Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Irwin Borish versus Edwin Boring.


Thursday, October 29, 2015


Just need to get that 'idiot' post off the top. How's it going?

Lots of news!

Not going to tell you any of it, though. Wait till later.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New I am an Idiot

Long time no see!

So, the last version (last 2 actually) of the script for my fMRI MVPA experiment was written entirely on a flash drive and was not backed up.

The flash drive failed.

I am 36 years old and call myself a professional.

But no.


I am an idiot.

Monday, January 12, 2015

coming back online

I'm back!

What to report?


You're back without a report?

I might need time to prepare one.

We're hoping for regular reports, you know.

Would you take a picture?

We don't usually publish pictures, but let's see what you have.

Ah, well...

No pictures?

I thought you could take mine.

I see.

Next time I'll have something.

Don't wait six months again, okay?

I'll try.

See you soon.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Made this last winter when I realized I was coming to Australia. Found it the other day and dressed it up a bit. From Yarra to Yahara, yep.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

shouting into the wind

​I usually like io9, but this was pretty stupid, and yet it got a big response. It's a blurb on an essay, "On the Emptiness of Failed Replications", by Jason Mitchell, a social psychologist/neuroscientist, where he's criticizing some of the current discussion in the social sciences (and peripheral quarters). I've found other severely critical discussions of the essay, and none positive, although the negatives are (it seems) already entrenched in their opinions about how things *must* be done. Given my habitual uncertainty about everything, I think my take is fairly objective.
I haven't read most of the comments on the io9 article (just scanned the first page's worth), but it seems they are mostly agreeing with the negative post, and most of them don't discuss the essay *at all*. A lot of them are just bland 'social science is pseudoscience' stuff, but they're letting this blurb (assuming most of them didn't *read* the essay) feed their preconceptions. The comments on other blog posts are similar, though the quality of the posts themselves are generally better (if pedantic). I'm going to do some apologia here, since I'm avoiding working on a paper (or papers) of my own.
Mitchell's writing about the replication push, and explaining why, in basic philosophy-of-science terms (i.e. in terms of falsificationism - cf. previous post) replication as standard practice is not *scientific* practice. **Searching for null effects is meaningless**, he says, because there are vastly more ways to do an experiment wrong, and fail to detect an effect, than there are ways to do it properly. The scientific way to challenge a finding is not to try to reproduce it by following the steps in a methods section - it's by finding out how such a finding *could* arise, and explaining that in functional terms. The worst case is that the finding arises through fraud, and Mitchell goes pretty far in pointing out how a replication push can take the form of a witch-hunt.
Of course many science-minded folk are biased against the social sciences, in part because there have been a number of prominent frauds recently, but also because the methods are hard to discern. Social psychology, and most of experimental psychology at that, are different from the 'hard' sciences in important ways, but they are still scientific practices. It's not pseudoscience to say that you can measure a person's thoughts or perceptions or feelings or predispositions, although the measurements can be done well or done poorly.
There is one fundamental difference between the social sciences and the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology): in studying a human mind, you have to communicate with it, and every human mind is different - even a single human mind is different from day-to-day. Running a psychophysics or cognitive experiment effectively requires that you take this person, quickly figure out the contours of their personality (in a quick discussion or screening interview), and set their thought processes in such a way that you can *then do the experiment*. And furthermore, especially when it comes to in-depth studies like in real psychophysics, some people simply can't do the experiments; there are good psychophysics subjects and bad psychophysics subjects (in my experience, you might lump these into "people who are conscientious and have a high capacity for introspection", and "people who don't listen and who get bored by themselves"), and part of doing these experiments well is weeding out the bad ones. Usually it's pretty easy - a subject does some training blocks that produce crummy data - you try to explain to them how to improve their performance; they fail to improve, and you fire them. The foregoing steps are an art, the practice of communication and guidance and control, and some people are better at it than others. This is a relatively minor point in the essay, which is focused on replication, but it seems to have caught a lot of attention from the 'social science isn't science' folks.
I say all this as a social scientist, under general definitions. I'm a psychophysicist, a neuroscientist, and an experimental psychologist - most of my research is quantitative and computational and model-driven, with human beings (their behavior or their brains) as the source of my data. I completely recognize the situation that Mitchell is describing - I've had to explain these issues to juniors and colleagues many times over the years, though I don't know if I'm always convincing. I thought it was a great essay, and worth passing on. And, at the end of the day, I check the box 'psychologist', which puts me in the camp under attack, and so I feel I need to raise my tiny voice in defense of Dr Mitchell. Not that anyone comes here to read what I write, but I like to remember things, so.. meh.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The IIT is falsifiable

Sadly I have come to a period of procrastination - five straight months of work, and here it is. It's understandable; in coming up with some final analyses for what is sure to be one of the best papers I ever put together, I've allowed the dimensionality of my data to explode, at the same time that I'm trying to rewrite the code that produces that data so that it can be run on a supercomputer, and at the same time that I'm trying to generate a poster on the work with an eye to current developments. So, the paper has, for this week at least, ground to a halt, and I'm sitting here staring at pages of code and thousands of .mat files and making spreadsheets to try to force some organization on the process.

Okay, deep breath.

