Month: July 2014

Rare Victorian Trade Card showing pigs playing baseball

Victorian baseball trade card

Victorian baseball trade card

Shown is an 1880s American trade card for the anti-cholera Haas Remedy veterinary medicine, showing the plump and healthy Haas Remedy treated pigs beating the skeletal cholera-infected pigs in a baseball game. The ‘nine’ in the caption was a common old time nickname for baseball teams, with there being 9 players in the starting lineup per team.

Roughly 2/3 the size of postcards and on thin card stock or heavy paper, Victorian trade cards colorfully advertised products ranging from soap to shoes to roofing shingles. They were given out as advertising, but 1800s kids avidly collected them similar to the way modern kids collect trading cards. Victorian kids often pasted trade cards, die cuts, tobacco cards and cutout pictures into scrapbook albums, with many of the albums still found for sale today in antique store, estates sales and auctions.
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Connecting to the Unreal: Art Perception

(Excerpted from the book Noise Music: Cognitive Psychology, Aesthetics and Epsitemology)

Many feel a human-to-human connection to the figure in this Modigliani painting even though it is not physically human in many ways.

Many feel a human-to-human connection to the figure in this Modigliani painting even though it is not physically human in many ways.

Fans feel a connection to cartoon characters, seeing them as if they’re living beings, following their lives, laughing at their jokes, feeling good when good things happen to them and bad when bad things happen. A kid can feel closer to a cartoon character than a living, breathing next door neighbor.

Fans feel a connection to cartoon characters, seeing them as if they’re living beings, following their lives, laughing at their jokes, feeling good when good things happen to them and bad when bad things happen. A kid can feel closer to a cartoon character than a living, breathing next door neighbor.

A complex and fascinating question is why do humans have such strong emotional reactions and human connections to unrealistic art? Why do viewers become scared, even haunted for days, by a movie monster they know doesn’t exist? Why do humans become enthralled by distorted figures and scenes that aren’t realistic? Why do viewers have emotional attachments to comic book characters?

The answer lies in that, while humans know art is human made artifice, they decipher and perceive art using many of the same often nonconscious methods that they use to perceive reality. Looking at how we view reality shows us how we view art, and looking at how we view art helps show us how we interpret reality.

This topic could fill up books, and this short essay here offers just several examples about our art perception. Food for further thought.

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Art perception is irrational
People don’t perceive art, or for that matter reality, on the purely logical, rational or literal levels. Art is designed to communicate psychologically, aesthetically, sensually, viscerally, irrationally, subconsciously. There is nothing logical about instrumental music. The sounds are felt. Beauty and ugliness are psychological experiences. Unreal things, distorted figures, a fictional monster in a movie can strike a visceral chord in us that our normal daily reality can’t. A computer generated science fiction landscape can be perceived as beautiful.

Humans have aesthetic, subconscious reactions to many basic qualities including colors, shapes, angles and balance, whether the qualities are in the real world, dreams or art. These qualities don’t just symbolize feelings and evoke meaning in nature, they symbolize and evoke in abstract art and even your new bathroom design. A black bathroom, or even salt shaker, is consider ‘darker’ than a yellow one.

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Natural cognitive methods for processing information
We interpret art using many of the nonconscious cognitive methods we use in the real world. As described in more detail throughout this book, humans have learned and inborn mental methods, biases and assumptions used to nonconsciously identify things and judge the complex information in our daily lives. We compare side-by-side objects to judge size, distance and speed. We identify distant silhouetted objects by how their shapes match up with our memories. We ‘recognize’ objects and qualities in paintings, sketches and movies using these same nonconscious methods.

Even though the figure in the left painting literally has no legs, we perceive Mona Lisa as a whole person and not as some freakish amputee. This mimics how we automatically perceive as whole a real person standing behind a fence or sitting behind a desk. We naturally and unconsciously  fill in unseen information in our minds.

Even though the figure in the left painting literally has no legs, we perceive Mona Lisa as a whole person and not as some freakish amputee. This mimics how we automatically perceive as whole a real person standing behind a fence or sitting behind a desk. We naturally and unconsciously fill in unseen information in our minds.

