Spring Recess 2015: Reading, Exploring, and Making

Spring Break reading list.
Spring Break reading list.

I had a fun and productive time during this year’s Spring Recess in our new home of Brooklyn. I read three brain-related books: Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid, Michael Moskowitz’s Reading Minds, and Antonio Damasio’s Looking for Spinoza. I took the subway to Manhattan twice with Y and Little My to visit Kinokuniya Bookstore, Sun Rise Market, Uncle Sam’s Army Surplus, the New York Public Library, and Washington Square. I picked up an M65 field jacket and put together an EDC kit. I walked to Microcenter twice–each time scoring a free 16GB flash drive thanks to a new coupon promotion. To cap the week off, I completed a draft of my PARSE documentation for advancement at City Tech and posted assignments for tomorrow’s classes on OpenLab. Now, I feel ready to see this semester through to the end.

A question for my students: how did was your week away from the college? Are you ready to see things through?

My Brain in 3D: Rendered Videos and Images of My fMRI Scan Data

My brain (c 2007).
My brain (c 2007).

Back in 2007, I made a deal with a friend to participate in his fMRI brain scan study at the University of Liverpool in exchange for a copy of the DICOM data from my scan. He agreed to the trade.

Since then, I occasionally pull my scan data off the shelf and dust off the cobwebs and disk errors, and import it into the DICOM Viewer, OsiriX (e.g., as I did in 2009). With the latest versions, I have had a lot of trouble importing the files as they were given to me into OsiriX. Luckily, I saved the installers for earlier versions including the venerable version 3.5.1, which still runs fine on MacOS X Mavericks and Yosemite.

Using OsiriX’s many features, I created these four videos and an album of images of my 2007 brain. I wonder how it has changed since that time–completing my MA, then PhD, taking a postdoc at Georgia Tech, and now, working at City Tech. Also, I think about the technologies of representation that make it possible for me to see my brain without injury or invasion–OsiriX and unseen software libraries for working with, manipulating, and displaying DICOM data, MacOS X and its technology APIs, my MacBook Pro retina, disk and flash drives, email (how I originally received the scan data), the fMRI machine that I sat in for 30 minutes to an hour, the physical laws behind each technology and the biology of myself, etc. What do you think about when you see my brain represented below?

Final Videos

Draft Video (I had not yet removed all the tissues and bone around the brain)

Rendered Images

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dynamicsubspace/sets/72157647825318882/

Science Fiction, LMC 3214, Summer 2014: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Day 2 of 2)

Georgia Tech: Engineering Great Minds.
Georgia Tech: Engineering Great Minds.

During today’s LMC 3214 Science Fiction class, I continued my lecture on the importance of the Biology of Mind to Frankenstein specifically and Science Fiction generally.

In the last lecture, I ended on a discussion of the empiricist vs. rationalist debates. Then, I turned to the questions, “How and why do we enjoy literature?” I discussed solving puzzles (finding solutions), feeding our imagination (the novum), deploying our theory of mind and observing theory of mind at play in the novel, recognizing how the brain is a virtual reality simulator (it simulates our experience of the world and our experience of imagined worlds in fiction–in both cases there is a divide between us and the world itself–even more so in the case of the epistolary novel form), and finally, understanding that each person’s experience of the novel will be different based on wiring, hormonal production/reception, memories, and associations (we discussed how we observe this in the novel and how it is important to Romanticism).

I ended the lecture on an etymology of hubris and nemesis and a discussion about how the novel is a critique of the Age of Enlightenment.

In the last half of class, I asked the on-campus students to lead the discussion and raise those points, passages, or questions that they were most interested in concerning the novel. Our discussion ranged from Jurassic Park connections to women’s biological rights to the Creature’s missed potential due to his undutiful creator.

There’s no class on Monday for Memorial Day or Wednesday due to a professional trip. Our class lecture for Wednesday (LS and QUP sections) will be available on T-Square under Resources as an MP4 video. In that lecture, I will discuss proto-SF, Voyages Extraordinaires, and Scientific Romances.We will continue our conversations on Twitter through this weekend and next week. We will resume normal classroom meetings and lecture recording on June 2.

Notes from Dr. Laura Otis’ LMC Distinguished Speaker Presentation at Georgia Tech

Dr. Laura Otis presenting in GT Library's Ferst Room.
Dr. Laura Otis presenting in GT Library’s Ferst Room.

Today, Georgia Tech’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication invited Emory University’s Dr. Laura Otis to give a presentation in the Library’s Ferst Room. Dr. Otis’ presentation was titled, “The Surprising Antics of Other People’s Minds” [read the abstract here].

In Dr. Otis’ work, she aims to show with data that she has collected from interviews with an admittedly small number of English-speaking people from the United States that:

1) visual thinking and verbal thinking are not opposites and they cannot be separated,” 2) there is no such thing as a visual thinking type or a verbal thinking type–every mind is unique, and 3) visual and verbal inclinations are not destinies. Anyone can develop visual or verbal skills with practice.

She also offered two suggestions for literary studies:

1) refer to visual imagery in readings, because this might help include more students who may feel excluded by verbal readings, and 2) take reader’s visual imagery seriously, because this might help reconnect the reader to creative writing as co-creator of its imagery.

You can download my handwritten notes on Dr. Otis’ talk and the Q&A session from the event as a PDF from here.

I enjoyed Dr. Otis’ presentation, and it provided me with a new insight into something that I had already read and thought about but in a more biological sense: we each think differently, because our brains are wired differently. Our experience of the world and life, which includes our biology, environment, and culture, leaves its indelible trace on our brain’s physical wiring. As we live, our brains wire themselves to accommodate new memories, abilities, and ways of thinking. It makes sense that all of these experiences would shape our thinking, but more importantly, we can exert our own conscious control over our thinking by adopting reflective practices and training/practice to improve abilities that we already have to greater or lesser degrees.

Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole Episode on Consciousness

I sent this out to the Neuroscience and the Humanities Workgroup earlier today, so I thought that I would share it here, too.

Today, the Science Channel is running a marathon of Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole pop science series. There is one episode that I wanted to share with you if you can spare 45 minutes to watch it on Youtube (it is divided into three parts):

The episode, “Is There Life After Death?” could have been alternatively named “What is consciousness, and what happens to it when we die?” There are good (albeit short) interviews with Stuart Hameroff (the anesthesiologist who collaborated with Roger Penrose on a quantum theory of consciousness), Douglas Hofstadter (Godel Escher Bach), and Steve Potter of Georgia Tech (he has built computer chips that interface with rat brain cells that control robots | http://www.neuro.gatech.edu/wp/labs/potter/).

The discussions of anesthesia and consciousness might be the most enlightening ones for our recent conversation about consciousness.

Also, it is a good show. Freeman is a long advocate of science and education, and I believe that his series (he is executive producer) now in its second season demonstrates his commitment to these things.

I have written about Freeman’s Through the Wormhole series before here.