Recent quotes:

Why the lights don't dim when we blink: Blinking prompts eye muscles to keep our vision in line -- ScienceDaily

"Our eye muscles are quite sluggish and imprecise, so the brain needs to constantly adapt its motor signals to make sure our eyes are pointing where they're supposed to," Maus said. "Our findings suggest that the brain gauges the difference in what we see before and after a blink, and commands the eye muscles to make the needed corrections." From a big-picture perspective, if we didn't possess this powerful oculomotor mechanism, particularly when blinking, our surroundings would appear shadowy, erratic and jittery, researchers said. "We perceive coherence and not transient blindness because the brain connects the dots for us," said study co-author David Whitney, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley. "Our brains do a lot of prediction to compensate for how we move around in the world," said co-author Patrick Cavanagh, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College. "It's like a steadicam of the mind." A dozen healthy young adults participated in what Maus jokingly called "the most boring experiment ever." Study participants sat in a dark room for long periods staring at a dot on a screen while infrared cameras tracked their eye movements and eye blinks in real time. Every time they blinked, the dot was moved one centimeter to the right. While participants failed to notice the subtle shift, the brain's oculomotor system registered the movement and learned to reposition the line of vision squarely on the dot. After 30 or so blink-synchronized dot movements, participants' eyes adjusted during each blink and shifted automatically to the spot where they predicted the dot to be. "Even though participants did not consciously register that the dot had moved, their brains did, and adjusted with the corrective eye movement," Maus said. "These findings add to our understanding of how the brain constantly adapts to changes, commanding our muscles to correct for errors in our bodies' own hardware."

Reality is a UX

Suppose there’s a blue rectangular icon on the lower right corner of your computer’s desktop — does that mean that the file itself is blue and rectangular and lives in the lower right corner of your computer? Of course not. But those are the only things that can be asserted about anything on the desktop — it has color, position, and shape. Those are the only categories available to you, and yet none of them are true about the file itself or anything in the computer. They couldn’t possibly be true. That’s an interesting thing. You could not form a true description of the innards of the computer if your entire view of reality was confined to the desktop. And yet the desktop is useful. That blue rectangular icon guides my behavior, and it hides a complex reality that I don’t need to know. That’s the key idea. Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive.

Run musings

You stop thinking about running and your mind wanders off to play. Random thoughts percolate to the surface for inspection and further reflection. I think I’ll grow some grapes behind the barn next spring. How will I deal with that asshole at work? Who should I contact about remodeling the bathroom? What’s for dinner tonight? Soon, you discover that the miles have slipped by like drunken memories and your at mile 8.

Brain on LSD revealed: First scans show how the drug affects the brain

Under normal conditions, information from our eyes is processed in a part of the brain at the back of the head called the visual cortex. However, when the volunteers took LSD, many additional brain areas -- not just the visual cortex -- contributed to visual processing. Dr Robin Carhart-Harris, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, who led the research, explained: "We observed brain changes under LSD that suggested our volunteers were 'seeing with their eyes shut' -- albeit they were seeing things from their imagination rather than from the outside world. We saw that many more areas of the brain than normal were contributing to visual processing under LSD -- even though the volunteers' eyes were closed. Furthermore, the size of this effect correlated with volunteers' ratings of complex, dreamlike visions. "

Midsummer Night's Dream

If you’re not familiar with the play going in, you’ll likely find the results initially disorienting, even confusing—but that’s how you’re supposed to feel. All you need do is throw away your preconceptions and surrender to the thrill of the moment, and you’ll be swept away by the phantasmagorical illogic of the parade of dramatic events.

REM sleep processes negative emotions?

Interestingly, some recent research has found that sleepers tend to report more negative emotions when woken during REM sleep than during non-REM sleep, suggesting that REM dreams and non-REM dreams may serve different (although complementary) functions in this regard. In particular, the amygdala, which specializes in dealing with unpleasant emotions (e.g. anger, aggression, fear, etc), is very active during REM sleep, and may be involved in the process of resolving emotional issues. This may be supported by the example of clinical depression: one symptom of depression is that sufferers tend to spend a disproportionately large amount of time in REM sleep, in which case these negative emotions may be over-represented, thus perpetuating the depression (deliberate deprivation of REM sleep is often helpful in alleviating depression symptoms).

J. G. Ballard on how he writes

Even in the case of a naturalistic writer, who in a sense takes his subject matter directly from the world around him, it’s difficult enough to understand how a particular fiction imposes itself. But in the case of an imaginative writer, especially one like myself with strong affinities to the surrealists, I’m barely aware of what is going on. Recurrent ideas assemble themselves, obsessions solidify themselves, one generates a set of working mythologies, like tales of gold invented to inspire a crew. I assume one is dealing with a process very close to that of dreams, a set of scenarios devised to make sense of apparently irreconcilable ideas. Just as the optical centers of the brain construct a wholly artificial three-dimensional universe through which we can move effectively, so the mind as a whole creates an imaginary world that satisfactorily explains everything, as long as it is constantly updated. So the stream of novels and stories continues . . .