The Zen of long-term data storage, nuclear waste disposal, and relationships

Some friends were having a discussion about the best options for long-term data storage, and someone with real expertise pointed out that the only real long-term solutions are “living” versus “dead” solutions, that is, things that are actively maintained.  There’s no media that will sit safely on a shelf forever.

This is a super important general principle of, well, everything.  When I was working at an environmental law firm, one of the partners, who became the head of the state department of ecology and was heavily involved in the Hanford cleanup, was talking to me about long-term nuclear waste storage.  He emphasized the same point: there’s no “set it and forget it” solution, however much our wishful thinking might want it. If you want anything to stay the way you want it for a long time, it requires active attention and effort. Otherwise the only force acting is entropy, and the only certainty is that it will degrade in some unpredictable way.

In fact, the use of the words “living” versus “dead” is actually super profound here. There’s no *definitive* definition of “life”, but the best anyone can do is that a system is living if it uses energy to maintain a low level of internal entropy despite whatever happens to it from outside. So what Richard is describing here for maintaining the integrity of data, does actually literally (by “literally” I mean “literally” as opposed to “figuratively”, not the currently popular usage of “literally” to mean “I am using a random word I don’t understand to try to provide emphasis”) meet that definition of “life”.  (Depending on how you define the system in question, of course; that’s always one of the major holdups on definitions of life.)

This is one of those things I’ve found that the more you think about it, the more it affects you. Someone should write a book on “the Zen of high-reliability systems” or something. In fact, I think I know just the guy, I’ll have to talk to him about this.

For example, there are places on Earth where the climate is extremely favorable to life (hot, high humidity) and other places where the climate is much less favorable (very cold, or very dry). On the other hand, if you travel around a lot, speaking for myself at least I’ve found that the places that are *very* favorable for life feel a lot more “unlivable” to me than the places that are not so much. The reason for this is that my egocentric individual-survivial-cognitive-processing-system (i.e. “my mind”) which makes that evaluation, is only making the evaluation for me; not for life in general. From the point of view of life in general, there is more thriving of life if I am naked in the Amazon being eaten by parasites, but that’s not so great from the egocentric point of view.

This is why I have come to believe that a lot of our collections of ideas about life and survival are fundamentally flawed. Not flawed because the people involved are making mistakes; just flawed because life is all fundamentally a compromise. I’ll briefly say two examples of what I mean: environmentalism is usually thought of as some sort of non-egocentric compassionate aspiration to protect the viability of all life everywhere, but the reality is that no environmentalist would actually prefer to be eaten by parasites or whatever. So environmentalism is all being thought in the context of “just the right amount of life”. Also, the idea of humans expanding into space to increase the range of options for long-term survivability of the human race is also usually thought of as a noble goal, but it’s common for people to imagine the diaspora as being comfortably air-conditioned; it’s not at all clear that life as a whole can survive in that kind of environment; even if it is what we have come to think of as most livable, our sense of what’s livable is mainly driven by our perceptions of what DOESN’T support life, because we are in competition against so much other life.

On a more personal level, my own experience is that I’ve never had any part of my life where I could say “I finally have X under control, I don’t have to worry about that any more,” even though I (consciously and unconsciously) keep wishing for it.  One of the big points there has been relationships. Relationships require more active maintenance than data storage or nuclear waste disposal, and also lead to worse consequences when improperly maintained.

FLIR thermal imaging camera story

A friend pointed out just now that there is a thermal imaging camera attachment available from FLIR Systems for the iPhone 5. That would be a lot of fun! FLIR (a somewhat lost acronym for “forward-looking infrared”) is the company that made the thermal imaging camera (note: thermal imaging camera or microbolometer is not the same as an IR camera) that I used in India for the research project I was involved in there, which we still have in the lab. (I think FLIR are really the only ones that make this stuff.) It’s not quite as portable as the iPhone version would be, but I keep thinking it would be super fun to bust it out for a party.  You would do something like, have the camera pointed at a blank wall backdrop, with a projector screen facing it so people can see themselves while they screw around. Then if you put your hand on the wall it leaves a visible handprint in the image… like this example from someone who I think probably has the iPhone version:

 
here’s some kids having moderately irresponsible fun with a thermal camera
 
Anyway, the reason FLIR does their stuff is originally for military applications, because a thermal imaging camera makes it really, really really easy to see the exhaust ports of anything with a combustion engine. So they use them in the tracking systems for missiles. 
 
