Saturday, July 22, 2017

Only the Canners Are Happy About This

They’ll Shoot Horses, Won’t They?

SONOMA, Calif. — Should the federal government encourage the slaughter of a living symbol of the American West?

While blunt, this question is unfortunately not hyperbole when it comes to America’s wild horses. This week the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment that would eliminate longstanding restrictions on killing wild horses and burros.

And it could get worse: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is also pushing to end the ban on selling these animals for slaughter for food in Mexico and Canada; at the same time, Mr. Zinke wants to cut funding for fertility control — the only scientifically recommended, humane tool available to manage wild horse herds.

Lawmakers in Congress must decide: Are they — and more important, their constituents — comfortable with the killing of animals that for nearly 50 years have been under congressional protection?

For years, the answer has been no, as legislators from both parties have sided with the 80 percent of Americans who, polls show, oppose horse slaughter. But they are being lobbied heavily by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and a small but vocal group of ranchers who graze their livestock on public lands, who say the current practice of annual roundups of wild horses isn’t working.

Representative Ken Calvert, a California Republican who heads the Appropriations subcommittee that controls the bureau’s budget, said, “We simply cannot continue to shove more and more wild horses and burros into holding facilities and act as if that’s somehow a good outcome for these animals or taxpayers.”

He’s not entirely wrong: A new approach to protecting America’s 73,000 wild horses and burros is in fact needed.

The bureau spends $80 million a year to drive wild horses by the thousands each year off the public lands they call home. Under its Wild Horse and Burro Program, these animals are herded by helicopters for hundreds of miles over rugged terrain into pens. The cruel roundups cause injury, suffering and death.

The bureau argues that wild horses are damaging Western grazing lands — a questionable claim, and one that ignores the millions of head of private livestock that it allows to graze on those same public lands. Even though, compared with wild horses, livestock graze on eight times as much federally managed land and consume 55 times the amount of food, a blinkered bureau sees the wild horses as the problem — despite explicit orders from Congress to protect them.

The result has been a self-defeating feedback loop that wastes taxpayer dollars and endangers the welfare of thousands of animals. As the National Academy of Sciences explained in a 2013 report funded by the bureau, a policy that focuses solely on moving wild horses to corralled land is “likely to keep the population at a size that maximizes population growth rates, which in turn maximizes the number of animals that must be removed to holding facilities.”

Thankfully, unlike many of the policy issues plaguing Congress, this problem does have solutions that are both fiscally sound and grounded in science. As advocates and even some local bureau offices have shown, there are effective methods to reduce fertility in wild horses. Using dart guns, small teams of workers can effectively control large populations of wild horses without having to permanently corral them.

Mustang near Bishop, CA   photo uncredited
Such an approach is “a more affordable option” than current bureau policy, according to the National Academy of Sciences, and it doesn’t involve euthanasia or selling animals to slaughterhouses.

But the Interior Department seems adamant, and in response has undertaken a campaign to spread misinformation to confuse the issue. At a recent House hearing, Secretary Zinke conveniently ignored the National Academy of Sciences report, instead telling lawmakers that fertility control efforts were a failure and nearly impossible to carry out.

Nonprofit organizations like ours have disproved that claim. With less than $50,000 and a team of six volunteers, our Virginia Range project is undertaking a birth-control program for a herd of more than 3,000 horses spread across over 300,000 acres in Nevada. Already this year we’ve vaccinated more mares with birth control than the bureau did all of last year.

Given this, lawmakers should question why the bureau is so eager to strip these protections from the wild horses and burros Congress acted unanimously to protect in 1971. More important, lawmakers should ask themselves whether it makes more sense to embrace a fiscally sound, science-based plan that would protect wild horses, or an approach that ends in slaughter for these cherished icons of the American West. 

Ellie Phipps Price, a vintner, is the president of the American Wild Horse Campaign.

Coin Operated Existence

‘Roadside Lights’: Capturing Japan through its lonely vending machines

The Japan Times  by   Special To The Japan Times 
Photographer Eiji Ohashi gained a deeper appreciation of Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines one harsh night in his Hokkaido hometown of Wakkanai, Japan’s northernmost city.

Roadside Lights, by Eiji Ohashi.
44 pages
ZEN FOTO GALLERY, Photography.
Caught in a fierce snowstorm, he was able to navigate his way home only by the lights of the surrounding jihanki. Seeing the glowing appliances in a new light, as analogous to the Buddhist jizō effigies that also stand along roadsides and are said to be guardians of travelers and children, he turned his lens on vending machines initially as a way of expressing his gratitude.