I'm doing some highly integrative neuroscience - I'm applying complex information-theoretic measures to human neural data, in such a way that behavioral data produced by those humans can guide my interpretations. It's complicated.

The theory I'm working under is called the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of consciousness. Consciousness is a fraught area of science and philosophy - everyone has an opinion, even if they think they don't - and the people who know their opinions are really, really excited about them. Some of those people are kind of weird. But the IIT, I think, is actually a rather mundane theory - it's very abstract on the one hand, but it doesn't, by its nature, make any big metaphysical claims about existence, or try to tie itself to evolution or quantum physics. Rather, the IIT aims to be a theory of the neural correlates of consciousness (NCCs) - why is it that some parts of the brain correspond to conscious experience, while others don't? At this level, it competes with other theories of NCC, most notably the Global Neuronal Workspace theory (GNW), although they take opposite approaches - the GNW looks first at the brain, at the NCCs themselves, and tries to explain the specific neural processes that we can see, objectively, are producing consciousness. The IIT, on the other hand, looks first at conscious experience, and, from the inside-out, tries to explain what properties consciousness has by proposing an algorithmic or mathematical expression of that experience.

I know the IIT better than the GNW, and I prefer the approach of the IIT, but I think that eventually these two theories will meet in the middle, and we'll have a real, general theory of consciousness. Might not be for a while, but it will happen.

What the GNW gives you is a description of the brain's mechanics, and post-hoc philosophizing about how certain types of connections in the brain distribute information throughout a central network, and that this distribution is the promotion of something to the status of consciousness. This is based on seeing, objectively, that these things are correlated, so the GNW is a theory of the NCCs at its very root. To some eyes, this makes it the more plausible competitor, since it's based in objective reality.

The IIT, being based in subjective experience (by extracting 'axioms' about consciousness - it's integrated, it's informative, it's bounded, it has structure) is different from the GNW especially in that it isn't specifically based on any principles of neuroscience. It's a mathematical theory, a theory of information transmission in networks. It is, of course, expressed with the obvious intention of being applied to facts of neuroscience, and it seems to do well in this respect. Put simply (I'm obviously not trying to explain the IIT here), if you point the IIT at a brain, it should give you back a prediction (you know what I mean) of whether or not that brain is conscious, which parts are doing the job, and how the doing is organized. This last part is one thing that makes the IIT so interesting - it gives a way of describing the internal structure of what it claims is conscious experience.

So, this is what the IIT is intended for - to predict how consciousness arises in a brain. In this it is indeed falsifiable. An attack I've seen on the IIT from several sources - most recently some of the duller commenters on Scott Aaronson's much better attack - is that it isn't falsifiable, but this is clearly not correct. Tononi (the theorist behind the IIT) gives one clear example of how to falsify the theory: take two substances, both of which disrupt neural activity, but only one of which degrades the capacity of the brain to integrate information (in the specific terms of the theory). You could equalize the substances in other ways - make it so that one impairs attention, or some other manipulation that under a given theory should destroy consciousness - and then find out whether or not your (human) subject has lost consciousness. The IIT should predict exactly which interventions disrupt consciousness and which do not. In fact, it should predict which parts of consciousness are degraded - is vision lost, or hearing, or etc. If the theory fails, then it's wrong. So, the IIT is falsifiable.

But when the critics say it's unfalsifiable, they aren't thinking about the object of the theory - human (or animal) consciousness. They're thinking about panpsychism, and thus missing the whole point. It's true - the IIT predicts that systems that aren't brains can possess consciousness, and that it can be completely alien to human consciousness - no perception or cognition, for example. To many people this is 1) totally incoherent (this is Aaronson's criticism) and 2) unfalsifiable and thus the mark of a bad theory. But that a theory generates unfalsifiable statements is never grounds for dismissing the theory - thsi is basic logic (cf. Popper). What matters it that, in the realm where it's meant to explain something, the theory does its job. If you have two theories that explain equally well, but one generates incoherent, untestable predictions, then you can proceed with parsimony, but you have to have the alternative first. Occam's razor can't be used when you have no competition (unless you'd rather have no theory at all - and this is an ideological point rather than a scientific approach to a problem).

And anyways, even the panpsychism problem (taking the meaning of panpsychism very loosely, since IIT doesn't predict that everything is conscious - just that things that aren't brains can be conscious) isn't definitely untestable - the theory predicts that different conscious things are, in principle at least, linkable. So, if IIT says that a certain not-a-brain system is conscious, then the IIT adherent can simply plug his brain into the object, and if the theory predicts that the adherent's consciousness is linked to the not-a-brain system, then firsthand knowledge is the proper test. That's science fiction stuff there (the film Pacific Rim's drift technology was an implementation of the idea), but the IIT says it's technically possible. So, the ultimate test of the IIT might turn out to be technology - if every IIT-based device fails to produce predicted effects on consciousness, then the theory will be abandoned.

That's all I have for now. June is almost over. One more month in Australia, then home. Back to the grind...

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Sorry May

Okay, so this picture illustrates why I am not a Tegmarkian. Tegmark, if you don't know, is a clever cosmologist at MIT who's put forward (a book on) the thesis that mathematics is the ultimate reality, and that all mathematics is in fact a kind of reality - that there is a mathematical multiverse, which we know exists on account of the mathematics existing.