In both nature and art, we subjectively pick out figures and patterns in ambiguous and even random information. This includes castles and dragons in clouds and train stations in sketches. These are visual illusions, products of the imagination.

In both nature and art, we subjectively pick out figures and patterns in ambiguous and even random information. This includes castles and dragons in clouds and train stations in sketches. These are visual illusions, products of the imagination.

Using the same visual cues we use in nature, we perceive depth in two dimensional paintings, movies and photographs. Diminishing scale, relative size of objects, overlapping objects, changes in focus and tone indicate depth in both our back yard and in the above 1400s oil painting. The curious thing about perceived depth in paintings, photographs and movies is the artworks are physically flat. The depth is imaginary.

Using the same visual cues we use in nature, we perceive depth in two dimensional paintings, movies and photographs. Diminishing scale, relative size of objects, overlapping objects, changes in focus and tone indicate depth in both our back yard and in the above 1400s oil painting. The curious thing about perceived depth in paintings, photographs and movies is the artworks are physically flat. The depth is imaginary.

Both in real life and when art viewing, humans focus on some information in a scene while being oblivious to other. The audience can get into a movie to a point they forget they are sitting in a theater and watching a projected image showing paid actors seen in earlier movies. This explains why a movie shark can make jump the audience in a desert theater one thousand miles from the nearest ocean.

Both in real life and when art viewing, humans focus on some information in a scene while being oblivious to other. The audience can get into a movie to a point they forget they are sitting in a theater and watching a projected image showing paid actors seen in earlier movies. This explains why a movie shark can make jump the audience in a desert theater one thousand miles from the nearest ocean.

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Symbols.
Symbols are an integral part of the human experience on many levels. A symbol is something that represents something else, something larger. It is a short hand, often to a complex idea. To many, blue at the top of an abstract painting or kid’s sketch represents sky, and green at the bottom represents grass or ground. A gold ring on the finger symbolizes marriage.

Not only can commonly known symbols be used in art to communicate ideas, meaning and mood, but this illustrates how humans don’t need reality to communicate real ideas. Symbols literally aren’t the thing they symbolize.

Literature, this paragraph you are reading, is a long series of symbols. The meaning isn’t in the symbols themselves, but what they evoke in your mind. I couldn’t communicate many of the ideas in this book without these symbols. Someone who doesn’t know the code (English) can’t know what is being written.

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Kids playing 'cowboys and indians'

Kids playing ‘cowboys and indians’

Humans mentally adapt to and accept new and artificial worlds.
Throughout our lives we learn new games, rules, languages, rituals, manners, fashion, ways of thinking. In art, we accept and adopt new musical styles, symbols, genres, conceits, artifices. Through repetition and experience, artistic symbols, conceits and associations become more than convenient intellectual devices. They become ingrained, seem natural.

Our perception of reality is formed by the conceits of art. People around the world perceive the Old West from Hollywood movies, even though historians will tell you those depictions are historically inaccurate. People gain dubious perceptions of faraway places and peoples from sitcoms and action movies.

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Each art medium is limited in what it can show literally.
A painting or sketch doesn’t have physical depth or movement. A silent movie doesn’t have voices even when the people on screen converse. The letters of a novel can’t graphically show a sunrise.

This means a medium must use artificial devices to communicate the literally undepictable. Through exposure, audiences accept the devices, don’t even think twice about them.

Movie subtitles so foreigners can know what is being said.

Movie subtitles so foreigners can know what is being said.

Comic strips use panels to depict the passage of time, and words and bubbles to depict talking.

Comic strips use panels to depict the passage of time, and words and bubbles to depict talking.

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Speculation, play acting, day and night dreams

Kids dressed up

Kids dressed up

All humans speculate about the past, present and future, things that haven’t happen, things could have happened, things that might have happened. People wonder what their life would have be like if they were born in a different family or time and place or with different looks. Someone wonders how the conversation would have gone differently if he hadn’t made that stupid remark. A woman may wonder what dress will go across best at tonight’s party. People ponder when they will die, what their life will be like in the future. People wonder it’s like to visit Iceland or live in Paris. Speculation is an essential part of human intelligence. Great inventions and human achievements arise from speculation.

