Believing is not seeing


This is an extraordinary example of what might be called “functional seeing”. Compare checker square A and square B-


Although you should not believe this just on the basis of what you see, squares A and B are exactly the same shade of gray. You can confirm this in a graphics program (like photoshop). The fact that you see the squares as different shades of gray strongly suggests that your brain has evolved to tell you more about shadows than about the particular shades of colors. Why? Because representing shades of color as such is something that only an artist needs to do; it has very little survival value (unless you happen to be one of those lucky artists who gets paid for discriminating colors). On the other hand, distinguishing shadows is an important aspect of seeing objects in a natural world, and seeing objects is crucial to survival. One other thing: the fact that you can’t see the two squares as having the same color even after you know that they do is proof of the visual system’s “modularity” or “informational encapsulation”: vision is highly resistant to modification by belief or knowledge. Believing is not seeing.

Thanks to Edward H. Adelson at MIT for making this image available.

Cold Turkey


As something like health insurance reform crawls – like a cramping marathon runner – towards the finish line, and Wisconsinites enjoy a sixth Packers win plus a second week of high temperatures in the mid-50s (May It Not Be Global Warming), here’s wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. And what better way to celebrate than with a little Cold Turkey… John Lennon style, with a little primal screaming (or is that an imitation of something else?) near the end-

Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen


I was going through my CD collection today and stumbled upon a couple of Jon Cleary albums that I hadn’t listened to in a couple of years. If you’re unfamiliar with Cleary, he’s a New Orleans funk-R&B-stride piano master who has played on many other artists’ records, including Bonnie Raitt’s. His band, The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, is funkier than should be legally allowable – right up there with vintage Tower Of Power. But while Cleary’s albums are quite listenable, they don’t quite capture the energy that his band generates live. I was lucky enough to catch them in Chicago a few years ago at the House of Blues. Here’s one of the better videos I could find of the band on YouTube, with a rousing rendition of “Groove Me”-

Supreme Debate


It’s not often that you get two justices of the Supreme Court with such different points of view informally debating on national television, but that’s just what you got with C-SPAN’s recent America & The Courts hour. Justices Scalia and Breyer squared off on pros and cons of Originalism – roughly, the view that Supreme Court justices should always interpret and apply the clauses of the constitution exactly as the founders would have, at least to the extent that this can be determined. I disagree with Scalia on Originalism, because I fail to see why the interpretations of the founders – who, after all, were just humans, not gods – should be favored over the interpretations of present supreme court justices, who have the benefit of history and hindsight, and so probably have a wider and wiser perspective on how to apply to present circumstances the values enshrined in the constitution. However, in the past I have been impressed by Scalia’s ability to argue for his judicial philosophy. So I was happy to see that Breyer could keep up with him quite well, arguing at least as effectively for his approach. A rarity on TV these days: intelligent and relevant programming.

You can watch the hour online here.