Ohashi has spent the nine years since then obsessively shooting starkly beautiful Japanese landscapes, usually in the dead of night, that are “populated” only by vending machines yet offer perspicacious comment on the human condition. With his work now gaining attention both at home and abroad (exhibitions in Paris and Rotterdam are currently in the works), Ohashi’s color work is collected in the recently published photo book “Roadside Lights.”

Traveling alone across the archipelago in search of such scenes, Ohashi has come to see the vending machine as emblematic of a Japanese pursuit of convenience that has gone a little too far, while also acknowledging that the widespread proliferation of the machines is testament to how safe the country is. This ambiguity of sentiment is manifest in the work as well as the photographer’s explication of it.

“Life in Japan has become extremely convenient, but still there seems no end to the pursuit of greater comfort,” he tells The Japan Times. “That quest continues relentlessly, but we don’t need this degree of convenience in order to live. Rather, having achieved this level of comfort, we should now be asking what is the true essence of happiness.”

As Ohashi sees it, the mindset that has seeded even the most remote locations with jihanki has, while superficially making everyday life more hassle-free than ever, had other less desirable effects. “The typically earnest and very methodical mentality of the Japanese has been a factor in the rollout of vending machines far and wide, but this same disposition has also contributed to Japanese society becoming oppressive and suffocating,” he says.

And while the photographer’s works in both color and monochrome (the latter collected in 2015’s “Merci”) portray jihanki in a flattering light, he laments that, in his view, an awareness of scenic and environmental conservation has been lacking in the rural deployment of these machines. This aesthetic dissonance is, of course, central to much of Ohashi’s work, where it has a charm not always present in reality.

Ohashi’s images address domestic concerns, but there are broader themes present that speak to phenomena seen in other post-industrial societies where neoliberal ideas have come to inform everything from political policy to interpersonal relationships. The present age, Ohashi’s images seem to say, grants ever-greater convenience while at the same time destroying old certainties, putting the livelihoods of many at the mercy of market forces.

Ohashi’s treatment of such concerns is singular. In many of his images a single vending machine stands alone in a cold, remote setting, echoing an era in which the primacy and self-sufficiency of the individual are stressed at the expense of a mutually-supportive society.

Perhaps this anthropomorphic aspect is a result of Ohashi’s solitary travel by night to some of Japan’s remotest corners, but as he explains: “I’ve come to perceive in the figure of the vending machine those people who are at the mercy of, and tossed about by, the system; those who go unrewarded despite making their best efforts.”

A former salaryman himself, Ohashi notes that vending machines “work” tirelessly day and night, yet will be unceremoniously removed should their sales taper off. When put this way, it becomes easy to see parallels with the company employee who likewise risks “removal” should he fail to meet his quotas, or the part-time worker who is always unsure as to whether their contract will be renewed.

Although the photographer is now into his early 60s, his work is also sympathetic to today’s young generation. In the mass production of vending machines of identical form (the appliances are usually of uniform shape and size, regardless of manufacturer), Ohashi sees a metaphor for what some see as lack of individuality in millennials, engendered by their times.

Ohashi’s work raises questions rather than posits solutions. But it comes as no surprise that he expresses his vision of a better society in a way that echoes his vending machines, brilliantly illuminating the darkness around them: “One message in my work is that I wish for a world in which each and everyone is able to shine.”

Even More Silly Osprey Art

Yup - He Can See It

Cat mesmerized by optical illusion  2 min. 4 sec.

This is what he sees...


Another Way of Seeing

Indigenous artist Peter Mungkuri wins Hadley's Art Prize

The Sydney Morning Herald  Goya Dmytryshchak  July 16 2017 
An Indigenous artist has won what is believed to be the world's richest landscape art prize for a drawing of his remote South Australian birthplace.

Peter Mungkuri has won the $100,000 inaugural Hadley's Art Prize for his depiction of the Aboriginal community of Fregon (Kaltjiti).

Peter Mungkuri with his winning artwork Ngura Wiru. 
Mungkuri said his piece, titled Ngura Wiru or Good Country, told a personal story.

"This is my story about that creek at Fregon," he said. "I was born there."

"Back then we lived in the bush, slept in the warm sand and we lived on the bush tucker.

"That place is where it all started, that was my home.

"I love this country, it has watched us Anangu (people) for many years. It is a wise country."

Mungkuri's ink on Somerset-paper drawing was chosen by a judging panel of three national art specialists, Lisa Slade, Rodger Butler and Julie Gough.

