psychic distance

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“… above all, the strange solitude and remoteness from the world, as it can be found only on the highest mountain tops; and the experience may acquire, in its uncanny mingling of repose and terror, a flavour of such concentrated poignancy and delight as to contrast sharply with the blind and distempered anxiety of its other aspects.”

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“… and we watch the consummation of some impending catastrophe with the marvelling unconcern of a mere spectator.”

-Edward Bullough, Psychic Distance

the age of insight / the summer of perspicacity

“The function of the modern artist was not to convey beauty, but to convey new truths.”

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“Science may explain aspects of art but it will not replace the inspiration that art evokes…”

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“Viennese life at the turn of the century provided opportunities in salons and coffeehouses for scientists, writers, and artists to come together in an atmosphere that was at once inspiring, optimistic, and politically engaged. …science was no longer the narrow and restrictive province of scientists but had become an integral part of Viennese culture. …a paradigm for how an open dialogue can be achieved.”

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-Eric Kandel, excerpted from The Age of Insight

science and society

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“There is something deeply rooted in the human soul that draws us to sites of unimaginable disaster. Pompeii, Antietam…”

stone lion

“But in the 21st century we hold a special awe for the aftermath of nuclear destruction. The splitting of the atom almost a hundred years ago promised to be the most important human advance since the discovery of fire. Unleashing the forces bound inside atomic nuclei would bring the world nearly limitless energy.”

— George Johnson, The Nuclear Tourist, National Geographic October 2014

entropy

“…soaring* above the bowing * of taut * nerves in haphazard double-stops* would be the one singing string of her determination.”

statue and shooting star

“… only then did he realize that the isolated system-galaxy, engine, human being, culture, whatever—must evolve spontaneously toward the Condition of the More Probable*”

heat death

“He found himself, in short, restating Gibbs’ prediction in social terms, and envisioned a heat-death for his culture in which ideas, like heat-energy, would no longer be transferred, since each point in it would ultimately have the same quantity of energy; and intellectual motion would, accordingly, cease.”

dead tree on hill

the road

Kansas road

“All roads indeed lead to Rome, but theirs also is a more mystical destination, some bourne of which no traveller knows the name, some city, they all seem to hint, even more eternal.”
~Richard Le Gallienne

“Receptive field mapping studies in cortical area V1 [the primary visual cortex of the brain] indicate that cells are selectively sensitive to orientation, spatial frequency, direction of motion, color, and eye of stimulation.”
~Nakayama, 1996

Colorado Highway

“It is true that… apparent depth can be added to the visual image of a single eye by using a number of indirect cues, such as the angular subtense of an object of known size, motion parallax, accommodative effort, and the obscuration of distant objects by nearer ones.”
~Barlow, 1967

“Each cell has a specific binocular receptive field bestowing it with the ability to respond selectively to real-world targets at specific distances… Assuming that the visual system could monitor the convergence of the eyes with accuracy and precision, the properties of disparity selective neurons could provide for the metrical encoding of perceived distance.”
~Nakayama, 1996

Utah Canyonlands Road

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”
~Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

 

 

Portraits of the Natural Brain

Often times, nature imitates itself. A neural structure only micrometers wide mimics shapes of organisms in the wilderness that are perceptible with the naked eye. Conversely, the awe-inspiring mammoth forms found in the wild are evocative of neural patterns a scientist would be interested in studying under a microscope.

The Natural Brain

Center
Neuron – formed from the varied colorings of cracks in ice

Top
Spinal Column – tree trunk
Corpus Callosum – banana leaf’s branching colorations represents fibers emanating from a central midline
Cortical Layers – natural gradient of white sands
Sulci & Gyri – canyon giving way to a river mimics the folding of the cortex

Bottom
Cerebral Aqueduct – waterfall symbolizing cerebrospinal fluid flowing from 3rd ventricle to the spinal cord
Ventricle – geothermal hot springs
Astrocytes – starlike daisies
Dendrite – evergreen overlooking the Continental Divide

[The brain] is not encased in a black box, but a vibrant and active organ whose constituent parts emulate natural forms we see regularly.

expansion of time, part ii

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“If different temporal judgments are generated by different neural mechanisms — and while they often agree, they are not required to. Like vision, time perception is underpinned by a collaboration of separate neural mechanisms that usually work in concert but can be teased apart under the right circumstances… If time as a single unified entity slows down during fear, then this slow motion should confer a higher temporal resolution.”

black and white rose with petals

“Time and memory are tightly linked. In a critical situation, the amygdala kicks into high gear… and memories are laid down by a secondary memory system… that makes them ‘stick’ better. Upon replay, the higher density of data would make the events appear to last longer. This may be why time seems to speed up as you age: you develop more compressed representation of events, and the memories to be read out are correspondingly impoverished. When you are a child and everything is novel, the richness of the memory gives the impression of increased time passage — for example, when looking back at the end of a childhood summer.”

pink rimmed rose petals

“The recalibration of subjective timing is not a party trick of the brain; it is critical to solving the problem of causality.”

rose against sunset

“What is the use of perception, especially since it lags behind reality, is retrospectively attributed, and is generally outstripped by automatic (unconscious) systems? The most likely answer is that perceptions are representations of information that cognitive systems can work with later. Thus it is important for the brain to take sufficient time to settle on its best interpretation of what just happened rather than stick with its initial, rapid interpretation. Its carefully refined picture of what just happened is all it will have to work with later, so it had better invest the time.”

-David Eagleman, Brain Time

expansion of time, part i

“Most of our current theoretical frameworks include the variable t in a Newtonian, river-flowing sense. But as we begin to understand time as a construction of the brain, as subject to illusion as the sense of color is, we may eventually be able to remove our perceptual biases from the equation.”

River in Tibet

“The days of thinking of time as a river — evenly flowing, always advancing — are over. Time perception, just like vision, is a construction of the brain and is shockingly easy to manipulate experimentally. We all know about optical illusions, in which things appear different from how they really are; less well known is the world of temporal illusions.”

Wall in Los Angeles

“If we inject a slight delay between your motor acts and their sensory feedback, we can later make the temporal order of your actions and sensations to appear in reverse… we [come to] find that ‘time’ is not the unitary phenomenon we may have supposed it to be. When a stream of images is shown over and over in succession, an oddball image thrown into the series appears to last for a longer period, although presented for the same physical duration. In the neuroscientific literature, this effect was originally termed a subjective ‘expansion of time.'”

Clocks in Black and White

-David Eagleman, Brain Time

in search of memory

“Twenty-first-century culture continues to be significantly influenced by events that took place in [Vienna] during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, just as each of us continues to be influenced by every experience we have ever had. For human beings, however, ‘influence’ is far to weak a word. We are made of memories. Every moment of our lives brings to a focus the totality of all the moments preceding it.”

St Stephen's Cathedral

“Kandel’s life work has been to demonstrate that memory, learning, and by extension, every other mental process are the result not of some vague set of unexplainable psychic phenomena but rather of distinctive molecular events determined by physicochemical qualities of cellular life.”

Man hiking in Colorado

“Sigmund Freud repeatedly expressed his hope that psychoanalytic theory would one day be subjected to the scrutiny of basic science. There is profound symmetry in the fact that Kandel, another son of Vienna, should have fulfilled so much of that hope… Freud, who began his career as a neuroanatomist studying the structure of cells, made his greatest contributions as a psychoanalyst. Kandel did it the other way around.”

Vienna State Opera House

Excerpted from The Secret Life of the Mind