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November 08 2013

‘Focus,' par Daniel Goleman - NYTimes.com

‘Focus,’ par Daniel Goleman - NYTimes.com
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/books/review/focus-by-daniel-goleman.html

Nicholas Carr revient sur « Focus » le nouvel ouvrage de Daniel Goleman, qui rappelle que l’#attention n’est pas un interrupteur entre la concentration et la distraction. L’attention est bien plus variée. Trop concentrés, et nous devenons parfaitement inattentifs. Notre attention résulte de l’interaction entre deux parties différentes de notre #cerveau : le cerveau inférieur, qui travaille hors de notre conscience, qui surveille les signaux provenant de nos sens, agissant comme un système d’alerte. (...)

#cognition #neuroscience

June 26 2013

Podcast: what makes a scientist?

At Sci Foo Camp last weekend we enjoyed sitting down with several thoughtful scientists and thinkers-about-science to record a few podcast episodes. Here we speak with Tom Daniel, a professor of biology, computer science, and neurobiology at the University of Washington, and Ben Lillie, co-founder of The Story Collider and a Stanford-trained physicist. First topic: what brings people to science, and how we compare to our icons. Along the way, we mention Hans Bethe, Isaac Newton’s epitaph, and John McPhee’s trip across Interstate 80.

We’ll post the rest of the series over the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can find more episodes of our podcast and subscribe on iTunes or SoundCloud.

October 03 2011

Vision science helps to rescue John Martin's vision of destruction | Tim Smith

Psychologist Tim Smith describes how a painting was saved by a combination of eye-tracking technology, Photoshop and conservation expertise

When TATE Britain decided to organise a major exhibition of British artist John Martin's work they faced a difficult decision: should they try to restore his lost masterpiece, Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum? This work was the centrepiece of Martin's 1822 solo exhibition at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, where advertisements described it as "the most extraordinary production of the pencil that has ever appeared in this or any other country". But in 1928 the painting was declared damaged beyond repair when the Thames broke its banks and flooded the basement of the gallery. It suffered severe water damage and one fifth of the canvas – the section depicting the erupting Vesuvius – was lost.

In 2010 the TATE decided to attempt a restoration. Advances in conservation techniques meant that the existing painting could be cleaned and stabilised, but this left the major question of what to do with the lossed section. As part of its research, the TATE decided to consult me – a vision scientist – and together we devised an experiment to help inform the restoration process.

My research involves investigating how we attend to visual scenes and how this influences what we see. The same features that may attract our attention in the real world, such as people's faces, points of high contrast, and violent imagery also guide our attention when looking at a painting. Classic theories of conservation such as Cesare Brandi's theory of restoration in the early 1960s referred to contemporary psychological theories of vision, but our understanding of the human visual system has advanced inordinately since then.

The decisions made by conservators when restoring important works of art have a direct influence on how the final painting will be perceived and there is a lot of psychological insight that can inform this process. For example, computational models of visual attention can tell a conservator whether a crack or the loss of a segment is likely to capture the viewer's attention and how this will change depending on the context in which the painting is viewed.

For the damaged John Martin we decided to compare how viewers attended to and made sense of different digital reconstructions of the painting by recording viewer eye movements. An eyetracker uses high-speed infrared cameras to record where a person looks on a screen. This allowed the TATE to foresee how viewers might attend to the final product before embarking on costly and time-consuming work on the painting itself.

TATE conservator Sarah Maisey created four digital versions of the painting. Taking details from an intact smaller copy of the painting made by Martin, Sarah created a digital image of the existing painting, digitally retouching the smaller losses and inserting a modified version from the smaller copy into the large loss. These images were then presented to 20 viewers (who had never seen the painting before) on a large computer screen in my lab, as part of a longer sequence of paintings. Each viewer either saw the fully restored version, a similar version but with less detail in the filled section, a restored version with muted colour in the filled section, or a neutrally coloured infill without any details.

Immediately apparent from the gaze locations on the fully reconstructed version was that the painting contained only a few strong focal points, such as the heart of the volcano, the city in the midground and foreground figures. When the gaze pattern of a viewer is replayed as a video it is clear how the mouth of the volcano is one of the first areas fixated and the viewer then follows the diagonal sightlines laid out by Martin down through the city to the foreground figures.

In the neutral version of the painting the mouth of the volcano and part of the city is lost and instead the viewer dwells on the edges of the loss, spending significantly less time on the foreground figures. The consequence of the different gaze pattern is that when asked to describe the content of the painting, viewers of the unreconstructed version did not realise it was a painting of an erupting volcano. The painting had lost its meaning and viewers could not view it as originally intended by Martin.