Bnganampa kililpil - our stars
 Ngura (Country)

Eclipse Traffic

Meet the Woman Trying to Prepare Your Town for the Total Eclipse

A total solar eclipse was visible from the Northern tip of Australia on Nov. 13, 2012 at 3:35 EST. The light halo visible around the edges of the moon is the sun's atmosphere, the corona.  Romeo Durscher/NASA
Wired  Sarah Scoles  7.21.17

During a solar eclipse, the Moon slides in front of the Sun, blocking it perfectly, and a swath of the world goes dark. And on August 21, that darkness will pass from west to east, from Oregon to South Carolina.

For the millions watching, it will be an awe-inspiring event, as the moon blocks an entire star from view, casting an umbra across the continent. But for the towns hosting those millions, it’s also a logistical nightmare. Places in the path of "totality"—where a full eclipse occurs—will have more visitors than perhaps ever before. The website Great American Eclipse estimates that 12.25 million people live within the path, and between 1.85 and 7.4 million will travel to it. Those numbers make it hard to plan for just how taxed their roads, gas reserves, watering holes, bathrooms, and food services will be.

So to make their eclipse memorable and safe, towns have turned to expert outsiders. And there's one in particular who can help: psychologist, author, and eclipse consultant Kate Russo. Based in Belfast, Ireland, she's the world expert in eclipse-specific community planning, and she's committed to helping the largely small towns across America prepare for the experience.

One doesn't become the preeminent community eclipse guru overnight. Russo began with years of obsessive eclipse-chasing, traveling far from Northern Ireland to see totalities in action. She had been watching for more than a decade when a solar eclipse finally visited her native continent of Australia. This time, she went back home to work with local officials, launch her first book on eclipse-chasing, and do psychological research. She interviewed first-time eclipse viewers, surveying them before and after the event to see how the actual experience compared with their anticipation.

But as she spoke to people around town, she realized that for many locals, that "before" period was dominated by worry—mostly about tourist traffic. Some people even planned to duck out and avoid the whole hassle. “They really couldn't see that it was for them,” she says.

After the eclipse, Russo interviewed the local coordinators, to find out what had gone well and what they would do differently. That work, and preparatory outreach visits to their archipelago starting in 2013, caught the notice of the Faroe Islands near Denmark, which was getting ready for its own solar eclipse in 2015. The organization Visit Faroe Islands appointed Russo as their official consultant, where she educated local leaders on what happens during eclipses, helped create public-oriented brochures, advised on ill weather, and established safety standards for viewing filters. Afterward, she wrote a white paper on community eclipse planning and revealed it at a 2015 eclipse-planning meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Portland.
On August 21, 2017, the Earth will cross the shadow of the moon, creating a total solar eclipse. For the first time in almost 40 years, the path of the moon's shadow passes through the continental United States. NASA
Since then, it's become the go-to guide for umbra-encumbered regions around the world, distributed by, among others, the American Astronomical Society. It's a digestible 14-page guidebook for locals who hope to coordinate eclipse efforts in their communities.

Earlier this year, Russo began consulting remotely, videoconferencing with interested communities along the August eclipse's path. For each place, she helped people consider how to deal with all those other humans, educate residents and tourists, disseminate day-of information, and delegate to local leaders. "Imagine you are tasked with having to prepare your community for the event of a lifetime—except you have no personal experience of this event, no idea what to expect or even how many will be coming," the pitch on her site goes. "This is the reality for every community that finds themselves along the path of totality."

United States of Complicated Infrastructure

Many of the precepts laid out in Russo's white paper are reflected in the US's internal prep team. The country has been readying itself for this eclipse for a while, an effort led by the American Astronomical Society’s “Eclipse Task Force." The Force aims to educate people on what eclipses are and how to stare at them safely. Members of the team want people to see the eclipse, rather than staying home to stay out of traffic, and so help coordinate government (national, state, local) agencies. Those agencies, in turn, can themselves coordinate official viewing areas, traffic reroutes, and extensive Porta-Pottie networks.

Astronomer Angela Speck is on that task force, and is a driving force in her own community of Columbia, Missouri, one of few big-ish cities in the eclipse’s path this year. She’s been talking to libraries, emergency management organizations, the chamber of commerce, the state’s science-teacher organization—everybody. And that’s because this eclipse is different from most eclipses: Instead of humans having to go to the eclipse, the eclipse is coming to them.