So I don't buy this. I'm diametrically opposed to this idea. Not opposed, really - I don't care too much, but I am opposed in that I believe the complete opposite. Mathematics - and physics as a subset of mathematics - is an artifact of the human mind, that's all it is. The fact that the world exists in some form is curious, although it seems incoherent to me that we can actually know anything about its true nature - but to suppose that its true nature is mathematics seems so backwards that I just wanted to write some things down.

I get where he's coming from. The world does exist, there is a reality, and it is somehow regular and consistent - it has properties that repeat or sustain, and why should it? Its continuities and discontinuities are all so numerically describable, and why should they be? And the most basic elements that we know to exist - photons, quarks, magnetic fields - seem to be perfectly and completely described as systems of numbers. And why should this be?

My mind seems to have taken the easy way out, because it just screams: but numbers and math are things that human minds *do*! They describe the world because the brain is a description machine, that's what it *does*! If the curious thing is that the description is so perfect and complete, then I have two responses - the space of possible descriptions that the mind can form is so vast, so impossibly vast, that it would be surprising if we could *not* find consistent systems of description for the world; and no description of the world is by any means *complete*.

The completion point is worth going on about. The scope and complexity of the natural world is impossible to comprehend. It's absolutely impossible to describe it all - and I'm saying this as a scientist with full faith in science as an endeavor for helping us to understand the world. We might choose some very narrow sliver of reality and subject it to intensive study, and then, there, we can describe it in such detail that we feel that it's okay to say we've basically got it all down. But that's it - those little, tiny, infinitesimally small splinters, and we think we have a complete description? What we have is a consistent system - mathematical physics - that can be used to describe anything we come across, but each description will be new, different, from what has been seen before.

So no description is complete. Okay, maybe that's a straw man, but I don't think so. Tegmark wants to claim that not only is physics a (potentially) complete description of our reality - or no, not a description, but *the thing itself* - but that realities we haven't yet encountered, i.e. realities *outside our reality* are contained within it. He likes the example of the discovery of Neptune. Astronomers had noted disturbances in the orbit of Uranus, and finally realized that there must be another planet even further out - they realized this mathematically, in such detail that they knew where to point their telescopes to find Neptune, and they did so, successfully.

Tegmark wants to use this example to imply that mathematics is a kind of tapestry containing all reality, and that by following it out from what was known, an *entire planet* was discovered, first in the mathematics, and only later by human senses. But this doesn't prove any kind of point about the reality of mathematics, and it's not even true, strictly, that Neptune was first discovered in a mathematical form. It was first discovered in the form of its gravitational influence, which affected Uranus. It's just that at first, astronomers didn't understand what they were seeing - they had to *do some math* in order to understand. But the data were all there - the measurements of Neptune in the flesh were there already, before Galle saw it with his own eyes (and others had seen it before, all the way back to Galileo, albeit not knowing what they were looking at).

The point here is that, really, new knowledge about the world can only come from new data about the world. Mathematics based on reality that has been observed - i.e. physics - can then tell you how to understand those data, but it is only that, a tool, an activity of the human observers. It doesn't exist outside of human endeavor. I am dead set in this opinion.

Anyways, so I basically had that conversation with myself last night on my walk home, and then I made that figure. It should be self-explanatory, but just in case: the biggest circle, the purple one, is the realm of all possible human thought. The circles within are not to any idea of scale, of course. There are many domains of human thought,and the next two that I've outlined are descriptions and axiomatic systems. Both of these I mean in the broadest sense you can imagine.  Physics falls within the realm of axiomatic systems of description, or it should (Hilbert's sixth problem). Within axiomatic systems you have consistent axiomatic systems, which should contain a correct physics, if it exists - i.e. if the Standard Model and General Relativity could be united. Taken as separate systems, I think that each of these theories alone counts as a consistent system, but together, so far, they do not.

Tegmark's reality is the domain of consistent axiomatic systems of description, of which our physics is (presumably) just a tiny part. Any other consistent system of physics would also fall in this domain, and Tegmark believes that each of these systems must also correspond to its own universe, just as our physics corresponds to ours. I think it's a fantastic idea, which I might illustrate by putting a big 'fantasy' circle somewhere in there, in between human thought and physics.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

last scion?

Procrastinating pretty hard today.

For some reason, I've been thinking about this lately: in several generations of my family, I am the only male bearer of the name 'Haun'.

How many generations, you ask? Well, I spent the last 20 minutes trying to clear that up. I'll write it down now, and get back to work.

Of course, what does a patrilineal line really matter? Just because it's a thing, I guess. There's the whole Y-chromosome thing, but that's pretty uncertain anyways, what with adoptions and such. We'll just go with the name, as a sign, as the thing that we know is inherited.

I have one sibling, a sister. So, that's generation one.

My father is David; David has one brother, James. James has three daughters, no sons. So, I have no male patrilineal first cousins. That's generation two.

My father's father was James; James had two sisters, no brothers. So, I have no male patrilineal second cousins. That's generation three.

My father's father's father was Yandell. Yandell had five sisters, no brothers. No male patrilinear third cousins: that's me alone in generation four.

