Saturday, 23 May 2009

Ev'rybooody, yeah, yeah!


This bird dancer is fantastic !

Some of the other clips proposed are great too... :-)

Love this one, though here the birdy is not dancing to the music we hear in the clip... Though he is certainly dancing... :-)


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Playing for Change -- Stand by me -- Around the world


Playing For Change is a movement to connect the world through music.

The act of playing music with people of different cultures, religions, economics and politics is a powerful statement.
~ Mark Johnson, founder, Playing for Change


Saturday, 7 March 2009

Beware of your toast! - Religious images in everyday life


Great pictures from the Telegraph!
I reproduced the comments too.

"A grilled cheese sandwich that supposedly bore the image of the Virgin Mary was bought by, an online casino, for $28,000 on eBay in November 2004" (Telegraph)

It reminds me more of Marlene Dietrich...

" also bought a water-stained piece of plaster from a Pittsburgh man's bathroom that was said to look like Jesus Christ. Their winning bid on eBay was $1,999.99" (Telegraph)

Well, such a bathroom is indeed a blessing...

"The 'Nun Bun': a cinnamon bun that apparently bore the likeness of Mother Teresa, was made famous by the Bongo Java coffeehouse in Nashville, Tennessee. The bun was later stolen."


I would like to note that in all these cases, there was an institution to state the apparitions and make them famous. The casino did a good job earning money with it.

Here is "Allah" written in Arabic, and below is an aubergine with the word "Allah" clearly seen inside that "was exhibited in Jordan in April 2005." (Telegraph)

Actually the writing just looks more convincing to me: I can see the letters written there. Handwriting is different from one person to the other, so we are all used to reading differently shaped letters. A "real" handwriting is already quite symbolic, so I guess some lines can more easily look like real handwriting than... the face of a real person.

But, well, an aubergine...


Friday, 6 March 2009

What inner representation does an elephant need to draw an elephant?


I came across this video of an elephant painting an elephant that is carrying a flower.

First I saw it as a circus stunt. Various species of (non-human) animals can be trained to perform a lot of really complicated tasks with a step by step method. They will produce the arbitrary behavior that was reinforced, seeming to be very creative or understanding the unity of the series of actions, but actually not doing more than reproducing an arbitrary sequence of movements they learned to do one after the other to get some nice food.

Here it seems that the elephant is not just reproducing a mechanic behavior he was trained to reproduce.

It seems quite reasonable to suppose that he was trained to draw that picture of the elephant, he did not make the design up by himself. I don't have information about how he was trained. But I think this does not prevent us from asking the question: did he, as the result of his training, get an inner representation of the picture he has to draw as a picture? My answer is: yes.

If I myself draw a flower or an elephant on a paper, I will usually not make a creative design. I will use a stereotyped representation of a flower that I will actualize on that paper. I will make a constant forth-and back movement between my inner representation and the picture that I see on the paper. In my head, there isn't a totally defined picture, and the result will not look exactly the same each time I draw my flower: I will interact with the image as I see it appearing on the paper. Leeuwen, Verstijnen and Hekkert (1999) cited by Andy Clark describes this process of sketching, evaluating, re-sketching, re-evaluating all through a drawing process.

It seems to me that the elephant on the recording is doing that to a certain extent.

The evidence is that at the end of the elephant-drawing process, before he begins the flower, he comes back to correct some lines that he did not do strong enough at the beginning. This suggests that he has an overall view of the picture, that he is comparing the result of his drawing action with an inner representation of how it should look like. He is coming closer and closer to that during the painting process, like a human would: first doing the main lines, then at the end coming back to correct the lines that he judged not to be good enough.

Even if most of his actions are a reproduction of the actions he was taught, he is also using an inner representation of how the image should look like and compares it with the result. I think he could not correct the lines if he did not have that. As he is using paint, the thin and thick lines come randomly, so he could not learn before hand where the thin lines to correct will be. So I argue that he did not just learn the actions: he learned how the image should look like.

This seems quite remarkable. I think this supposes cognitive abilities that we usually don't connect with non-human animals.

