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.