July 24, 2010
Can you see a sound?
Can you hear light?
Can you unite your senses?
Can you turn inward?
What we are all seeking is clarity. Forget about religious rationalisations. Forget about elaborate explanations. What we all want is clarity. What we abhor is ignorance. Ignorance confuses us, brings misfortune and sorrow, and makes us miserable. If we have clarity, then we can live with equanimity.
It is a misconception that spirituality brings everlasting happiness. There is no such thing. Sadness still comes to the wise, but, unlike most people, their clarity of mind allows them to see beyond the temporal emotionalism of the moment. They are farseeing, and so happiness and sorrow become the same to them.
True clarity is more than just being smart, more than just being wise. Clarity manifests from meditation. It comes when you can unite all the faculties of the mind and unify them into a magnificent light of perception. It is hard to talk of this in anything but mystical terms. Our language is unfamiliar with the frontiers of the spirit because few have ever seen those limits, let alone described them. But let’s try.
If you unite sound with vision, then you will create light.
That light is the concentration force of the mind.
It is by that brightness that truth is revealed.
Well… It’s a fact. I’m a “green” minded individual. Green, eco-friendly, CO2 aware, tree hugging, peace loving, vegetable growing, tea-bag/egg shell composting, memes have riddled my mind and are hard at work doing their best to propagate – through my actions – a harmonious, utopian society whereby we can all live in balance with mother nature, without ever letting the total human population exceed 2.5 billion (don’t ask me why I choose 2.5 billion) at any one time, and where we all grow our own food, generate our own power, and have totally given up our maddening “crack/heroin” like addiction to oil… Along with all the resulting ‘fantastic plastic’ that comes with it. Yes… I know, it’s pretty “out there” what goes on in my mind sometimes.
And as I sit here and write about my journeys into understanding what We, as human beings, in actual fact are… Thinking about how we might better modify our ways of living to adapt to the limited resources of a single planet, mainly through changing our perception about the ‘human condition,’ so as to provide a better, more developed understanding, about how We all – that is, ALL Life here on Earth – are interconnected into one big web of a complex interdependent biological system, all set within a stupendously delicate eco-system based on the surface of a planet that we call home… I couldn’t help but begin to think about all the energy I was using to power my computer, where that energy was coming from, along with all the resulting CO2 that was being generated in the process.
To be fair, I spend about 8 hours a week maintaining, researching and writing the articles for this website… And on top of that I spend about another 6-12 hours over a five day week in front of our studio computer, editing and composing soundscapes. So my energy consumption goes up markedly for one person. Thus I’ve been busy doing my best to balance my carbon footprint with other countering behavioural patterns… I planted two apple trees the other year, and presently grow many of my own vegetables in my front yard… Not to mention I avoid almost all plastic packaging and have even given up my car… Yes. I gave up my car a few months ago. Total bummer in some ways… But now I’m cycling everywhere, and I’ve got to say it’s really forced me to plan my journey’s more effectively so as to do several things all at once rather than simply jumping in the car every time I need a pint of soya milk down the corner shop… And thus I have found that I’ve got a lot more spare time on my hands… !? Plus I’ve noticed I’m getting fitter!
But all that aside… I couldn’t help but wonder about all the people who couldn’t do this, simply because of time or financial restraints, their remote geographical location, or even because they didn’t have a garden to grow things in. I mean, was there anything out there to help them offset their carbon outputs?
While pondering this, I clicked onto a a friend’s blog in order to find some inspiration… And there it was, in the top right hand corner of the webpage!
Seems that Ixpo, a British manufacturing company that specialises in retail sign manufacture, has decided to donate part of their profits every year to the American National Forest Foundation, in order to offset/cover the CO2 generated through their manufacturing processes. And, for all those of you who don’t have the space, the time, the finances or even the inclination to grow a tree yourself, so as to offset your own carbon footprints from your web-surfing and other internet habits… Ixpo operates a policy where by, if you mention their initiative on your website or blog, they will plant a tree for you… And do so at no cost what-so-ever to you! No doubt, it doesn’t really matter where the trees are grown, whether here in the UK or in the USA, etc… as there is only one atmosphere on this planet… One which we are all sharing with every breath!
So if you’re a blogger and feel like you should be doing something about offsetting the CO2 generated by blogging or web-surfing habits, then click this link below and send Ixpo and E-mail… As much of a cliché as it is… Every little helps!
To find out more about the National Forest Foundation please click here.
