Posts Tagged ‘perception’

But Which Eye Is The Binocular One?

April 1, 2013 Leave a comment

“He must learn that his extreme powers of discrimination do not make him weak and inferior – but rather strong and superior.” – Matthew Oliver Goodwin

“Regione caecorum rex est luscus.” (In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.)
Desiderius Erasmus

Here is a tale about the ontology of perception, or as I like to call it, the laws of private physics. It takes place not in regione caecorum, but in regione luscus – that is, it takes place in the country or land of the one-eyed rather than the blind. In this land, there was once born someone who claimed to have a second eye, and through it, they could see a kind of “depth” and experience an aesthetic of personal engulfment which could not be accessed or appreciated with only a single eye.

The wise men of the land heard these claims and set out to prove, with their one eyed instruments and one eyed reasoning, whether or not this magical experience of stereoscopic vision could exist. As they suspected, their results confirmed that there was no depth nor sense of “embeddedness” which could be felt visually. Vision, they said, was incapable of representing volume.

Two Eyed Sally protested, but to no avail. It was plain to everyone that volume cannot be communicated without touching an object with your body directly. The eye does not touch objects directly, so sensing depth by vision is a hallucination and Sally is crazy.

One day another person was born who also claimed to have a second eye and could see that Sally had two eyes also but that everyone else had one eye.  To this, the wise men responded in their most scientific and rational way, doing the only thing that can be done in such a circumstance…

“Burn the witches!”, they bellowed.

Many years passed, and after many witches were burned, very few people spoke about their second eye experiences anymore. When they did it was, obliquely, through stories and metaphors, or as comedy. Increasingly, the one-eyed view of the world had become more and more successful, explaining nearly everything and producing amazing devices like the split-view monocle which allowed one to have two slightly different views of the same thing, allowing people who learned to use the monocle to become much better coordinated. Two views were better than one.

At this point, one of the wisest wise men accidentally ingested a few micrograms of a semi-synthetic fungal extract, and began to hallucinate that he had a second eye. His perceptual solitude became perforated with the legendary aesthetic depths and subjective embeddedness. He reported his amazing experience, and before he knew it, people all over the world were duplicating his unintentional experiment intentionally.

Around the same time, other wise men were playing with light. For years, they had observed an unexpected interference pattern whenever light was projected through a mask with more than one slit. This reminded some of the more unconventional thinkers of the myth of binocular vision, and for a time it seemed that stereoscopy could be a legitimate phenomenon. Strangely, social events seemed to mirror this loosening of constraint and a kind of renaissance or ‘mind opening’ seemed to be blooming on every front.

The more clear-headed of the wise men however, those whose single eyed vision was particularly sharp and acute, warned of trouble. The very thought of people with double the normal amount of eyes, idling in some kind of sickening optical illusion was revolting and they set out to figure out exactly what was the fucking problem with these patterns and slits, and with the strange reports from the fungus eaters as well.

They devised ingenious experiments in which the stereoscopic patterns could be explained. By using instruments which only could see one thing at a time, the validity of the monoscopic model could be deduced. Terms like ‘wave function collapse’ and ‘decoherence’ were a soothing balm for the anxieties of the wise men.

Gradually the rash of thinkers who took stereoscopic delusions seriously were drummed out of the wise man academy, and depth of field was discredited. Instead of being studied as a strange physical phenomenon, depth perception  became something else – an ‘epiphenomenon’. Epiphenomena of this kind are an ’emergent property’ which sort of ‘un-exists’ in a never-never land hidden away in neurons…or maybe calcium ions…or radiological zappity zaps.

Even if some of the sensations of stereoscopic vision felt real to some people, it would be because of the ability of these zappings to compare and extract information about each other. Such information might be useful after all, because it allows more data to be simulated at once and more data about the environment means a better chance at survival and reproduction. It could be that the people with the two eyed delusion were not witches or criminally insane after all, they are just unfortunate mutants who have a disability.

