neuroscience: the brain can see what the eyes cannot, willets on the beach at sunset, romney’s lies and the fact checkers

How a 1960s discovery in neuroscience spawned a military project

In a small, anonymous office in the Trump Tower, 28 floors above Wall Street, a man sits in front of a computer screen sifting through satellite images of a foreign desert. The images depict a vast, sandy emptiness, marked every so often by dunes and hills. He is searching for man-made structures: houses, compounds, airfields, any sign of civilization that might be visible from the sky. The images flash at a rate of 20 per second, so fast that before he can truly perceive the details of each landscape, it is gone. He pushes no buttons, takes no notes. His performance is near perfect.

This is a fascinating aspect of how the brain functions. At the rate the images are shown the analyst’s eyes do not register seeing the image of a building, a helicopter or a small group of people, but their brain does. Than a computer sorts out the proper brain wave signals that show the brain saw something. So researchers or the military or rescue workers can go back to those images for closer analysis. What the eyes perceive and tell the brain is a picture of something important happens on what we would generally call the conscious level of the brain. We see a friend’s face and have that moment of recognition. In this case the eyes see something that is not recognized by that conscious mind. As interesting contrast to this recent article on how dumb computers are.

Computers are near-omnipotent cauldrons of processing power, but they’re also stupid. They are the undisputed chess champions of the world, but they can’t understand a simple English conversation. IBM’s Watson supercomputer defeated two top Jeopardy! players last year, but for the clue “What grasshoppers eat,” Watson answered: “Kosher.” For all the data he could access within a fraction of a second—one of the greatest corpuses ever assembled—Watson looked awfully dumb.

Numbers and sequences are simple – chess is a system of number variations at its core. Language is abstract. Yet this image analyst program being developed by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and a private company called Neuromatters uses a computer to take the abstract reasoning and analytical abilities deep in the human consciousness to arrive to distinguish something that the eye-brain connection we use for everyday decisions is not registering as quickly as part of the brain a computer can tap into.

willets  on the beach at sunset

The internet is the perfect place for something print and broadcast media does not do well or does not feel much obligation to do – fact checking. Snopes has been around for so long I forgot the first time I used it to show someone the facts about an urban myth. In the mean time the political fact checking site Politifact has come along. The WaPo has added a fact checking segment to their website ( I don’t know if they run that feature in the print edition). An idealist might find the growth of such sites as offering some beacon of hope. Though humans being human, two things have occurred. One is that if someone reads a fact they do not like they just dismiss the fact. The processes of the neurons involved in that phenomenon might be complicated, that it occurs is not. The second thing, disappointing to even career cynics is that the fact checking sites sometimes do get their facts wrong, Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler and Are Wrong. Romney Lied About His Tenure at Bain

After weeks and weeks of being pummeled by the Obama campaign for his business record, Mitt Romney is finally releasing response ads today. The response is that Obama is lying. (“How can we trust him to lead?” etc.) The ad cites articles by media “fact-checkers”: Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler and

In an incredibly inconvenient piece of timing, the Boston Globe today also reports that Romney has been lying about when he left Bain Capital. This is utterly crucial. Both the fact-checking columns base their conclusions on Romney’s claim that he left Bain in 1999. Obama’s ads are misleading, both say, because they hold Romney accountable for things Bain did after 1999. The revelation that Romney was actively managing Bain renders both those judgments moot.

Here is the core of the Globe’s finding:

Romney has said he left Bain in 1999 to lead the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, ending his role in the company. But public Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed later by Bain Capital state he remained the firm’s “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president.”

Also, a Massachusetts financial disclosure form Romney filed in 2003 states that he still owned 100 percent of Bain Capital in 2002. And Romney’s state financial disclosure forms indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain “executive” in 2001 and 2002, separate from investment earnings.

Here’s Kessler’s argument, cited in Romney’s ad, as to why Obama’s ad is wrong:

The Obama campaign rests its case on three examples of Bain-controlled companies sending jobs overseas. But only one of the examples — involving Holson Burns Group — took place when Romney was actively managing Bain Capital. ( My note: That is incorrect)

Regarding the other claims, concerning Canadian electronics maker SMTC Manufacturing and customer service firm Modus Media, the Obama campaign tries to take advantage of a gray area in which Romney had stepped down from Bain — to manage the Salt Lake City Olympics — but had not sold his shares in the firm. ( My note: This is stretching the facts to give the benefit of that writers interpretation and disregarding the dates of Romney’s actual exit  from Bain, and his title and responsibility at Bain)

Romney lied about when he left Bain, his title and responsibilities according to financial documents which he signed and filed. When the WaPo and Poltifact say that others are mistaken – the general public at this point, Democrats, President Obama – those fact checking sites, with Romney citing them as proof, are lying. Maybe over the next few days or weeks those two sites will publish corrections. Romney is not going to correct anything. He has achieved the proportions of mythic liar. A lying god. Romney the study case for students of pathological liars. And like a sociopath, seems to have no regrets or feelings of guilt over his lies. If the fact checking sites do not correct themselves, what is next, fact checking sites for the fact checking sites.


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