Or to find out more about Vanessa Procter’s “Eco-Strip Down” blog, please click here.
Or to find out about how you can cut reduce your CO2 emissions, and offset them, please click here.
July 21, 2010
Having recently been to Dr Bruce Lipton‘s talk, entitled “The Biology Of Belief,” which was held in the Logan Hall of the Institute Of Education in London this last Saturday, the 17th of July 2010, I had reinforced the idea that we are nothing more than a bunch of atomic mechanisms, built from atomic polymers i.e. DNA, proteins, fatty acids, etc… all arranged into intricate cellular clusters, which – given the right circumstances – can function with amazingly natural flows of Being, demonstrating what we can only call, from a self referencing point of view, natural organic movements… And over the years we have – funnily enough – coined these flows to be “Life-Like.”
I really believe that when we begin to see Life in these terms i.e. that Life as we presently know it usually results from the complex interactions of the atomic machinery within an enclosed cellular body, which, if presented with more differentiated versions of itself, can build larger bodies from highly specialised cellular clusters… And then, once in place, out of all this unfolds a nonlinear biology/biochemistry of perceptive functions, all of which came about through the process of what we now know as ‘chaos’ – rather than the result of some divine intervention – and thus becomes nothing more than a complex, naturally occurring chaotic system that ‘intelligently’ reacts and responds, through effective behavioural patterns, to external environmental pressures and stimuli, precipitating survival habits that have been natural selected for… The behavioural patterns allow Life to survive in an ever changing environment, and the chaos inherent in our being affords us the ability to utilise the best survival traits that we can, one of which was the development of self-biased tendencies centred around a distinct notion of “self” and “body” that many of us seem to take for granted on a daily basis.
While I will eventually get around to discussing the reality and validity of the “self” in a future blog (something that is taking me much longer than I had anticipated)… In this blog I’d like try to discuss why this idea of viewing ourselves as a machine is a lot more natural and effective a notion about our “selves” than any previous egocentric notion about what we really are i.e. we were created by one or several Gods, in their own images to be special, etc… Certainly Dr Bruce Lipton’s analogy about us being a group of living cells which function within the confines of this body as a “community” of beings, each performing their own specific roles within the body’s mechanism i.e. just as governments regulate countries and their home economies, while police men arrest criminals, so do certain parts of the central nervous system function as regulators of heart rhythm and bodily temperature, while white blood cells kill of infections from ‘maliciously behaved’ bacteria… This idea of self-similarity within the patterns of Life that we see unfolding here on Earth across all scales and modes of Being will provide us with a very deep and intuitive understanding about the subtle and – what we tend to call – divine aspects of our Being, as well as showing us all how we interconnect and relate to this universally unfolding discourse..
Bearing in mind this ‘rule’ of self-similarity that seems to present itself within and throughout the whole of this universal dynamic so pervasively… And by viewing Life as a type of mechanisation… I am curious as to where – or from which level of scale – the emotive force of Life actually originates from? Is it at the level of the body i.e. does it directly and uniquely come from the sum of all its parts, where each individual part would be able to do nothing whatsoever by itself? Or is this trait of the emotive Life force buried deep down with in the cellular – or even the atomic – matrix? Certainly when we try to address what this experience of Life actually is and how it comes about we can hopefully begin to see it does not only belong to the body as a whole unit, but also comes from the various levels of functionality within the body i.e. at the cellular and atomic levels.
Just as Jung is concerned as much with the individual within society, as the individual is him/her “self” the measure of society, so too we can apply this analogy to the cell and body. Without the individual, society cannot function, let alone exist… And without the cell, the body cannot function or even exist. Life and its dynamism directly stems from the units that comprise the whole. These units, just as much as the whole, are all subject to the same forces and methods of development as each other i.e. those of nonlinear evolution. This ‘Life,’ and its essence, relies upon the parameters of these nonlinear, fractal eddies with their dynamics. These cellular bodies that make up our own larger bodies are driven by and made from the same underlying principles of naturally occurring algorithmic phenomena… Even though at first glance it might not be obvious that they are… But they are. Thus, if these algorithmic patterns reside across all levels of scale, shape and form, why shouldn’t we expect similar ‘intelligences’ to reside across all scales of these naturally occurring systems, whether at the human body’s level or a cellular level? Ultimately it’s up to you what you believe… But to function better I personally would like to know a little bit more about the processes that give rise this “I”; the processes that drive all of Life here on Earth – and possibly beyond too – rather than giving into dogmatic nodes of parrot fashioned understanding.