Humans day dream, play act, dress up as different people, pretend they’re different people, mimic others, act as if they animals to amuse their kids, dress up in costumes for Halloween and masquerade balls, join Civil War recreation clubs, have imaginary in their head conversations, practice speeches before imaginary crowds.

In our sleep we have strange and surreal dreams of impossible situations and lands and scenarios. Dreams can resonate and haunt us deeply. Dreams affect how he think and act in our daily lives.

The surreal situations, fictitious plots, made up characters and distorted figures of art go hand in hand with our normal dreaming, speculation, play acting lives. A novel may have a made up plot and fictions characters, but our daily speculation and day dreams involve similar fiction. Science fiction is often a serious intellectual, if also entertaining, speculation of the future and space. A painting or movie may have a surreal landscape and bizarre characters, but so do our dreams. Much art is about dreams and daydreams.

Salvador Dali said his surreal art was directly influenced by his dreams

Salvador Dali said his surreal art was directly influenced by his dreams

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Humans know and feel there is more than what they see and can comprehend, more than what they experience in their day to day lives. They know people in a society hide their true thoughts and feelings. They know they themselves have feelings and ideas that can’t be put into words. They know there are real concepts they can only imagine about. The unrealistic, the impossible, the surreal, symbolism can evoke that which realistic art and our daily lives don’t. Abstract patterns and wordless music can evoke secret memories, emotions and philosophical ideas that a photograph or neighborly chat cannot.

A 'photorealistic' snapshot of a posed family can reveal little about what the subjects really think and feel, while an expressionist painting can tell a lot. In fact, expressionism intended to express psychological reality rather than physical reality. The artists believed both couldn't shown at the same time.

A ‘photorealistic’ snapshot of a posed family can reveal little about what the subjects really think and feel, while an expressionist painting can tell a lot. In fact, expressionism intended to express psychological reality rather than physical reality. The artists believed both couldn’t shown at the same time.

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Little Mermaid

I’ve never seen Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid,’ but somehow assume it doesn’t follow the original Hans Christian Anderson storyline where the Little Mermaid can, as she has always dreamed, leave her life in the sea to become human and have a human soul, but to do so “it will constantly feel as if she is walking on sharp knives and feel as though she is bleeding.”

Notes on Invisibility

Invisibility means something is, well, not visible. While invisibility is often associated with science fictionon, fantasy and horror, objects are often invisible under normal, mundane circumstances. Objects can be hidden from view because they are behind other objects, too small or too far away to see or obscured by dark or fog.

Speaking more science fictiony, there are different theortical and in practice ways to make objects invisible. They use physics, human physiology and psychology.

Glass objects are transparent, though rarely perfectly and can usually be seen

Glass objects are transparent, though rarely perfectly and can usually be seen

Tranparency
One physical way, and the way most people think of as invisible, is to make something transparent. Transparent means light passes directly through the object. There are natural and human made transparent things. Transparent objects includes glass, plastics, water, cellophane and jellyfish. Almost nothing is 100% transparent though. If you walk into a glass door, it’s usually because you aren’t paying close attention.

It should be noted that if you were completely transparent you’d be blind, because to see the eyes must absorb (retain) light (the opposite of transparent). It’s also interesting to note that vampires in movies are sometimes shown as invisible except for their eyes.

Bending light
Another way to make an object invisible is to bend light around it. Mirages give an idea how this can be done. In the heat of the desert, light can be bent unusually to make the sky appear to be a pool of water in the desert or a road. The mirage doesn’t involve the item being hidden, but ‘moved’ to an unexpected place. Funhouse mirrors also show how light can be bent to distort and hide objects from view. Looking at yourself in a funhouse mirror, your head can suddenly disappear.

The light bent heat doesn't make the sky disappear but does put in in an unusual place.

The light bent heat doesn’t make the sky disappear but does put in in an unusual place.

There are actual but very early stages ways to make objects invisible by bending light around the objects. Manufactured materials can bend light to make an object disappear from view. These technologies are being developed by the military and university labs.

Funhouse mirrors demonstrate how light can be bent and sometimes hide things from view.