My father's father's father's father was Robert. Robert had two elder brothers. All three were born in the 1830's and 40's. The eldest, Charles, died at age 24, in 1862, possibly in the Civil War, though I don't know if Tennessee Unionists were dying yet in 1862. The second brother, Caleb Powell, had two sons; each of these had sons; and as far as I know, there are at least a few of their grandsons and great grandsons and great-great grandsons (my generation). So, I may have some male patrilineal fourth cousins - but I don't know of any of them, and can't know for sure.

So, we'll say that in at least four generations, I am the last male heir of Robert Franklin Haun, born in the 1840s in Jefferson County, Tennessee. My nearest patrilineal male relative in the same generation is thus no closer than a fourth cousin - we have to go back at least 140 years before my birth to find that fork in the road.

The Road of Haun.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

april report

Sorry April.

Not that I haven't done things this month. May as well just do a quick report.

Not in any particular order:

Finished the Mass Effect games. Excellent story, very effective, really wraps you into the main character. When it all comes to an end, you feel really invested, so I guess I see why some people didn't like the ending, but they by and large were probably stupid people. Sorry. It was excellent, will stick with me.

Rented a car and drove around East Melbourne - Dandenong and Yarra territory. Had a tuna sandwich in the town of Gembrook, which looked a lot like Kingston Springs, except without an I-40 running through it. Took the guy 30 minutes at least to get around to making the sandwich - one guy, >10 customers. I went to the Upper Yarra Reservoir, where  most of our water comes from. It was nice. Nice to drive. Almost had an accident a couple times, but it wasn't that hard to get used to the reversal. A little worried about driving when JP gets here, afraid that when we're talking and I'm distracted, I'll revert to normal orientation. We'll see.

Watched a total lunar eclipse, the best one I've ever seen. The moon rose as the sun set, and it was at peak eclipse - not even red, very dark, could barely see it. Then, a threshold was crossed, and light sprang out of the southern edge, and it slowly, over another hour almost, became a full moon. Really nice view, out behind MBI.

I have a serious beard now. See how much longer it lasts.

Started writing a paper on my current project. Procrastinating on rewriting the blur adaptation paper. Need to be working on a grant proposal for UW by the end of the week.

On migraine business: Saturday, driving day, had a headache most of the day, but I also slept until 10 that day and started pretty slow, so it was a forced one. Seeing lots of weird transparent phosphenes lately, but I think the days of aura are past. Future maybe. But not present. There may have been a couple other very minor headaches in the last couple of months, but I didn't note them. I really think the "being in shape", i.e. TKD, was making me susceptible to migraines. What to do...

What else...

Guess that's it. I should be writing more lately, essaying and journalizing, but somehow it isn't happening. Working seriously, and writing the past couple of days, but most of my thinking has been done on the long walks to and from lab, rather than in journal entries. We'll get back to it, don't worry. I still love you, xuexixs.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

wilson's prom

a list of things I saw, heard, and did:

bull ant: someone wanted me to come stomp it, but i chased it across the street instead. apparently the sting can be pretty bad. she was super aggressive - i chased her off with a stick, but for the most part i had to actually flip her away, foot by foot, because otherwise she'd rear up and point her mandibles at me, very challenging.

kookaberra: loud, loud birds. middle of the night, both nights, awoken by competing kookaberras, laughing/screaming at eachother, "aaaAAAAAAAaaa!!! aaaAAAAAAAAaaa!!!"

wombats: i had heard stories about the rudeness of the wombat, and was not let down. once the sun is setting the wombats wander through the campsites, looking for food on the ground, tipping over coolers ('eskies'), looking on tables, getting into cars and tents. they're like tiny bears, or gigantic hamsters. they're completely nonchalant about it. you go to chase one off, and he's not skittish like your typical wild mammal: he just ignores you, and you have to really get serious and yell and swing a foot at him, and then he reluctantly backs off and trots off to a different site. surreal experiences with the wombats, especially once Nao and family appeared, and you had this Japanese family following one around, and all you can understand is, 'wombato! wombato!'

crimson rosella: a beautiful parrot, saw them several times. one on saturday afternoon, when Farid and I were relaxing at camp while others were away - this one landed on our table and started poking through things, tipping over containers and plates, like a regular curious bird, but then he started *picking things up with his feet* - holding a cracker in his hand and taking bites off of it, or holding up a bit of aluminum with nutella smeared on it and holding it as he licked off the sweet stuff. never seen a bird behave like that, using claws as hands.

brown honeyeater: there are lots of honey eaters in the neighborhood here, the ones with the yellow streaks behind their eyes that, to me, seem a bit unhinged. a visitor to our camp on saturday was, i think, a brown honey eater, very different looking, but also very quizzical and odd. i guess all birds are kind of odd, but this one walked around the whole camp, checking every location one time, never circling back, walking around our feet, tilting his head left and right to investigate this corner or that corner. it was like having a pet honeyeater (though at the time i was calling him a thrush - i'm still not sure it wasn't a thrush, but my visual memory right now is a better match for 'brown honeyeater').

fairywrens: i believe that these were *superb* fairywrens. tiny, tiny birds, smaller than a sparrow, closer in scale to a hummingbird even. but they hopped about like sparrows, mostly in bushes or underbrush. some of them, the males i suppose, were tinted blue. their most striking feature was the tail, sticking straight up like an antenna.

a big lizard: at first i thought i'd found the fairywren motherlode, walking along a brush-covered mound next to the campsite, so i went back to get the camera and take some pictures. when i got back the fairywrens were all gone, and instead i found a big blue-gray lizard. no idea what it was - maybe 6 inches long, stockier than a skink, shorter legs too, but since skinks are really my main point of comparison that's not too much information. anyways, a big lizard. i got some video of him.

lots and lots of millipedes: once the sun went down, the millipedes came out, and some could still be found during the day. they were everywhere, thousands of them, and it was impossible not to step on them. tiny, not the big imposing ones - these were all about an inch long, black or dark brown. not sure what that was about.

no mosquitoes: there were no mosquitoes! at all!

