the malleability of eyewitness testimony. "You fill in the holes every time you reconstruct an event in your own mind."
Ah, Pezdek
"Most sensory information never really moves into storage at all. Like shapes drawn with a flashlight in the night air, the great mass of input from our eyes and ears fades almost immediately. Actively paying attention can buy you another 15 to 20 seconds of accurate recall by moving sensory input into short-term memory. Language appears to play a crucial role in moving memory into long-term storage, which is why the socially adept repeat the names of those they've just met. Without the "translation" of language, bits and fragments of input may make it into storage, but pulling those bits together for, say, testimony at a trial may prove problematic. When the brain can't find an intact memory, it does the next best thing - it builds one."
Jessica Snyder Sachs

A Universe of Consciousness
"At the turn of the [19th] century, the psychologist Edward Titchener was attempting to identify the "atoms" of consciousness. Red, blue, pain, and the like were obvious candidates, but he attempted to cover the entire phenomenology of consciousness in terms of elementary sensations. His students were therefore assigned such tasks as determining the elementary atoms involved in sexual excitement, bladder distension, and other bodily functions. As may be expected, they were not successful."
Gerald M. Edelman & Giulio Tononi - Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (Penguin, 2001, page 163)

Remembering the Present
"Contemporary neuroscience is confirming the findings of ... Cambridge psychologist Sir Frederic Bartlett, who in 1932 published his classic work Remembering: 'Remembering is not the re-excitation of innumerable fixed, lifeless and fragmentary traces,' he wrote. 'It is an imaginative reconstruction or construction, built out of the relation of our attitude toward a whole mass of organized past reactions or experience.' Remembering is an active, dynamic process, which, like perceiving, recognizing, and imaging, is based on past experience but takes account of the current situation and current needs.
Bartlett rejected the atomistic-associationist psychology that preceded him with its over-mechanical notion of 'memory traces' and introduced the far more flexible concept of schemas, which he borrowed from the neurophysiologist Henry Head. By schema Bartlett implied a mental structure, built up over time, which is responsible for the active organization of past experiences in the light of current events. This idea has been taken up and greatly extended by Gerald Edelman ..."
Anthony Stevens - Private Myths: Dreams and Dreaming (Penguin, 1996, pages 108 - 109)

Movies are not recordings, they are projections
"Perception is not a passive mirroring of a world outside like a color photograph; rather, incoming informations are, by a creative act, organized into a universe."
Ludwig von Bertalanffy

Brainysmurf - On the differences in brain processing among languages
"It seems, according to a new study, that native speakers of Chinese when listening to their language use both sides of the brain, whereas native speakers of English use only their left side. This shouldn�t really be surprising. The right side of the brain is used to decode music and melody, and since Chinese has four tones that are essential to understanding, it only makes sense that brain power would be divided in some way amongst the parts of the brain that specializes in such processing. Since English has phrase-specific intonation but not monosyllabic tones, it�s not difficult to see why the brain keeps its processing on one side.
So where does this indicate that Mandarin is officially or otherwise more difficult than English?"

Scanning reveals the brain processes different languages differently
"Sophie Scott, a psychologist at the Wellcome Trust, and colleagues from hospitals in Oxford and London performed brain scans on volunteers as they listened to their native languages.
When English speakers heard the sound of Mockney, Mersey or Geordie, their left temporal lobes lit up on screen. When Mandarin Chinese speakers heard their native tongue, there was a buzz of action in both the right and left temporal lobes.
"We were very surprised to discover that people who speak different sorts of languages use their brains to decode speech in different ways, said Dr Scott. "It overturned some long-held theories."
The left temporal lobe is normally associated with piecing sounds together into words; the right with processing melody and intonation.
In Mandarin, a different intonation delivers a different meaning: the syllable "ma", for instance, can mean mother, scold, horse or hemp according to its musical sound.
"Speech really is a complex sound," said Dr Scott. "As well as understanding words, the brain uses the way in which words are spoken, such as intonation and melody, to turn spoken language into meaning. This system has to be robust and flexible enough to deal with variations in speech sounds such as regional accents. We think Mandarin speakers interpret intonation and melody in the right temporal lobe to give correct meaning to the spoken words."
... The study suggests that language itself might affect the way the brain develops in a young child."
Tim Radford

Beijing weighs up, then rejects, invasion of North Korea
"China asked its military to study a quick intervention in North Korea but decided that its relationship with the United States was more important than propping up the Stalinist state, with which it shares a border."

