mind your awareness about decision making, van gogh’s sunflower mutations, silent world

Intuition is a real phenomenon. It may not turn out to be correct or productive once accumulated, but the brain gathers bits and pieces of information, it may even began relating them to some long-term memory, and you have that hopefully wonderful moment of realization. That process where your brain is, or mind if you like, gathering that information is awareness.  Awareness is different from purposeful study. You’re not sitting down with a book or report and consciously trying to stuff a lot of facts or thoughts into long-term memory. How Awareness Changes the Relative Weights of Evidence During Human Decision-Making

Human decisions are based on accumulating evidence over time for different options. Here we ask a simple question: How is the accumulation of evidence affected by the level of awareness of the information? We examined the influence of awareness on decision-making using combined behavioral methods and magneto-encephalography (MEG). Participants were required to make decisions by accumulating evidence over a series of visually presented arrow stimuli whose visibility was modulated by masking. Behavioral results showed that participants could accumulate evidence under both high and low visibility. However, a top-down strategic modulation of the flow of incoming evidence was only present for stimuli with high visibility: once enough evidence had been accrued, participants strategically reduced the impact of new incoming stimuli. Also, decision-making speed and confidence were strongly modulated by the strength of the evidence for high-visible but not low-visible evidence, even though direct priming effects were identical for both types of stimuli. Neural recordings revealed that, while initial perceptual processing was independent of visibility, there was stronger top-down amplification for stimuli with high visibility than low visibility.

Whether it is advertisers, politicians or media pundits they are aware on some level of the value of high visibility over depth of content. It is known that an often repeated piece of misinformation – regardless of the quality of the fact checking that refutes it – takes on the life of a fact. Sense much of this information plays into personal biases individuals are much less likely on average to allow for actual facts.

blue antique map detail wallpaper

UGA scientists reveal genetic mutation depicted in van Gogh’s sunflower paintings

In addition to being among his most vibrant and celebrated works, Vincent van Gogh’s series of sunflower paintings also depict a mutation whose genetic basis has, until now, been a bit of a mystery.

In a study published March 29 in the journal PLoS Genetics, however, a team of University of Georgia scientists reveals the mutation behind the distinctive, thick bands of yellow “double flowers” that the post-Impressionist artist painted more than 100 years ago.


I posted this just because of the intersection between art and science. That sunflower mutations does mean a lot in real economic terms for the flower industry. This part of the post is a factlet, not a factoid.

I have done a few posts on days when the news was particular bad and called them we’re doomed post. As bad as some news is, as bad as some of my own days have been, they have never been as awful as what Kurt Vonnegut went through and survived.


And you finally arrived in Dresden.


In a huge prison camp south of Dresden first. The privates were separated from the noncoms and officers. Under the articles of the Geneva Convention, which is a very Edwardian document, privates were required to work for their keep. Everybody else got to languish in prison. As a private, I was shipped to Dresden . . .


What were your impressions of the city itself before the bombing?


The first fancy city I’d ever seen. A city full of statues and zoos, like Paris. We were living in a slaughterhouse, in a nice new cement-block hog barn. They put bunks and straw mattresses in the barn, and we went to work every morning as contract labor in a malt-syrup factory. The syrup was for pregnant women. The damned sirens would go off and we’d hear some other city getting it—whump a whump a whumpa whump. We never expected to get it. There were very few air-raid shelters in town and no war industries, just cigarette factories, hospitals, clarinet factories. Then a siren went off—it was February 13, 1945—and we went down two stories under the pavement into a big meat locker. It was cool there, with cadavers hanging all around. When we came up the city was gone.


You didn’t suffocate in the meat locker?


No. It was quite large, and there weren’t very many of us. The attack didn’t sound like a hell of a lot either. Whump. They went over with high explosives first to loosen things up, and then scattered incendiaries. When the war started, incendiaries were fairly sizable, about as long as a shoebox. By the time Dresden got it, they were tiny little things. They burnt the whole damn town down.


What happened when you came up?