For a human mind, it would be much less costly to memorize this image as being the representation of an elephant. From this video there is no evidence if the elephant sees the picture as being, symbolizing 'an elephant' or not. I would love to know. Some experiments and neuroimagery are needed here!


Andy CLARK: Reasons, Robots and the Extended Mind (Rationality for the New Millenium), in: MIND AND LANGUAGE 16:2: 2001 p.121-145


Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Make a wish...


A really interesting discussion started on the previous post (and maybe will go on further). I want to point to the theme that appeared, about writing a thesis. Neeraj shared how he "made a wish". Probably a good idea... that may help in other situations too. I heard about it many times... but never made such a list myself! :-)

(Found the picture on the net.)

Neeraj wrote about the writing of his thesis (took 7 years):

I would like to share something else about this time which is also kind of mysterious:

After a few weeks having started working in the research institute I had already found the basic question I wanted to work about for my dissertation. In a way I was in love with that question. As I have come to know from my colleagues, this fast going was rather unusual.

However, one day at this early stage I sat on my desk and wrote a wishlist about how I wanted my dissertation to be in the end. About one dozen or a bit more points, very detailed e.g. about the mathematical tools I wanted to use and the mathematical framework I wanted to develop, but also some other special points of experimenting and also about some results. Very detailed. Then I put this list into a drawer and forgot it.

Some years after having finished my dissertation I left the research institute. So, I had to clear my desk, and I found my wishlist, which I had forgotten since more than ten years. And I didn't nearly believe my eyes: EVERY single point was fulfilled! No exception! I was totally shocked. How could I have known the final result in so many details in the early beginning? Or did I shape reality according to my wishlist?

I don't know. But I tend rather to assume the latter one.

Far out ... :-)


Sunday, 1 March 2009

The Corporation


Crisis brings insight... here is a great film!

As there were the times of the church, the monarchy or the communism, today's dominant structure of domination is the corporation.THE CORPORATION explores the nature and spectacular rise of the dominant institution of our time. Footage from pop culture, advertising, TV news, and corporate propaganda, illuminates the corporation's grip on our lives. Taking its legal status as a "person" to its logical conclusion, the film puts the corporation on the psychiatrist's couch to ask "What kind of person is it?" Provoking, witty, sweepingly informative, The Corporation includes forty interviews with corporate insiders and critics - including Milton Friedman, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, and Michael Moore - plus true confessions, case studies and strategies for change.

To see the film:
Here you just click on the link and watch. It is with french subtitles.

For better film quality, you can download it. This award winning Canadian documentary has been released on BitTorrent. Everyone is free to download, watch, discuss, and share it.
Download it here.


Thursday, 19 February 2009

Dancer in Bali


Strengh and fragility...

Picture by Aniko.


Thursday, 12 February 2009

Ghost in a shell


There was an interesting discussion and I wrote it down.

There was a film presentation with discussion at rue d'Ulm, organized by Cognivence on the 11th of february. Ghost in a shell, by Mamoru Oshii, followed by a discussion with Kevin O'Regan and Benoît Girard.

I am realizing cognitive sciences are really sexy, and getting sexier with time !
I was expecting the film about the philosopher Daniel Dennett, with his white beard... :-) so quite surprised to see philosophico-artistic manga.

Ok, no, on the poster the protagonist cyborg has too many ropes, cables and tubes hanging to be sexy... But in the film she is not wearing them, although she is quite often nude.

It was about the questions of human / non-human, can cyborgs have a "ghost" (kind of equivalent of soul of spirit). Nice images and music, but I was wondering what kind of discussion would come out of that.

Then came Kevin. And as the discussion started on general "Can machines be conscious", he showered the assembly with what I understood to be ideas from his new book. (But I didn't find references to the book.) Here are some ideas, and the notes in french hidden below.


Can machines be conscious?

Well, we cannot say if something is conscious or not. Or has free will or not. But if the thing thinks that he has free will and consciousness, if he says "I", that's quite a good argument for it.

Anyway, why are we so passionate about believing that we have a "self"? Free will ? And the machines don't?

