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Research thoughts

Here are some of my random questions and ideas. Feel free to contact me if you have some insight on any of these, or if you want to discuss them together. Even better, if you have the time and energy to work on one or some of these, please let me know and let's start a project!

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Table of contents:

I. Questions

II. Experiment ideas (and more questions)

III. Rants

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Questions

Human vs. Computer

Right now, a unique defining characteristic of humans is that we can summarize content, like a text or a movie or anything of any kind of length really. Since animals don't have complex language, we can't know if they're able to do that by any real simple means. And so far, computers can't do it, can they? Will they ever be able to do such a thing? It's information processing and that's what they do, but it's so much to take into account, right?

Auditory mental imagery

Has the “inner voice” been found? Has anyone compared the “no inner speech” to “nonsensical syllables spoken internally” (to those spoken aloud) to “coherent inner speech” (to that spoken aloud)?

Mirror neurons

Ever noticed how when two people are talking (and actively listening to each other), the one who’s listening moves their mouth slightly while the other one talks, and usually it looks like they’re imitating whatever the speaker is saying? They tell me mirror neurons are a myth, so what is that???

Visual: top-left light bias

Maybe we have a bias towards light coming from top left (Mamassian's work) because of our reading direction, from left to right? Maybe it's different when the writing / reading direction is different ?

Visual: afterimages

Maybe it's possible that aftereffects are useful for comparing the scene we were just witnessing (in our visual field) to the new one, after a saccade? Pour se repérer dans l'espace par exemple? Is it possible that the afterimage dissipates faster if you attend to the object it was created by (because you’re updating that object and the afterimage was useful for that object)? (Trying to test on myself but too many confounds in the natural scene)

Philosophy of Misery

Are humans bound to know misery because we bring it into our lives (subconsciously) or because the universe is made so that we can never be continuously happy? (Why not both?)

My philosopher friend Paige says: the brain is best at solving problems, that's its job, so when it doesn't have any handy it just creates them.

Self-consciousness/Fear of judgment

Are we afraid of others judging us because we like to make everything about us and assume that they are thinking of us and get self-conscious from there? Or is it because, when we do feel something about other humans (aka not indifference), we feel strong emotions? Such as harsh judgment (usually based on our own insecurities), attraction, admiration... And so we assume that others feel strongly about us as well? (Or something else entirely?)

Movies

Why do humans like movies so much? Is it because we need a break of the mind for about two hours at a time, a zone to completely stop thinking about our own lives and see what we want out of it instead? Is two hours a sweet spot for any particular reason?

Sex thoughts

Why do humans (read: I) think about sex mostly in the evening? Before going to bed or while going out or while going home at night for instance? Why do we feel such a need for sexual contact at that time and not as much the rest of the day?

Memory

Can we truly "be who we are" with only the memories that we have in our immediate memory? (And which are influenced by priming etc, moreover)

Perception of the self

Full-body illusions: if we can feel like "me" is transferred to something outside the body, doesn't that mean that the "me" feeling is fundamentally and essentially separate from the brain itself (since it doesn't have to rest inside it, necessarily)? Most of the time I feel like "me" is in my eyes anyway, isn't that the first clue? And I can also be "me" in my feet if I really focus, so... And does that mean that the "me" feeling is entirely dependent on sensory experience?

Why do (light) blue things appear white/bright at night?

Reading: real vs. imagined

It’s so much harder to imagine reading something than to actually read something?? Why? Because just reading is so incredibly easy, shouldn’t we be able to picture it easily? And that’s got to be related to not being well able to read in dreams, right?

History of nudity

How long have humans had a problem with seeing each other naked? Do nudist swimming pools inside a city exist?

Language

In the song "I Will Survive" , why does it feel (universally, I think) more natural to say "I've got all my life to live" before "I've got all my love to give" ? Just because that's how we've always heard that song, or something more basic, sound- or semantics-related?