Our guards were noncoms—a sergeant, a corporal, and four privates—and leaderless. Cityless, too, because they were Dresdeners who’d been shot up on the front and sent home for easy duty. They kept us at attention for a couple of hours. They didn’t know what else to do. They’d go over and talk to each other. Finally we trekked across the rubble and they quartered us with some South Africans in a suburb. Every day we walked into the city and dug into basements and shelters to get the corpses out, as a sanitary measure. When we went into them, a typical shelter, an ordinary basement usually, looked like a streetcar full of people who’d simultaneously had heart failure. Just people sitting there in their chairs, all dead. A firestorm is an amazing thing. It doesn’t occur in nature. It’s fed by the tornadoes that occur in the midst of it and there isn’t a damned thing to breathe. We brought the dead out. They were loaded on wagons and taken to parks, large, open areas in the city which weren’t filled with rubble. The Germans got funeral pyres going, burning the bodies to keep them from stinking and from spreading disease. One hundred thirty thousand corpses were hidden underground. It was a terribly elaborate Easter-egg hunt.

A fitting entry for the last day of Women’s History Month:  Alice Eastwood botanist and California Academy of Sciences curator

As BHL is celebrating Women’s History Month by featuring women of science, I could not resist shining a light on Alice Eastwood, one of the California Academy of Sciences’ early female curators. Born in Toronto in 1859, Alice Eastwood spent her teenage years in Denver, Colorado. She proved to be a bright and capable student, embarking on a career as a schoolteacher, but she spent her leisure hours exploring the flora around her. She was a self-taught botanist, using the few books available to her, including Asa Gray’s Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States and John M. Coulter’s Manual of the Botany…of the Rocky Mountain Region. A visit to the California Academy of Sciences in 1891 led to a job offer, and the following year Eastwood left her teaching job in Colorado to assume a curatorship in the Academy’s Department of Botany.

Alice was also a self-sacrificing hero.  After the massive earthquake of April 18, 1906 she there were a lot of fires. They consumed the California Academy of Sciences along with 28,000 area buildings. Eastwood, along with museum staff managed to save 1497 irreplaceable botanical specimens. She did so as her own house was lost to the fires.

A tour of Paris very early in the morning before the city starts its day. It also gives me a chance to post some Gregorian chant by way of part of the soundtrack, Silent world

Music by Philip Glass and Daft Punk.
Direction and editing by Lucie & Simon.






the brain’s wiring is like a street grid, deboarding, the conservative war on science is a war on all americans

Between PBS and zombie movies everyone knows the brain looks like an oblong loaf of textured gelatin. I’ve seen some graphic illustrations that show it as a mass of little wires. The tangled mass of wires suggesting a salad of connections in a rounded obstacle course. Science has never presented a picture of what those networks of neurons look like. All of the representations we’ve seen have been educated conjecture or the vivid imagination of illustrators. Brain Wiring a No-Brainer?

The brain appears to be wired more like the checkerboard streets of New York City than the curvy lanes of Columbia, Md., suggests a new brain imaging study. The most detailed images, to date, reveal a pervasive 3D grid structure with no diagonals, say scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“Far from being just a tangle of wires, the brain’s connections turn out to be more like ribbon cables — folding 2D sheets of parallel neuronal fibers that cross paths at right angles, like the warp and weft of a fabric,” explained Van Wedeen, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), A.A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and the Harvard Medical School. “This grid structure is continuous and consistent at all scales and across humans and other primate species.”

Detail from DSI scan shows fabric-like 3D grid structure of connections

The layer upon layer structure of this grid would strongly suggest that the options for neuron growth are not unlimited in terms of geometry. Such a plan would mean that during development the brain must stick to certain routes to discourage poor, counter productive or damaging nerve fiber development. growing nerves have to go left, right or up and down. No sweeping curvy off ramps in this highway. This probably has some evolutionary advantages by way of limiting structural imperfections. Though obviously some animals do have neural connections issues, considering the billions of cells and exponential connections between them, it has turned out to work relatively well. Until ET gets here it is rash to say this is the best nature has to offer. Though it does seem as far as life on earth goes the cross streets grid became nature’s best plan through millions of years of experimentation.

black and white deboarding

Conservatives versus Science: A New Scientific Validation of the Republican War on Science (and Republican Brain) Thesis

The research is by Gordon Gauchat of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and published in the prestigious American Sociological Review. In the study, Gauchat uses a vast body of General Social Survey data to test three competing theses about the relationship between science and the U.S. public:

1) the cultural ascendancy thesis or “deficit model” view, according to which better education and engagement with science lead all boats to rise, and citizens across the board become more trusting of scientists and their expertise;

2) the alienation thesis, according to which modernity brings on distrust and disillusionment with science (call it the “spoiled brat” thesis if you’d like); and

3) the politicization thesis—my thesis—according to which some cultural groups, aka conservatives, have a unique fallout with science for reasons tied up with the nature of modern American conservatism, such as its ideology, the growth of its think tank infrastructure, and so on.

