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When the metaphor becomes the reality

The genius — sometimes deliberate, sometimes accidental — of the enterprises now on such a steep ascent is that they have found their way through the looking-glass and emerged as something else. Their models are no longer models. The search engine is no longer a model of human knowledge, it is human knowledge. What began as a mapping of human meaning now defines human meaning, and has begun to control, rather than simply catalog or index, human thought. No one is at the controls. If enough drivers subscribe to a real-time map, traffic is controlled, with no central model except the traffic itself. The successful social network is no longer a model of the social graph, it is the social graph. This is why it is a winner-take-all game. Governments, with an allegiance to antiquated models and control systems, are being left behind.

Ant Colonies Retain Memories That Outlast the Lifespans of Individuals | Science | Smithsonian

Colonies live for 20-30 years, the lifetime of the single queen who produces all the ants, but individual ants live at most a year. In response to perturbations, the behavior of older, larger colonies is more stable than that of younger ones. It is also more homeostatic: the larger the magnitude of the disturbance, the more likely older colonies were to focus on foraging than on responding to the hassles I had created; while, the worse it got, the more the younger colonies reacted. In short, older, larger colonies grow up to act more wisely than younger smaller ones, even though the older colony does not have older, wiser ants. Ants use the rate at which they meet and smell other ants, or the chemicals deposited by other ants, to decide what to do next. A neuron uses the rate at which it is stimulated by other neurons to decide whether to fire. In both cases, memory arises from changes in how ants or neurons connect and stimulate each other. It is likely that colony behavior matures because colony size changes the rates of interaction among ants. In an older, larger colony, each ant has more ants to meet than in a younger, smaller one, and the outcome is a more stable dynamic. Perhaps colonies remember a past disturbance because it shifted the location of ants, leading to new patterns of interaction, which might even reinforce the new behavior overnight while the colony is inactive, just as our own memories are consolidated during sleep. Changes in colony behavior due to past events are not the simple sum of ant memories, just as changes in what we remember, and what we say or do, are not a simple set of transformations, neuron by neuron. Instead, your memories are like an ant colony’s: no particular neuron remembers anything although your brain does.

Diagnosing and treating personality disorders needs a dynamic approach -- ScienceDaily

"Personality researchers are on the verge of marrying technological advances and psychological theories to generate novel insights about why people are different and how that can go wrong," he said. Hopwood acknowledges that there is value in clinical descriptions of personality disorders focusing on traits -- which he describes as abstract concepts, averaged across situations. For instance, neuroticism includes features such as anger, impulsivity, anxiety and self-consciousness, but those traits are over-generalized and could apply to various psychopathologies. They are poorly suited to answer specific questions about particular moments in daily life and environmental changes over time, Hopwood said. "By analogy," Hopwood said, "although it would be more useful for a musician to understand chords (personality factors) and notes (personality facets) than to learn a few songs (personality disorder categories), this does not mean that she would not ultimately prefer a model of rhythm, melody, and key signatures (dynamics) through which she can better understand and even generate her own music."

Breakthrough brain research could yield new treatments for depression -- ScienceDaily

According to Shanechi, for clinical practitioners, a powerful decoding tool would provide the means to clearly delineate, in real time, the network of brain regions that support emotional behavior. "Our goal is to create a technology that helps clinicians obtain a more accurate map of what is happening in a depressed brain at a particular moment in time and a way to understand what the brain signal is telling us about mood. This will allow us to obtain a more objective assessment of mood over time to guide the course of treatment for a given patient," Shanechi said. "For example, if we know the mood at a given time, we can use it to decide whether or how electrical stimulation should be delivered to the brain at that moment to regulate unhealthy, debilitating extremes of emotion. This technology opens the possibility of new personalized therapies for neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety for millions who are not responsive to traditional treatments."

