Sunday, October 30, 2005

Skullmates: More on Split Brain Consciousness

There is a huge bundle on nerves connecting the right and left hemispheres of the brain and cutting it was a technique used to control otherwise intractable seizures. Does the patient end up with two independent conscious entities inside his/her skull? ("skullmates").

A study from 1977 examined this issue when it asked questions to the left and right hemisphere independently and compared the answers. This can be done by asking written questions, and flashing them in either the left or right visual field.. from which they travel to the opposite hemisphere.
It turns out that the right hemisphere was in "a bad mood" on one occasion. Also, it liked "Dope" more, and wanted to be a "Car racer"- whereas the boring Left Hemisphere wanted to be a "Draughtsman".
Another more recent article suggests that although the 2 hemispheres cannot communicate directly, and are unaware of each other- they can share/integrate information via deeper brain structures..

Ask Your Local Philosopher

There is a great website called "Ask Philosophers" where you can post your deep questions and a real philosopher (or 2) will answer it. This is the question i asked a few weeks ago in the "Mind" section:
Who is the "I" that is "in control"? I read that in split-brain patients (post lesion of corpus callosum), instructions given in the left visual field - and therefore processed in the right hemisphere - are interpreted by the fluent left hemisphere as being of its own design. If the instruction says "Stand Up", the patient stands up but claims "I decided to stand up" or "I was getting uncomfortable so I stood up". Therefore is the "I" a cheerleader rather than an active player? Should one think of "oneself" as a plurality of agents? Thanks, Real Mensch

Accepted: October 10, 2005 asks: Response from Louise Antony on October 29, 2005
The question of the unity of the self is one that has engaged the attention of a lot of philosophers, particularly in light of phenomena such as the ones you cite. Advances in techniques for investigating the brain have also stimulated philosophical interest. This is all by way of stalling, because, in fact, the question you ask is devilishly difficult and I don't think anyone knows the answer.
Some philosophers have interpreted the split-brain data as showing that there are always at least two seats of consciousness, one in each hemisphere, but that normal conditions make the two "selves" so well-coordinated that there is no evidence of the division. (And the fact that one self gets to do all the talking means that introspection is largely under the control of the left "self.") Other philosophers think that consciousness is unified in normal people, but "splits" if and when the corpus callosum is cut. I find this less plausible than the first position, since it entails either that the original person ceases to exist, or that a second wholly new person comes into existence. Still other philosophers (like Charles Marks) believe that there is only one person in split-brain cases, but that this one person sometimes suffers disunities of consciousness. For an extensive bibliography of philosophical work on this topic, check out philosopher Dave Chalmers's most excellent listing of work in the philosophy of mind. Here are two pages on split-brain research:
You might also be interested to know that at least one philosopher has found other reasons than split-brain phenomena to challenge the unity of consciousness. Dan Dennett has famously (infamously) argued that unified consciousness is an illusion -- according to his "multiple drafts" model of consciousness, our mind is a complex of functional parts that respond in various ways to various stimuli. One kind of response involves the development of a "narrative" that unites some or many of these responses into a coherent story; that's what primarily gives rise to our feeling of having a unified self. See his book, Consciousness Explained.