The difference in gaze behaviour between the completely restored and unrestored (neutrally filled) versions confirmed our intuitions about how destructive the loss was. As well as this evidence, the TATE team also considered the history and context of the painting, with careful consideration of the ethical issues posed. One proposed option for restoration was to omit some detail in the reconstructed section, allowing viewers to see all the main content of the painting while spending most of their time viewing the original sections. This would preserve Martin's intended viewing pattern without distracting from the original content. Our study demonstrated that such a viewing pattern could be created by filling the lost section with an abstracted version of the original content with less distinct details.

Our findings were used by the TATE to inform the (fully reversible) reconstruction of the lost section. Given the scale of the loss this was a major undertaking, but having now viewed the final result at the exhibition I can confidently say that it is an exceptional accomplishment. The painting has been saved from destruction by a combination of vision science, Photoshop and Maisey's conservation skill and expertise.

Martin's vision of destruction has been given a new lease of life and can now be appreciated by future generations, rather than lying abandoned in the TATE stores. Let's hope that this proves to be the first of many collaborations between vision science and art conservation.

Tim Smith is a psychologist at Birkbeck, University of London

John Martin: Apocalypse is at TATE Britain until 15 January 2012

Reference
Maisey, S, Smithen, P, Vilaro-Soler, A, and Smith, TJ (in press) Recovering from destruction: the conservation, reintegration and perceptual analysis of a flood-damaged painting by John Martin. International Council of Museums: Committee for Conservation. Published Proceedings. Lisbon, Portugal, September 19-23, 2011.


guardian.co.uk © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


May 19 2011

02mydafsoup-01

Implications philosophiques » Le libre-arbitre à la croisée des neurosciences et de la psychanalyse.- 2011-05-09



Le problème du libre-arbitre se trouve aujourd’hui réactualisé par les découvertes faites dans le domaine des « neurosciences ». Ce terme fut inventé au début des années soixante-dix pour permettre un échange multidisciplinaire entre divers champs du savoir s’attachant à l’étude du cerveau: physiologie, génétique, pharmacologie, chimie, biophysique, psychologie. Des expériences telles que celles de Benjamin Libet[1] ont ainsi prétendu donner une réponse à la question que les philosophes se posent depuis l’Antiquité: sommes-nous libres ou bien déterminés?

[...]

via scoop.it - permalink

April 22 2011

HUMAN+ The Future of Our Species - in pictures

Artists and scientists explore the future of our species in the HUMAN+ exhibition at the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin



HUMAN+ explores the technologically enhanced future of our species

Michael John Gorman, director of the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, introduces the HUMAN+ exhibition – 'a combination of a sweet shop and a pharmacy, an Alice-in-Wonderland world of pills, promises and prosthetics'

What do we mean when we speak about human enhancement? New York University professor Wafaa Bilal recently had a video camera implanted on a titanium base in the back of his skull. Leaving wires dangling awkwardly along his neck, the camera sent images to a remote server every 60 seconds. Students' concerns over their privacy, faced with a teacher who for once really did have eyes in the back of his head, forced Bilal to wear a lens cap while teaching, somewhat defeating the point.

A few months later an infection forced Bilal to remove the camera, and simply wear it around his neck, but he remains keen to have it back in his skull as soon as possible. Why? What is the difference, you might wonder, between a camera strapped to someone's neck and the same camera attached to the skull with a titanium plate? To Bilal, it is all about a demonstration of 'commitment', making the painful surgery and risk of infection worthwhile. Bilal's messy piece of DIY illustrates some of the challenges around popular perceptions of human enhancement.

Australian artist Stelarc has grown a third ear in a lab and inserted it into his left forearm. Nina Sellars' arresting photographs of the process are on view in HUMAN+. Stelarc hopes to insert a bluetooth microphone into the ear so people all over the world can listen in to his conversations over the internet, though the completion of this aspect of the project has so far been delayed by infection.

For a small fee, body artist Steve Haworth will provide you with small magnets implanted in your fingertips so you can "feel" the presence of magnetic fields. Cybernetics Prof Kevin Warwick hit headlines when he had an RFID chip implanted in his arm to allow him to open and close doors, prior to more sophisticated experiments on direct neural/electronic interfaces. Warwick caused even more controversy when he reportedly suggested that an 11-year-old girl should be "chipped" with a tracking device in the wake of the Soham murders, in a similar manner to pet dogs and cats.

These stories have perennial fascination for the media, perhaps less for the "superpowers" of their protagonists, which could arguably be accomplished through less radical interventions, and more for their disturbing transgressions of the boundaries of the human body. We seem to fantasise endlessly about cyborgs – Robocop-style human-machine hybrids – but many of the dimensions of human enhancement are far more subtle and pervasive.

