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FRED Talks

[ 4 ] September 12, 2011


We all know TED.  TED is great; he brings together the world’s “leading thinkers and doers.” TED costs $6000 and requires an invitation.

Now meet FRED!  FRED has great friends, who are also the world’s leading thinkers and doers.  But they aren’t famous, and you get to hear their ideas for free.


This Sunday, September 18th, at 7:00pm, FRED Talk #10 will take place at 5 Crosby Street #5H, NY, NY (Between Howard and Grand).  The lineup is:

1) “We See With Our Brains, Not With Our Eyes,” by NYU cognitive neuroscientist David Carmel.

2) “Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century,” by Columbia neuroscience PhD candidate and author Carl Schoonover.

3) “Why Adults Should Watch Animation,” by animator, illustrator, and digital/motion effects artist Colleen Cox.

BYO! + $5 if you want Pizza…

Pinker Deftly Places the Internet Where it Belongs

[ 2 ] September 7, 2011

I am skeptical of the idea that the Internet–structurally– is a completely unprecedented innovation in human history. I didn’t know exactly how to express this until I came across a passage by Steven Pinker in “The Mind,” a series of insightful Q&A-structured essays by prominent scientists and philosophers, edited by John Brockman.

Steven Pinker

Pinker begins by comparing the Internet to the human brain in its ability to share a lot of information very rapidly. But then he goes on to give us some humbling history as to where the Internet as a tool fits into our evolutionary past.

“Even nonindustrial hunter-gatherer tribes pool information by the use of language. That has given them remarkable local technologies– ways of trapping animals, using poisons, chemically plant foods to remove the bitter toxins, and so on. That is also a collective intelligence that comes from accumulating discoveries over generations, and pooling them among a group of people living at one time. Everything that’s happened since, such as writing, the printing press, and now the Internet, are ways of magnifying something that our species already knew how to do, which is to pool expertise by communication. Language was the real innovation in our biological evolution; everything since has just made our words travel farther or last longer.”

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.

The Palaces of Memory and Genius

[ 1 ] August 16, 2011

Over at the World Science Festival site, an intriguing discussion of memory palaces– a technique by which one builds a mental representation of a structure and then fills the rooms with certain memories for later recollection:

Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, walks us through the process of constructing “memory palaces”—an age-old memorization technique currently exploited by the world’s leading memory champs and mental athletes. Psychologist and memory expert Lynn Nadel explains why this trick is so powerful and how it leverages some the brain’s strongest faculties. [video of panel discussion]

In addition, WSF has some excellent new content surrounding the question of genius, including a report on a panel discussion that featured Julie Taymor and Philip Glass discussing creativity and the mind.

Art & Science Debates Hit London

[ 1 ] August 9, 2011

For those interested in the dialogue between the arts and sciences, there’s an epicenter of discourse that has emerged in London at the GV Art Gallery. Besides being the only commercial gallery to exclusively display science-inspired art, GV Art also hosts frequent panels and debates focused on interdisciplinary questions. Two recent panels were videotaped and are publicly viewable on YouTube:

In many sections, the participants in the debates grasp for how to identify the future of a merged art/science world. How would you label this pursuit, often called the “third culture”?

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!

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