Chinese thinking skills - from Better Living Through Software
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis ridiculed & Emily Eakin chided

Writing Systems and Scientific Breakthroughs
"Why should learning a particular writing system have a greater impact on how people think than whether they use telephones?"
J. Marshall Unger

Bhutan's psyche satellized, gross domestic happiness disrupted
Do we become the product of what we watch?

The Medium's Messenger
"The family circle has widened. The worldpool of information fathered by electric media - movies, Telstar, flight - far surpasses any possible influence mom and dad can now bring to bear. Character no longer is shaped by only two earnest, fumbling experts. Now all the world's a sage."
Marshall McLuhan - The Medium is the Massage (Penguin, 1967, page 14)

The Complexity Threshold
Serpens nisi serpentem comederit non fit draco [the serpent does not become a dragon save by first eating the serpent]

Nature's Magic - Peter A. Corning
"Two are better than one, because they have good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Use your nous & make common sense

One word frees us
'The eyes, those silent tongues of love' - Cervantes
"It begins to be evident that "touch" is not skin but the interplay of the senses, and "keeping in touch" or "getting in touch" is a matter of a fruitful meeting of the senses, of sight translated into sound and sound into movement, and taste and smell. The "common sense" was for many centuries held to be the peculiar human power of translating one kind of experience of one sense into all the senses, and presenting the result continuously as a unified image to the mind. In fact, this image of a unified ratio among the senses was long held to be the mark of our rationality, and may in the computer age easily become so again."
Marshall McLuhan - Understanding Media (1964) - Chapter Six - Media as Translators

Crystal remembers sounds
"Lithium niobate seems to store acoustic energy temporarily, rather like a compressed spring stores mechanical energy. How is not clear ... "

An Interview with James Hillman
London: In The Soul's Code, you talk about something called the "acorn theory." What is that?
Hillman: Well, it's more of a myth than a theory. It's Plato's myth that you come into the world with a destiny, although he uses the word paradigma, or paradigm, instead of destiny.

What Can We Know, and What Can't We? by Sharon Begley
What if stalactites could talk? If these icicle-shaped mineral deposits somehow preserved the sound waves that impinged on them as they grew, drop by drop, from the ceilings of caves, and if scientists figured out how to recover the precise characteristics of those waves, then maybe they would also be able to use stalactites like natural voice recorders and recover the conversations ...
In cosmology, one seemingly unanswerable question is whether our little universe is embedded in a "multiverse," a frothing sea of universes bobbing like bubbles in the sea. In principle, contact between universes is impossible. "But who knows?" asks Prof. Hut. "Just as wormholes might allow you to go from one point in the universe to another more quickly than light [by taking a shortcut, not by breaking the universal speed limit] maybe we'll come up with a way to communicate with other universes."

Ariadne's Clue
Symbolism is the most powerful and ancient means of communication available to humankind. For centuries people have expressed their preoccupations and concerns through symbolism in the form of myths, stories, religions, and dreams. The meaning of symbols has long been debated among philosophers, antiquarians, theologians, and, more recently, anthropologists and psychologists. In Ariadne's Clue, distinguished analyst and psychiatrist Anthony Stevens explores the nature of symbols and explains how and why we create the symbols we do.

Could it be time to take the "memory" of water seriously?
"Aware of homeopaths' claims that patterns of hydrogen bonds can survive successive dilutions, Rey decided to test ... "

Francisco Varela - The Emergent Self
"Why do emergent selves, virtual identities, pop up all over the place, creating worlds, whether at the mind/body level, the cellular level, or the transorganism level? This phenomenon is something so productive that it doesn't cease creating entirely new realms: life, mind, and societies. Yet these emergent selves are based on processes so shifty, so ungrounded, that we have an apparent paradox between the solidity of what appears to show up and its groundlessness. That, to me, is the key and ... "

The late Francesco Varela postulates that organisms have to be understood as a mesh of virtual selves -- a bricolage of various identities.

Hey meester. You go away in the middle of love?

posted by Andrew 7/09/2003 02:13:00 PM