Humans have always been augmenting their senses, physical powers and cognitive abilities through ingenious tools and technologies. The Hubble telescope, functional magnetic resonance imaging and atomic force microscopes can be viewed as extensions of the senses, just as our newfound ability to gather "swarm intelligence" about developments in Libya or Japan instantaneously through social media is an extension of the campfire conversations of Neolithic man. We are continually developing new ways to see the invisible, to share knowledge and conduct our social lives remotely. In attempting to defeat ageing processes, cosmetic surgery promises to extend youthful appearance as Viagra promises to extend our sexual activity into old age.

Why shouldn't we consider contact lenses, mobile phones, watches and bicycles as human enhancements? Going back further still, the invention of writing itself, as recounted by Plato in a famous passage in the Phaedrus, was an enhancement that simultaneously extended and impaired human memory, by providing an externalised written record but diminishing people's ability to memorise by removing the necessity of learning by heart. Plato's warning about the consequences of writing for human memory is an important lesson for contemporary discussions around human enhancement through technology. New technologies, from mechanical looms to automatic cars, are always double-edged, extending certain powers while eroding traditional skills.

So is there anything special about enhancement of the human body that goes significantly beyond mere tool use? Is there any hope for our cyborg brethren to become a regular feature in our supermarkets, yoga classes and crèches?

Any compelling reason to implant chips in our brains and limbs through surgery and risk all the messy hardware updates and unpleasant maintenance issues that come along for the ride? Can we still expect superpowers for our physical bodies, and look forward to the ability to see ultraviolet light like bees or to have canine powers of hearing and smell? Or does the future instead lie in "downloading our brains" to computers, effectively trading in our fragile flesh for more durable hardware, as imagined in Ray Kurzweil's vision of the "singularity", a neo-Cartesian negation of the body and all its fluids and leaky orifices? Stelarc's Prosthetic Head, a simulated intelligence rather than a downloaded brain, is an experiment in what it might be like to live in Kurzweil's world, a Turing Test on humans.

Interestingly it is those individuals traditionally classified as "disabled" who are currently at the vanguard of human enhancement technologies. From cochlear implants and artificial hearts to neuro-prosthetics, these "early adopters" of assistive technologies are pioneers inhabiting an increasingly narrow boundary between a perceived "lack" and an unfair advantage in relation to the general population.

Consider South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, born with the congenital absence of the fibula from both legs, with his prosthetic blade "cheetah" legs leading to his near miss from participation in the Beijing Olympics. MIT researcher Hugh Herr has suggested that we may soon require an "Extra Special Olympics" to accommodate athletes with prosthetics and other enhancements. Perhaps in this context "non-enhanced" athletes would be regarded with something of the polite nostalgia with which we now view "real tennis" with its quaint long trousers and wooden racquets.

Or consider athlete and model Aimee Mullins who has redefined our notions of female beauty, with 12 sets of prosthetic legs for different occasions and her prominent appearance in Matthew Barney's celebrated Cremaster exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Beyond the glamour of the Guggenheim and the Olympics, a key driver in the development of new prosthetic and robotic technologies is the military, fuelled in the US particularly by demand from increasing numbers of veteran amputees from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Much of the media discussion around the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) and human enhancement is focussed on notions of the 'future soldier', the cyborg in combat, but the thrust of much of Darpa's work in this area appears to be in allowing war veterans who are amputees to live relatively normal lives. The Darpa Revolutionising Prosthetics programme had aimed to have fully functional neural prosthetics controlled by brain-computer interface by the end of 2010, but ran into serious problems in integrating human neural pathways with control technologies. Darpa believe that brain implants – "implanted cortical microelectrodes" – should be the basis of future control over prosthetics, raising the familiar spectres of infection risk, and ease of maintenance and replacement.

Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go, recently made into a major film directed by Mark Romanek, imagines a society where clones are bred and housed in a traditional English boarding school to grow replacement organs for their "originals" to permit the extension of life beyond organ failure. Ishiguro's novel and the film it inspired are a poignant alert to the potential societal costs of human enhancement and life extension.

New reproductive technologies and personalised genetic data provided by companies such as 23andMe are already requiring a dramatic reconfiguration of our conceptions of the family and courtship strategies. Personalised genetic screening, Gattaca style, could soon become intertwined with everything from bank loans and online dating to health insurance premiums, and we are excited to include in HUMAN+ a live experiment on the D4 Dopamine receptor gene which allegedly codes for "high risk behaviour" with the help of Dr Aoife McLysaght, Dr Ross McManus, Prof Fiona Newell, Prof Hugh Garavan, Prof Luke O'Neill and Prof Ken Wolfe.