Perceiving randomness/incongruity

So yes, it's not the most parsimonious theory to consider that what we perceive with our senses is not a real, physical world but a mere illusion, because all the senses coordinate so well with each other to give us a complete representation of the world right. But what if they specifically developed that way (and in fact they do), only taking into account stuff that is "congruent" so we can't even perceive incongruity anymore? I know that's not parsimonious either but isn't there something to be said about that?

Resolved (maybe): Arrow symbols

How the hell are arrows such a universal symbol? When did humans start using them to point places? Do non-globalized civilisations use them? Saša says it came from using lances and sharp throwable objects like that, which necessarily have a pointy side to pierce things and which you naturally point in a direction. I'm extrapolating this to all pointy things being used to pierce through things and thus naturally indicating direction. Pointy objects traverse things in the direction of the point, so it makes sense for us to "see" direction in representations of pointy things, like drawn arrows.

What if we "unfolded" the brain (well, the cortex) and mapped it out flatly? Would it make sense? Would we see well-defined areas? (I wrote this down before seeing my first "blown-up" or "flattened" cortex representation. Still don't know about the well-defined areas though.)

Ever noticed how sometimes when you start to cry your ear canals sting a little, as if they were secreting tears too? The heck is that? (Written months prior: "When I yawn, my eyes water but I’m pretty sure my freaking ears “water” too (sometimes). There’s something going on in there anyway.") Noticing that it happens mostly in my left ear when lying on my right side (left ear up), so far. It also happened in right ear while head was upright though.

Someone told me about the fronto-temporal junction and made it sound very interesting, so I checked it out but didn't find anything online.

—> Found temporoparietal junction instead but that’s pretty cool too. Apparently out-of-body experiences are this rare thing but I’ve had quite a few of them. Brief for the most part, really brief. But also I do it on purpose? Also Molly Moon in her bathtub, if you've read those books?

How is it that I couldn't see the blue dates (numbers and slash symbols) on black background (I literally just saw rectangles at first and could later just just make them out), but Sunaina sitting right next to me could see them clearly? (Myopia is a real thing you know (lol) but it didn’t feel like that at all. They were literally rectangles, not just blurry.)

Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI): I don't remember why I wrote this down, but it does sound pretty interesting.

Attention/Self-consciousness

If seeing eye movements is an exogenous cue for us and we cannot help shifting our attention to whatever the eyes are gazing at, then it makes so much sense that we would feel self-conscious when we make eye-contact with someone because it shifts our attention on ourselves! So much sense!! Can we somehow test that?

Memory & consciousness

(English below) Que sais-je? Descartes dit: “Je sais que je suis une chose pensante.” Il continue en disant que je sais donc que je sens. Mais en fait, ce que je sais, c’est que je sentais il y a quelques millisecondes: ne doit-on pas prendre en compte les limitations de ressources attentionnelles dont nous disposons? Pendant que je me dis que je sais que je sens, même si mon corps (la question de l’existence de ce dernier n’importe pas ici) sent toujours, moi-même je ne “sens” plus, car mon esprit s’est tourné vers une reflexion sur le ressenti, et plus vers le ressenti lui-même. Je sais donc que je sentais juste avant de me le dire. Il y a ce décalage infime mais qui fait toute la différence…

--What do I know? Descartes says: "I know that I am a thinking thing." He continues on and says that I know [something], therefore I feel. But actually, what I know is that I was "feeling" a few milliseconds ago: shouldn't we take into account our attentional resource limits? While I'm telling myself that I feel, even if my body (but then again in this process we're not even sure whether the body exists, and it doesn't matter) is still feeling, I myself am not "feeling" anymore, because my mind is now turned to a thought about the feeling, and not on the feeling itself. So what I know is that I was feeling right before telling myself that I am feeling. There is this infinitesimal delay, but it makes all the difference...