Existential Depression
The meaning of life- searching for it- you are.. Hmmm
There is no meaning to life and you'd better deal with it! The point of the brain is to enable the body to survive until reproduction.. at least for the male! (Existential depression is just a by-product).
For the female mammal, who must feed her offspring (rather than eat it or leave it to die)-it it critical to fall in love (probably mostly mediated bia prolactin release). Men 'love' for the same reason we have nipples- the function is useful in the female.
When you fall in love with your partner, your child etc- you feel as if you have discovered the meaning of life. You haven't... but enjoy it anyway.
Also, alcohol helps.
Questions for class discussion:
1.Were existentialists just depressed intellectuals?
2.Has anyone read Sartre's "Nausea" without being bored stupid?
3. If JP wasn't cross-eyed and ugly, would he have been a happy nobody?
The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook
by Marty Smith, Portland
We have been lucky to discover several previously lost diaries of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre stuck in between the cushions of our office sofa. These diaries reveal a young Sartre obsessed not with the void, but with food. Apparently Sartre, before discovering philosophy, had hoped to write "a cookbook that will put to rest all notions of flavor forever." The diaries are excerpted here for your perusal.
October 3: Spoke with Camus today about my cookbook. Though he has never actually eaten, he gave me much encouragement. I rushed home immediately to begin work. How excited I am! I have begun my formula for a Denver omelet.
October 4: Still working on the omelet. There have been stumbling blocks. I keep creating omelets one after another, like soldiers marching into the sea, but each one seems empty, hollow, like stone. I want to create an omelet that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead they taste like cheese. I look at them on the plate, but they do not look back. Tried eating them with the lights off. It did not help. Malraux suggested paprika.
October 6: I have realized that the traditional omelet form (eggs and cheese) is bourgeois. Today I tried making one out of cigarette, some coffee, and four tiny stones. I fed it to Malraux, who puked. I am encouraged, but my journey is still long.
October 10: I find myself trying ever more radical interpretations of traditional dishes, in an effort to somehow express the void I feel so acutely. Today I tried this recipe:
Tuna Casserole
Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish
Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light.
While a void is expressed in this recipe, I am struck by its inapplicability to the bourgeois lifestyle. How can the eater recognize that the food denied him is a tuna casserole and not some other dish? I am becoming more and more frustated.
October 25: I have been forced to abandon the project of producing an entire cookbook. Rather, I now seek a single recipe which will, by itself, embody the plight of man in a world ruled by an unfeeling God, as well as providing the eater with at least one ingredient from each of the four basic food groups. To this end, I purchased six hundred pounds of foodstuffs from the corner grocery and locked myself in the kitchen, refusing to admit anyone. After several weeks of work, I produced a recipe calling for two eggs, half a cup of flour, four tons of beef, and a leek. While this is a start, I am afraid I still have much work ahead.
November 15: Today I made a Black Forest cake out of five pounds of cherries and a live beaver, challenging the very definition of the word cake. I was very pleased. Malraux said he admired it greatly, but could not stay for dessert. Still, I feel that this may be my most profound achievement yet, and have resolved to enter it in the Betty Crocker Bake-Off.
November 30: Today was the day of the Bake-Off. Alas, things did not go as I had hoped. During the judging, the beaver became agitated and bit Betty Crocker on the wrist. The beaver's powerful jaws are capable of felling blue spruce in less than ten minutes and proved, needless to say, more than a match for the tender limbs of America's favorite homemaker. I only got third place. Moreover, I am now the subject of a rather nasty lawsuit.
December 1: I have been gaining twenty-five pounds a week for two months, and I am now experiencing light tides. It is stupid to be so fat. My pain and ultimate solitude are still as authentic as they were when I was thin, but seem to impress girls far less. From now on, I will live on cigarettes and black coffee.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Illusion of the "Present"- Liquid Sculpture

Liquid Sculpture - Fine art photography of drops and splashes, (c) 2007 Martin Waugh
1/10,000th of a second... still contains an infinity of time... and therefore this image is still a dirty "smudge" rather than a clean slice through time.

How can one thing lead to another when...
The past has already happened
The future does not exist
The present is an infinitessimally thin slice of time... too thin for anything to actually happen in. *

Maybe this is just a re-statement of Zeno's paradox of motion?

On a deep physical level there is something 'fishy' about the idea of the 'present'.
According to my limited understanding of relativity ... 2 observers moving in different directions cannot agree on the timing of an event- thus 'synchronicity' is an illusion. The universe 'squeezes' or 'dilates' time, space, mass so that the speed of light is constant- no matter what you're doing or where you are. Clocks tick more slowly on a plane than in a car. Therefore- (very new age) - we (and every point in the universe) all have our own individual 'presents'.
What would time feel like on a quantum scale? Who knows? (really- who actually knows?- if you know email me!). Maybe our idea of macro-time is an 'emergent property' of something quite different happening at the quantum level. Maybe it's all an illusion.
Whatever clock is or isn't ticking away in the physical universe- it makes sense that our primate (primative?) sense if time is limited from seconds to decades. Why should our brains have evolved to comprehend the cosmological or the quantum time scales? Perhaps this is why people have such trouble accepting natural selection- which requires time-scales people are just not used to understanding on an intuitive level.
Our brains perceive the present through different 'lag' times of different senses... lightning before thunder etc.. presumably a stubbed toe hurts sooner if you are shorter! Our biological present is necessarily a composite.
*having done some further reading i am very proud to announce that St Augustine had the same idea as me! Apparently this view is called "presentism" - the belief that the future and the past do not exist.

Hacking the Retina

"Being, just being. Feeling my sight clouded by these eyes, my hearing muffled by these ears, and my thoughts, my bright, airy thoughts trapped in the labyrinth of coiled fat."

-from August Strindberg: A Dream Play. (...he looks like Johnny Depp?!)