Funhouse mirrors demonstrate how light can be bent and sometimes hide things from view.

Obstructing the views
Many items are made invisible by obstructing the viewer’s view. Turning off the lights or standing in front of an objects are two examples. Bright glare in the viewer’s eyes objects view. War planes electronically ‘jam’ radars. During World War II, airplanes dropped small metal ribbons to disrupt radar.

Night goggles allow one to see what is hidden in the dark

Night goggles allow one to see what is hidden in the dark

Invisibility usually happens only at one level
When something is made invisible, it is usually invisible at only one frequency of light. It can be seen at other frequencies. A soldier hidden by the shroud of night can be seen with night goggles that detect infrared light. Our bones inside our bodies are hidden from normal view, but are clearly seen under x-rays. A jet fighter can make it invisible to radar, but can be clearly seen with the naked eyes. In horror movies, the invisible man can often be detected via sound, smell, the appearance of footsteps of things moving around.

Invisibility due to human psychology and physiology
Objects in plain sight can go consciously unseen by humans. This can by due to the human optic system and due to human psychology.

Blind spots
All humans have blind spots, which are spots where the eye cannot see. The blind spot in an eye corresponds to the spot on the retina where the optical nerve connects the retina to the brain. At this spot there are no light detecting cells and, thus, this spot cannot detect light. A small object can disappear from view at the spot.

In everyday life the blind spot goes unnoticed. This is in part as the eye is constantly looking around, getting a wide and varied range of views. It is also in part as the brain uses the information from both eyes to create the single mental vision. What one eye misses, the other often picks up.

As its optical nerve connects differently, the octopus has no blind spot.

Detecting your blind spot
To detect your blind spot using the above red dot/green dot picture on the next page, close your right eye and look at the GREEN dot. Slowly move your head towards the picture. At one point the RED dot will disappear. Notice that the missing spot is filled in white by your mind, so it appears as if nothing is missing from your view. This illustrates how your blind spot goes unnoticed during daily living. Many people live their entire life not knowing they have a blind spot.

blindspotimage006

Color blindness tests show that objects of certain colors can hide from view from those with limited color vision. People with poor color vision cannot make out the letter or number symbols that those with good color vision can see. This is a form of camouflage.

Whether this visible or invisible depends of your color vision.  The number is invisible to some.

Whether this visible or invisible depends of your color vision. The number is invisible to some.

Camouflage
Camouglage involves making things that are visible hard to distinguish from its surroundings. The viewer can see the object– it registers and is often in focus in the eyes and mind–, but does notice it consciously. The camouflaged object hides in plain view.

A new book will be noticed if placed in the middle of the floor or the kitchen table, but will go unnoticed if slipped amongst other books on a book shelf. The viewer sees the book– it registers in the eyes and brain–, but the viewer doesn’t consciously notice it.

With a chameleon standing in front of a rock of the same color, you can see all the same details as when the chameleon is standing in front of a white sheet. It’s just that against the rock, you lose contrast and cannot consciously identify it.

Camouflaged frog

Camouflaged frog

This insect can both be seen yet be unnoticed.

This insect can both be seen yet be unnoticed.

Can you the hidden text in this picture?

Can you the hidden text in this picture?

Psychology
Many things are overlooked because they don’t meet expectations. As with camouflage, things can be hidden in plain view.

A human does not and cannot simultaneously focus on all information in a scene. Humans don’t have the mental capacity. Humans focus on some things and ignore others.

When you enter a room, your eyes are drawn to something or things. Perhaps you focus on the gracious hosts, perhaps a statue to the side. If there is a rat in the middle of the floor, your immediate perception will be of the rat and not of the rose wallpaper.

If you enter the room and there is an attractive nude, you likely won’t notice what is on the coffee table. You might not even notice the coffee table. After blushingly excusing yourself and scooting out of the room, you may not recall the existence of a coffee table, but it was there right in front of your eyes.

Read this text.  Then look at it again.  Did you skip over the second 'the'?

Read this text. Then look at it again. Did you skip over the second ‘the’?

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Are Standard Physical Measurements Intrinsic to Objects or Merely Arbitrary Human Conceptions?

Mout Everest is the tallest mountain on earth, but what So What?