'mictyris' soldier crabs: a whole colony of them, hundreds, maybe a thousand. tiny crabs, each about an inch across, iridescent blue and pink shells, bodies shaped like a cicada's head, with this impression strengthened by these bulbous lateral patterns on the carapace that look like compound eyes; but no, the eyes are little black dots on short stalks right above the maw. they dig little holes in the sand to wait out the tide - i provoked one into burying himself, he did it in a quick spiral motion, creating a cylindrical hole, and he was then able to close it over himself. very neat. they left pellets of sand all around their area, which i've read are the results of their eating habits: they suck stuff out of the sand and spit it back out, leaving these little balls. hence the name, 'mictyris'.

anemones: saw anemones on rocks.

there were other birds. saw some little kangaroos and a pair of emus on the drive into the park.

also: saw the milky way, and the southern cross. lots and lots and lots of stars. i don't think i've seen the milky way in at least a decade. despite the haze - the skys were generally clear, but still a bit foggy - and the lights from the camping area, it was dark enough to see the milky way, it was magnificent. the southern cross is much smaller than i expected, but i got to like it. it's more of a diamond than a cross, or a kite.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

anxiety, nighttime kitchens, broken foot

Yep. So, I guess 2014 is the year that HAZ goes back to sleep, waking up now and then for a random update.

I suppose that when I'm especially introspective or, dare I say it, depressed, I write here more. Or anxious. Which is to say that lately I haven't been these things. There's a bit of desolation, loneliness, but I know that's temporary, so it's not actually that hard. And what I'm doing otherwise, during the days, is so fulfilling that there's not much energy left to fuel anxiety.

So that's why I'm not here much lately.

Tonight, as I left the lab, about 8:30, I went to the kitchen to get a candy bar. I don't usually do this, but my foot is kind of broken and I felt like I needed an extra boost for the walk home.

Coincidentally, the candy bar was called 'Boost'.

I walk into the kitchen - or cafeteria, or as the Australians call it, 'tea room', and it's dark out, but the lamps over the lunch tables are on, and there's a smell, something I can't identify, musty, an odor that didn't belong there. And suddenly I'm a kid, sneaking into the kitchen in my mother's parents house after everyone's gone to sleep, to look through the cupboards for cookies or crackers. The light was somehow the same, the smell of course was key - memory is so strange - and, certainly, my action was parallel. A few times I've done the same thing, probably once a week to be honest, but there's always someone else there, and I'm too embarrassed to let someone see me taking a candy bar. Ha!

So I stood there for a dozen seconds and observed the memory, and I could *see* Elizabeth's kitchen, and feel the space of their house around me. The light, the smell, the feeling of night time and quiet and not wanting to wake anyone, and being by yourself.

What else is there? Interesting birds. Doves with tall feather crests on top of their heads. Mynas fighting with their reflections in windows. They're my favorites lately, jovial, nervous birds.

Going on a camping trip tomorrow! With a broken foot! I went running Tuesday, barefoot, and it was totally fine. Short on oxygen, but didn't notice a single mechanical problem, not one false step, and I was concentrated on the feet, on the ground. But Wednesday morning I get out of bed and it hurts - and the long walk home at night, man oh man, on a bad foot. I strained some ligament or tendon or something, can feel a bruise, left foot, outside/top about halfway down. At first it felt like it was in the ankle or heel, but it's migrating. Hope it's better tomorrow, so I can do some hiking..

Had a sort-of headache a week or so ago, but they seem basically to have stopped, so we may need to revise the subtitle of this journal.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Australia 1

Why no Australia posts, HAZ?

In the first days, there was the tremendous heat (>40 degrees - I need to say that in C just to keep up the habit), the weirdness of the sun being in the wrong half of the sky (makes it hard to find your way), and of the cars (mostly Japanese, lots of Mitsubishis and Toyotas) and roads all being backwards. Aside from that it's all pretty familiar. Public transport and beer are really expensive. The peanut butter comes in tiny jars and the legendary Vegemite is almost inedible. Not sure what to do about this situation, but I will cope.

This post isn't about peanut butter and cars, though, it's about animals. I've been living in Boston for almost 5 years, where the only animals are rats, pigeons, and seagull (i.e. rats and flying rats). I keep expecting to run into a giant spider somewhere - I was excited to see the big huntsmen that supposedly live around here - but it hasn't happened yet. I did witness - and fail to react quickly enough to stop it - a bunch of fellow party-goers going to the trouble of vacuuming up a poor white-tailed spider, which apparently is something of a weaksauce Australian brown recluse. There's a flowering bush in my backyard that bees love, I sat out this past Sunday afternoon and watched them up close for half an hour. I watched a possum run down power lines for a block. I saw the biggest ant I've ever seen, an inch long, she was carrying a leaf that must have been very important to her. Saved a big snail from the sidewalk.