As Jung once wrote in “The Undiscoverd Self“:
Human knowledge consists essentially in the constant adaptation of the primordial patterns of ideas that were given us a priori. These need certain modifications, because, in their original form, they are suited to an archaic mode of life but not to the demands of a specifically differentiated environment. If the flow of instinctive dynamism into our life is to be maintained, as is absolutely necessary for our existence, then it is imperative that we remould these archetypal forms into ideas which are adequate to the challenge of the present.
. . . . . . . .
Our denominational religions with their archaic rites and conceptions – justified enough in themselves – express a view of the world which caused no great difficulties in the Middle Ages but has become strange and unintelligible to the man of today. Despite this conflict with the modern scientific outlook, a deep instinct bids him hang on to ideas which, if taken literally, leave out of account all the mental developments of the last five hundred years. The obvious purpose of this is to prevent him from falling into the abyss of nihilistic despair. But even when, a rationalists, we feel impelled to criticise contemporary religion as literalistic, narrowminded and obsolescent, we should never forget that the creeds proclaim a doctrine whose symbols, although their interpretation may be disputed, nevertheless possess a life of their own on account of their archetypal character. Consequently, intellectual understanding is by no means indispensable in all cases, but is called for only when evaluation through feeling and intuition does not suffice, that is to say, with people for whom the intellect holds the prime power of conviction.
In order to emphasise this re-equation that we need i.e. to understand that we are part of a whole ecosystem of Earth, just as a cell is part of the body’s ecosystem, it is here that I’d like to present an article which I read not too long ago in the New Scientist magazine… One that tackles this issue of where emotive Life comes from. When we see that Life’s organic flow resides across all levels of being i.e. atomic, cellular, bodily, biospherically, or even within the planet and its solar system, we might begin to understand that some of our older religious notions of the divine state of existence that We – that is, all Life – experience no longer need to be fantasised over or marginalised in any inaccurate way whatsoever. Now, through the doors of science, we can directly see the mechanisms of Life at work, and thus ‘understand’ the essence behind their patterns and interdependent interactions, all through which we gain the essence of our Being. Natural ordering comes from the patterns of chance and chaos, which give rise to development and originality within all universal systems, whether biological or otherwise. These systems, if given favourable circumstances/environments in which to start, can then begin the arduous process of developing into complex systems of environmentally perceptive and adaptive systems. Human beings are even beginning to use these recursive patterns – which have been called the “Thumb Print Of God” – in their technological developments i.e. to develop semi intelligent robotic systems that can learn fast and develop effective solutions to presented problems in ways that surpass anything we’ve tried or known before.
Thus, with these many new observations, I believe it is time to re-write our archetypal programming. Just as when I first saw the Mandelbrot Set on a postcard from a friend while at school and immediately recognised its tortuous, writhing flow as something so familiar and deeply ingrained in my being… So too do all ‘Gods’ leave this same feeling of familiarity… Of spirituality… And of deep connection to the whole… Here lies an answer to a new understanding… That self-similarity resides within all units of the whole… If you find intelligence within the body… Then why not within cell too… Or even in the atom… After all, one essence is usually found within the other, and so permeates through the entire being. Certainly atoms are just as discerning as human beings are… We all choose what we will or won’t react/socialise/breed with. Does this intelligence then go deeper? Intelligence that can be found within the proton, neutron and/or electron… And, if so, then why not even in the quark… Or the God particle…. Etc, etc, etc… ?
The Secrets Of Intelligence Lie Within A Single Cell
Late at night on a sultry evening, I watch intently as the predator senses its prey, gathers itself, and strikes. It could be a polecat, or even a mantis – but in fact it’s a microbe. The microscopic world of the single, living cell mirrors our own in so many ways: cells are essentially autonomous, sentient and ingenious. In the lives of single cells we can perceive the roots of our own intelligence.
Molecular biology and genetics have driven the biosciences, but have not given us the miraculous new insights we were led to expect. From professional biologists to schoolchildren, people are concentrating on the minutiae of what goes on in the deepest recesses of the cell. For me, however, this misses out on life in the round: it is only when we look at the living cell as a whole organism that wonderful realities emerge that will alter our perception not only of how single cells enact their intricate lives but what we humans truly are.
The problem is that whole-cell biology is not popular. Microscopy is hell-bent on increased resolution and ever higher magnification, as though we could learn more about animal behaviour by putting a bacon sandwich under lenses of increasing power. We know much about what goes on within parts of a cell, but so much less about how whole cells conduct their lives.