There was still some question, however, about how the light knew which slit was the right one to go through, and about whether it was the second eye which was the defective one or whether it just corrupted the first eye. Interpretations abounded about multiple universes and entangled eyeballs. All of these interpretations had in common the same thing: they concluded by re-asserting the validity of flat vision. They could all agree on one thing – that three dimensional sight was supernatural hogwash. The details of how and why were complicated and esoteric, but they are consistent and verifiable, (as long as you use instruments and experiments which are designed to filter out anything unscientific and ignore your own corrupted judgments).

“And so, little by little, a little later
These critics set to work
To make nonsense out of the sense of what we were doing.
And they succeeded.
They destroyed our hero’s faith in himself.
He didn’t have it any more.
After a few, disappointing times
In the big auditorium.
The light gone out of him.
We all stopped going.
And the man who had once seemed so tall
And who now seemed so much smaller
Left our town
Saying no, no, no
They put us back on the narrow path.
This is the way things have been in our town
For as long as anyone cares to remember.
By the way
How are things in your town?”

Ken Nordine

Why do pitches separated by an octave sound “the same”?

February 14, 2013 2 comments

Answer by Paul King:

This phenomenon is called “circularity of pitch.”

Once a tone has gone up one octave, it seems to be “back to where it started” but “higher”:

As others have mentioned, this effect is derived from the overtone structure of natural sounds. The “richness” of a natural sound comes from several overlaid frequencies, each of which are an integer multiple of the base frequency or “fundamental”, and the reason for this has to do with the physics of how sounds are produced by vibrating objects like strings and vocal cords.

The reason that shifting up one octave “sounds the same” is that the overtone structure of a tone and the same tone one octave higher (all frequencies doubled) is almost the same.

Here is the frequency spectrum of a violin string (the horizontal axis is frequency, and the vertical axis is”power”). The first “bump” is the fundamental and the ones to the right are the overtones:

Shifting this tone up one octave amounts to stretching this spectrum to the right by 2x. When this happens, the spectrum will be almost identical except that every other overtone will be missing. The tone thus sounds almost the same (activates the same frequency-sensitive neurons in the brain), but with a higher “average frequency” and “thinner” due to the missing overtones. This is illustrated here by stretching the above image horizontally by 2x and showing the overtones that line up:

If these two tones are played together, they reinforce each other and will merge to sound like a single note but with a different timbre (different frequency spectrum).

This circular relationship between frequency and pitch leads to the “circularity in pitch judgement” illusion called the Shepard scale in which a chromatic scale of notes seems to rise forever. Audio demo here:

The animation accompanying the audio shows how it works: The frequency spectrum is shifted to the right, increasing the perceived “pitch” (chroma), however the power envelope, and thus the average frequency (height), is held artificially fixed the tone does not actually climb higher. The net effect is this:

Perhaps the creepiest version of this illusion is the never-ending falling tone auditory illusion, here:…

To show just how intertwined overtones are with the perception of scale, pitch, and octaves, it turns out that when a piece of music is played on a “stretched scale” (one octave stretched from 2x frequency to 2.2x), the music sounds horribly out of tune and wrong. But if the overtone structure of the notes being played is synthetically stretched by the same amount, the music sounds oddly in tune again.

View Answer on Quora

I think that this reveals a lot about the nature of sense in general. Rather than calling these perceptual surprises ‘illusions’, I would say that they are examples of how conflicts are resolved among multiple levels of sense and sense-making.

In particular, I think that the fact of overtone dominance in tone perception tells us about the Top-Down nature of sensation, where larger wholes or gestalts are interpreted at a higher priority than granular, low level sensation. I think the illusion more likely is in the confidence that we have for our expectations about what perception actually is. When we assume that physics is an observer-independent reality with pockets of privacy containing approximations of that reality, then we overlook the possibility that physics is indivisibly both private and public, universal and proximal. This is the more accurate model in my opinion.