Actually to believe that one has a self and free will is very useful for communication and for living in a society.

The "me" is a social illusion.


About free will, I remembered the chocolate cookie experiment, that actually I first heard from a jazz pianist. Here it goes:

You are hungry, and you have a french chocolate cookie in from of you on the table.

Le petit pain au chocolat

You move your hand to grab it. And you think that you want to grab it and to eat it. If you were asked what you are doing, you would say that first, you decided that you wanted to grab it and eat it, and then you moved you hand. Of course you think that you have free will and you decide what you want.

But actually, this is not what is happening. Your hand moves first, and it is already halfway when you actually realize that you want to grab the cookie...

That is quite a thing when you realize it. It is really quick. But the consciousness comes after. If you observe yourself, you can notice it. You can catch your hand moving by itself.

I asked the reference book: Daniel Wegner: The Illusion of Conscious Will

And Kevin went on:

Self is a social illusion. Like money.

Of money, you can say that:
- it is real. We are using it !
- it is a social illusion. If tomorrow, we all come to agree that it is an illusion, then it collapses. Because actually it is only paper.

The self is just like money.

Well, not exactly, of course. A big difference is that it is auto-referent. (What did Kevin exactly mean by that? I didn't get this one.)

But it is quite like money. If the self did not exist, the society would collapse.

There are ways to get out of it. Different cultures create different ways to escape temporarily from the self.

In hypnosis, the self disappears.

A friend of Kevin went to a ball in Oxford. Hypnosis is quite trendy, so they announced that there would be a Hypnosis Expert on that ball. Kevin's naughty friend wanted to see how it works, and he presented himself as the Hypnosis Expert to a young person. Then he did one move, and the young person fainted immediately.

Actually it is very easy to hypnotize anybody, and to get hypnotized. All books on hypnosis talk about that. It can be enough to read a text to a patient, you can even be hypnotized by reading the text to yourself.

Hypnosis is a social phenomena. One just lets one's self be grabbed by somebody else.

It is clearly a social phenomena because it is easy to hypnotize nearly anybody, but only people from cultures where the concept of hypnosis is known. If the concept is unknown, then it does not work. But societies can have many other ways out from the self. Usually every society produces bizarre states where one can get rid of the self for a while.


Next life I will study trance in Bali from this point of view...


If you click on the stars below, you can find my notes in french, half is what I translated.


On a parlé de robotique. Comment faire un robot qui puisse aider un vieille dame à se lever... Ça fait un peu hypocrite, maintenant qu'il y a la vidéo du robot-tank qui circule, on pourra peut-être bientôt faire une petite machine qui tue les gens tout seul, sans aucune intervention humaine. Mais on fait ce qu'on peut. Si c'est un phénomène émergeant, qu'on construise des machines pour tuer des gens, ça implique qu'aucune des particules (chercheurs) n'est responsable du résultat, j'imagine... (?)

Quand est-ce qu'on peut dire que quelque chose est conscient ? On ne peut pas vraiment. Beaucoup de débats. Mais si la chose prétend avoir le libre arbitre, s'il pense qu'il est conscient, s'il dit "je", alors ça paraît être ça.

Le "moi" est une illusion sociale.

Pourquoi est-ce qu'on s'acharne à penser qu'on a un "soi"? Et un libre arbitre?
En fait, penser le libre arbitre est très utile pour bien communiquer et vivre en société.

Je me suis souvenue de la question de la main tendue vers le pain au chocolat. Si j'ai faim, ma main se sera tendue et aura peut-être même saisi le pain au chocolat avant que je me dise consciemment: "Je veux le pain au chocolat." Ca, c'est la verbalisation à postériori.

Daniel Wegner: The Illusion of Conscious Will

L'autre chercheur invité a parlé de son expérience de l'aikido. Le maître a pu le renverser par terre sans même le toucher, en utilisant l'écart temporel infime entre ce qu'il voulait faire (attraper le poignet du maître) et ce qu'il était en train de faire (suivre le trajet du poignet, et, pris dans l'élan d'un constant recalcul de la trajectoire, tomber par terre.)