Currently, cell biology deals largely with the components within cells, and systems biology with how the components interact. There is nothing to counterbalance this reductionism with a focus on how whole cells behave. Molecular biology and genetics are the wrong sciences to tackle the task.
Let’s take a look at some of the evidence for ingenuity and intelligence in cells that is missing from the curriculum. Take the red algae Rhodophyta, in which many species carry out remarkable repairs to damaged cells. Cut a filament of Antithamnion cells so the cell is cut across and the cytoplasm escapes into the surrounding aquatic medium. All that remains are two fragments of empty, disrupted cell wall lying adjacent to, but separate from, each other. Within 24 hours, however, the adjacent cells have made good the damage, the empty cell space has been restored to full activity, and the cell walls meticulously realigned and seamlessly repaired.
The only place where this can happen is in the lab. In nature, the broken ends of the severed cell would nearly always end up remote from each other, so selection in favour of an automatic repair mechanism through Darwinian evolution would be impossible. Yet something amazing is happening here: because the damage to the Antithamnion filament is unforeseeable, the organism faces a situation for which it has not been able to adapt, and is therefore unable to call upon inbuilt responses. It has to use some sort of problem-solving ingenuity instead.
We regard amoebas as simple and crude. Yet many types of amoeba construct glassy shells by picking up sand grains from the mud in which they live. The typical Difflugia shell, for example, is shaped like a vase, and has a remarkable symmetry.
Compare this with the better known behaviour of a caddis fly larva. This maggot hunts around the bottom of the pond for suitable scraps of detritus with which to construct a home. Waterlogged wood is cemented together with pondweed until the larva has formed a protective covering for its nakedness. You might think this comparable to the home built by the testate amoeba, yet the amoeba lacks the jaws, eyes, muscles, limbs, cement glands and brain the caddis fly larva relies on for its skills. We just don’t know how this single-celled organism builds its shell, and molecular biology can never tell us why. While the home of the caddis fly larva is crude and roughly assembled, that of the testate amoeba is meticulously crafted – and it’s all made by a single cell.
The products of the caddis fly larva and the amoeba, and the powers of red algae, are about more than ingenuity: they pose important questions about cell intelligence. After all, whole living cells are primarily autonomous, and carry out their daily tasks with little external mediation. They are not subservient nanobots, they create and regulate activity, respond to current conditions and, crucially, take decisions to deal with unforeseen difficulties.
“Whole living cells are not subservient nanobots, they respond and take decisions”
Just how far this conceptual revolution about cells could take us becomes clearer with more complex animals, such as humans. Here, conventional wisdom is that everything is ultimately controlled by the brain. But cells in the liver, for example, reproduce at just the right rate to replace cells lost through attrition; follicular cells create new hair; bone marrow cells produce new circulating blood cells at a rate of millions per minute. And so on and on. In fact, around 90 per cent of this kind of cell activity is invisible to the brain, and the cells are indifferent to its actions. The brain is an irrelevance to most somatic cells.
So where does that leave the neuron, the most highly evolved cell we know? It ought to be in an interesting and privileged place. After all, neurons are so specialised that they have virtually abandoned division and reproduction. Yet we model this cell as little more than an organic transistor, an on/off switch. But if a red alga can “work out” how to solve problems, or an amoeba construct a stone home with all the “ingenuity” of a master builder, how can the human neuron be so lowly?
Unravelling brain structure and function has come to mean understanding the interrelationship between neurons, rather than understanding the neurons themselves. My hunch is that the brain’s power will turn out to derive from data processing within the neuron rather than activity between neurons. And networks of neurons enhance the effect of those neurons “thinking” between themselves. I think the neuron’s action potentials are rather like a language neurons use to transmit processed data from one to the next.
Back in 2004, we set out to record these potentials, from neurons cultured in the lab. They emit electrical signals of around 40 hertz, which sound like a buzzing, irritating noise played back as audio files. I used some specialist software to distinguish the signal within the noise – and to produce sound from within each peak that is closer to the frequency of a human voice and therefore more revealing to the ear.
Listening to the results reprocessed at around 300 Hz, the audio files have the hypnotic quality of sea birds calling. There is a sense that each spike is modulated subtly within itself, and it sounds as if there are discrete signals in which one neuron in some sense “addresses” another. Could we be eavesdropping on the language of the brain?