Overtones show us the nested nature of perception where our sensitivity plays an active role on many levels. It’s not just a matter of data accumulating in structures, but of encountering our own local experience of eternity as a rolling ‘here and now’. Like the perpetual floating peak of circular pitch, our here and now is only the most obvious range of a larger phenomenon united by likeness.

Our personal range of awareness yokes together a fugue of sympathetic echoes, both from repeating pasts and the promise of novelty from possible futures. These sub-personal and super-personal ranges are bound by instantaneous space and eternal time, respectively. The more sub-personal you get, the more you are talking about the experiences of organs, tissues, cells, and molecules in spatial relation to each other as bodies, objects, or random machines. The more super-personal you get, the more we refer to timeless themes of inspiration and teleology.

Physics can teach us how to understand the mathematics of ratios and the mechanics of wave, but in its current legacy form, physics can’t explain the physics of ratios themselves, or the mechanisms which drive us to perform the production of acoustic pressure waves. We are dazzled by the perfection of the ratios, but we no longer care what they are actually ratios of.


Why Light Isn’t Made of Photons

June 8, 2012 Leave a comment
Click The Lightswitch

I like this illustration of what happens in the rod cells of your eyes. There’s really nothing there that links visual experience with optical mechanics. There’s a lot of complementary processes going on in the visual system:

1. Your rod and cone cells are constantly pumping glutamate into the synapse, and when light hits the Vitamin A molecules stuck inside the opsin proteins that make up the rod.

2. The Vitamin A molecule changes from it’s alcohol shaped isomer to a more, uh, erect aldehyde shape, which pushes the protein around in whatever way it can.

“The molecule undergoes a series of shape changes to try and better fit the binding site. Therefore, a series of changes in the protein occurs to expel the trans-retinal from the protein.”(source)

3. The mechanical changes in the opsin protein cause the rod cell to change its electric charge.

4. Hyperpolarization of the rod cell stops it from releasing glutamate, which has the effect of simultaneously

5. Turning off (hyperpolarizing) the main on-center group of cells that stimulate each ganglion and turns on the surrounding off-center group of bipolar cells that lead to the ganglion. (YouTube)

6. It appears that the elongating of the retinal (Vitamin A isomer) molecule allows the rod cell as a whole to absorb more visible light – so that detecting light makes your eye become more sensitive to light. Sort of like your eyes are opening their eyes.

7. “The nerves reach the optic chasm, where the nerve fibers from the inside half of each retina cross to the other side of the brain, but the nerve fibers from the outside half of the retina stay on the same side of the brain.” (each side of your brain gets a compete stereoscopic image, one L+R and the other R+L. It’s really a stereo stereo image.

This is just a casual overview. Feel free to correct me if I have it wrong.

The impression I get only makes me more convinced of my interpretation that photons cannot be considered light in any way. Photons are quorum synchronized reciprocal changes among atoms.

What our visual cortex would ‘see’ is nothing more than interruptions in the flow of glutamate in bipolar cells, which in turn are nothing more than responses of a stack of protein sheets to the adjustments in the shape of Vitamin A molecules. What is tickling our nervous system is not photons, but orchestrations of symmetric changes in cellular biochemistry.

The claims of vision being a transduction of optical information is misleading. It implies that we are getting a directly anamorphic imprint of photon impacts, when in fact, our visual experience, even if it could be described in biochemical terms, is quite indirect. What the brain detects is like news coverage of an electoral college voting on an issue in another country.

Of course, none of this begins to address the hard problem. Photons, molecule, cells and brains would have no way of producing seemingly non-molecular qualia like color, orientation, and beauty if they were the simple mechanical objects that we presume. The brain does not need to make an image out of glutamate fluctuation to be functionally informed by it. The data is already there, what more would be required?