“Eclipses are usually in places that are hard to get to,” Speck says, “just because most of the planet is places that are hard to get to.” When the solar system makes an eclipse easy to get to, the planet’s inhabitants have a lot more to worry about. Imagine your town’s biggest event, Speck suggests. In Columbia, that event would be graduation, or a big ballgame. “You can't go out to eat; you can't book a hotel room,” she says. “This is going to be much, much worse.”

So much worse, in fact, that she then compares it to prepping for a zombie apocalypse. “We're not going to have anybody eating brains, but zombies don't need to eat and sleep,” she says. Eclipse hounds do.

Communities need to know that, and get ready. Many—like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where lots of people will go because it’s is beautiful like a different planet and even better when you cover it up with darkness—have their own websites. There, visitors and residents can find special events, designated viewing areas, safety tips for how not to go blind, pleas to please get gas ahead of time and know that your cell phone probably won’t work, and requests to avoid flash photography during the dark time.

Towns and businesses also have physical coordination to do. They have to stock up on food, and request that businesses not price gouge. They have to disseminate weather forecasts so viewers can decide whether to bail for a sunnier spot. They have to reroute traffic and shut down the streetlights near viewing areas. They have to control crowds. “Peace officers must understand the emotion that will be released during the event," says the website, "and maintain professionalism at all times to ensure an enjoyable experience for all participants."

The whole Department of Transportation has even gotten involved: “Why:” its website explains, “a planned special event for which there has been no recent precedent in the United States.”

Request Denied

Still, not every town in the United States has equal and adequate support or knowledge. Russo knew that the thousand-ish communities along the eclipse path would need help—her help. After all, many of them didn't even have the benefit of a big ballgame's worth of experience with big crowds. "The plan was to follow up on these communities that got in contact [remotely], to give much more guided and tailored input, and to be a resource on the ground to as many communities as possible," she says.

For that, she needed to be mobile, so she started planning that most American of activities: a camper-van road trip, along the path of the totality. She planned to stop and consult with interested locales on the trail, and settle in Oregon at the end, where she herself would watch the eclipse. To that end, in January 2017, she put out an "Expressions of Interest" call, which netted 90 days of work and 180 associated events that hinged on Russo's in-person guidance, to start in April.

But she ran into trouble, thanks to that other most American of enterprises: bureaucracy. “I can't get a labor certificate,” she says, “because there's no such job as eclipse consultant.” Official immigration was the only option that would allow her to perform work and apply for grants in the US, so in summer 2016, she applied for a visa under the category of “alien of exceptional ability.” And though US officials granted her petition in November, she still hasn't received her visa—even after six requests to expedite the rest of the process.

As a result of the processing time, Russo has had to forgo nearly all of her boots-on-the-ground consultations. Although she was able to visit Nebraska for 10 days, most of the towns that were counting on her have missed her.

It wasn't until June 30 that Russo received a letter from the National Visa Center (NVC). "The applicant is now in the queue awaiting an interview appointment overseas, where a consular officer will adjudicate the applicant’s visa application," it read. "Most appointments are set within three months of NVC’s receipt of all requested documentation." After the interview, in London, officials require 10 more business days to return passports and finish processing. That puts her visa approval sometime around October—when, note, there are no eclipses in North America.

Russo has a visa waiver to come as a mere tourist, with a few engagements, for the eclipse itself. She wants to see it: After all, before she was a consultant, she was a chaser. And she will be one of the many millions, watching the sun disappear for a while—an event that hopefully no one will miss because of an avoidable traffic jam.

Friday, July 21, 2017

That's Not Funny

Why Do Hyenas Laugh?

Are hyenas the most misunderstood animals in the wild? They're intelligent, they have a sophisticated social order, and their famous laugh isn't even a laugh.

I Think, Therefore I'm Confused

A Test for Consciousness?
Michelson-Gale-Pearson experiment/Universal History Archive/UIG/Bridgeman Images

Will we ever really know what, or even where, consciousness is? Is there any way to get at it scientifically, conclusively? Week by week we hear claims from neuroscientists that would appear to confirm the prevailing “internalist” view of consciousness. If the brain creates a representation in our heads of the world around us through the firing of neurons, the argument goes, then we can identify neural activity that corresponds to particular aspects of consciousness. They tell us that if this part of the brain is damaged it will affect our eyesight. If that part suffers, we will have difficulty moving through space. They show us images based on scans of electrical and chemical activity in the brain and how those images change when our experience changes. Yet there has been no progress in bridging the gap between this activity in the brain and the nature of our experience, the richness of our sensations of color, sound, touch, motion, or simply awareness.