The Methuselah Foundation has recently launched the New Organ Prize, "awarding as much as $10m to develop and transplant a new organ by the year 2020". The goal of the prize is to stimulate new techniques to grow and replace organs (kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas) from a patient's own cells. The same foundation also offers the M-Prize, awarded for the world record for the oldest-ever mouse. This ancient rodent will, it is hoped, lead to new ways to extend human life.

The quest to extend life and youth has become a central focus of the Transhumanist movement, championed by prominent figures like Aubrey de Grey. Life-extension through medical technologies, reduction in violence and improved diet is already a reality in the world. Even in the last forty years in Ireland our life expectancy has increased by a decade. The cryonics industry is fuelled by the enticing possibility of resurrecting the body through future technology, with companies offering to preserve your cryonically frozen head or full body through taking over your life insurance policy. Juan Enriquez of Biotechonomy is a strong advocate of the potential of stem-cell technologies, pointing out that we can already create replacement molars, bladders, ears and even tracheae in vitro.

In tones disturbingly reminiscent of Nietzsche's announcement of the Übermensch, Enriquez talks about the coming rise of Homo evolutis. Unlike Homo sapiens, Homo evolutis is characterised by taking direct and deliberate control of our biological destiny. Eduardo Kac's Edunia provides a contrary riff on human biological potential, combining the artist's DNA with that of a Petunia plant to create a new human-plant hybrid that extends the artist's presence and confronts us with the possibility of very different genetic futures.

A problem with the utopian perspectives of Enriquez and the Transhumanists towards the indefinite extension of life through regenerative medicine is that they tend to ignore on the one hand the social and emotional consequences of extreme longevity, and on the other hand to consider self-directed human evolution in splendid isolation from our changing ecological and environmental contexts. Some of the works exhibited in HUMAN+ highlight the issues inherent in life-extension. Euthanasia Coaster by Julijonas Urbonas is designed to deal with the ultimate boredom of longevity by allowing people to leave life in a euphoric state through an amusement park ride designed to kill.

Other works explore the fact that we may not be the ones who actually get to decide what new functions future humans need to perform. Laura Allcorn's Human Pollination Project demonstrates how much we rely on the ecosystem services provided by honeybees, and asks us to imagine a future where human behaviour has to be modified to provide pollination services due to the dramatic decline in bee populations. Zbigniew Oksiuta's Personal Biosphere is a meditation on the requirements for life and an externalised body providing our living requirements. Dunne and Raby's Foragers project considers a future society where food is scarce due to overpopulation and people need to create externalised stomachs so they can digest pond algae. John Isaac's disturbing sculpture If Not Now Then When offers a very different dystopian vision of the future of the human species, almost a Homo devolutis.

HUMAN+ is a combination of a sweet shop and a pharmacy, an Alice-in-Wonderland world of pills, promises and prosthetics. These works are ultimately about the fragile and contingent nature of human futures, they invite you to ponder the different dimensions, costs and unintended consequences of enhancement.

I am hugely grateful to my fellow curators and advisors for all their help and enthusiasm in creating this exhibition, to the Wellcome Trust for their support and encouragement, to Trinity College Dublin School of Medicine and the Trinity Long Room Hub for their support and advice and to all of our other supporters and sponsors, with a special word of thanks to researcher and designer Cathrine Kramer for helping draw together the cat's cradle of threads that link the ideas, artworks and experiments in the exhibition. Thank you, as always, to the Science Gallery team.

HUMAN+ tests our boundaries – boundaries of the body, boundaries of the species, boundaries of what is socially and ethically acceptable. Should we enhance ourselves, or seek to modify our descendants? Are we approaching a singularity of human-machine hybridization or de-skilling ourselves through our ever-increasing reliance on technological extensions of the body? Is extended human longevity a wonderful aspiration or a dire prospect for the planet? The ultimate decision is yours. Which enhancement will you choose?

Michael John Gorman is director of the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin. His essay from the catalogue of HUMAN+, which runs until 24 June, is reproduced here with the kind permission of the gallery


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


April 21 2011

See the world in a new light

Dr Patrick Degenaar explains how retinal prosthetics may one day allow humans to see in ultraviolet and infrared, a concept explored in a film unveiled at the HUMAN+ exhibition in Dublin

The purpose of retinal prosthetics is to restore sight to patients who have a degenerative condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which affects one in 3,500 people. In the condition, the retina's light-sensing cells – rods and cones – become inactive and eventually die. Symptoms start with night blindness and worsening tunnel vision, but eventually there is a total loss of sight.