The result? Well, Gauchat’s data show that the politicization thesis handily defeats all contenders. More specifically, he demonstrates that there was only really a decline in public trust in science among conservatives in the period from 1974 to 2010 (and among those with high church attendance, but these two things are obviously tightly interrelated).

Chris Mooney, who wrote that post, is also the author of The Republican War on Science and the new book The Republican Brain. I remember reading an opinion column at Slate during the Bush administration by a conservative who tried to counter the anti-science argument by citing the increase of the science budget under Bush. Nice try, but most of that, as now for that matter, was spent on defense related science. I’m not against such spending in general, but that hardly makes up for cutting funds for medical research, basic research and stem cell research in particular. The other big bias in the conservative view of science and how they sculpt it to suit their agenda, is climate change. Not being able to produce any high quality research to support their claims, they have resorted to pay for play science. Paul Krugman and Jared Bernstein have both posted about how the conservative anti-science and anti-education agenda are combing to hurt the economy and America’s future prospects as a world leader in science and technology: We Don’t Need No Education

Jared Bernstein has a heartfelt lament about the priorities of the American right, and in particular the way it’s determined to slash taxes for the wealthy while slashing student aid

The squares show the percentage of older people with college education, the triangles the percentage of younger people; what we see is that almost every other nation is becoming more educated, but we’re not — and, of course, slipping rapidly down the rankings.

And yes, affordability is surely the biggest single reason for our slide. So of course, the GOP wants to make the affordability problem worse.

It’s hard not to see this development as tied to the growing conservative distrust of science (and presumably non-faith-based inquiry in general):

But hey, I’m a pointy-headed intellectual, so you can’t trust anything I say.

What Are We Doing?

So the last thing you’d want to do is to cut rungs from that ladder.  Yet that’s exactly what the House Republican budget, authored by Rep Paul Ryan, does.  According to the White House, the budget changes “eligibility and funding under the Pell Grant formula so as to eliminate grants for 400,000 students and cut grants for more than 9 million others in 2013 alone.”

And for what?  So millionaires can get a tax cut of almost $400,000, if you include both the new Ryan and the extended Bush tax cuts.

A few weeks ago I promoted a model of the current political economy wherein income inequality does not simply divert growth from the poor and middle class.  If inequality gets high enough, it supports (buys?) a politics that reinforces itself.  What better way to do so than to block the educational mobility of the poor and use the proceeds to enhance the rich?  If it wasn’t so freakin’ tragic, it’d be laughably simple.

Mooney,Krugman and Bernstein seem to go about their analysis with the usual assumption, here is a terrible trend with awful implications for the working poor and the middle-class. Seeing this truth will move, embarrass or goad conservatives into changing course to avoid the coming – or currently occurring shipwreck. I’m tending to think that while many conservative have some cognitive issues, there are enough fairly bright ones to see what is going on in terms of public policy and like what they see. Everything is going according to plan. Being part of the wealthy plutocracy doesn’t require all that much intelligence or education. If they need brain power they can always buy it and they will always have access to the gateways of power like Harvard and Brown. If the working poor and middle-class lose ground, who cares. If the USA becomes a third-rate source of scientific or technological innovation – that is what hungry ambitious Chinese and Indians are for. The feudal overlords break the back of labor, keep everyone scared that they might lose even more ground – the peasants shop at Wal-Mart and drown their discontents in cheap beer, video games and  high def sports on the flat screen from Asia.

I found another kind of human wormhole: Canadian Penny ? @CDN_Penny, I will live forever in your old purses and seasonal coats.
Retweeted by William Gibson