How, then, can the internalist theory be tested and demonstrated scientifically? Will it ever really be possible to prove beyond all doubt that this neural activity is our experience? And if that can’t be done, is there any proof for an alternative account of consciousness? What about the hypothesis that Riccardo Manzotti has been setting out in these dialogues, that consciousness is actually external to the body? Are there any scientific experiments that could settle this debate?

—Tim Parks
This is the tenth in a series of conversations on consciousness between Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks.

Tim Parks: Riccardo, let me start with a very simple experiment, something anyone can try, that seems very much in favor of the internalists. When we look intensely at a field of red color and then shift our eyes to a white or grey surface, we see, admittedly only for a few seconds, but nevertheless very distinctly, an area of green. Since it is clear to anyone who has not been looking at red that there is no green on this white background, is it not evident that colors are generated in the brain?

Riccardo Manzotti: Well, first, you don’t see green but cyan, a greenish blue color.

Parks: Who cares! Surely the only thing that matters is that one is seeing a color that isn’t there.

Manzotti: I care, we should all care. When doing science we must be precise. It’s actually rather extraordinary that in current textbooks and even in scientific papers people are still claiming one sees a green afterimage after looking intently at red.

Parks: But…

Manzotti: It’s more important than you think. Let’s put in the colors right here for people to see and have them make up their own minds.
So, readers should stare at the red square for at least twenty seconds— if they’re using a small screen, they’ll need to get right up close—then move their eyes and look steadily at the light grey, whitish square, where they will now see a color afterimage. But what exactly?
Color A, or color B? If you are a standard color perceiver, a trichromat, what you have just seen is much closer to color A than B, that is, to cyan rather than green.

Parks: Ok, it works for me. And so?

Manzotti: Well, white, as you know, or this light grey is made up of all the colors. And it just so happens that if we take the red out of the white, we’re left with cyan. Not green.

Parks: But still, the paper is white, or greyish, not cyan. At least to anyone who hasn’t been staring at red.

Manzotti: If you had stared at green rather than red, then when you turned to the white you would see white minus green, which is magenta. And if you stared at red and then looked at a field of yellow rather than white you would see a green afterimage, which is yellow minus red.

Parks: Ah. What you’re saying is that what we see is dependent on what’s out there.

Manzotti: Right. And we can predict what we’re going to see. Staring at an intense color, the eye experiences something called chromatic fatigue. It becomes briefly blind to that color. So when it turns to look elsewhere, for a few seconds it does not pick up the color it’s blind to. Turning to white after looking at red, you see the cyan in the white. Then white takes over again.

Parks: So I’m seeing something that’s really there.

Manzotti: You are. That’s why it matters that we establish the exact color we’re seeing. Because it’s not produced in the head. It depends on what’s out there. It is what’s out there, for your altered perceptive faculties. And before we move on, let me just say that this is a classic example of how an orthodoxy—in this case the idea that experience, and in particular color, is all generated in the brain—leads to some sloppy science and even a denial of what anyone can go and check for themselves.

Parks: Let’s see if I can do better with my next challenge. Internalists often mention Wilder Penfield’s experiments. He managed to get people to have hallucinations by stimulating parts of their brains electrically during open brain surgery. Other neuroscientists have even managed to relate stimulation of a particular neuron to “seeing” a particular face, obviously in the absence of that face. Again this suggests that experience is generated by the brain; we don’t need the world around to see something.

Manzotti: Have you checked out the hallucinations Penfield reports?

Parks: No.

Manzotti: They are all rather everyday ordinary experiences. Seeing one’s wife entering the room. Hearing a friend’s voice.

Parks: And so?

Manzotti: Well, if experience were actually generated freely by the brain, isn’t it odd that it remains so strictly tied to the world? Why no colors that have never been seen before? Sounds never heard in reality? Why no experiences that clearly have nothing to do with the outer world? Even when we dream we are aware that the bizarre aspects of dreams are due to their superimposition or mixing of different elements of known experience. An elephant that’s pink, or green. A dog that can talk. Whatever.

Parks: But surely the point is that we’re seeing something that’s not there.

Manzotti: Tim, we discussed this in our conversation on dreams. The question of what’s “there” or what’s “now” is complex. The objects that make up our experience can be milliseconds or years away from our bodies. Photons take time to travel, neurons take time to send electrical signals. We have already suggested that although ongoing ordinary experience of the world follows a privileged neural path that makes it possible for the body to deal with phenomena immediately around it, there are also other paths, eddies as it were, where neural activity mills, or is somehow delayed, then released later in dreams, or when a surgeon stimulates a part of the brain electrically. But this does not mean the brain is creating experience.