When I was bringing the camera back from India the first time, I was taking it through airport security in India. The Indian security guy opened it up and asked what it was and I said it was an infrared camera. He said it didn’t look like a camera, I said it was special high tech research camera. He said “I don’t recognize this, I don’t know what it is, but you say it’s a camera. Can you turn it on and show me that it is a camera?” I said sure, but then I couldn’t find a power plug adapter right away. While I was fishing around he said “I am going to go ask my supervisor what to do” and walked away. The businessman getting his bags out behind me kindly offered to let me borrow a power adapter.  We chatted momentarily. The security guy came back and said “I have decided to trust you.”
 
At that moment the business guy said “FLIR systems, that’s a nice camera.” The security guy looked at him and asked, “You know this one?” The guy said “Sure, it’s military hardware, it’s used in attack helicopters.”
 
That was definitely one of the moments when I’ve seen the most extreme and rapid transition of someone’s facial emotion expression ever in my life. I thought the security guy was going to have a heart attack, and also shoot me and arrest me probably all at the same time.  I looked at the business guy and said sternly, “Yes, but it’s harmless because it’s just a camera, right?” He readily agreed and said “Oh yes, it’s completely harmless.  It’s just a camera.”
 
So I made it through without any trouble after that.
 

Quantum entanglement and instantaneous communication: exploring our own assumptions

A recent article by the brilliant Scott Aaronson gave a (as usual, for Aaronson) calm, rational and insightful discussion of the potential for quantum computing and information. I got the link from my friend Julian Klappenbach, who was then inspired to muse on the potential for instantaneous communication based on quantum entanglement:

Is it possible to send superluminal messages using quantum entanglement? There’s a good body of work that says: “no”. But like most rules, these were made to be side-stepped.

Birgit Dopfer’s experiment – From Wikipedia

Although such communication is prohibited in the [no communication theorem], some argue that superluminal communication could be achieved via quantum entanglement using other methods that don’t rely on cloning a quantum system. One suggested method would use an ensemble of entangled particles to transmit information, similar to a type of quantum eraser experiments.

Birgit Dopfer, a student of Anton Zeilinger’s, has performed an experiment which seems to make possible superluminal communication through an unexpected collective behavior of two beams of entangled photons, one of which passes through a double-slit, utilising the creation of a distance interference pattern as bit 0 and the lack of a distance interference pattern as bit 1 (or vice versa), without any other classical channel. Since it is a collective and probabilistic phenomenon, no quantum information about the single particles is cloned and, accordingly, the no cloning theorem remains inviolate.

Physicist John G. Cramer at the University of Washington is attempting to replicate Dopfer’s experiment and demonstrate whether or not it can produce superluminal communication.

I’m always glad that people are working on mind-bending science. In this case, there’s an important point being left out: what does “instantaneous” mean?

The thing that makes people get all brain-melty about quantum entanglement is that it says, basically, two particles are described by a single wavefunction. Supposedly in QM, “making an observation” results in “collapsing the wavefunction”. So when you make an observation on what we shallowly think of as “one of the pair”, that’s actually an observation on the combined wavefunction, which causes the whole thing to collapse all at once: instantaneously, regardless of the spatial extent of the wavefunction. But right now, there’s no theory that integrates QM with relativity. So, on the mega-scale, we have relativity telling us all kinds of weird things about the nature of timelines with respect to different reference frames (i.e. how different observers observe time differently), but in QM the conception of TIME is actually classical. So in QM, now is just now; there’s no other math describing how it could be anything else. Thus, when you observe one particle and “collapse the wave function”, that happens “now”, which (in the absence of any further elaboration, in QM) means it happens simultaneously regardless of distance.

