Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Monday, June 13, 2011

100th Post And Fascinations By Becoming an Eagleman Groupie

This is my 100th post.  Not bad for a little under a year, my first post was dated July 5, 2010.  OK so what does that prove other than I share most of humanity's fascination with numbers that are divisible by 10?  Or am I fascinated by squares: 10 X 10? Or do I like numbers that work out nicely in scientific notation: 1 X 102 ?  Or perhaps ones that can be expressed in a common logarithm as a small integer: 2?  I think I just like zeros.  I don't see Google creating a Doodle in honor of my 100th post.

I think I am turning into a David Eagleman groupie.  This is the guy that has people fall 15 stories with a chronometer strapped to their wrist that flashes too fast to read the numbers. "Can you see the numbers?"


As I mentioned before due to certain aesthetic considerations, I have decided that this experiment is not for me.  However in a moment, we will find a link to an experiment that you can participate in from home that involves nothing more than about 20 minutes of your time and answering questions.

I started Eagleman's new book:

Incognito, The Secret Lives of The Brain 

I am only into the second chapter and I have half the book underlined.  Yes I am finding it rather fascinating.

So this morning rather than read the book like a normal person I start chasing down Eagleman on the net. That led to some pretty interesting web pages.   So let's Google David Eagleman.

Edit 6-20-2011:  Hit # 1.  This is a good site, that either cropped up after my original post, or I just didn't find. There are a lot of links to his books and articles.   There is an excellent video highlighting Eagleman's research:

Nova, Profile David Eagleman  

Hit # 2,  Eagleman Laboratory For Perception and Action.    This is the site that you want to check out.

Eagleman (far right) and his staff

Some very cool graphics, and jolly looking people (except the one guy in the back who is too cool for this sort of frivolity)!   I start looking about and bingo right from the get go I notice the blurb:

"We're running research on how jurors make decisions. Have 10 minutes and want to play juror?"

Well I would make that 20 minutes but I read the questions rather thoroughly and I am slow.  Here is your chance to participate in Eagleman's research and you don't have to free fall 15 stories.  They have some scary sounding legalize that you must consent to before you can start, but I am not sure why. You do not identify yourself or give your email address. You only answer general gender, age and level of education questions.   They present about 10 quicky trials with limited evidence, and ask you to vote guilty or not guilty based on the evidence presented. Then there are some general questions regarding your social beliefs and understanding of neuroscience. I enjoyed taking the survey.  You can find the research project here:

Hit # 3   Baylor College of Medicine, Research on Jury Decision Making

Do the research project first and then if you would like to find out more information on where Eagleman is going with this, read this article.

Hit # 4 Neuroscience And The Law

I would like to submit the following case for Eagleman's MRIs & fMRIs.  This article is about a female Los Angles police detective who almost got away with murder 25 years ago. 

Side Track  #1  The Atlantic, The Lazarus File

Assuming that she is guilty (the trial is in August) how do you handle a person (a police officer no less) who apparently viciously murdered a woman over jealousy and then goes on for the next 23 years to lead an exemplary career in the LAPD and a normal life?

Got a lot of time on your hands, its a long article, here is another case that I would like Eagleman to look at.  

Side Track # 2 The New Yorker, Trial By Fire

It will be impossible to perform any MRIs on this defendant.  He was convicted and executed.  I would like Eagleman to stick the heads of the members of the Texas Board of Pardons and members of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in the MRIs and see what goes on in there.  Well this post has taken a darker twist than I originally intended.  

Getting back to Eagleman, his lab does a lot of work with the perception of time which is one my interests due to my clock speed slowing with MS.  Here is an interesting essay Eagleman wrote called Brain Time: 

Hit # 4 Eagleman Laboratory, Brain Time

I believe that my mind is becoming Googlized because looking at this essay presents two more links we should look at:

Side Track # 3 Amazon, Whats Next? Dispatches On The Future Of Science   Oh no, not another book for my reading list.  I should have retired 20 years ago.  I have a sweatshirt that states "So Many Books...So Little Time.  Its horrible, I don't have enough life left to read all the damned books that I want to read and more keep erupting out of the librasphere.

Side Track # 4  What is the ?

Oh good God, may the saints preserve me...

To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.