Parks: I’m not entirely convinced by this. You can’t prove, scientifically, this idea of experience being buffered or delayed in neural eddies.

Manzotti: At this stage, no. Neuroscientists can’t disprove it, or prove that the experience is “generated” in the head. But let’s remember, we do science by forming a hypothesis, making predictions in line with that hypothesis, and inventing experiments that prove or disprove the hypothesis.

Parks: So how would that work in the case of consciousness?

Manzotti: Hypothesis: All our experience is made of physical things that have had some causal relationship with our bodies. In fact, if it could be demonstrated that someone has had an experience made up of elements that were never causally related to his or her body, my theory would collapse and—

Parks: Sorry. What about the congenitally blind painter, Turkish I think, who claims to see colors in his mind?

Manzotti: Esref Armagan. Okay. He was born with no eyes. However, he has spent all his life among people who talk about color and he refers to color with the common terms, the sky is blue, the grass is green, etc. But the colors have to be chosen for him when he paints them. He can’t see them, so it’s impossible for us to know what it means when he says he experiences them. There are many cases of congenitally blind people writing about color, but they usually admit these are simply words they learned. If color was concocted in their heads, without any contact with the outer world, why would they ascribe the right colors to the right objects, as it were, having never seen those objects?

Parks: I can see we’re not going to get very far with this. Your general prediction is that every experience will be traceable back to an actual physical property in the world. But when it comes to fleeting feelings and intuitions, any such tracing back becomes extremely complicated. And I want to be brutally definite. Can you invent a clear and concrete experiment and predict an outcome of that experiment that would prove your position? Accepting of course, that if the outcome is different, you are wrong.

Riccardo: Yes. Let me propose two. Neither is easy, but then again neither is impossible, and both are certainly easier than much of what neuroscience gets up to these days. The first requires a little surgery and a willing guinea pig.

Parks: Yourself?

Manzotti: I’m up for it, yes. Though no doubt some people will raise ethical objections. So, take an afferent nerve from a part…

Parks: What is an afferent nerve?

Manzotti: Simply a bundle of axons carrying an electrical impulse, or action potential, from an external physical phenomenon to the central nervous system. For example, mechanoreceptors are cells that respond to mechanical forces, such as pressure or distortion. They generate action potentials that head off towards the brain via the spinal cord. They allow the external world to be the cause of effects in the brain.

Parks: Ok.

Manzotti: Take an afferent nerve from a part of the body that is not of crucial importance, for instance a tactile nerve in the back. Then connect it to a transducer…

Parks: Explain.

Manzotti: A transducer is a device that picks up a phenomenon and transforms it into an electrical impulse. For example, artificial retinas and artificial cochleas are transducers, picking up visual and auditory phenomena. Connected to nerves in the eye or ear they offer forms of sight and hearing.

Parks: And what’s the phenomenon that the transducer in this experiment picks up? The one we’re going to attach to the nerve in your back.

Manzotti: Well, it has to be a transducer for a phenomenon human beings cannot pick up with their bodies. Ultrasound, infrared, electromagnetic fields. Let’s say infrared. After all, some species of snakes experience infrared.

Parks: We take the nerve in your back and hook it up to an infrared transducer. Your prediction?

Manzotti: Since my hypothesis is that experience is not created in the brain but selected by the brain and the body in the external world, it follows that if we extend the mechanisms of selection, we should be able to extend our experience accordingly. So I predict that as soon as that external phenomenon—in this case infrared—becomes able, through the transducer connected to the afferent nerve, to affect what is going on in my brain, I will begin to perceive the additional external phenomenon. I will have an experience of infrared if only because infrared is now causally connected to my brain.  

Parks: This sounds a bit like those attempts to convey visual information through tactile stimulators attached to the back of a blind person. A camera, or visual transducer I suppose you’d say, sends signals to a sort of plate placed on the back, and the person then learns to interpret the signals visually.

Manzotti: Right. But there are two important differences. First, those systems are not directly attached to the nerves. Second, the point of that research is to allow a person who is blind, but was once able to see, to learn a skill, that is, to respond appropriately to a new kind of visual stimuli—something he or she has done in the past reacting to stimuli from the eyes before he or she became blind. In my experiment, the transducer is fixed directly to the nerve, which puts the body in causal contact with a new phenomenon, not something previously experienced.

Parks: So, we do the experiment, and either you have a new experience, which is an awareness of infrared, or you don’t. But couldn’t the internalists claim that the nerve was, yes, stimulated from without, but that nevertheless what is experienced is experienced within, and is a representation of infrared, not the phenomenon itself?