For me, the brain is not a supercomputer in which the neurons are transistors; rather it is as if each individual neuron is itself a computer, and the brain a vast community of microscopic computers. But even this model is probably too simplistic since the neuron processes data flexibly and on disparate levels, and is therefore far superior to any digital system. If I am right, the human brain may be a trillion times more capable than we imagine, and “artificial intelligence” a grandiose misnomer.
I think it is time to acknowledge fully that living cells make us what we are, and to abandon reductionist thinking in favour of the study of whole cells. Reductionism has us peering ever closer at the fibres in the paper of a musical score, and analysing the printer’s ink. I want us to experience the symphony.
by Brian J. Ford
Despite the authors final sentiments, I still feel that this reductionism does provide us with certain, otherwise unobtainable, clarities for understanding the similarities between the processes within and without… After all, one needs to know how to make paper and ink, and understand something about the musical scoring technique before they can write a symphony down for the future enjoyment of others…
To find out where I sourced this article from, please click here.
And to learn more about Dr Bruce Lipton and some of the brilliant work he is doing, please click here.
July 20, 2010
Just the other day I was going up to London on the train to see Dr Bruce Lipton give a lecture on “The Biology Of Belief.” While travelling up on the rather modern – and very quite – locomotive, I couldn’t help but notice a strange and somewhat perplexing phenomena occurring.
Basically I was gazing out of the window, watching the world pass by, as we effortlessly glided over the steal railings sturdily laid on the track below this hurtling juggernaut. Big beautiful corrugated clouds passed languidly overhead, set against the summer azure and vibrant green hues of sky and English country side. The variance of relative speed which was bestowed upon the objects closer to myself whisking by, while the more distant ones slowed down in a tapering fashion as they reached out towards the distant horizon. Raised slightly above the landscape upon the elevated foundations of the track, I had the momentary impression that I was dashing swiftly over the English country side in a fighter jet, prowling lowly over the earth’s topography to avoid any radar detection. Then “SWOOSH!” would go by another train, jolting me back into my bodily awareness. Minutes of peace, followed by sudden momentary tension, followed by peace again… All the while this movement behind the speeding train’s visual panoply ingrained itself inconspicuously in my neural net… Until we’d slow down for the next train station.
It was during these stops at the station that I noticed a curious phenomena occurring regarding the train’s ‘standing.’ I first noticed it at Tonbridge station. When the train had come to a complete stop, I gazed at one stationary traveller who was waiting for another train to arrive. She seemed to be engrossed in a book of some sort… However, she possessed an amazingly calm demeanour in the throng of station jostle, one that I found to be exceptionally engrossing and somewhat soothing in comparison to the past rush of country side imagery. While gazing at her, I noticed that the train felt like it was moving backwards slightly. However, observing the weekend revellers clambering through the open doors behind and in front of me, blasé to this ‘obvious’ point, I then remembering the strict rules that all railway companies adhered to i.e. making sure that all trains have come to a complete stand still before allowing passengers to embark. So I knew this couldn’t be the case… Well, only unless the station master was severely negligent of his duties… And perhaps the train driver hadn’t applied the brakes properly… !?
So I lined up a speck of dirt soiled to the window and held my head steady as I pin-pointed its position on an external cable, running from floor to ceiling, on the station wall. This, I hoped, would allow me to see if any horizontal movement was actually occurring or not. But the speck remained fixedly over the cable. Still, the sensation that we were moving backwards was overwhelming. Certainly none of the passengers boarding the train seemed to mind this insubstantial backward glide. “So,” I thought, “why should I?” And off we went once again, rushing over the earth towards the next station at Hildenborough.
Trees darted in front of my field of vision, breaking up the gloriously sun lit country side behind them into speckled fragments of green pastures and lubricious skies. Again I became transfixed on this imagery… And to be fair, it wasn’t any wonder why… Having been stuck in front of a computer screen most of the past week, this new window on the world enticed my visual cortex with a appeasing pattern that was as mesmerising and primal as the dancing flames of a night fire. Onwards we all hurtled, speeding towards the city limits, lost in the steady flow of time’s passage and the world’s movement.
Slowly we pulled into Hildenborough, greeted with the gleeful smiles and colourful attires of those patiently waiting for the future promise at the end of the line… Here a marvellous oak caught my attention, as its boughs swayed steadily in the light warm breeze, smattering the sun’s light that was breaking through it’s branches into a shimmering display of green and golden warmth. As might eyes rested on this delight, I again had the distinct impression that the train was moving backwards on the lines. This time feeling slightly apathetic towards this sensation and the effect it might have on boarding passengers, I aligned up the same window speck with another external object. And low an behold… The train was not moving in the slightest. In fact, as a young girl sat down next to me, I nodded in greeting and asked her if it felt like the train was moving. To which she placed her baggage overhead in the racks, sat down and proceeded to look out of the windows for a reference. After several moments, she replied that we were “very stationary” and smiled, saying that I probably had “motion residue” from the previous journey.