How attention orchestrates groups of nerve cells to enrich the brain's symphony -- ScienceDaily

Silence in the concert hall. The conductor raises the baton and the strings begin. They play the first four bars of Mozart's "A Little Night Music." All together they play a single melody, which is probably one of the best known in the music world. Then the voices divide. Different string instruments play separate melodies and the "Little Night Music" thus becomes a complex work of art. Scientists from the German Primate Center (DPZ) -- Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen and Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences in Tehran, Iran, recently discovered in a study with rhesus monkeys that nerve cells assume the role of musicians in visual perception in our brain. Usually many cells are active together (synchronously) when they process simple stimuli from our environment. The researchers were able to show that visual attention desynchronizes these nerve cells' activity and thus enables more complex information processing. Such insights into the neural mechanisms of attention in the healthy state may provide evidence of mechanisms underlying neuronal diseases such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism (BMC Biology).

Mindlessly mapping the brain – The Spike – Medium

We have one complete connectome, the 279 neurons of the nematode worm C. Elegans (for the pedants: its hemaphrodite form has 302 neurons, of which 279 form a single connected network). Texts uncountable have discussed this wiring diagram as the epitome of “a” connectome. Strictly speaking this is not true. Heroic as the original 1986 paper was, it missed out some connections; these were completed in 2011. The connectome we have is then actually an amalgam of two different creatures. What will happen if we replicate this connectome? Are there really all the exact same number of connections between the exact same neurons in every C. Elegans? It seems that each of the neurons is genetically specified, and in such a minuscule nervous system it is possible that each and every one of the connections is too. But would you bet your house on it?

Absence epilepsy: When the brain is like 'an orchestra without a conductor' -- ScienceDaily

"Normally the human brain, like an orchestra, is playing beautiful music and every player can understand what the others are playing. We thought that when a seizure started, the 'orchestra of neurons' would play extremely loud and intense music. And when the seizure ended, the neurons would go back to playing monotonous music," Maheshwari said. "Instead, we found that during an absence seizure the volume of the music went down and the 'musicians' were playing music without coordinating with others. Most of them were not playing at all, as if the conductor was not there anymore. When the seizure ended, it was like the conductor had returned and organized the musicians to play harmoniously again."

The model is not the reality

Doctors loved Kübler-Ross’s five stages. The stages gave doctors the capacity to diagnose their dying patients, to target their questions and categorize the evidence: if the patient wasn’t depressed, then maybe she was in denial. The stages provided guidance on what to say in impossible circumstances. She had, unwittingly, provided doctors with a system for discussing death like a medical process. Her collaborator, Kessler, told me that on more than one occasion, a medical colleague would stop by while he and Kübler-Ross were writing to seek help with a diagnosis. “They’d be like, ‘Elisabeth, what stage are they in?’ And she would say, ‘It’s not about the stages! It’s about meeting them where they are!’” She found it laughable how some doctors had the gall to hold an essential organ in their hand but had no capacity for ambiguity.

Mental Illness or Mental Injury? | Psychology Today

n fact, we do know from scientific research and the burgeoning field of epigenetics that most of what we call “mental illnesses” are really injuries and not just post-traumatic ones, but chronic and repeated complex trauma.  Even our very biological genetic material is affected not only by our own experiences, but those of our ancestors. The field of epigenetics has revived the evolutionary theory of Lamarck[1] from the dustpan of history.

What gives poetry its aesthetic appeal? New research has well-versed answer -- ScienceDaily

Their results showed that vividness of mental imagery was the best predictor of aesthetic appeal -- poems that evoked greater imagery were more pleasing. Emotional valence also predicted aesthetic appeal, though to a lesser extent; specifically, poems that were found to be more positive were generally found to be more appealing. By contrast, emotional arousal did not have a clear relationship to aesthetic appeal. Notably, readers did not at all agree on what poems they found appealing, an outcome that supports the notion that people have different tastes; nonetheless, there is common ground -- vividness of imagery and emotional valence -- in what explains these tastes, even if they vary. "The vividness of a poem consistently predicted its aesthetic appeal," notes Starr, author of Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience (MIT Press). "Therefore, it seems that vividness of mental imagery may be a key component influencing what we like more broadly."

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.

