This ultra time-lapse simulation of tectonic drift shows how dynamic our planet is. The clip portrays the most recent 400 million-year geological history of the continents of Earth, and a prediction of its next 250 million years.
A novel theory explains why the brain craves information and seeks it throught the senses
(Illustration above: Droodles illustrate the notion that the pleasure of a visual pattern depends on its interpretability. By itself, a droodle is a simple pattern that does not elicit much of a response, but reading the droodle’s caption makes it amusing because the reader activates associations that reconcile what is otherwise a meaningless pattern. Captions for these droodles by artist Roger Price might read as follows: a, four elephants sniffing an orange; b, an early bird catching a very strong worm; and c, a man in a mailbox signaling a left turn. (Tallfellow Press))
„Human beings are designed to be „infovores”. It’s a craving that begins with a simple preference for certain types of stimuli, then proceeds to more sophisticated levels of perception and cognition that draw on associations the brain makes with previous experiences. (…)
The infovore system is designed to maximize the rate at which people acquire knowledge under conditions where there may be no immediate need for information. (…) Even if there is no direct use of the new information, there is, in evolutionary terms, adaptive value to its acquisition. (…) If infovore behavior is so valuable to our species, one would expect the brain to have cellular and molecular mechanisms that encourage the acquisition of information. (…)
There is ample evidence that the brain is wired for pleasure. Indeed, human beings have been searching for chemical substances to stimulate these neural systems for thousands of years. Among the most rewarding substances ever discovered are compounds derived from opium poppy. (…) opiates target certain molecular receptors located on the surfaces of brain cells. When opiates bind to these ipioid receptors, they modulate the activity of the cells. (…) Mu-opioid receptors are generally localized to parts of the central nervous system that are implicated in the modulation of pain and reward. (…)
Why would a mechanism that’s involved in reducing pain and providing reward be associated with a system concerned with processing visual information? Furthermore, why is the greatest density of receptors found in the parahippocampal cortex, a so-called association area? We think that the muopioid receptors are the key to the pleasures we derive from acquiring new information. (…)
Our preliminary work suggest that the quest for knowledge can never be sated – as long as mu-opioid receptors remain unbound in the human brain.” ”—Irving Biederman & E.A. Vessel, Perceptual Pleasure and the Brain (pdf), American Scientist, Volume 94, 2006.
William Blake, “I Want! I Want!” 1793, Engraving, Butlin 201 40
“By the 1790s, even the most romantically inclined philosophers no longer believed there was a man in the moon. Yet William Blake, with his characteristic combination of unfettered imagination and irrepressible logic, simply surmised that he must have had a very long ladder.
I Want! I Want! is the title of a small etching Blake produced at the height of the French revolutionary terror. A tiny, anonymous figure stands poised on the first rung of a celestial ladder, lodged like a giant toothpick in the smiling crescent moon. It is a devastatingly simple metaphor for the destructive ambition that grows out of humankind’s capacity to dream. The etching is used here as a striking frontispiece for an exhibition in which nine contemporary artists construct their own utopias.”
“Alberti’s window was a conceptual method for renaissance artists to understand perspective (“fenestra aperta”, the “window to the outside”), which has since become internalised within visual (and consequently social) culture.
3D rendering uses more or less the same idea to create its perspective model. In realtime 3D, it gets weird because although the supposed agency of the avatar puts the user “in” the scene, the 3D itself is still being rendered onto a 2D plane at which the user is gazing. Gazing at a scene, always framed, that includes a representation of the user that actually occludes some of the scene from the vision of the user. How can it be possible that a representation of myself is blocking my self’s vision?
Is an avatar to be seen as some kind of remote, abstracted, version of a big nose in real life, a nose that constantly blocks the lower mid portion of my vision? Can’t be, since the big nose still plays it’s disrupting role when gazing at my avatar in a realtime 3D scene via a 2D screen. How can a user be “in” a scene while simultaneously gazing at the scene from the outside? This is the dilemma that 90s style VR tried to overcome with clumsy head-mounted devices and so forth. Current realtime 3D, such as in Second Life, is different because there is no attempt to physically immerse the user in the scene, rather it simply uses the more conventional (the convention arising from Alberti’s window) computer screen rendering.” — Adam Nash - Realtime Art Engines
The history of human communication dates back to the earliest era of humanity. Symbols were developed about 30,000 years ago, and writing about 7,000. The early writing systems of the late 4th millennium BC are not considered a sudden invention. Rather, they were based on ancient traditions of symbol systems that cannot be classified as writing proper, but have many characteristics strikingly similar to writing. These systems may be described as proto-writing. They used ideographic and/or early mnemonic symbols to convey information yet were probably devoid of direct linguistic content. These systems emerged in the early Neolithic period, as early as the 7th millennium BC.” — (Wiki History of writing)
The world’s three main writing traditions: Afro-Asiatic, East Asian and American
(Video:Early History of the Alphabet by Jennifer Ordonez & Tatiana Mirzaian)
"Most of us know, but often forget, that handwriting is not natural. We are not born to do it. There is no genetic basis for writing. Writing is not like seeing or talking, which are innate. Writing must be taught. (…)
About 6,000 years ago, the Sumerians created the first schools, called tablet houses, to teach writing. They trained children in Sumerian cuneiform by having them copy the symbols on one half of a soft clay tablet onto the other half, using a stylus. When children did this — and when the Sumerians invented a system of representation, a way to make one thing symbolize another — their brains changed. In Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolf explains the neurological developments writing wrought: “The brain became a beehive of activity. A network of processes went to work: The visual and visual association areas responded to visual patterns (or representations); frontal, temporal, and parietal areas provided information about the smallest sounds in words …; and finally areas in the temporal and parietal lobes processed meaning, function and connections.”