Like I said, I've been in Boston five years, so I've come to appreciate these little things more than I used to.

I'd say the best part of the experience so far, as far as visiting a new land goes, is the birds. All the birds are different! There are lots and lots and lots of birds in the neighborhood, all songbirds (counting crows). The crows - or are they ravens? - sound different from American crows, but a lot like the crow noise that Jingping makes - so maybe Eastern crows all sound like this? It much less like CAW, and much more like MEH. I prefer the CAW, but I guess neither is a very musical sound. There are lots of magpies, and they make very interesting sounds, musical, complex noises, like a cowbird but much more elaborate. They may be imitating other birds too, but I'm not sure.

In the mornings I hear lots of different sounds that I haven't tied to anyone in particular - there are mourning doves - or something very similar, except with a spotted collar - that sit in pairs on rooftops, and they make a mourning-dove-like call but a different tune than the American ones. And there are mynas, I think - mid-sized songbirds with yellow streaks extending behind their eyes. These are basically starlings, colored differently, making similar croaking-chattering noises, stalking around on the ground looking for food.

There are lots of fruit trees in the neighborhood, and they're often full of these colorful birds - completely colorful, colors of the rainbow - which I think are ringneck parrots. I've seen them in pairs or in flocks. Most colorful birds I've ever seen, very beautiful. I think they chatter a bit, but I haven't noticed distinctive sounds. I've seen swallows catching bugs, and walked around a corner the other day to surprise a pair of brown ducks - odd since there's no water anywhere nearby, I suppose they were resting on their way somewhere.

Then there are the white cockatoos on campus, huge flocks of them. These are mid-sized birds, and they make a variety of noises, ranging from chicken clucks to cat yowls to baby cries. I walked through a host of them occupying some trees last night, and kept laughing out loud, they were the most ridiculous noises I'd ever heard coming from wildlife.

When I'm walking home at night, after dark, the birds are quiet, but every minute I see a crow fly overhead, on his way somewhere. The crickets at night are very loud, loud and disorienting. I've gotten down and picked through grass trying to find one, and failed, despite it sounding like it was right there in front of me.

Okay, that's it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

change of venue

Almost a month since my last entry. In that time, I've moved to Australia and become a neuroscientist.

Just in the last few days, I've gone surfing (or tried) and, for the first (and maybe only) time, made what might be an important scientific advance. I'm working on something really, really interesting. I won't tell you about it right now, but aside from missing my wife and sort of general decrement in living conditions, I am honestly really glad I came down here.

Melbourne weather is hard to deal with. I need a bike and a raincoat. The people here are generally nice. Beer is super expensive.

Just can't think of much to write, strangely. I'm in an investigative mode, very little writing lately. Much writing to do, but for once I feel like it can wait. Great things going on!

Friday, January 24, 2014


quick note on something unimportant:

my qualia clearly overflow my behavioral access to them.

say there's a thing here. a can of beer (cans I think are more prosaic), with its characteristic physical attributes.

when i look at it, i have an experience of it. much of that experience is strongly, closely correlated with the physical attributes of the can. you can take this for granted, or you can confirm it by ask me questions and carefully collecting my responses. the can's geometric properties, its shape, its albedo and texture, things like that. other parts of my experience are not correlated with attributes of the can, but are quirks of my own systems. colors, a/modally completed contours, illusory depth from shading, meanings of symbols, etc.

all of this you can, in principle, recover from me by making certain types of measurements - basically, you prompt me with questions or decisions, and i give you responses. these can be words, numbers, button presses, ratings, slider adjustments, essays, etc.

let's say i give you all the time in the world. you have time to run every test you can think of. you can run every task until performance asymptotes, and you can estimate any parameter that you can dream of. every aspect of this can of beer that i have any ability to respond to, to access behaviorally, is your data.

is there anything left to my experience that you have not collected, that you cannot find in your data and models?

my qualia are overflowing!

(you can make this same sort of argument for physics - i measure the physical attributes of an object until i can't find any more to measure. you can then point out, well, isn't there something left? the thing itself? but then i can ask you, what is there, about that thing, that is not described or captured in my measurements and models? what can you point to? that the thing is *there*? well, I have its thereness perfectly specified in a coordinate space. that the thing is *substantial*? well, i've got every aspect of its substantiality described by my equations of quantum electrodynamics. what is left? i think that, ultimately, there's nothing for you to point to, because in every case, i can show you how i've measured or modeled whatever it is. i don't see how the case is the same with phenomenal experience.)