On peut en dire que
- c'est réel. On l'utilise.
- c'est une illusion sociale. Si demain, on décide que c'est une illusion, alors ça s'écroule. Car en fait, c'est du papier.

Le Je, c'est comme l'argent. Sauf qu'en plus c'est auto-référent. (Pas tout à fait compris.)

Si le Je n'existait pas, la société se désagrègerait.

Il y a des échappatoires. L'hypnose est un échappatoire qu'a notre culture, cela crée un moment où le Je cesse d'exister.

Un ami de Kevin a été à un bal à Oxford. On avait annoncé qu'il y aurait un hypnotiseur. L'ami s'est dit qu'il va voir si ça marche. Il s'est présenté à quelqu'un disant que c'est lui l'hypnotiseur, lui (je ne sais plus... dit quelque chose ? l'a touché ?) en tous cas en une seconde, la personne est tombée évanouie.

C'est très facile d'hypnotiser. De se faire hypnotiser. Les livres sur l'hypnose l'écrivent. Il peut suffire de lire le texte à dire au patient, et on s'ets hypnotisé soi-même.

L'hypnose est un phénomène social. On se dit qu'on a le droit de laisser notre Je être accaparé par quelqu'un d'autre.

C'est clair que c'est un phénomène social. Il est très facile d'hypnotiser, mais seulement dans les sociétés où l'on connaît le concept d'hypnose. Si le concept n'est pas connu, alors ça ne marche pas. Mais dans les sociétés humaines, il y a généralement des phénomènes bizarres pour se désaccaparer de son Je.

Il faut une société pour avoir un Je.

Pour la conscience, si on dit que c'est quelque chose qui regarde quelque chose d'autre faire quelque chose, ça induit des boucles rétroactives qui n'en finissent pas. (Pas sûre d'avoir compris.)

Le fait de dire que c'est social
- enlève une aura de mysticisme autour de la question
- décrit bien le fonctionnement des agents que nous sommes
- est auto-référent: fait émerger des éléments
- c'est comme l'argent: ça marche parce que ça marche socialement

Le libre arbitre.

Selon les niveaux de description, ce sera libre ou pas.
- Au niveau de l'individu, on a bien l'impression qu'il a un libre arbitre
- Si des martiens arrivent et lui regardent dans le cerveau, ils vont pouvoir expliquer pourquoi il a fait telle ou telle chose: ils verront qu'il n'est pas libre.

La conscience: c'est aussi un mot que nous utilisons pour décrire notre comportement. Il sert à ça.

La "vie": cela décrit un certain type de comportement.
A une époque, on cherchait la "vis vitalis", la force vitale.
En fait, la vie est entretenue par le fonctionnement des entités qu'on appelle vivantes.

La "conscience", c'est pareil. C'est dans la constitution des agents qu'on appelle vivants. Si on cherche comment ça apparaît dans les micro-tubules ou les neurones, ça ne fait pas avancer.

Il faut changer le mode d'explication. On ne peut pas "expliquer" la vie ou la conscience.

Au Moyen Age, les gens étaient fascinés par le fait qu'on prenne une lettre, on y ajoute une lettre et encore une lettre, et ça fait un mot ! Avec du sens ! Incroyable ! Alors on s'est mis à chercher le sens dans les lettres.

Pour Kevin, c'est de la science stupide. Et il est tout aussi stupide de chercher la conscience dans les neurones. C'est une mauvaise question.

Les questions réelles, c'est par exemple : Comment fonctionne la respiration? Comment fonctionne la réplication des gènes ?



Sexy !


I just remembered the first presentation day at the Cogmaster. (Master of Cognitive Sciences) Lorenzi was talking about the "sexy" subjects in research on auditory perception. At first it was funny to hear this word used in such a context, by such a serious-looking researcher... :-) The presentation was indeed fascinating.

As now everything has to be sexy, my blog should definitely be sexy! :-)

Madonna and Jesus Luz for W Magazine, photo by Steve Klein