Light is not a representation of photons, or glutamate, or cell polarizations, it is an anthropological scale sense of visual relation. Not a substance or an ‘energy’ but a sensitivity to objects being energized. As the so called ‘dark current’ of our retinal cells suggest, it is the job of our eyes to silence the noise of our brain and to open the bidirectional pathways of sense and motive; of receptive understanding, and projection of attention.

Bent Pencil

May 18, 2012 Leave a comment

“Let us consider the pencil-in-water example. The representation of the pencil in your head is bent. The real pencil is not bent. That which misrepresents reality is, by definition, wrong.”

That is right in one sense, but only when you extend your naive realism (the pencil looks bent) to additional levels of biased realism (I can tell that it only looks bent, and I understand that it is possible for things to seem one way in one sense and a different way in another sense).

What this means is that when you say “The real pencil is not bent. That which misrepresents reality is, by definition, wrong.” you assume that there is a “real pencil” based purely on the bias of perceptual capacities of your human body. Your psychological capacities elevate that low level perception to a more subtle level of  interpretation (which is still a form of perception of perception) in which you can entertain a difference between a real pencil and a visual appearance.

I submit that the bent pencil is, in a sense, a much more ‘real’ pencil than the understood straight pencil in that it reflects not only the distant object of physical surfaces of a pencil and water, but it conveys a condensed encyclopedia on optics and perception which lead directly to discoverable neurological truths.

It is the simplistic interpretation of a literal reality that ‘simply is’, independent of a perceptual experience of that reality which seems to be a misrepresentation of reality.

That’s right. Fiction is primordial, fact is contrived.

On Color Perception

April 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Color Perception Is Not in the Eye of the Beholder: It’s in the Brain

image of color cones in the eye
Images of living human retinas showing the wide diversity of number of cones sensitive to different colors. (Photo credit: University of Rochester)
High-resolution photo for download
(please include photo credit)

First-ever images of living human retinas have yielded a surprise about how we perceive our world. Researchers at the University of Rochester have found that the number of color-sensitive cones in the human retina differs dramatically among people—by up to 40 times—yet people appear to perceive colors the same way. The findings, on the cover of this week’s journal Neuroscience, strongly suggest that our perception of color is controlled much more by our brains than by our eyes.

“We were able to precisely image and count the color-receptive cones in a living human eye for the first time, and we were astonished at the results,” says David Williams, Allyn Professor of Medical Optics and director of the Center for Visual Science. “We’ve shown that color perception goes far beyond the hardware of the eye, and that leads to a lot of interesting questions about how and why we perceive color.”

Williams and his research team, led by postdoctoral student Heidi Hofer, now an assistant professor at the University of Houston, used a laser-based system developed by Williams that maps out the topography of the inner eye in exquisite detail. The technology, known as adaptive optics, was originally used by astronomers in telescopes to compensate for the blurring of starlight caused by the atmosphere.

Williams turned the technique from the heavens back toward the eye to compensate for common aberrations. The technique allows researchers to study the living retina in ways that were never before possible. The pigment that allows each cone in the human eye to react to different colors is very fragile and normal microscope light bleaches it away. This means that looking at the retina from a cadaver yields almost no information on the arrangement of their cones, and there is certainly no ability to test for color perception. Likewise, the amino acids that make up two of the three different-colored cones are so similar that there are no stains that can bind to some and not others, a process often used by researchers to differentiate cell types under a microscope.

Imaging the living retina allowed Williams to shine light directly into the eye to see what wavelengths each cone reflects and absorbs, and thus to which color each is responsive. In addition, the technique allows scientists to image more than a thousand cones at once, giving an unprecedented look at the composition and distribution of color cones in the eyes of living humans with varied retinal structure.

