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Author Page for Ian Park

Ian graduated from Wesleyan University in May 2011 with a degree in Neuroscience and Behavior. In that same year, he was Director of Photography of a senior documentary thesis film at Wesleyan, which won first place. He recently acted as Director of Photography on a Clinique commercial for a competition--it won honorable mentions. He is currently working as a producer/director/editor of video and other digital content in Soho, NY, as well as working on a soon-to-be-released web series, "Postponed."

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Pixar: “What Goes on Inside Our Heads?”

[ 2 ] December 7, 2011

In a recent Charlie Rose interview of John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar revealed more about the next Pixar project, to be directed by Pete Docter. The animator said that it will take place inside the mind of a girl, with her emotions as characters.

Lasseter said that the film concept came from the simple question, “What is going on in people’s heads?” Good question. Though this doesn’t sound like the neuroscience-epic-IMAX-3D-blockbuster I’ve been dreaming of, maybe Pixar will be able to reflect both past and the latest neuroscience/psychology research, as well as shedding some light on the matter with their artistic freedom.

At the least, it’ll be a good time at the theatres.

Here’s the full interview.

Yaron Steinberg’s Brain

[ 2 ] September 29, 2011

Yaron Steinberg has created an installation to show how he imagines his brain.

We know about the neurons, the synapses, the neurotransmitters, and some of us have had the privilege of seeing these in person, under the disconcertingly objective lens of a microscope. But to place the idea of thought and emotion with these strangely mundane and tangible elements does not do our brains justice.

Steinberg’s installation gives us insight into what the artist thinks of his thoughts–a tightly packed neighborhood that has developed throughout his life, and perhaps a grayness reflecting the dull veneer of neurons and chemicals that hides all the complexity within this community.

But the piece also invites us to imagine what our brains would look like if it could reflect how we think. Is it a green, Swedish field filled with full-bodied aromas, or a city slum where it’s hard to find redemption? Either way, this imagination-exercise forces a very personal metacognition that one doesn’t encounter everyday.

For more, see Steinberg’s website.

That’s Uncanny!

[ 2 ] August 19, 2011

“Creepy” may be the more apt colloquial term, but “uncanny” is how scientists describe the feeling you get when looking at an almost-but-not-quite-real-enough simulation of a human’s face. It may be a robot, the AI in your favorite video game, or that CG version of Jeff Bridges, but there seems to be an unusual feeling we get from seeing a face that “just isn’t right.”

For example, in a study by Seyama and Nagayama (2007), the researchers note that abnormally large eyes on face with higher degrees of realism induce an “uncomfortable (unpleasant) impression.” Below is a general, graphical representation of this effect, and that dip is called the “uncanny valley.”

One theory behind this occurrence is that we have been evolutionarily programmed to avoid corpses, therefore we have a gut reaction to faces that just aren’t right. The visual artists for the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had the challenge of crossing this valley, and it’s generally accepted that they did very well in this endeavor. Seems like those millions of dollars paid off, at least in terms of modern computer generated imagery.

Oliver Sacks Book Designs

[ 2 ] July 26, 2011

Check out the new cover designs for Oliver Sacks’ books, designed by Carbon Webb.

Click for a larger view. Looks fantastic!

Lackluster Retention of Random Information

[ 2 ] July 20, 2011

I remember one chemistry teacher in high school who said spending time to memorize the entire periodic table was a waste of time. I always did like him.

In a recent New York Times article, Patricia Cohen reports that there is a new line of research looking into the effects of online databases and search engines on our memory. Dr Betsy Sparrow, Daniel Wegner, and Jenny Liu conducted a few memory experiments, revealing that people do not make an effort to retain information when they believe it will be easily retrievable.

Huh. Maybe this explains why I don’t remember Bon Jovi’s birthday or the atomic mass of osmium. The internet is right there, just waiting for me to ask these important questions. (Bon Jovi was born on March 2nd, 1962 and osmium has an atomic mass of 76 atomic mass units. Thank you, Google.)

It’s no doubt that internet databases and search engines are a boon to researchers, students, cheating crossword players. That’s the thing, it’s ok to forget something until you need it–my chemistry teacher knew that in the real world, we could look up an element. But what if you don’t know when you’ll need a bit of information. There are little things like, oh I don’t know, critical thinking, decision making, and problem solving that at least in part depend on your ability to recall bits of knowledge from memory. (In theory, this is one reason why we memorize things in college.) So, how will our 21st century lackluster retention of random information affect these essential mental faculties?

Blaming the Right Person

[ 0 ] June 20, 2011

David Eagleman discusses in his recent article for The Atlantic the increasingly fuzzy line between nature and nurture and how it will play into our judicial system.

In recent years, it has become clear that who we are is dictated by both our genes and our experiences. Though our genes were granted to us at birth, their expressions are adjusted throughout our lives according to changing needs, stresses, and other exterior influences. A natural flow from a conversation of nature vs. nurture is to free will–do we or do we not have it? Eagleman applies this question to the judicial system, where it has real consequences:

As our understanding of the human brain improves, juries are increasingly challenged with these sorts of questions. When a criminal stands in front of the judge’s bench today, the legal system wants to know whether he is blameworthy.

It may sound ridiculous to blame a criminal’s actions on his or her genes. But, as Eagleman points out, there have already been cases where advances in science helped to prove that the perpetrator was not in control of his actions. As the years go on, science will only continues to progress, our ability to see the relationship between biology and behavior will improve, and culpability will shift. Eagleman writes,

This puts us in a strange situation. After all, a just legal system cannot define culpability simply by the limitations of current technology….A legal system that declares a person culpable at the beginning of a decade and not culpable at the end is one in which culpability carries no clear meaning.

It is interesting to witness how the progress of technology and science is changing our definitions and perceptions outside of labs and hospitals. In my experience of talking to neuroscience students, one thing that draws them to this discipline is how it borrows from a wide range of studies, from computer engineering to physics, biochemistry to 3D animation. At this point in history, it is clearer than ever that neuroscience not only requires a wide range of disciplinary input, but also extends its influence throughout various facets of our world.

Read the full article at The Atlantic.

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