But the thing is, the lack of integration of QM with what we know from relativity about mega-scale behavior of time and simultaneity is a gap in our understanding. It means that we actually don’t have the theoretical tools to make real scientific predictions about what would happen with entanglement over very long distances. In the absence of real scientific tools, we’re left with “simultaneous” which leads to “instantaneous”. But everyone is so obsessed with quantum weirdness these days that they’ve forgotten that relativity tells us that there is no such thing as an absolute chronological reference frame. Once you look at it like that, it becomes clear that instantaneous communication is impossible not because of some limitation on communication, but simply because relativity has already established that there is no way of defining what it would mean for two things to happen at the same time. In other words, we might want to think that we built a machine for instantaneous communication over long distances, but different observers in different reference frames would see different chronological relationships between the two sides of the communication device.

I just double-checked my understanding here by looking at the “time dilation” article on wikipedia, which refers to the “twin paradox” article. Also try “relativity of simultaneity”. Consider the simplest case, with no acceleration (so, inertial reference frames only; keeping us in the domain of Special Relativity). Two spaceships are zooming past each other in opposite directions, at constant speed. They both have accurate clocks which they will use to try to figure out whether their quantum entanglement communication is instantaneous or not. Also, I’m sitting still (i.e. each ship sees me moving at half the velocity of the other one; there is no such thing as “absolutely at rest”, there are only different relative inertial reference frames) right at the point where they will pass each other.

When they pass, we all look at each other and see that our clocks all read zero (we planned it like that). At that moment, I take the collection of entangled particles and give half of them to one ship and half of them to the other ship. So now the ships are ready to start their communications. 

In each ship, when they look at the other ship, they see the clock running slowly. So, say that when the ship 1 clock reads 1 year, they send the “instantaneous” signal to ship 2. But what does that mean? Does that mean that Ship 2 receives the signal when their clock reads 1 year? From the reference frame of Ship 1, the clock on Ship 2 reads 1 year much later, because of time dilation. So Ship 1 has a clock that reads 1 year, and they send the “instantaneous” quantum message, and Ship 2 receives it when *their* clock reads 1 year. But ship 1 already took a look at Ship 2’s clock and saw that it was running at (say) half speed. That means that Ship 1 knows that the time when Ship 2’s clock reads 1 year, is actually 2 years out. So Ship 1 sends their signal, and then they would expect Ship 2 to receive it when Ship 2’s clock reads 1 year, which is actually when Ship 1’s clock reads 2 years. So that certainly doesn’t feel instantaneous to the people on Ship 1 who sent the message; it’s pretty useless, in fact.

Even worse, let’s say hypothetically that what we expect to happen is that Ship 1 sends a signal when Ship 1’s clock reads 1 year, and then they expect Ship 2 to receive it “instantaneously”, which means as far as Ship 1 is concerned, they expect Ship 2 to receive it when Ship 2’s clock reads whatever Ship 1 thinks it should be reading “right now”. Namely, 1/2 year. So now say Ship 2 receives the signal when their clock reads 1/2 year, and sends a return signal. Then, by the same logic, they expect Ship 1 to receive the return signal when Ship 1’s clock reads 1/4 year! And if you set each clock to “ping” mode, basically you get a convergent infinite series all the way back to zero. 

We may or may not have a problem with the idea of information moving back in time, but that’s not what’s at issue here. The issue is that it’s clear that this also fails to be a useful “instantaneous” communication device.

Again, the problem is that the very nature of space-time itself is that there is NO SUCH THING as objective simultaneity over long distances. And in the absence of an integrated theory of relativistic quantum mechanics, we simply don’t know what we ought to expect to happen with the entangled wavefunction over space-travel-relevant distances.

Of course, it’s still an interesting question, even though we don’t know what’s “supposed” to happen, because we can postulate various possible options and consider what each one leads to. Having just gone through this just now, I’d say that I think the most likely option is the first one I described, at least for situations of special relativity. That means that it effectively works as if each entangled particle has its own internal clock, and that’s how they know when “the same time” is. That means that Ship 1 sends a message when their clock (and their particle’s imaginary internal clocks) reads 1 year, and Ship 2 receives it when their clock reads 1 year. What this means is that although the external observer (“me”, the way I set this up) sees the communication as instantaneous, each ship actually sees the communication taking a long time from their reference frames. So basically, this leads to a result where it never leads to anything other than an amusing curiosity where (just as with the experiments already being done) we can externally observe simultaneity, but it doesn’t do us any good when we try to get involved in it for communication purposes.