In 1992, research showed that the eye's communication cells – known as retinal ganglion cells – remain intact in patients with retinitis pigmentosa. The discovery opened up the prospect of restoring some form of visual function to these people by controlling the cells' communication patterns.

In the past two decades since the research was published, hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested in retinal prosthesis research. Unfortunately, in contrast to the development of cochlear implants – which restore hearing to the deaf – progress has been slow. The highest resolution prosthesis to date was created by the Retina Implant company based in Tübingen, Germany, whose 1,500-electrode implant has allowed one of their patients, Mika, to distinguish large white characters on a black background.

One of the key challenges has been the fundamental architecture of our visual system. The eye is not simply a camera, but the first stage in a system for understanding the world around us. There are around 50 different types of processing neuron in the retina, and more than 20 types of retinal ganglion cell. So the visual cortex of the brain expects to receive the visual world encoded in a "neural song" of many different voices. Precise coding to reproduce this song is hard to achieve with implanted electrodes and the result is that the patient sees phosphenes – flashing dots of light – rather than what we would normally define as sight.

Optogenetics, an exciting new gene therapy technique, has the potential to bypass many of these problems and last year was hailed as Method of the Year by the journal Nature. Invented in the lab of Ernst Bamberg at the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt eight years ago, the technique uses gene therapy to sensitise nerve cells to particular colours of light. Intense pulses of this wavelength of light make the photosensitised nerve cells fire. (Neurologists call each firing of a nerve an "action potential" – the currency of information in the nervous system.)

So in optogenetic retinal prosthetics, rather than performing highly complex surgery to implant electrodes into a patient's retina, a solution of a special virus would simply be injected to introduce new genes into the nerve cells. The patient would then wear a headset that records and interprets the visual scene and sends coded pulses of light to the retina. As a single pulse of light can generate a single action potential, the information encoded from the visual scene can be much more in tune with the neural song expected by the visual cortex.

The OptoNeuro European project I lead at Newcastle University is researching this new approach, and we hope to start human trials towards the middle of this decade.

The first optogenetic retinal prostheses will not deliver perfect vision, so we have teamed up with the London-based design practice Superflux to explore how the user's interaction with this new technology can be made more practical and meaningful in the coming years. The key objective is to maximise the useful sight restored to the patient while also exploring the unique possibilities of this new, modified – even enhanced – form of vision.

In their concept video Song of the Machine (above), Anab Jain, Jon Ardern and Justin Pickard explore the personal and emotional complexities that might arise once this science leaves the lab and begins to touch our daily lives. The title is derived from the idea that in optogenetic retinal prosthetics the body is itself modified to interface with the machine in order to appreciate the neural song.

Even if resolution is low, the prosthesis could allow users to experience the visual world in wavelengths beyond those perceptible to normal-sighted humans. For example the eye absorbs ultraviolet light before it reaches the retina, and nature finds it difficult to make infrared light receptors. Such constraints do not affect modern camera technology.

This "multi-spectral imaging" could be used for purely pragmatic purposes, such as telling at a glance whether an object is too hot to touch. Alternatively, it could create a certain visual poetry by allowing us to experience a flower in all its ultraviolet glory – as seen by honey bees.

By exploring these possibilities in our research, it may be possible to improve the experience of the patients who will eventually wear these prostheses, allowing them to enjoy some of the benefits of the new field of augmented reality.

Dr Patrick Degenaar is an optogenetics researcher at Newcastle University where he leads the OptoNeuro project

Song of the Machine is on show as part of the HUMAN+ exhibition at the Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, which runs until 24 June


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


April 07 2011

TERRA 606: An Eyeful of Sound (flv)

An Eyeful of Sound is an animated documentary about audio-visual synaesthesia, which describes a joining together of sensations that are normally experienced separately. Synaesthetic people may experience tastes, colors, shapes, smells, or touches in tandem with almost any of their other senses.
TERRA 606: An Eyeful of Sound (flv)

An Eyeful of Sound is an animated documentary about audio-visual synaesthesia, which describes a joining together of sensations that are normally experienced separately. Synaesthetic people may experience tastes, colors, shapes, smells, or touches in tandem with almost any of their other senses.
TERRA 606: An Eyeful of Sound

An Eyeful of Sound is an animated documentary about audio-visual synaesthesia, which describes a joining together of sensations that are normally experienced separately. Synaesthetic people may experience tastes, colors, shapes, smells, or touches in tandem with almost any of their other senses.
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