Motion residue… Wow! I had never heard of it before. And then I remembered all those times I had been on fair ground rides that span one round and round and round. Disembarking from these amusements, the ride attendant would always urge everyone to watch their step as the walked down the steps to a sure footing on solid ground. For moments afterwards the world would spinning slightly, and usually in the other direction to the way the ride was geared. Even spinning around on the spot, swirling faster and faster into a dizzying rush of blurred movement, could induce a similar effect. So I replied to the girl, “What… You mean like the effect one gets after spinning on the spot?” To which she replied, “Exactly!” And then told me about her experience of how the ground wobbled while standing on the shores of France having just ridden across the English Channel in a small boat during a Force 8.
At every stop there after we looked at stationary objects and noted with joyful presence the degree to which the train seemed like it was moving. We even had a little lad of not more than 10, who was sitting in front of us, join in our game.
This got me thinking once again about illusions and how we, as human beings, are so prone to perceiving things that are not really happening. And upon my return home, I looked up this phenomena and came across the following article in Scientific American.
Using aftereffects to probe visual function reveals how the eye and brain handle colors and contours.
Although our perception of the world seems effortless and instantaneous, it actually involves considerable image processing, as we have noted in many of our previous columns. Curiously enough, much of the current scientific understanding of that process is based on the study of visual illusions.
Analysis and resolution of an image into distinct features begin at the earliest stages of visual processing. This was discovered in cats and monkeys by a number of techniques, the most straightforward of which was to use tiny needles—microelectrodes—to pick up electrical signals from cells in the retina and the areas of the brain associated with vision (of which there are nearly 30). By presenting various visual targets to monitored animals, investigators learned that cells in early-processing brain areas are each sensitive mainly to changes in just one visual parameter, not to others. For instance, in the primary visual cortex (V1, also called area 17), the main feature extracted is the orientation of edges. In the area known as V4 in the temporal lobes, cells react to color (or, strictly speaking, to wavelengths of light, with different cells responding to different wavelengths). Cells in the area called MT are mainly interested in direction of movement.
One characteristic of these cells that may seem surprising is that their activity when stimulated is not constant. A neuron that responds to red, for instance, will initially fire vigorously but taper off over time as it adapts, or “fatigues,” from steady exposure. Although part of this adaptation may result from depletion of neurotransmitters, it also likely reflects the evolutionary logic that the goal of the cell is to signal change rather than a steady state (that is, if nothing changes, there is literally nothing for the cell to get excited about).
How do we know that such cells also exist in humans? Simply put, we descended from apelike ancestors, and there is no reason why we would have lost those cells during evolution. But we can also infer the existence (and properties) of feature-detecting cells in humans from the results of psychological experiments in which the short-term viewing of one pattern very specifically alters the perception of a subsequently viewed pattern.
For example, if you watch a waterfall for a minute and then transfer your gaze to the grass on the ground below, the grass will seem to move uphill. This illusion occurs because the brain normally interprets motion in a scene from the ratio of activity among cells responding to different directions of movement. (Similarly, the wide range of hues you see on the screen of your television set is based on the relative activity of tiny dots reflecting just three colors—red, green and blue.) By gazing at the waterfall, you fatigue the cells for downward movement; when you then look at a stationary image, the higher baseline of activity in the upward-motion cells results in a ratio that is interpreted as the grass going up. The illusion implies that the human brain must have such feature-detecting cells because of the general dictum that “if you can fatigue it, it must be there.” (This is only a rule of thumb. One of us “adapted” to the dreadful climate and food in England, but there are no “weather cells” or “food-quality cells” in his brain.)
The waterfall effect (or motion aftereffect, as it is also known) was first noted by Aristotle. Unfortunately, as pointed out by 20th-century philosopher Bertrand Russell, Aristotle was a good observer but a poor experimenter, allowing his preconceived notions to influence his observations. He believed, erroneously, that the motion aftereffect was a form of visual inertia, a tendency to continue seeing things move in the same direction because of the inertia of some physical movement stimulated in the brain. He assumed, therefore, that the grass would seem to move downward as well—as if to continue to mimic the movement of the waterfall! If only he had spent a few minutes observing and comparing the apparent movements of the waterfall and the grass, he would not have made the mistake—but experiments were not his forte. (He also proclaimed that women have fewer teeth than men, never having bothered to count Mrs. Aristotle’s teeth.)