If we take this one step further, and try to figure out what happens in a more practical situation involving General Relativity, things get even weirder and less satisfying. Also I think the “particles internal clocks” heuristic breaks down.

Imagine we have home, which is an inertial reference frame (more or less), and then we build a very fast ship to colonize a distant planet. We synchronize our clocks and then the ship takes off on a round trip. When the ship gets back, their clocks only measure the passage of 1 year, but our clocks measure the passage of (say) 100 years. So say we know it takes them 1/2 year of their subjective time to reach the destination, but it takes 50 years of our subjective time. If we wait 50 years for them to reach the destination, and we send a signal, then if you use the “particles internal clocks” heuristic, then the ship doesn’t receive the signal until 99 years after the mission is over! That’s not very useful. On the other hand, using the same heuristic, if the ship sends a signal when they land at the destination, it will be received when the home clocks read 6 months, which is pretty exciting. It would be a really great “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” moment, but it would also be an absolutely one-way communication channel. If we tried to reply, they wouldn’t receive it for a very long time.

I actually suspect that the “internal clock” heuristic would break down under general relativity (i.e. the non-intertial-reference frame scenario described here) and something else would happen, but I have no idea what it would be. In any case, the point holds that space-time itself does not contain any way of defining what “instantaneous” means over long distances.

My point here is not that I think I can solve the problem of whether or not quantum entanglement allows “instantaneous” communication. My point here is merely that the word “instantaneous” doesn’t mean what ordinary usage thinks it means, on relativistic scales, and in fact there is no single correct way of interpreting that word, in the situations that we actually care about.  Therefore, if we want to get anywhere in the discussion of “instantaneous communication”, we have to start by being scientifically precise about what we are considering.  Relativity gives us the tools to be precise about space-time relationships over long distances; but the way it ends up working out is kind of unsatisfactory for the simple sci-fi “ainsible” idea we were hoping for, because there isn’t any possible definition of “instantaneous” that works out that way.

Note: The “particles internal clocks” heuristic shouldn’t be taken literally, because that would be a local hidden variables theory, which was already disproven (although, to be fair, the whole thing seems to rest on a wide range of assumptions which are so subtle that I certainly don’t understand them all.)

 

Postscript: some of you might be wondering why I’m blogging about this, when I’m supposed to be a psychologist researching the neuroscience of meditation.  The short answer is that one of the main things that has caught my attention in the course of my graduate education up to now, is the problem of the psychology of scientists themselves. In particular, when scientists are and are not aware of the assumptions they are making. In this case since I am a recovering Caltech physicist I knew enough to recognize some important assumptions that seemed to mainly go unacknowledged, and wanted to write them out.

 

What would a useful theory of neuroscience look like?

There’s an article in the NY Times right now called The Trouble with Brain Science. This article does a good job of summarizing the basic unease I have about this field. The article in a nutshell:

“But neither project has grappled sufficiently with a critical question that is too often ignored in the field: What would a good theory of the brain actually look like?”

Credit to people like Giulio Tononi and Karl Friston, who are at least trying to make theories that bridge in some way, although I’m not particularly convinced by either of them, and I think we have a long way to go.

I’m going to put something out there: Physics seems to be based on mathematical regularity, so that’s the kind of theories they have. Biology is all happenstance and evolution, so perhaps instead of physics-like theories, we should be looking for theoretical approaches which are evolutionary on the conceptual level. This tends to be unsatisfying, because such models end up appearing to be ad-hoc in that they are explicitly adapted to the observations, rather than designed to predict the observations from first principles. But that’s the rub: there’s no reason to think that ANY first principles will predict biology, let alone the neuroscience-psychology bridge! Any neuro-psycho bridge will perforce be ad-hoc in that it is a model of something that has no underlying first-principles necessity. What this means in practice is a few things:

  • Really *useful* models in this territory will be theoretically unsatisfying to the current way of thinking, so we have to change our feelings about our science to match the reality of nature.
  • Really useful models will come into existence through some sort of process of growing and evolving onto the data, rather than the kind of mathematical insight that has driven a lot of the “hard” sciences traditionally. That is, there won’t be a lot of “eureka” moments when someone realizes that a simple power law governs the relationship (for example). Again, we’ll have to adjust our expectations to match the reality of nature.
  • Really useful models will, themselves, be of an order of complexity comparable to the systems they are intending to describe, in a way that flies in the face of what scientists currently think of as the definition of a “theory” at all. In short, the complexity (say, Kolmogorov) of a theory is supposed to be vastly smaller than the complexity of the systems it allows you to model; that’s part of the very idea of what it means to be a theory.

A quick look at the current big brain initiatives shows that we are already moving in the direction I’m describing: a computer simulating an entire brain is, obviously, a more complex system than just the brain itself. So then you could ask, after these projects succeed, who exactly is it that “understands” something more about the brain?

I don’t see any of this as being fundamentally problematic; but it is going to require a big change in how we think about science as a whole, in order for there to be room for these non-reducing models. It’s also going to lead to different dynamics of how science is done: since it will depend much less on individual understanding (in the holding-an-entire-model-in-your-head sense) than before, it seems to me that science as large teams will be more important.  Well, now that I think about it, they have that in physics too already, with the big collider and telescope projects.

Update: David Meyer at Michigan sends me this:

You and others should read the following document; it’s at the apt level of analysis for what’s needed to advance theoretical psychological science. More micro brain probing is currently pretty much irrelevant for that purpose… http://www.umich.edu/~bcalab/documents/MeyerKieras1999.pdf

I’ll write more after I read that.

 

 

Complexity and consciousness

Complexity and consciousness

There has been an interesting discussion going on in Scott Aaronson’s fabulous blog Shtetl Optimized where he is debating with Giulio Tononi about Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory of consciousness. Scott is a brilliant guy and I would say this is one of the best debates about any quantitative theory of consciousness that you’ll ever find online.  It starts here and continues here.  I highly recommend it if you’re interested in that kind of stuff.

In between those posts, Scott had an article about practical measures of complexity, which I happen to know is also totally relevant to the IIT discussion because of Tononi’s recent work on “zap-and-zip”, a system to “measure consciousness” by zapping the brain with TMS and then recording the electrical response in high density, and then measuring the complexity of the response by testing the compressibility with zip compression. I got a comment up on Scott’s blog saying this and presenting the links, here.  I’ll also paste the text below.

In the meanwhile, go read the main articles.  🙂

Hey Scott, you may not be aware but there is a tie-in between this topic and your IIT ongoing debate with Giulio Tononi. He is working on a “consciousness meter” based on the principle of stimulating the brain directly, recording its response pattern, and then estimating the complexity by looking literally at file size reduction under compression. They jokingly call it “zap-and-zip”. Here’s a paper on it:http://www.researchgate.net/publication/255955267_A_theoretically_based_index_of_consciousness_independent_of_sensory_processing_and_behavior/file/e0b4952137b7d4600b.pdf

And here’s a talk by, I think, Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi on the topic:http://fqxi.org/data/documents/conferences/2014-talks/Koch_Tononi.pdf

I’m a grad student at the University of Wisconsin and have seen him talk about this in person. The interesting thing about it is that it seems to empirically do pretty well in “paradigm cases” of consciousness, despite the shakiness of the theoretical foundation (as you have pointed out).

 

Crowdfunding update

Hey guys, we’re about a month into our crowdfunding initiative.  There are several informational videos and illustrations up on the “lab notes” section.  One talks about automation in psychological research.  There are some embarrassing videos of me talking.  I plan to also write some text entries, but damn, this grad school business keeps you hopping; no rest!
 
tl;dr: Why this project is important, and why crowdfunding is appropriate. Namely, it’s outside of the mainstream mission of the NIH, which funds most of the research on meditation; it’s a part of the deeper process of inter-cultural dialog between Science and Eastern Wisdom, or whatever you want to call it.  Please contribute!