Manzotti: Ha! They could. We would have established a need for the outside world to have the experience, but not the location of the experience.

Parks: So you’re only halfway there, or not even.

Manzotti: I said there were two experiments and the second attempts to deal with this objection. The idea this time is to prove that it is possible to have different experiences with the exact same neuronal activity. And the experiences would be different because the external world would be different.

Parks: How on earth are you going to do that?

Manzotti: First we need some optical reversing, or inverting, goggles, the kind that make everything look upside down. We know from previous experiments that if you wear the goggles continuously for a few days you adapt and your perception adjusts. You see things the right way up, the way they are, despite the goggles. Right? So, in this experiment, before giving a subject the goggles we present him with a simple visual stimulus, say, a big capital T. Then after he has worn the goggles a few days and adapted to them, we present him the same stimulus, but inverted—an upside down capital T.

Parks: I’m getting confused. Why?

Manzotti: Well, at this point we have a double inversion: the inverted T with the inverting goggles will cause the viewer the exact same retinal activity he had previously when there was an upright T without the goggles.

Parks: Got it. We’ve created the same retinal activity with different stimuli.

Manzotti: Right. And my prediction is that despite the retinal activity being the same, the viewer will see the stimulus upside down, as it really is.

Parks: Because he’s adapted to the goggles. Cunning.

Manzotti: Naturally, we would record the neural activity in both cases using a high-res fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Here I’m predicting that the cascade of neural activity in the cortical area would be the same, while the experiences, as we’ve said, would be different and, crucially, correct, on both occasions. This, I think, would demonstrate that the experience is not a neural representation, not in the head, since in the head we have the same activity on both occasions, while the experience is different. Therefore, the experience must exist outside the brain.

Parks: Wait a minute! Wouldn’t the adaptation process that the wearer has gone through produce some variation in brain activity, and wouldn’t it be that variation that accounts for the different experience?

Manzotti: Yes and no. First, I should say that we’ll be recording neural activity related to visual stimuli, the way neuroscientists do when they establish neural correlates for visual experience. Haynes and Rees, for example, in 2006 succeeded in matching specific brain activity with specific visual experience. More remarkably, in 2011 Nishimoto managed to reconstruct the external visual stimuli that volunteers were responding to on the basis of their brain activity.

In light of these results, then, you might suppose that the adaptation that occurs when someone wears reversing goggles is the result of an inversion that takes place inside the brain. Yet we have no indication that anything of the kind takes place. It’s worth remembering that ever since the early 1600s, when Kepler did his work on human vision, scientists and philosophers have been puzzled by the optical inversion that occurs inside the retina and have looked for some corresponding re-inversion in the brain. Nothing has ever been found. As to adaptation to inverting goggles, evidence collected by Linden and Kallenbach in 1999 suggests that no change occurs in the orientation of neural activity in the visual cortex. Of course, one could always object that current brain imaging techniques have their limitations and that there may be hidden neural activities not yet observed, but the burden of proof would then be on the internalists to find such activity. This is an empirical question and needs to be settled empirically, not on the basis of prejudice or dogma.

Parks: Coming at this from another angle, don’t we already know that the same type of neural firing along a single axon can be correlated to different senses? In which case, even assuming your experiment works, would it really be such a revolutionary result?

Manzotti: You’re right, yes. And we also know that the same byte of memory can have different meanings, and again that the primary auditory cortex and the primary visual cortex have very similar structures with similar neural activity, yet one correlates to auditory experiences and the other to visual experiences. The point of my experiment is to create such a clear-cut situation that scientists would have to consider the obvious conclusion from all this data: that the experience is not located in the brain, but in the truly different phenomenon outside.

Parks: But do you believe that either of your experiments will be carried out in the near future?

Manzotti: At present we are stuck in a dead end where the orthodoxy, internalism, is entirely dominant, but no progress is being made as to the nature of consciousness for the simple reason that, as we showed in our earlier dialogues, this orthodoxy makes no sense at all. Rather than doing any real science, we are hearing fantasies about downloading consciousness into computers and the like.

Perhaps in our next conversation we could consider this state of affairs and challenge internalists to disprove the hypothesis I have put forward.

Parks: By all means, let’s see where everyone stands and where they think they’re moving.

Little Miracles

See Hummingbirds Fly, Shake, Drink in Amazing Slow Motion | 

National Geographic  Published on Jul 18, 2017 2 min. 21 sec.