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

idealism 2

The days are counting down, just weeks now until the Big Shift. This evening, ideas swirling through my head, especially a reiteration of the first version of this post. I wanted to resketch those ideas, so here we go, in less detail but more formally:

1. There is a real world that exists in some form that we can perceive, accurately or not.
1.1. The substance of this real world is not physical or objective or dualistic.
1.2. The substance of the world is subjective and phenomenal.
2. All us humans (and many other creatures) experience phenomenal consciousness.
2.1. Phenomenal consciousness is a substructure or subfunction of a brain.
2.1.1. Consciousness is not the only type of phenomenal substance (reiterating 1.).
2.2. Experience of phenomenal consciousness is analogous to a space with things in it.
2.2.1. Things that are 'in the space' of consciousness are things that one is 'conscious of'.
2.3. Objects are neural parsings of stuff in the real world.
2.3.1. Objects can be informatively (yet redundantly) labeled 'neural objects'.
2.3.2. A substructure of a neural object that is present in consciousness is an 'object-in-consciousness'.
2.4. The stuff in the world that is parsed into objects is also subjective and phenomenal.
2.4.1. Generally this stuff is not conscious.
2.4.2. An exception is when the stuff is a living brain.
2.5. We generally recognize that stuff in the world is not conscious.
2.5.1. We come to this conclusion because conscious objects are within the space of consciousness, but do not themselves contain conscious spaces (except for brains, and we only know they do because they say so).
2.5.2. For 2.5.1. to be true, one consciousness would need to be able to emulate another.
2.5.3. Despite the truth of 2.5., it is arrived at for the wrong reasons. We mistake objects-in-consciousness for stuff in the world. Since we make this mistake, and since objects-in-consciousness are not themselves conscious, we believe (correctly) that (most) stuff in the world is not conscious.
2.5.4. We are perplexed that brains are conscious, yet do not appear to be. This is because we are mistaking brains, which are conscious, for objects-in-consciousness, which we have already mistaken for stuff in the world. This is a subtle error, because if the middle step is left out, it seems not to be an error (we are confusing brains for stuff-in-the-world, which they are).
3. The hard problem of consciousness is the apparently uncrossable gulf between phenomenal subjective experience as-a-brain, and the non-phenomenal objective status of-a-brain.
3.1. Items 1. and 2. shows how this gulf is a consequence of a sequence of mistakes about the status of stuff-in-the-world and of objects-in-consciousness.

This is a type of idealism - which of the many subtypes I'm not sure - that is, while not popular (as far as I can tell), at least tolerable in philosophical circles. I'm liking it more and more!

Monday, December 30, 2013


Quickly, and as a year-ender for 2013:

According to my records, this is my 300th post on this "blog".

I started keeping this journal as part of a social exercise with the two Michaels, back in 2005 - we kept it going for a couple of years and then it waned and quit. But I came back! I changed the name and url a few times, but it's the same journal as from the start, although without the social aspect (aka "other people reading what I write") my entries have gotten longer and more self-involved/thoughtful. So there's that. This stupid blogspot blog has become my personal journal, for better or worse.

So, 300 posts. That's enough for some statistical analysis; it's enough just to look at some plots:

You can see where the Everyone-Is-Dead flame sputtered out through 2008, and where it rekindled with my lonely "internet phase", during the lonely Boston Spring of 2010. The big boost last year, at the beginning of which I renamed the journal XUEXIXS, or HAZ, was a conscious effort to recharge my writing, get my thoughts out on paper more frequently, as I perceived - well, I felt like my mind was withering away. It worked! It also means that the large majority of what's been written on this blog, in word count especially (if you haven't noticed, I get lengthy when no one is reading), has been written in the past 2 years.

Here's something nice: a year-averaged chart, showing the average of an "activity index" I came up with (basically the ratio of a month's activity to the past 12 months average activity; the axes are unitless, so unlabeled) - I seem to become more active in late spring, holding on through the summer, and fading through the winter. That is definitely how certain aspects of my productivity seem to work - my on-paper productivity accelerates as winter ends, while my hands-on productivity tends to increase in the fall.

[posts by day]

I'm not sure if there's a plot there or not. It's easier to get the monthly counts out of this site than the dates-per-plot, but if I succeeded, there's a polar histogram of days there. What day/s does it peak on? I can't dare to make a prediction. But I will predict: Tuesday. It peaks on Tuesdays.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

something which seems to be true

Where D is distance between the subscripted cities, indicated by their airport codes, r is the radius of the earth, and p is population of the subscripted city.

Since I realized this, I've felt much more conflicted about my coming trip. Separated from my wife for what might be 6 months, in what is by the above measures the most distant city on earth from where I am now (of comparable or larger size). On the other hand, maybe it's symbolic of escape from a long feeling of being trapped - not with the wife, but with the job. Kind of proves I am free, and at the same time there's a cost. There's no cost function in these equations...

The first one was my first thought, just looking at distance weighted by whether the city population is at least as big as Boston's. Melbourne is top there, though Sydney is very close - finding different estimates for population makes the difference, but I think I'm using good numbers - Boston's 'metro' population and Melbourne's similar extent both include 4.2 million people.

The second function is more specific obviously, excluding cities that are larger or smaller, and maybe it's a little more comfortable, but I do prefer the first one.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

meaning and filling-in

Something I've been meaning to write about for a couple of weeks now: object meaning as filling-in, and how this idea is the explanation for cases of deja trompe.

We return to the idea that the visual field is a stack of properties that develop from one another along a relatively rigid hierarchy. So, a certain configuration of brightnesses, which can be seen as such (as brightnesses, or darknesses, or colors), can also be seen as an edge or some other broadband feature. In fact, given certain configurations of colors, given broadband percepts are compulsory and there is no choice but to see them. However, they do not exclude the more local aspects that seem to compose the features. From edges we go to surfaces and depths, and from there to objects and meanings and utilities.