Inhibitory attention

You know how you can put overt attention on something by looking at it; and covert attention by looking somewhere else but (basically) thinking about it. When I don't want to see the time but I still need to use my phone, what's happening at this very moment, how do I do that? Because my attention is on the time up there and if I wanted I could just make it out; but I consciously avoid deciphering it, even though I'm really focused on it; how do I do that?? How do I produce reverse attention? Is that even what it is? ((Inhibition is totally a thing))

Why is it that our eyes are so set on light rays being straight lines? I get that they are, most of the time, but why can't we understand and detect that they are bendable? Why didn't we evolve that function, or why did we evolve the "straight-ray" heuristic?

Adaptation vs. Learning: how are they correlated? Same mechanism?

(From working and talking with Pascal Mamassian:) If the transparency effect of "front" being down- and right-wards motion is due to gravity and reading, what if you had people do it with their heads tilted to the side? What if you had people from other reading cultures do it?

This has probably been said and done a million times but the Müller-Lyer illusion, with the two double arrows either pointing in or out, if it really is because we interpret them as “edges” with the out-pointing one as something sticking out at us and the in-pointing one as a “dip”, pointing away from us, it means that the visual system automatically takes these “edge cues” even outside of (/before) an ecological environment, and adjusts the perceived length of the lines purely based on the edge cues. So does it?

Conscious/attentional orientation:

You're looking at a bunch of nicely aligned elements, like the small black square tiles on your bathroom floor or the "mailles" (knittings) in your towel. You can decide how to view those elements, whether you wanna see / or \ diagonal lines or | or —. There is Definitely conscious control over orientation perception. G. M. Boynton: orientation CAN most definitely be affected by the will of the subject, I've done it (but thinking about it that's probably not what he meant).

Note: it's very very hard to see two orientations at once if they're not perpendicular. You ignore the rest when you attend to one of them. More attention resource limit? Or visual necessity, evolutionarily speaking? Or both or neither?

About this "changing what I see by mentally grouping elements one way or another" (like seeing lines in one specific orientation, or making shapes): first of all, what's going on in the brain when I do that? In my visual cortex? In some decisional areas? Also, this necessarily has to do with finding order in things (cf being terrible at randomness), right? Also, it becomes very hard if I'm not looking directly at the elements, and seems easier if I can move my eyes around them while making (and changing) the patterns.

Alpha rhythm when closing your eyes:

While falling asleep at my desk just now while analyzing some EEG data, I think I noticed my eyes moving along the horizontal back and forth, at a speed that could make it alpha; but then again, time perception gets all fucked up when we’re falling asleep doesn’t it, so was it really the rhythm I thought… mrh.

Yawning

Do meerkats yawn? Because I've only seen videos of lions yawning, and if yawns are a "we're okay, relax but stay awake" signal then lions don't even actually need it, they're the king of the jungle, they don't have predators to look out for. By that logic, things like meerkats need it. So do they?

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Experiment ideas (and more questions)

Is it possible that after-images for color would be useful to see slight changes in the color? (But why would that be useful in any case?) Because when you look at something red for a long time, you see a blue~green afterimage. And what stands out against blue~green is red (yes, duh). But so if you adapted to red, then you should be better at seeing a(nother) red object, right? Small experiment: Present a large red square, center screen, adaptable (>3s) or not (<1s). Then present small faint dots, test red, test blue or green or yellow, see if you get a difference.

Develop a minesweeper game with an entrance point (maybe the top left corner just never has a mine?) and no ambiguous spots where you really have to choose at random, no matter which angle you came at it from.

VR study: 2 conditions

1- In the VR, I can see my body, it’s generally the same as my real one. In the VR, an object gets close to me, slowly, and touches me very lightly (near threshold). In real life, an object really does touch me lightly. Did I feel it, and if so how strongly?

2- Same exact thing except now, nothing touches me in real life. Do I feel it? How strongly?

>> can use a 3D video of the actual experimental setup (choose videos with arms that look generally like the participant’s), the subject has arms on the table in front of them and a little robot arm comes down towards their hand. Sometimes what they see in VR matches what is happening in real life, sometimes not ([the robot arm stops right before touching them, visibly, or keeps going all the way] and [they feel a touch or not]).

Real touch : Yes. No.