The Sumerians did not have an alphabet — nor did the Egyptians, who may have gotten to writing earlier. Which alphabet came first is debated; many consider it to be the Greek version, a system based upon Phoenician. Alphabets created even more neural pathways, allowing us to think in new ways (neither better nor worse than non-alphabetic systems, like Chinese, yet different nonetheless). (…)
"The invention of writing is only thousands of years old. In addition, for most of us, our grandparents, great grandparents or great great grandparents didn’t read at all. Writing is much too recent for our brains to have evolved to have reading mechanisms. (…)
The solution is that culture made writing easy on the eye, by shaping letters to be what the eye likes. The idea that culture shapes our artifacts to be good for us is not new. What’s new here is a specific hypothesis for what writing should look like in order to be good for us.
To be easy on the eye, writing needs to “look like nature,” just what our illiterate visual systems are fantastically competent at processing. The trick of that research direction was making this “writing looks like nature” idea rigorous, and coming up with ways of testing it. I show that there are certain signature visual patterns found in nearly any natural environment with opaque objects strewn about, and that these signature patterns are found in human writing. In short, writing has evolved so that written words look like visual objects.”
“Language isn’t just an internal process. Rather, linguistic components overflow their boundaries in the mind and become concretized as artifacts. Writing is the most obvious of these boundary overflows, but every technology represents some sort of material fixation of a linguistic concept. In that sense, the materiality of human history is a story of how homo sapiens learned to speak with their hands, translate their language into artifact, and then engage in a conversation with these artifacts. This sets up a very interesting feedback loop, because the exteriorized linguistic object – the technology – produces ramifications of language, which in turn produce new technologies, etc., until the whole thing spirals completely out of control. And we’re already well past that point.”
"Stephen Fry explores linguistic achievements and how our skills for the spoken word have developed in a new five-part series for BBC Two. In Planet Word, Stephen dissects language in all its guises with his inimitable mixture of learning, love of lexicon and humour. He analyses how we use and abuse language and asks whether we are near to beginning to understand the complexities of its DNA.
From the time when man first mastered speech to the cyber world of modern times with its html codes and texting, Planet Word takes viewers on a journey across the globe to discover just how far humans have come when it comes to the written and spoken word.”
"When light hits our retina, what our brains would like to do is instantaneously generate a perception of what the world looks like. Alas, our brain can’t do this instantaneously. Our brains are slow. It takes around a tenth of a second for your perception to be built, and that’s a long time when you’re moving about. If you perceived the world the way it was when light hit your eye, you’d be having a tenth-of-a-second old view of the world. (…)
First consider illusions (…) one often feels as if what we see is due to some kind of direct “reading” of the real physical world. But our brain can’t just passively react to the incoming stream of visual information, lest it have an old perception of the world. Instead, it must actively generate a guess about the near future, which helps drive home that our perception is always an internal concoction by your brain. In fact, most of the input to your visual system is feedback from that very visual system.
Second, consider forward-facing eyes and binocular vision. When we see with two eyes in the same direction, we have one unified visual perception. We have what feels like a single viewpoint, one that is emanating roughly from a point between our two eyes. Furthermore, our single viewpoint is always filled with two copies of the world that you hardly ever notice. When you fixate on something out in front of you, then objects nearer and farther split into two perceptual copies, each rendered as transparent in your perception.
This allows you to see objects, and to see beyond them. For example, you can see your own nose from opposite sides at all times, but it is rendered as partially transparent and so does not block your view of the world beyond. The more one analyzes the phenomenology of binocular vision, the stranger it seems. But it doesn’t feel strange, because these are perceptual facets that our brain knows how to interpret. They are needed as part of your unified view of the world in order to incorporate the fact that it is really built out of two views of the world. Although, in a sense, you are perceiving fictions, they are fictions that allow you to more veridically see the world.
And, lastly, consider color vision. This is a case that helps us better understand that it is not so much whether you see the world as it is, but how much of the world’s reality your are privy to seeing. Colors are primarily about the underlying emotions and states of those around us, as seen through the window of skin, and the physiological changes in the blood. The spectrum of skin is complicated, but it varies over two dimensions that matter most for sensing the states of others, the concentration and oxygenation of skin.
The question is, what does the concentration and oxygenation of blood in the skin of others “truly” look like? Or, what do the emotions those blood variables signify “truly” look like? The interesting thing here is that these blood dimensions and these emotions are “really there”, but there is little sense to what their “real look” might be. Colors serve the role of what they look like, but does red really look like oxygenated blood or really look like anger? I’m not sure this is a sensible question. What matters is that that qualitative perceptual state is given a meaning or association to us, and so serves its purpose.”