All these levels of the visual hierarchy are experienced simultaneously and constitute conscious qualia - we are experientially aware of points of color or brightness, and we are aware of edges and lines independent of the surfaces they bound, and we are aware of surfaces independent of the objects the bound, and we are aware of objects (in the sense of depthful 'thingness') independent of the meanings they bound (what they "are"). But the independence of these qualia exists only in their separability, because in normal experience they are not causally independent - when a given configuration exists, the other levels are evoked compulsorily, and so qualia are correlated between levels.

Illusion often consists of violations of these correlations. So, we will see illusory contours where there are no variations in color or brightness to constitute them. Deja trompe, as I have described it, is seeing an object as something other than what it "is", and doing so repeatedly, involuntarily, and being aware of this repeated mistake (this is the literal meaning of the term). In the case of illusory contours, the normal correlation or association between patterns of color and edges can make one feel that something at that level is seen, i.e. that there are color or brightness qualia there, though I don't see them (what I see is an edge without any color variation). On the other hand, we certainly see the colors in the watercolor illusion, or in other filling-in effects, so it seems that it does happen that we can be tricked into generating qualia without the normal hierarchical causes, both up and down (and within) the hierarchy.

In seeing an object for something that it is not, what is happening? When I walk through the hallway to the kitchen, and see my cat sitting on the floor in one of her usual spots, looking up at me as I pass, only to realize in a fraction of a second that no, that's not my cat, those are my boots - what am I actually seeing, during the duration of the mistake? I see something there, a thing with similar color and size and shape as a cat or a pair of boots, and in a suitable location for either. So, am I seeing a cat, and then seeing a pair of boots? Or am I seeing a pair of boots, and thinking it's a cat, and then thinking it's a pair of boots? Or am I seeing something indeterminate and relatively formless, that can be either thing (deja trompe is really a creature of peripheral vision, so crowding is of course a thing)? What is seeing? What is thinking it is?

Obviously, I have an opinion. And, being a kind of expert in this sort of thing, it's an informed opinion. I think that seeing boots for cat, my low-level qualia are entirely boots-driven, so in that sense, I am seeing boots. If you put the boots and the cat side by side at the same location in the visual field, I am confident that I could discriminate them, though there's a test there. Actually, that's a nice idea: take the objects that are confused in a deja trompe, and measure their actual discriminability. So it could be that they are relatively indiscriminable, and what is seen is relatively indeterminate and formless.

Actually, whether the low-level qualia are distinctly bootslike or indeterminate doesn't matter much to my interpretation, just shifts things around a little. What is certainly not happening is that the low level qualia are going from being more catlike to more bootslike, or that they are changing at all. That is the striking thing here: that the low-level qualia do not change, although they seem to change, in what is either a metacognitive or memorial judgment. What is changing is the meaning of what is seen, and that is what is so interesting here. Because the low-level qualia are not sufficiently specifying the identity of the object, it is briefly mis-specified, something which almost never happens in normal visual experience. Once you know what something is, you virtually never mistake it for something else, except in cases where you do, and when that happens you note it or mention it to whoever else is in the room, because it's so surprising.

When it happens, deja trompe gives a strong impression that what is seen is changing from one thing to another. However, it only makes sense that this is happening at the highest levels. The lower-level qualia, I will maintain (when given the chance) are more determined by the sensory input, and the later qualia are determined by the lower-level qualia (and certainly also by other mechanisms that do not present themselves in consciousness). So, through this chain, errors or lack of specificity can build up, and you wind up with a mistake, at the top.

What it comes down to is that meaning, i.e. what a thing is, is a sort of filling-in, where in exactly the same way as the watercolor effect, but much more solidly and more vigorously, the multi-level boundaries of an object prompt it to be visually filled with meaning. I mean this literally, and I think it is obviously true: when you see a scene filled with objects, all of which you recognize, their identities are there within, in the same locations as the objects. So an object made of a certain size, and in a certain spatial location, and colored black and brown, is painted with bootsness, and that is what makes it boots. If I mis-paint it as cat, that is what makes it cat - nothing about the lower-level qualia, the shapes or the colors or the general configuration of the object's visual structure, are really directly associated with that meaning. You can destroy certain parts of my brain, and I will still see things as objects, but I won't know what they are.

So, these instances of mistakes in identification are interesting in how they reveal the dissociation between objects in themselves, and objects as they have meaning. An object in itself is still a perceptual construct, but it is meaningless. It only as existence in relation to other perceptual constructs. This is a middle place between the physical stuff to which the object presumably refers, and which is even more meaningless in that it has no relations at all to other stuff - there is simply stuff, and any effort to clump it into this stuff or that stuff is exactly that: effort, something done by an agent. So the object in itself is the way the brain deals that stuff into a usable form, and the meaning of the object, what the object is, is the set of all known relations of the object in higher levels: past and future, the stuff of cogitation and memory, beyond perception that exists only in the immediate moment.

That's enough of this. Just been thinking about these things on the train lately, needed to get it out of my system (or at least articulate it into something interesting - the discrimination experiment based on actual instances of deja trompe might actually be a good idea).