Believe me, I have no business being in that room, but would I love to be there.  What a cool idea! And what company!  They have a matrix of contributors that is 13 columns by 48 rows.  I browsed through and most of the people I have never heard of but there were some old friends among the group. Bear in mind these people don't realize they are my friends but they are:      Noam Chomsky, Alan Guth, Benoit Mandelbrot, Dean Ornish,  Elaine Pagels, & the late Heinz Pagels,   Freeman Dyson, E.O. Wilson, Frank Tippler, Helen Fisher, Jared Diamond,  Jonah Leher, Lee Smolin, Lynn Margulis, Marvin Minsky, Natalie Angier,  Murray Gell-mann,  Paul Davies, Roger Penrose, Robert Sapolsky, Rupert Sheldrake, Sidney Coleman, Stephen Jay Gould, Steven Johnson,  Werner Heisenberg and of course my good new buddy David Eagleman.  Everyone of these people have not only helped me to understand the world better but usually entertained and fascinated me in the process.  The main feature of the site is called Conversations where some of these exceptional people get together and discuss some problem.  But they also have a what they call the Annual Question, which I thought was pretty cool.  They pose a question for the year and all these members provide a short essay like answer.

This year's question is:


So far they have 159 responses which you can read here:

Side Track # 5, Responses

I am now working on day three of this post and hope to get it done this month so that I can still make my claim of 100 posts in less than a year.  I got a little side tracked over at the Edge.  Some of the responses were quite good. I dare not go look at them again although my intention is to read one a day for the next 159 days. One guy said to have Occam's razor with Einstein's blade in it. Another guy said to be aware the tookkit is already full of garbage and to be cautious about adding new garbage.  This one may be worthy of a post.  Well they are all worthy of a post, but one has to pick and choose.  Anyhow, due to the fact that this is my blog and I will never be invited to the Edge, (I do not meet the physical requirements--a fully functioning brain that places your IQ in the stratosphere, or the social requirements--no one gives a shit what I think), I shall take this opportunity to provide my answer.

A Finely Tuned Bullshit Detector And A Missed Detail Klaxon
Sextant Professor Emeritus of The Henry The Navigator Chair, Navigating The Finite Institute, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania  

          Bullshit Detector:  Regardless of one's position in the political, religious, social, cultural, economic, and scientific spectrum, one has to realize that much of the information available today in the various media sources is a series of quick factoids presented in fleeting multi-media bursts.  By carefully selecting these factoids and releasing them in a skilled a fashion, a bullshitter can direct one to a desired conclusion that may be entirely false by providing snippets of "truth"...a bread crumb trail of truths leading to the land of bullshit.  One should also realize that in today's environment purveyors of truth are trampled by the financial and raw political power of the purveyors of opinion...those who state the "facts" that certain audiences want to hear.   

        One also has to be aware of the dazzle them with bullshit phenomena, a facet to which I am especially susceptible.  Put enough 50 cent words into an essay, write it in a diaphanous style that appeals to academia especially stating things as though it was obviously known by anyone familiar with the field, and slather a few PhD and Director of This, and throw in a few tony sounding Institutes and good old Sextant will be sitting in your lap purring like a kitten.  Then on Monday morning, he wakes up with an intellectual hangover and thinks you know I may have been bullshitted with all that fancy talk.  EMBRACE OBFUSCATION.  

        One also has to be careful when conducting research that one does not bullshit themselves with carefully crafted questions that can easily be manipulated with a computer to attain a desired result.  The world is not black and white.  Reasonable people live in shades of gray, and to paraphrase my dear friend Bertrand Russell (another guy that doesn't exactly realize that he is my friend) fools and fanatics live in black and white. Dr. Eagleman, be cautious. When someone as stupid as I am can detect a bias in the nature of your questions on the jury survey, you may want to re-evaluate your survey.  I agree with you and yet I felt manipulated by the questions.   Use care not to drive reasonable people out of the shades of gray and into either black or white. 

          Missed Detail Klaxon:  This is one that came to bite me in the ass numerous times in engineering.  You are doing something, designing a test facility, solving a murder, healing a patient, troubleshooting a failure, quoting a job, building a deck, researching a phenomenon, or planting a garden...anything that has some element of complexity.  THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS!  Remember that in bold caps.  In my experience in engineering, every time something came to bite me in the ass with a few exceptions, it was something that I had thought about but fell through the cracks.  Sometimes it was even something that gnawed away at me, repeatedly.  In a pit of venomous snakes, it is easy to miss the mosquito bite.  Sometimes the mosquito is carrying malaria.