How Vector Space Mathematics Reveals the Hidden Sexism in Language

The team does this by searching the vector space for word pairs that produce a similar vector to “she: he.” This reveals a huge list of gender analogies. For example, she;he::midwife:doctor; sewing:carpentry; registered_nurse:physician; whore:coward; hairdresser:barber; nude:shirtless; boobs:ass; giggling:grinning; nanny:chauffeur, and so on. The question they want to answer is whether these analogies are appropriate or inappropriate. So they use Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to ask. They showed each analogy to 10 turkers and asked them whether the analogy was biased or not. They consider the analogy biased if more than half of the turkers thought it was biased.

In marketing: use an analogy to create questions, then answer the questions

Consumers like to figure out analogies for themselves; when the analogy is close, consumers don't need a great deal of additional information. For test subjects who read the first Coravin ad, the extra details about expanding their palates was detrimental. "When we give too much information, consumers are like, 'We get it. Stop bugging us!" she said. "We rob them of the positive feeling they get from understanding it themselves." Meanwhile, those who read the second Coravin ad found the palate details beneficial. As Herzeinstein's research noted, when an analogy is distant, too little information leaves consumers confused and annoyed. Marketers need to give a lot of information to help consumers understand the analogy, she said.

Before the metaphor became reality

In a glowing review for the Los Angeles Times, Larry Magid expressed amazement over many of the metaphor and skeuomorphic features that would come to define the personal computer, surrounded by quotation marks that are remarkably quaint today. "Once you've set up your machine, you insert the main system disk, turn on the power, and in a minute you are presented with the introductory screen. Apple calls it your 'desk top'. What you see on your screen looks a lot like what you might find on a desk," he wrote. His analysis of the user-friendly visual interface—which was quickly copied by Microsoft and soon spread to virtually every personal computer—sounds strikingly like the awe we expressed after first seeing the iPhone's intutitive touch screen-controlled operating system in 2007.  "It uses a hand-held 'mouse'—a small pointing device which enables the user to select programs, and move data from one part of the screen to another," Magrid wrote. "When this process was described to me, it sounded cumbersome, especially since I'm already comfortable with using a keyboard. But the mouse is so much more intuitive. As infants we learned to move objects around our play pens. Using a mouse is an extension of that skill."

Identity, time and the brain

Seung told me to imagine a river, the roiling waters of the Colorado. That, he said, is our experience from moment to moment. Over time, the water leaves its mark on the riverbed, widening bends, tracing patterns in the rock and soil. In a sense, the Grand Canyon is a memory of where the Colorado has been. And of course, that riverbed shapes the flow of the waters today. There are two selves then, river and riverbed. The river is all tumult and drama. The river demands attention. Yet it’s the riverbed that Seung wants to know.

Invoking Star Wars to justify your movie is a bad sign

But when people say "this is my Star Wars," they usually aren't comparing any of the actual elements of Star Wars to anything in their movie. They're meaning "this will be a huge expansive saga with cuteness and danger," or else, "This was something where I obsessed about the crunchy edges of the mythos for way too long." For example, Last Airbender writer/director M. Night Shyamalan made a big point of comparing his movie to Star Wars in every interview, but the resulting film did a disservice to both the original cartoon and Star Wars. Also, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem writer/directors the Strause Brothers invoked the Star Wars comparison a lot. The point is not that people shouldn't invoke Star Wars — it's just a bad sign when you invoke it for stuff that's really nothing like Star Wars.

"The Dress" is the perfect mirror for the subjective, fractured Internet

The fact that a single image could polarize the entire Internet into two aggressive camps is, let’s face it, just another Thursday. But for the past half-day, people across social media have been arguing about whether a picture depicts a perfectly nice bodycon dress as blue with black lace fringe or white with gold lace fringe. And neither side will budge. This fight is about more than just social media—it’s about primal biology and the way human eyes and brains have evolved to see color in a sunlit world.
Like ripples around a stone, influential circles appear seemingly wherever he dips his toe.
Jesus H. Christ piloting a U2 over Havana, we’re getting the Titanic and Bay of Pigs in one column. Someone really should get hold of Peggy’s cable and block The History Channel.
Metaphors are our shortest stories.