The principle of motion adaptation isn’t all that different from the one illustrated by the color aftereffect. Stare at the fixation spot in ‘a’ between the two vertically aligned squares—the top one red, the bottom one green. After a min ute, look at the blank gray screen in ‘b.’ You should see a ghostly bluish-green square where the red used to fall in your visual field and a reddish square where the green used to be. The effect is especially powerful if you blink your eyes.
This color-adaptation aftereffect occurs mainly in the retina. The eye has three receptor pigments–for red, green and blue—each of which is optimally (but not exclusively) excited by one wavelength. Light that contains all wavelengths and thereby stimulates all three receptors equally yields a ratio that the brain interprets as white. If your red color receptors become fatigued from staring at a red square, then when you look at a field of white or light gray, the ratio of activation shifts in favor of greenish blue, which is what you see.
Orientation adaptation, discovered by Colin Blakemore, then at the University of Cambridge, is another striking example of this phenomenon, except that (like the waterfall effect) it occurs in the brain, not the eye. Stare at the anticlockwise-tilted lines in ‘c’ for a minute (while moving fixation within the central disk) and then transfer your gaze to the vertical lines in ‘d.’ You will be startled to find the vertical lines tilted in the opposite direction, clockwise. This perception allows the inference that orientation-specific cells do exist in the human brain: the adaptation to tilt “tilts” the balance of activity among the orientation-specific neurons, favoring those that are attuned to the opposite, clockwise direction.
Even more exciting was Celeste McCollough’s discovery during the early 1960s, while on sabbatical from Oberlin College, of “double duty” cells in humans. Her experiments showed that in addition to cells that respond specifically to a color or an orientation, there are cells that respond only to a line that is both tilted and colored appropriately (that is, a cell for “red line tilted 45 degrees clockwise” or for “green line tilted 10 degrees anticlockwise,” and so on).
Look at ‘e’ (horizontal black and red bars) for 10 seconds, moving your eyes around the central fixation (don’t keep staring just at the fixation) and then at ‘f’ (vertical green and black bars) for 10 seconds. Alternate between them about 10 times each. By doing so, you tire all the color receptors in your retina about equally. If you then look at white paper, you see white—no colors. But an astonishing thing happens if you look at ‘g’ and ‘h,’ which consist of black and white horizontal or vertical bars. (Move your eyes back and forth betweeen them.) The white horizontal lines now look tinged green and the vertical ones red! The effect is even more striking if you look at the patchwork quilt (‘i’).
Why does this happen? The McCollough effect suggests that subsequent to the retinal processing, some cells in the brain’s visual pathway extract two features along independent dimensions simultaneously. For simplicity, assume there are just four types of these cells: red-vertical, green-vertical, red-horizontal and green-horizontal. Because ‘e’ fatigues only the red-horizontal cells, you are left with nonfatigued green-horizontal cells, which are then relatively active when you look at white horizontal stripes. Consequently, the white horizontal stripes look greenish; ‘f’ has the reverse effect on the cells: because green-vertical cells have been selectively adapted, white vertical stripes now appear reddish. But none of these aftereffects occurs when you look at blank white paper because your eye movements ensure that all color receptors are equally stimulated on the retina, whereas cortical cells that have an orientation specificity are not stimulated.
Therefore, with a 10-minute experiment, we have shown the existence of neurons in the brain that require the joint presence of a specific color and orientation to fire. The adaptation effects that result from fatiguing them are called contingent aftereffects. The McCollough effect is an orientation-contingent color aftereffect.
A peculiar aspect of the McCollough effect is that once it has been generated in your brain, it can survive for a long period. Look again next week, and the stripes may very well continue to look red- or green-tinged. (The strength of the aftereffect normally ebbs gradually over time, unless you are submerged in darkness, in which case it endures undiminished!) It has therefore been suggested that contingent aftereffects have more in common with memory and learning than with purely visual adaptation. It is as though during the initial adaptation (or exposure) phase, the brain were saying, “Every time I see horizontal stripes, there’s too much red in the world, so let’s pay less attention to red. Whereas every time I see vertical stripes, I see too much green. So let me damp down the green when I am shown vertical white stripes and damp down red when I see horizontal white.” (In the same way, your brain says, “Any time I set foot into the hot tub, it’s hot, so let me recalibrate my temperature judgment accordingly. I’ll expect it to be hot and won’t withdraw my foot in surprise.”)