It's Surreal, All Right

Workers bring a casket to the Dali Theater Museum in Figueres, Spain, on Thursday. Salvador Dali's eccentric artistic and personal history took yet another bizarre turn Thursday with the exhumation of his embalmed remains in order to obtain genetic samples that could settle whether one of the founding figures of surrealism fathered a daughter decades ago. | AP

In surrealist twist, Spanish artist Dali’s body is exhumed in paternity lawsuit

The Japan Times  AP

Salvador Dali’s eccentric artistic and personal history took yet another bizarre turn Thursday with the exhumation of his embalmed remains in order to obtain genetic samples that could settle whether one of the founding figures of surrealism fathered a girl decades ago.

Pilar Abel, a 61-year-old tarot card reader, claims her mother had an affair with Dali while working as a domestic helper in the northeastern Spanish town of Figueres, where the artist was born and where he had moved back to with his Russian wife, Gala.

After two decades of court battles, a Madrid judge last month granted Abel a DNA test to find out whether her allegations are true.

“I am amazed and very happy because justice may be delivered,” she said at the time, adding that a desire to honor her mother’s memory was motivating her paternity lawsuit. “I have fought a long time for this and I think I have the right to know.”

Her lawyer, Enrique Blanquez, said a judicial victory for Abel will give her a chance to seek one-quarter of Dali’s estate in further lawsuits, in accordance with inheritance laws in Spain’s Catalonia region.

Dali and his wife had no children of their own although Gala — whose name at birth was Elena Ivanovna Diakonova and who died seven years before the painter — had a daughter from an earlier marriage to French poet Paul Eluard.

Upon his death in 1989 at age 84, Dali bestowed his estate to the Spanish state. His body was buried in his hometown’s local theater, which had been rebuilt to honor the artist in the 1960s. The building now hosts the Dali Theater Museum.

After the gates of the premises closed Thursday, a 1.5-ton stone slab was removed to open the crypt where Dali was interred 27 years ago. In order to lessen the risk of contaminating any biological samples, only five people — a judge, three forensic experts and an assistant— witnessed the opening of the coffin at 22:20 local time.

It remains to be seen if the chemicals used for preserving the artist’s body have damaged his genetic information, said Narcis Bardalet, the forensic expert who embalmed Dali back in 1989.

Regional Catalan officials previously told AP that experts planned to remove four teeth, some nails and the marrow of a long bone, if the corpse’s condition allowed it. A coffin from a funeral home was delivered earlier in the day to the museum premises. If the operation is successful, the samples will travel to a forensic lab in Madrid, where an analysis could take weeks.

The public foundation that manages Dali’s estate failed to halt the exhumation but convinced the judge to reschedule it out of visiting hours. Extra measures were taken to prevent images being taken of the process, including raising a marquee inside the museum’s glass dome to avoid any possible photography or video taken from drones.

Dali’s paternity lawsuit was a topic of discussion Thursday among the lines of visitors at the museum.

“I think the woman has the right to know who her father is,” said 33-year-old Miguel Naranjo. “But I think it is surreal that they have to unearth his body after such a long time.”

Since the judge ordered the exhumation many have raised doubts about Abel’s story. In an article published by Ian Gibson last month in El Pais after having researched the artists’ complex sexual appetites, the Dali biographer concluded that there could be serious doubts about any offspring claims.

Among the skeptics is Joan Vehi, who started working as a carpenter for Dali and his wife, Gala, but who, over time, became a close friend of the couple and one of the painter’s personal photographers.

“I’ve never heard of this woman, Dali never talked to me about her, and now suddenly all this fuss,” Vehi said Thursday. “This is self-publicity.”

Salvador Dalí’s Moustache Is Still Intact

According to an embalmer who participated in his exhumation.

Salvador Dalí, the surrealist artist, had a beautiful moustache, which you can see in the photo of him above. He apparently still has it, even though he died in 1989.

“His moustache is still intact, [like clock hands at] 10 past 10, just as he liked it,” Narcís Bardalet, an embalmer who participated in the recent exhumation of Dalí’s body, told a Catalan radio station, according to The Guardian. “It’s a miracle.”

Dalí’s body, which had been laid to rest at a crypt in a Dalí-designed museum in his hometown of Figueres, Catalonia, was exhumed this week to determine whether a fortune-teller is Dalí’s biological daughter.
DNA results from his body aren’t expected for another month or two, though Bardalet said that getting the samples was hard enough, in part because Dalí’s body had stiffened, “like wood.” Exhumers used an electric saw to take bone samples. They also collected hair and fingernail samples.

The moustache, though, stayed.