The crowd funding site:
http://microryza.com/self  or
https://www.microryza.com/projects/how-does-meditation-help-oneself-and-others

The snazzy web site:

http://go.wisc.edu/selfidentification  or
http://brainimaging.waisman.wisc.edu/~ecwell/ISI/index.html

I had the opportunity to orient two new undergrads the other day, whom we hired to succeed Andy Schoen, the amazingly talented guy who has been my assistant for the last few years.  He made the web site and the videos and stuff.  He had an interview for a position at Stanford, which he’s really excited about and should get, in my opinion.  Anyway, I was pleased that I was able to sit down and give a coherent overview of why I’m doing this project, and what it means.  So I was inspired to share with other people I know, too.

I came out here because I wanted to study “meditation research”; I didn’t know much about what I was getting into but I knew that the whole Tibetan-buddhist-monks-plus-high-tech-equipment was the vibe I wanted in my life. So I worked on the projects I was given, and, in short, none of them worked out.  As you know, a null finding is nothing more than inconclusive; it’s very unsatisfying and just leaves you wondering. One problem that occurred to me is that most of the research was based on a clinical kind of model of dose-response curve: if a little meditation does a little bit of something, then more will do more. But according to the Buddhist tradition, the “liberative” benefits of meditation come from the development of insight, vipashyana in Sanskrit, vipassana in Pali, or lhaktong in Tibetan. The wide range of various meditation and other techniques taught across the range of Buddhist traditions are intended to support the development of insight.  But, there is no guarantee of insight.  So, if I’m analyzing data with a linear dose-reponse model, but the actual effect is mediated by an unreliable relationship with an unmeasured factor of insight, then it might explain why I couldn’t find anything.

This analysis of the traditional teaching on the effects of meditation suggests a testable hypothesis: the effects of meditation on well-being are mediated by the insight factor.  So if we can measure the insight, we can do a more specific test of the traditional account of meditation than anything that has been done before.

Of course, most of our research is funded by NCCAM, the National Centers for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of the NIH.  They are interested in funding meditation research because their mission is to study CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) modalities that people are actually doing, as part of a larger public-health role for the NIH.  So they’re not really interested in what the tradition says; they are just interested in applying standard clinical research methodology to what people are already doing.  So, that’s a reason for me to look for alternative funding for this kind of study.  I suspect that if I developed positive findings, then it would be possible to get further funding from NCCAM; like any granting agency, they love to follow on already-successful studies.

So, that’s a very brief overview of how I got to where I am now.  Which brings me to the hard part, for me, which is asking everyone to pledge to the crowd funding initiative.  We’re about halfway through our 60-day term.  We should be getting a mention in SciAm Mind soon, and might be able to get some other high-profile blog mentions, but all the advice I’ve received tells me that the key is to prime the pump with friends-and-family donations before it goes out to the wider public.  So far we have three donors, one of which is from a total stranger, which is encouraging.  But we need more!  For this initial stage, it’s more about seeing that there is “social proof” for the venture.  So, I’d really like to ask that you not be discouraged by not wanting to give very much.  If a bunch of people give only $5, that’s still useful because then there’s all that social proof from all those names and faces!  And of course, I’d also really appreciate it if you could pass on word on your own other blogs and email lists and so on.  I would be very happy to talk more with anyone who would be interested in blogging this and wants to discuss more about why it’s interesting and important!

As a final aside, this is another bit of academic meta-education for me.  Being in academics, I get the impression that most of one’s work consists of hustling for grants.  I’m not very good at asking for money, or any other kind of help for that matter. So, I’m sending this appeal to you guys as a growth exercise for myself, as well as everything else.  This has been a bit difficult for me; I’ve been procrastinating it for weeks.  I actually wrote this message out offline, a little bit at a time, because it felt awkward.  I tried to emphasize the personal narrative, and the science, to make it easier, rather than thinking of it as hustling… I want to make it clear that I really appreciate any help, and I’m not taking this for granted by any means. I will be deeply grateful for any support and will be totally devoted to continuing to communicate about the work!

And, as always, I’m also extremely grateful for any advice or feedback! 

Take care, wish me luck, please ask any questions, and I hope you are willing to contribute, to pass this on to your various blogs or email lists, or both!

