Saturday, November 07, 2009

Phantoms in the brain

NOTE: i used to rely on interactions with interesting people, daily nonsensical discussions with friends (dd with bidi) and personal experiences gathered from doing something out of the way, for most of my intellectual fodder. but alas, those days have left me. i seem to have taken to reading and filling myself with second hand information. hoping to quit this dreadful habit at the slightest hint of something more worthwhile. (i mean no disrespect to the bibliophile, but there is some alluring liveliness in two-way communication which is difficult to attain in a medium like print)


here are a few excerpts that a liked from this one. If you are generally intrigued by the so called human condition, as i am, this might be a fun read.


Chapter 5: The Secret Life of James Thurber
Each time any one of us encounters an object, the visual systems begins a constant questioning process. Sensory input flows from bottom-up, memories and associations from top-down. In this manner the impoverished image is progressively worked on and refined till we actually "see" the object in front of us. I think that these massive feed forward and feedback projections are in the business of conducting successive iterations that enable us to home in on the closet approximation to the truth. To overstate the argument deliberately, perhaps we are hallucinating all the time and what we call perception is arrived at by simply determining which hallucination best conforms to the current sensory input.


Chapter 7: The Sound of One Hand Clapping
    Thus the coping strategies of the two hemispheres are fundamentally different. The left hemisphere's job is to create a belief system or model and to fold new experiences into that belief system. If confronted with some new information that doesn't fit the model, it relies on Freudian defence mechanisms to deny, repress or confabulate - anything to preserve the status quo. The right hemisphere's strategy, on the other hand, is to play  "Devils Advocate", to question the status quo and look for global inconsistencies. When the anomalous information reaches a certain threshold, the right hemisphere decides that it is time to force a complete revision of the entire model and start from scratch. The right hemisphere thus forces a "Kuhnian paradigm shift" in response to anomalies, whereas the left hemisphere always tires to cling tenaciously to the way things were.


Chapter 10: The Women Who Died Laughing
    I find great irony in the fact that every time someone smiles at you she is in fact producing a half threat by flashing her canines. When Darwin published 'On the Origin of Species' he delicately hinted in his last chapter that we too may have evolved from apelike ancestors. The English statesman Benjamin Disraeli was outraged by this and at a meeting held in Oxford he asked a famous rhetorical question: "Is man a beast or an angel?" To answer this, he need only have looked at his wife's canines as she smiled at him, and he'd have realized that in this simple universal human gesture of friendliness lies concealed a grim reminder of our savage past.