To ask "what is it like to see through eyes, hear through ears, and think through a brain?" invites the question "Is there any other way?". We "see" and think it is reality. Optical illusions allow us to "hack" our own retina (or visual cortex)- and expose its mechanisms. Check out "mindhacks"... both book and blog and incredible optical illusions from Prof Michael Bach.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


"Personality" and "Memory" can obviously be altered by disease states... and by less extreme events such as adolescence,'personal growth' etc. How, therefore, can either be a component of the Theist's idea of "Soul"?Perhaps when you die you will become a disembodied version of "you" but without recollection of your previous life, and without your personality. Hmmm... perplexing.

Interactica: for Surfettes

This is the BEST website for kids aged 2-3. It's completely intuitive, without written instructions so young children can learn to navigate the site by themselves. Check out the Escher in the Turner Gallery!

Eric Satie- Magritte's Bowlered Man?

Poor crazy Eric- he died a hermit - lived his last 25yrs in a tomb-like room with his umbrella collection and 7 velvet suits from his "velvet gentleman" period. (I think i may be on the verge of my next "velvet gentleman" period).... but what amazing music!
"Following a rather short adolescence, I became an ordinary young man, tolerable but no more. At that moment in my life I began to think and to write music. Oh yes.Wretched idea!... very wretched idea!It certainly was, for I lost no time in developing an unpleasant (original) originality, irrelevant, anti-French, unnatural, etc...Then life became so impossible for me that I resolved to retire to my estates and pass the rest of my days in an ivory tower - or one of some other (metallic) metal.That is why I acquired a taste for misanthropy; why I nurtured hypochondria; why I became the most (leaden-like) miserable of men. It distressed people to look at me - even through hall-marked gold eye-glasses. Oh yes.And all this happened to me because of music. That art has done me more harm that good, really: it has made me quarrel with people of quality, most honourable, more-than-distinguished, terribly genteel people.Let us pass on. I shall come back to this subject later." ES

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe? by Simon Conway Morris

At least we'll always have each other. Having read Richard Dawkins, we all know that evolution is driven by 'random' chance mutations - but that individuals live or die for particular non-random reasons.
Random mutations are the engine of the evolutionary car... but it is steered into one of an infinite number of ecological garages. The history of the human race is dependent more on accident of history than on anything that could be scientifically analysed. To paraphrase:"..go back 1 million years and move a single primate 2 feet to the left ..."
According to Morris, however, convergent evolution indicates that some phenotypes are more 'likely' than others (the eye has evolved independently 6 times).
Perhaps 'intelligence' is a predictable outcome? ... but i'm not sure if i'm any happier knowing i'm an inevitable outcome of the universe rather than a random blip in it.
Well done Simon Conway Morris for a great and awe-inspiring book!

Great website... groovy furniture.. but obviously some people have trouble throwing things out and need a support group to "declutter"!!! Just CHUCK IT IN THE BIN!

Two Four Six Eight Rasterbate?
This amazing website lets you upload an image, converts it into a pdf file for you to print out on A4 pages- you then need to reassemble to make your own massive poster.... great for parties or communist party tea rooms or just for the plain egotistical! tip: don't muck up the order of the pages otherwise it turns into a boring jigsaw puzzle. The word "Raster" comes from the German meaning "To Rake".. and refers somehow to the parallel grid pattern used to digitize images- or something.

Relativity for the relatively stupid

Great website from the University of New South Wales - excellent intro to relativity that doesn't require too much brain power to comprehend. What i don't get is why the speed of light has to be constant in the first place...? (although i understand it is actually slowing down as the universe gets older- aren't we all). I have been mystified by the "constants of nature" since high school physics... what if G, E etc were different? Would we be here to blog about it? The anthropic principle seems to me a bit of a cop out!
comments anyone?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

"Your children are not your children- they come through you but not from you" Kahlil Gibran
"If my children aren't my children- then why do i have to change their fucking nappies? (diapers).. and will i still have to pay school fees?" RM

2005 AD


Mensch (Yiddish מענטש; also mentsch, mentsh, mensh, or mench, plural - mentchen) is a
German noun meaning a "human".
Yiddish (from which the word has migrated into American English), mensch roughly means "a good person". A mensch is a particularly good person, like "a stand-up guy," a person with the qualities one would hope for in a dear friend or trusted colleague. According to author and Yiddish popularist Leo Rosten,
[a] mensch is a someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being "a real mensch" is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous. (Rosten, Leo. 1968.
The Joys of Yiddish. New York: Pocket Books. 237)