        An example of things falling through the cracks.  In The Atlantic story above, The Lazarus File, the victim's father solved the crime within hours after it happened.  He mentioned to the investigating detective that the victim had had an altercation with a woman at the hospital that the victim worked at.  All that he knew was that the woman was a police officer.  This was in 1986.  It fell through the cracks, and it remained in the cracks even though the victim's father mentioned it several times throughout the life of the investigation.  Why did it fall through the cracks?  Altercation at work, hospital, woman, police officer.  Four somewhat odd facts that kind of stand out like a diamond in goat's ass.  Why an altercation at work?  Who was the woman?  A POLICE OFFICER!  Since when do women police officers go picking fights with other women in a hospital?  Didn't the husband know that his former girlfriend was a police officer?   Not only is the diamond in the goat's ass, but the goat is crying out in pain, and yet it fell through the cracks. How?  Because there was 37 acres of facts before investigating detective and most of them were covered with the beautiful green grass of a burglary gone awry .  In one 5 square foot section out on the periphery, a goat stood bleating, and no one heard it for 23 years.  Then suddenly "Hey! There is a goat over there with a diamond in its ass!"  One is tempted to believe that it was negligence on the part of the original detective, but I am almost sure that it is not.  It was simply a tree lost in the forest.  The devil is in the details and he has bit my ass numerous times, and some of those times I marveled at how damned obvious the problem was in retrospect.

EDIT 3-9-12: Stephanie Lazarus, 51, was found guilty of first degree murder for the 1986 killing of Sherri Rassmussen and faces sentencing of 25 years to life. 

Typical Results, Synesthesia Screening

I have to end this ambiguated (a new invented word apparently--disambiguated without the dis) post.  I am tired of writing it.  There is more over at Eagleman's site that deserves a look.  Eagleman is also studying synesthesia...the mixing of senses.  Some people experience letters, numerals, musical tones or dates with color.  I have even read of some people associating certain tastes or odors with musical notes.  Eagleman's site explains the phenomena and even offers screening tests that you can take.  Also Eagleman's site offers a wealth of links to his publications.

So what was the point of all this?  I am not sure.  Eagleman is a rather curious and fascinating fellow and I am enjoying his book even though it has led me on a wild goose chase through the Internet.  There are still several sites that I want to check out.

I have added about 5 books to my wish list yesterday and a couple of them I had to slap my hand to keep from buying.  It is terribly easy with a Kindle you know--just 1-click...and 60 seconds later, you are the proud owner of the book--no that is not correct, you don't own a Kindle book like you own a bound book, you are something of a right holder to one encoded copy of digital data that can only be unlocked with a Kindle or Kindle software.  I am going to1-Click myself into financial ruin, if I don't drive myself insane chasing all these links.  I need to go take a walk.

EDIT 6-17-2011:  Eagleman published an article in the latest issue of The Atlantic:

The Atlantic, July - August 2011, The Brain On Trial, David Eagleman

The article discusses the role that neurological issues can impact criminal behavior.  It has been adapted from material that appeared in Incognito.  It provides more insight on the jury research program that Eagleman is involved in.

EDIT 7-4-2011:  Here is a very good profile of David Eagleman:


I can't resist quoting this much out of the article:

" Are there any possibilities that scare Eagleman-the-scientist?
“I’ve been doing this for 18 years, and I sometimes feel like, oh my god, what if I’ve gone just a little too far?,” Eagleman says.“When you reach your arms down into it, sometimes I feel like I’m seeing the matrix in a sense. Oh my god, this is all a construction. So the same question that excites me [how does the brain construct reality?] can also scare the shit out of me a lot of times. Because it’s much more comfortable to imagine that you open your eyes, and the world is full of color and things just exist and time flows like a river. But when you start breaking all that down and seeing that it’s a construction of the brain, it’s kind of awful, I guess, because it makes you feel so alien to everything you’ve ever known and loved.”

On the question of the Soul:

“Does David Eagleman have a soul?” He pauses again.
“So, I can answer that in two ways. I can tell you from my internal experience, and from my scientific training. Internally, I have felt as I’ve gotten older that I am not the same as my body, despite all of the neuroscience. How do I put this? What’s clear is that I depend entirely on the integrity of my body. As things in my brain change—if I were to develop a tumor, for example—that could completely change who I am, how I think. So I’m somehow yoked to my brain in a very strong way, and the question for all of us is, are we yoked to it 100 percent or is there some other little bit going on? From the inside, I have an intuition that I’m not just equivalent to my body. That said, intuitions always prove to be a very poor judge of reality. So, if you ask me, ‘do I have a soul?’ I would say ‘you know, I kind of feel like there’s something about me that’s a little separate from the biology.’ But I have no evidence for that.”
I am developing a very deep respect for Eagleman, his humanity, his willingness to look beyond the cold facts of hard science, and his optimism.  The fact that he uses a bit of obscenity in his conversation helps as well!

Image Credits:  

All except Edge Logo & Buy with 1-Click:  Eagleman Laboratories 

Edge Logo:

"Buy with 1-Click":

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