VR visual touch

Yes. congruent incongruent

No. Incongruent congruent

What we measure: if you feel it and how much.

(Too similar to rubber hand?)

Brain imaging study where you ask participants to pay attention to which stimuli they are consciously aware of, but they don’t report it right away so there’s no interference on the reporting (motor functions if it were a button press or saying it out loud, etc), then after the fact, ask which ones they were actually conscious of and match neural activity to those ones. Problems: Could be looking at encoding of the memory, at attention…

Bias towards light coming from top-left (still Mamassian's work): take a giant sample of children's drawings including a sun and look at the placement of it on the page? Do we find it mostly at top-left?

Ask people to imagine something very simple like black line on white background to test imagery: potentially a good start of experiment idea for mental imagery (visual).

Visual/Attention/Free will

When I try to keep my eyes immobilized, they drift in some direction (usually up...?) (very slowly) and there's nothing I can do about it because staying on one spot would mean moving against the drift. And it's really weird because I also lose concentration in laps, like my thoughts get really loud or something and then all of a sudden I've drifted to a new spot.

Monitor subject's eyes with an eye tracker after forbidding her to move them: what the heck is going on?

Attentional neglect

Do you think it would be possible to induce left- or right-neglect in normal people, so that we can study how it affects visual imagery (imagining a scene) more systematically? (Apparently neglect is almost only left because happens when right areas are lesioned I guess). What about doing it in animals and actually lesioning them?

TMS to induce it maybe?? Should be possible to lesion areas for a short period of time, but can we find the proper one to target? Let’s see if people have induced neglect before.

Experiment Idea: Visual memory. Purpose: to test the retrieval pathway of a visual memory. Question: does attention affect immediate (present) vision the same way it affects the memory for vision? is the retrieval pathway for visual memory embedded in the visual pathway itself?

Procedure:

  1. Have subjects memorize a fairly complex figure (the one they always use to test neglect patients’ attention and also to test memory maybe? I don’t remember they just always use it.) To do this:

  2. Test first: Show image for 1-2 sec, ask to draw as accurately as possible

  3. Study: Allow subjects to copy image while on screen

  4. Retest: reproduce image without model (they must show good memory for it, but we’re also trying to be time-efficient here).

  5. Direct subjects’ attention to one side (left or right) by flashing two things (letters?) on screen very briefly and rewarding them for making out the one on the proper side. Basically: try to induce left- or right-neglect. Note:

  6. We expect to see differences between right- and left-neglect since stroke patients only ever get left-neglect. But what differences?

  7. This may not work in forcing them to ignore the other side.

  8. Maybe make the other side very salient to force them to ignore it. (Bright, bright color, large letter…)

  9. Ask subjects to draw the picture again and note where they fail and where they remember things.

Notes:

a. This only tests immediate / short-term memory. Still interesting.

b. Maybe it’s even been done.

c. Is that really the best way if even a way at all to “induce neglect”? Have people tried to induce neglect before?

d. Instead of trying to induce neglect, which would be a weak effect and very complicated: maybe try to "cue" memory instead, the same way we cue perception? With an endogenous or exogenous cue?

Inner Voice/Mental imagery:

Sort of observational fMRI study where we ask participants to scream inside their head as loudly as possible without giving any external sign whatsoever: what happens then? Ask them to play a specific tune in their heads: what happens? Ask them to imagine the brightest light possible, the loudest noise possible... (Have to make sure they do not externalize it at all, to avoid noise and confound from physical activity.)

Orientation bias:

Always watching the clock's seconds hand and sometimes misaligned with true vertical/horizontal: truly misaligned or biased by angles of other hands??? Code it, test it.

To test the "low road" in visual fear response that only goes through the amygdala supposedly and not through the cortex, couldn't we do that experiment with flashing an image so fast that the subject wouldn't have time to process what it was followed by a neutral image to block further processing? And then... Test for cortisol spikes I guess? Or emotional state, verbally? Maybe do it under fMRI or EEG? Although... fMRI... the time scale... But yeah.

