Monthly Archives: November 2006

Mirror Neurons bring the Grawemeyer Award

Mirror Neurons are neurons in premotor brain regions that code our actions and respond to viewed similar actions of others. They were first discovered in monkeys by three Italian physiologists; when a monkey made specific hand movements and watched a conspecific make the same movements, neuronal activity in this area was the same.

Much discussion in neuroscientific circles has revolved around the idea that mirror neurons are key to understanding our everyday commerce with the world and with others. Here’s a couple of posts from Chris at Mixing Memory; the first is a roundup of sorts and the second profiles an impotant paper about how the mirror neuron system can code agency and avoid potential confusion about who’s doing what and who’s sensing what. Evil Monkey at Neurotopia is skeptical (but in a good way!) about what these discoveries have meant and will mean and about their purported role in autism spectrum disorders.

The Chronicle is reporting that the $200,000 Grawemeyer Prize in Psychology, awarded by the University of Louisville for outstanding ideas in psychological research (the award is given in several other fields as well), has been given to the physiologists who made the original discoveries. They are Giacomo Rizzolatti, Vittorio Gallese, and Leonardo Fogassi, all of the University of Parma.

More discussion of the award and the work behind it is at the Grawemeyer site. Congratulations to the winners, and onwards to futher clarification of the role of these neurons in our psychological life!

Charles and Ray Eames: Psychologically Inspired?

In the last post, I introduced the early film and multimedia work of Charles and Ray Eames. The subject of their fourth film (Claude Shannon’s information theory in 1953’s A Communications Primer) and the content of the world’s first multimedia presentation were inherently interconnected. In fact, Primer was one of several components of that seminal multimedia teaching presentation, Rough Sketch for a Sample Lesson of a Hypothetical Course. Rough Sketch was developed in conjunction with their long time friend, designer George Nelson.

 

I also discussed Charles and Ray’s fascination with photography and incredible collection of images, many of their own manufacture and others culled from a variety of sources for new projects. Here’s a look at their office in the 70s.

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In the cognitive psychological vanguard: Charles and Ray Eames

Few man-made objects reach the iconic status of the Eames chair, the dining version of which is pictured below.

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You’ve probably seen (and sat in!) chairs such as these and know of Charles and Ray Eames, the husband and wife team who invigorated modern design from the 1940s through the 1970s. Recently I’ve been reading descriptions of Charles and Ray’s multimedia and multiscreen film and exhibition work. Beatriz Colomina presents some assumptions about perceptual processing as expressed by media scholars throughout the period and by Charles and Ray, considerations that informed and shaped the Eames films interactively over time. Her discussion, Enclosed by Images: The Eameses’ Multimedia Architecture, gives you a sense of the excitement of the times and is a really pleasureable read.

Colomina writes in her introduction

We are surrounded today, everywhere, all the time, by arrays of multiple simultaneous images. In the streets, airports, shopping centers and gyms, but also on our computers and television sets. The idea of a single image commanding our attention has faded away.

We sit in front of our computers on our ergnomically perfected chairs, staring with a fixed gaze at many simultaneously “open” windows though which different kinds of information stream towards us. We hardly even notice it. In seems natural, as if we were simply breathing in the information.

and she makes it clear that

Designers, architects and artists were involved from the beginning, playing a crucial role in the evolution of the multiscreen and multimedia techniques of presentation of information.

According to Colomina, artists and designers contributed to developments in domains ranging from experimental cinema to the establishment of military war rooms.

I suggest that the Eames’s creative filmmaking output emerged in parallel with developing ideas about the capacity limits of the mind, as seen in cognitive psychological research of the 1950s and 60s. Charles and Ray Eames were perfectly positioned to be ambassadors of the emerging field of cognitive psychology because they were at the center of an extraordinary group of artists and scientists. By their nature and the company they kept, they were uniquely suited to synthesizing and presenting new ways of communicating the relationship between science and human affairs. Continue reading

(Very) short story time: When did you know you would become a scientist?

For me, there were a million moments, but many of them were spent listening to this record album.

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If you google this record (long enough) or find it in a record store, you’ll see the wealth of detail it has. I felt weird sensations as I listened to this as a kid, like I was right there observing. The recordings inside the den are just fascinating. The long player came out in 1971; it did serious battle on the turntable against my older sisters’ Led Zeppelin and Carole King.

I was seven years old. 

There is a blurb here…

Any stories from you? Anybody know this record?

The long arm experiment

 

 

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Clearly, I didn’t get where I am today on account of my mad Photoshopping skillz.

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Hands, tools, neglect and the parietal lobe

The title of this blog is Peripersonal Space. Peripersonal space is the space near the body, extending to the area reachable by the limbs. Understanding how the brain codes this space is not only totally cool as a basic science question but may be important knowledge to have for developing simple, noninvasive kinds of neurological rehabilitation after right hemisphere stroke (see the first paragraph of this excellent paper for references).

The brain has other well-organized representations of space; somatosensory space is topographically mapped in cortex, and I’m sure we’ve all marvelled at the exquisite nature of the sensory homunculus at one time or another… Continue reading