It has been shown that certain drugs (including caffeine) can enhance the persistence of the McCollough effect. The phenomenon deserves further study as a way of approaching the neurochemistry of perceptual mechanisms. Visual aftereffects may thus give us insights not only into the neural channels that mediate perception but also into the neural—and possibly pharmacological—basis of memory and learning.
By Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Diane Rogers-Ramachandran
No doubt other illusions use similar effect with regards to the colour receptors in the eye…
It still amazes me just how easily this body of ours can be deceived, so as to perceive and deduce one fact, while ‘really’ something rather different is actually happening. !?!?
To find out where I sourced this article from, please click here.
July 6, 2010
So can simply a sense of touch actually influence our decisions in the everyday world!?!? I mean, if you’re touching something nice and fluffy, like a fluffy teddy bear holding a big heart, while making a decision about going to war with a nation of people who apparently blew up your “World Trade Centre…” Could this ‘fluffiness’ actually make you choose a softer route of attack? Like… Could it make you donate loads of money to your ‘enemies’ for better education and health services in their region, and thus promote a healthy relationship, rather than fuelling an already raging fire with more bombs and death? Are we really that sensitive to external sensory stimulus!?
No doubt our sensitivity to all external stimuli while we make everyday choices in the world around us has been discussed before here… We’ve even discussed how we let advertisers into our heads… I’ve even tried to show how unaware we are of external influences, espeically when making decisions about our conduct after having been exposed to “power” related stimuli, such as money!?!? I know… It’s mad. Perhaps Al Qaeda would be better sending all their “fluffy” toys to The Pentagon rather than envelopes containing anthrax OR threats about bombing cities, etc… to influence the powers of the mighty US of A. Obviously fighting fire with fire isn’t going to make things any cooler.
And here again, in a great little New Scientist article, we can see how we might be unwittingly influenced into making opinions based on our present circumstances, rather than providing unbiased sentiments solely from a detached and informed perspective.
ARE you sitting comfortably? It could affect your impression of this story. So say researchers who have shown that tactile sensations can influence the judgements we make in everyday situations.
Joshua Ackerman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues ran six tests on people in the street, to see whether the objects they were touching could influence judgements and decision-making.
In one test, passers-by were asked to judge a job candidate by looking at their résumé. Half were given the résumé on a heavy clipboard, the rest were handed it on a light clipboard. When asked to rate the seriousness of the candidate on a scale of 1 to 9, those with the heavy clipboard judged the candidate as more serious than those with the light (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1189993).
In another task, volunteers who sat on a hard seat were less willing to change their price in a hypothetical car purchase than those sitting in a soft seat.
The authors suggest that our use of tactile concepts in metaphors that relate to behaviour, such as having a “rough” day or being “solid” as a rock, might influence our judgement: touching similar textures reminds us of their linguistic links to behaviour.
To find out where I sourced this article from, please click here.
July 5, 2010
What can I say… Too much XAOS and a funny five minutes gave rise to these two little oddities.
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If you’d like to learn more about the M-Set and why our world is a fractal world, then please click here.
OR if you’d like to learn more about nonlinear dynamical systems, please read James Gleick’s “Chaos: The Making Of A New Science.” The first three people to E-mail me by clicking here will receive a free copy of the book! Just remember to enter the address you’d like the book to be delivered to…
July 4, 2010
Enter the cavern with its
Walls of tangled strands.
Find the living flame
That burns on blood.
The brain is a physical object that generates mental energy. It is a tangle of strands, an unknowable, dense web. It is a mass of emotions, memories, instincts, reactions, and thoughts. Whatever comes into its scope of awareness is channeled through its dark core. Energy sparks through at speeds faster than lightening, but still, there are many areas that lie dormant, unused, nearly petrified with age.
With the proper methods, we can enter into the centre of the brain. Metaphorically speaking, this area is like a cavern with a subterranean river running through it. That river can be kindled with a spiritual spark, and the whole river can be set aflame. This illumination is spiritual energy. It can be used to rejuvenate the brain and to supplement the limitations of our normal mental abilities.
Methods that deal with the mind only as a brain will always be limited. Coping with life only through physical faculties will always fall short of the ultimate answers. Only through lighting a living fire within ourselves can we dance quickly and spontaneously enough to meet the rhythm of life.