Oculus Rift:

Imagine setting up an Oculus Rift room with infinity mirrors where instead of having an opaque body you're a seeing, transparent-ish entity so that you can actually see all sides of yourself... Seeing in 4D, kinda?... What if you're inside a circular mirror? How do you set up a circular mirror in real life with a tiny peephole and put a transparent-ish object in it but you also need light inside so you would have a blind spot wherever the light source is, maybe? Or if the light comes from inside the object but then it wouldn't be transparent anymore? I think that's why it needs to be in the oculus rift.

Cinematography idea:

How the fuck do we mimic eyeball movement? There has GOT to be a way. Moving the camera is like moving your whole head, because it changes the visual field completely. And moving the focus is like moving your lens. But to mimic eyeball movement you would have to somehow keep the whole visual field there but draw attention to one part of it while making the viewer completely ignore the rest. Completely. Arrrrgh. Blur it in saccades, not gradually (but blur it hardcore man); the problem is that if the viewer wanted to look there again it would have to be available... Although... Not really actually because you would be mimicking someone else's eyeball movements, not theirs.

Example: how do you mimic reading a page? Cause the whole page is always in focus. It's just that, at any one time most of it is ignored in favor of the few words that you are reading at the time. But to simulate that... You might need more than just stimulate the visual system with video. You might have to get in there and tweak attention (the central executive I suppose) itself. And we don't even fucking know where/what that is so good luck.

How do you drag someone's attention to a point in a way that's forced but feels natural? An exogenous cue that feels endogenous? ⚠️eye movement cues are one, remember Psych 101C. But you can't use that for a whole movie. Maybe... Maybe a flash of light in that area so brief it can't be processed but strong enough to pull them there? Would they get habituated to that? Although I also think that once you got the viewer reading artificially with light flashes they would continue spontaneously, that's just what we do. But then to mimic the whole conscious experience (this is getting out of hand lmfao) you would also want to overlap it with the kind of distant sound of the inner voice reading out the words.

Also: the blur wouldn't be completely abrupt, it would have to glide over in the direction of attention but just very fast.

And what about the other way around: moving your head but keeping your eyes fixed on one point in the scene: how do you mimic that as a movie??

Update: Wait a fucking second. Head movement sets the position of the observer, and eye movement sets the angle. Let's make a camera that has an "inner", "angle" component (the eye) and an "outer", "movement" component (the head).

Do we place our consciousness in/at our head because our eyes are there (and that's our main sense for input) or because our brain is there and our consciousness lies in it? (Or some other reason?) I.e., if our eyes were on our stomach, and our brain in our head, would we place our consciousness at our stomach or at our head or where?? Hmhm... Wait where do blind people place it (Tommy Edison, the blind youtuber, places it at the center of his head. Smack dab in the middle. Some clues about that and hypotheses: he understands everything in 3D, just can’t really picture projecting everything/anything really onto 2D, and that’s also the point between his two ears, hearing being his main input from the world).

Note: I am assuming that everyone does this but I haven't talked about it with people. And sometimes I place my "inner self" more around my heart or center of gravity, so it's a pretty delicate concept. How would I start to feel if I closed my eyes for a few days? Where do I place myself when I’m only feeling with my sense of touch? Or only with my hearing, for example? I remember when I meditated, sometimes I felt like I found my “core” deep in my guts, at least below my heart, but sometimes I felt like my “self” was detached from my body, just not on the… same… plane of existence, damn it I’m talking like it’s some fucking spiritual soul shit now. But it doesn't feel so supernatural or anything, there's just something going on with the imagery during meditation.

Visual memory experiment:

Flash a bright spot of light somewhere in the subject's visual field so they have the afterimage hanging out there and blocking out some stuff; does that transfer into the memory, and block elements there too?? If they try to picture a face, does a part of the face get blocked by the afterimage?

Medical relevance: what if we discover that visual memory is its own system and can be less affected by Alzheimer's for example, maybe we can find new ways for Alzheimer's patients to remember shit. HAH.

