Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Review: Out of Our Heads by Alva Noe

Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of ConsciousnessOut of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness by Alva Noe

Some of my students are chomping at the bit this year, eager to study the topic of human consciousness. We will get there in a few weeks, and I don't blame them for their enthusiasm. It's hard to imagine a more fascinating subject. If you are looking for some outside reading consciousness that will bend your mind to some degree, I'd recommend this book.

Alva Noe's basic thesis in Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness is that neuroscientists hoping to uncover the "seat" of consciousness in the brain via fMRI's and similar techniques are bound to be disappointed.

Noe presents - with convincing support - the idea that consciousnes is a process created by our experiences with the world, including the reactions of our sensory systems. In essence, the disembodied brain would be unable to have a "conscious" experience because consciousness is tied up in all of the other things that make us human.

I appreciate the argument, and it is interesting to consider. But I did find myself feeling a little defensive about how easily Noe dismissed the work of neuroscientists and neuroimaging. Certainly, consciousness might be a more slippery concept than we first imagine. But that doesn't mean that neuroimaging studies of the brain are unimportant to our understanding of human consciousness, and sometimes I felt Noe was moving toward that idea.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Notes - For Class 11/22/10

Here's the link for Notes...for today. My 6th and 7th hour classes will not be graced with the honor of my presence today, since I have to attend a committee meeting.

But that shouldn't mean that they have to miss out on the exciting information we were going to discuss! Click on the link and opening the file should get you a powerpoint slide show with narration. It runs on its own...just sit back and enjoy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

2010 Visual Illusion Contest

By request from my students, here is the link to the Neural Correlate Society's Visual Illusion of the Year contest.

We looked at some of the 2010 finalists and winners in class, but from the site you can view finalists from previous years as well. Definitely worth a look.
For example, the image below is one of the finalist entries. By looking the dot in the colored image for about a minute, and then shifting your gaze to the dot in the white grid, you can create two different perceptions of after-images. For the full story, see the original entry.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Selective Attention Video Demos

Today in class I introduced the issue of Selective Attention - the notion that we can only attend to a limited amount of all the sensory information we are presented with, and thus sometimes fail to "see" even the most obvious stimuli. There are a number of great video demos of this, but here are my favorites.

The Office - Opening scenes from this season's "Costume Contest" Episode (entire video embedded below...all you really need is the first few minutes, though the rest is funny, too)

"Whodunnit?" from the UK's "Watch for Cyclists" ad campaign

"Do the Test" - Count the passes by the number of players in white jerseys and test your perceptual skills

The Monkey Business Illusion - Even works for those who have seen illusions like this before! A finalist for 2010 Illusion of the Year!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More Fun with Vision

Thank you to one of my students, Adam S., for alerting me to this video by the Blue Man Group. The title - Rods and Cones - is a big hint as to what sensory process the song is dedicated to.

Also, by request, here is the link to the Rotating Spiral Illusion, which is great fun due to its ability to generate a strong motion after-image.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Some Links from Class - Sensation & Perception

Today in class I shared a few links to sites that demonstrate principles of sensation and/or perception.

The Rotating Cat Illusion was a popular one. The cat appears to rotate one direction initially, but if you stare at it long enough it will seem to reverse directions. Different people have different initial perceptions of it (some see it rotating right, others left). This is a great illustration of how the exact same sensory stimulus can elicit different perceptions from people. A related illusion that you might be familiar with is the Spinning Silouette illusion, which is often INCORRECTLY described as a left/right brain personality test.

Note: if you are accessing this from school, the district's filters might block the cat website. Try Googling "spinning cat illusion" and maybe a site that you can access will be available.

For those of you interested in the backmasking and reverse speech sites, here are the links:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Butter Braid Sale Kick-off!

Wow. What an attractive-looking bunch! You really can't go wrong with a Piaget shirt. :)

Today's Psych Club meeting kicked-off our fundraiser for the May 17th Next to Normal trip.

If you missed the meeting, you also missed out on some samples of the delicious Butter Braids we are selling to earn some cha-ching for the trip. But here's the pertinent info if you still need it:

Sale ends December 3rd (our next Psych Club meeting) and completed order forms & money are due that day. The product, which is delivered FROZEN, will arrive after school in the cafeteria on December 17th. Make sure that you (or a confederate) are available to pick up your stuff and deliver it that day, since Mrs. Welle does not have that much freezer space and cannot store your stuff indefinitely.

You make $4.50 per item you sell, and anyone hoping to write out a check can make it payable to Chi-Hi when they place their order. If you sell enough, you'll be able to score a rockin' seat at the Next to Normal performance, so good luck!