Each subject was asked to tune the color of a disk of light to produce a pure yellow light that was neither reddish yellow nor greenish yellow. Everyone selected nearly the same wavelength of yellow, showing an obvious consensus over what color they perceived yellow to be. Once Williams looked into their eyes, however, he was surprised to see that the number of long- and middle-wavelength cones—the cones that detect red, green, and yellow—were sometimes profusely scattered throughout the retina, and sometimes barely evident. The discrepancy was more than a 40:1 ratio, yet all the volunteers were apparently seeing the same color yellow.

“Those early experiments showed that everyone we tested has the same color experience despite this really profound difference in the front-end of their visual system,” says Hofer. “That points to some kind of normalization or auto-calibration mechanism—some kind of circuit in the brain that balances the colors for you no matter what the hardware is.”

In a related experiment, Williams and a postdoctoral fellow Yasuki Yamauchi, working with other collaborators from the Medical College of Wisconsin, gave several people colored contacts to wear for four hours a day. While wearing the contacts, people tended to eventually feel as if they were not wearing the contacts, just as people who wear colored sunglasses tend to see colors “correctly” after a few minutes with the sunglasses. The volunteers’ normal color vision, however, began to shift after several weeks of contact use. Even when not wearing the contacts, they all began to select a pure yellow that was a different wavelength than they had before wearing the contacts.

“Over time, we were able to shift their natural perception of yellow in one direction, and then the other,” says Williams. “This is direct evidence for an internal, automatic calibrator of color perception. These experiments show that color is defined by our experience in the world, and since we all share the same world, we arrive at the same definition of colors.”

Williams’ team is now looking to identify the genetic basis for this large variation between retinas. Early tests on the original volunteers showed no simple connection among certain genes and the number and diversity of color cones, but Williams is continuing to search for the responsible combination of genes.

I interpret this study as supporting multisense realism in the following two ways:

1) It opens the possibility that perception is not a machine that simulates an external factual reality but rather an interactive sensitivity on many levels of material organization.

2) It suggests that we see though our retina rather than retina being responsible for what we see. Our cone cells, like antennae, faithfully amplify their photosensitivity for us, like a radio antenna can facilitate our access to radio programs, but do not dictate the content of them.

While I don’t claim to know the origin of our color qualia, I have a conjecture that what we see is color of microbiological origin – specifically an inheritance from our earliest photosynthesizing single cell ancestors. Our eyeballs seem to recapitulate in microcosm the warm saline marine environment of the Pre-Cambrian Era. Metalloproteins such as hemoglobin, chlorophyll, and hemocyanin (red, green, and blue respectively) perhaps can give us clues which link eukaryotic metabolism with our qualitative presentation of their sensitivity to oxygen, heat, and light.

For a billion years, life on Earth probably consisted of oceans full of blue-green algae, blooming and shrinking together in enormous communities. The photosynthetic impact of circadian rhythms and the seasonal cycles over those hundreds of millions of years are a primordial heartbeat or alphabet of optical sensitivity. Chlorophyll, with it’s room temperature quantum mechanical properties, may very well have a sophisticated palette for light frequencies and incident angles which is passed on to the cell as a whole through DNA or microtubules or both.

This kind of a scenario makes more sense to me than the rather disjointed story of visual perception we have now. Colorless wavelengths of light magically turning into colors through a pinball machine of cells and signals. An arbitrary yet immutable palette of hues and hue combinations. Qualia which represents with a nothing-like something that which is presented as a something-like nothing. A universe devoid of sense coming into sensation for no explainable purpose through no explainable mechanism.

I say that sooner or later, something has to sense something. Whether it is microtubules, neurons, retina cells, or some larger clump of neural tissue, something has to be us having a visual sensory experience. It really makes no difference at what level this matter to mind transduction occurs, as it is equally improbable on any level. Sweeping it under the rug of microcosm or emergence only makes it more obvious to me that we are missing the big picture. The fact that we see means that matter sees. I don’t even know that matter sees light, I think it may be more accurate to say that matter sees itself feel things when it is separated by space, and that ability to see is what we call light.

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