 

Brain-to-Brain interface synchronicity today

Today is August 27, and two fascinating and surprisingly related things are in the news. One is the release of my good friend Ramez Naam’s (“Mez”) second novel, Crux.  The other is this press release from the University of Washington, announcing the first ever direct brain-to-brain communication.

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/08/book-review-crux-by-ramez-naam/

http://www.washington.edu/news/2013/08/27/researcher-controls-colleagues-motions-in-1st-human-brain-to-brain-interface/

Computer-mediated brain-to-brain communication is the core theme of Mez’s series that started with Nexus and continues with Crux. Of course, a thousand variations on “The Matrix” have been done to death, but where Mez’s novels shine is in their combination of hard sci-fi realism about the technology involved, and the focus on the societal response to the initial emergence of the technology.  Mez has written several nonfiction books and is experienced with considering the Big Picture of how technology and human activity interacts with our nature and our culture, and now that he’s writing fiction you can experience that well-researched thoughtful investigation in a fast-paced page-turner format.  Seriously, I was a beta reader for both manuscripts, and in both cases I literally could not put it down: I started reading, and then missed both sleep and work for the next 15 hours or so until I was finished.  So I recommend the book.

And of course I also recommend the link on the neuroscience research.  I will comment that the news, although momentous on the surface, is technically a mere baby step.  The technology they use on the receiving end is trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, which is a blunt instrument to say the least.  It’s barely accurate enough to activate just a few fingers in the motor cortex, and there is very little control of the degree of activation or deactivation generated by the pulses.  Also, in my early days in the lab I volunteered to help pilot a TMS study where they administered me 6000 pulses over 5 hours or so, and honestly I did not feel very good afterwards, so I’m not sure it’s completely safe in the long term, either.

But the fact remains that this will forever be on the record as the first instance of direct brain-to-brain computer-mediated transmission.  I’m sure there will be a great deal of discussion about the technical details of what needs to happen to make that really work.  I have some thoughts of my own which I will share here in the future.

Crowdfunding page live!

Crowdfunding page live!

Check out the crowdfunding campaign page there, with a really fun video that Andy Schoen made! 

This will kick off a series of “lab notes” posts about our progress on putting the equipment and protocol together for this Self-Identification study.  You can get to that from the Microryza page. (You don’t have to donate to look at it!) I’ll also start posting that info here.

 

Buddhist Geeks conference

Two years ago my good friend and colleague Willoughby Britton suggested I go to the Buddhist Geeks conference in Los Angeles. This year it's in Boulder, and I came to attend the conference and also visit the lab of Tor Wager, who is the social and affective neuroscience researcher I admire most, and who appears to have an interest in our meditation research. (More on that in another post.) I also came here to promote a crowd funding campaign for my research, which will go live soon on Microryza.

The talks have begun. Right now I'm listening to Lodro Rinzler, a young Shambhala teacher who looks quite the hipster. But I'm liking his talk. He is emphasizing the importance of learning meditation and dharma practice within a supporting community, the sangha. This is a big issue with all the Buddhist modernism going on.

All this is being webcast live, and archived. I'm not going to try to provide thorough coverage of this conference because there are probably two dozen other people doing that… And the whole thing is webcast anyway. But I will try to offer a little bit of what I think is helpful.

Hello world, new blog

After the positive response I received to my live blogging at Mind and Life XXVI, which came through despite needing to wrestle most of it out through the Facebook iPhone app, I decided to start a real blog. I was pleased to find that the publication form of my name, David M. Perlman, was available as davidmperlman.com. (Don't know why I never before thought to look.) And here is my new WordPress.com blog.

I manually copied all of the substantive posts off my Facebook timeline into WordPress. I also backdated them to the dates they were displaying, which were in the range of January 18-21. The times were not readily available but this is not meant to be exact. I also did not copy cute pictures and such, only the rather more academic bloviations.

At the present time this is not completely set up but over time this will be a receptacle for writings on my own research, and comments on others' research, in my fields of functional neuroimaging and contemplative neuroscience, as well as big-picture thoughts on the contemporary scientific process and community, and perhaps occasionally very-big-picture thoughts about society.

More to come soon. Wish me well!