What could afterimages be useful for? We always think of them as these “disturbances” and “secondary effects” of the visual system, but what if they help us? Maybe they help us compare retinal scenes after a saccade; maybe they help us keep track of stimuli in a noisy/busy environment (especially since the 2 eyes don’t see exactly the same thing).

Addendum: Maybe they help keep a continuous and stable scene through an eyeblink? Like, they print the scene in the “dark” of the eyeblink, so we’re not lost when we open them again? There's gotta be some way to test that?

Blind spot:

Question du blind-spot avec l'anneau que tu as créé qui est pas compressé mais effectivement rempli par couleur ET texture : filling-in!? What else?!

>>> À voir à voir… Pascal sent me a bunch of papers by email (5 March 2018). Do a little thing on yourself for curiosity where you flash a ring right around your blind spot (probs with a mask for the after-image… But then, wouldn’t you fill in the mask too, but that doesn’t really matter). Cause if there’s no saccade at all during the time when it’s there, you might not have any filling-in (because no forced propagation of the signal between V1 cells).

Better response method:

Wouldn’t there be some (read: a lot of) advantage to using eye position and blinks as subjects' response, instead of pressing buttons and such? Eye movement + blink to confirm is easier and faster, you can track the “hesitation”, and it’s super cool also, subjects would probably like that. Accelerate the whole thing (gain time), make it easier for the subject so they might not tire so fast, make it more fun so they might stay interested and focused longer, and get a more “nuanced” measure of their processes.

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Less-than-politically-correct rants

Today thanks to Başak I remembered why I hate psychanalyse so much: it's because these guys, like Freud and his buddies and our contemporaries taking up their methods nowadays, they make up these theories that nicely "explain" (not even really but that's another debate) the way humans work, they just shit these ideas out like "Oh yeah you know people turn homosexual because they take an object of desire and also they love their same-sex parent too much and so that's why they become homosexual" but they Literally just make it up as they go, and then they think "Wow that is really a genius idea, I'm so smart, now let's all say that that's how it really works ok guys?", and all the other psychanalyse buddies, they find comfort in these explanations and they make them feel good about themselves because they confirm their intuitions or dare I say their stupidity, so they're like "Yeah let's do it, you're so smart, that's exactly how it works! I can't believe you figured it out!" And they're just content with that! What the hell?? Where's the method? Where's the evidence? What kind of pretentious dick comes up with an idea and sets out to convince everyone of it "because I said so"??

"The only difference between science and fucking around is writing it down."

Do you see how fucking smart humans are? We’re able to think about so much and figure out so much. And all thanks to this brain that makes all these connections, the most fascinating and mysterious computer in the world. And it’s so good that it makes us smart enough and curious enough to try to figure out how it works, and how it’s able to make us that smart. The brain studying itself. How crazy is that? Right?? When you think about it? And that’s why I’m here. We’re all trying to understand the meaning of life, why the fuck we’re here, why it all works the way it does. And I think the answer is here. And I want the answer. And I’m not gonna get it in my lifetime, I can tell, but I can get closer for my own personal satisfaction and I can help future brains to get closer. And someday we’ll understand some things and I’m satisfied knowing that some form of answer will be found, and partially thanks to me. These are the things that we need to know: do we have a say? That is, does free will exist at all? Then, where is “me”? What is the exact location/physical organization of my consciousness?

Dude. The brain making dreams is like those improv comedians who ask for random words from the crowd and make a scene out of it (or a rapper making a jam the same way). The memory systems are over here firing crap at it randomly and it has to make sense of all of it and just makes up a (somewhat) coherent story as it goes. Isn't it cool to think that we're all actually excellent at improv without even knowing it?

After using and manipulating it myself, I'm still not convinced by neuroimaging at all. At all. We think we see the brain but what we see is just noisy crap. No idea where it comes from, no idea what it actually means, no idea when it actually happened. It makes us feel smart but in reality it only makes us more dumb. Maybe I should get into optogenetics for real, or maybe I should really just stick to psychophysics and behavioral experiments.

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