Mout Everest is the tallest mountain on earth, but So What?

Many standard physical measurements such as height and volume are human conceptions. There are a nearing infinite ways to measure water and land objects. None are intrinsically better or lesser than the other possible measurements. Picking the ‘best’ measuring method for water is like picking the most accurate identity in a cloud— you might see a castle in the design of cloud, while your friend might see a princess.

Is out concept of time a universal absolute thing or merely a human construct?

Is out concept of time a universal absolute thing or merely a human construct?

For easy understanding and practical convenience humans chose volume as the key measure of water, height as a key measure of trees and weight as a key measure of rocks. Most lay humans and even scientists see volume as something intrinsic to liquid, but it’s just an idiosyncratic humans conception. Volume as a measurement has as much to do with the way the human mind operates as it does to do with orange juice. Just as your friend seeing a princess in the cloud is more a reflection of your friend than the cloud.

Humans have developed a great bias towards their pet measuring methods, treating them as the gold standard. There’s nothing wrong with having convenient measuring methods, but the gold standard status sometimes leads to interesting results.

Temperature is just one way to measure a chicken

Temperature: A very human way of measuring a chicken

Take mountains for example. The number one way to measure a mountain of course its it’s height. The Guinness Book of World’s Records doesn’t have entries for the heaviest mountain or the bluest or the smoothest. They list the tallest and the highest. No one cares which mountain is the bluest.

It should be of no surprise that special attention is given to Mt. Everest, the tallest and highest mountain. Amongst the general public, the apex of mountain climbing is scaling Mt. Everest. Most just assume its also the most difficult to scale. Expert climbers will tell you that K2 is significantly more difficult to climb due to the angles and remoteness. However, K2 doesn’t have the formidable reputation with the public as it’s only the second tallest mountain. To the public, tallest means toughest to climb.

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Notice how the mainstream press measures motion pictures. They rank them by their box-office sales, something that that has little to do with art. They measure art as business transactions.

What is humorous about box office receipts as measurement of art is that the viewers purchase the ticket before they see the movie. Many people buy a ticket, then hate the movie.

Of course, CNN and NBC use box office receipts as measurement as they are convenient, seemingly concrete. They have a financial section staff that knows how to deal with financial statements. Objectively measuring and ranking by artistic merit would be great, but no one knows how to do that.

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Assorted interesting measuring tidbits:

* You likely find it easier to judge the length of a pole if it vertical or horizontal than at an unorthodox angle. If the pole is at 73 degree angle, you might tilt your head to judge its length.

* There are problems in communication between folks who measure in Celsius versus Fahrenheit, yards versus millimeters. An American may find it hard to impossible to conceptualize temperatures quoted in degree Celsius.

* Scientists have yet to find the perfect way to represent light. In some ways light is like a wave, but in others it is like particles. These conceptions conflict.

* Meteorologists added wind chill factor and humidity to their descriptive repertoire, as they found temperature alone was unable to accurately describe conditions.

* Measuring can change the subject being measured. Methods of measuring running computer programs can slow or otherwise alter the program. In nuclear physics, measuring the location of an atomic particle change’s the particle’s speed. Runners run a shorter mile since the Olympics switched to metric.

* Measurements are never exact. There always is a margin of error.

* We can order and categorize information for our purposes, but not beyond that. We don’t know how things are ordered beyond our us.

* There have long been philosophical arguments about the nature of time. Isaac Newton said time was an intrinsic physical thing on the order of height or weight, while Gottfried Libniz said time, at least as we conceive it, is just a human construct to describe what we observe. Einstein’s centuries later Theory of Relativity showed that time doesn’t always act as absolutely as Newton thought.

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Dies Irae : From Rachmaninoff to Melvins

This simple but haunting melody dates back centuries to a Gregorian Chant about the final judgment and has been used many times since, including by Rachmaninoff (Rhapsody on a Them of Paganini), Berlioz, Verdi (Requiem), Mozart and Wendy Carlos for the introductary music to The Shining. Even the grunge/sludge metal band Melvins has their own rendition. I recommend searching on Youtube for Carlos’ and Melvins’ versions.

CAPTCHAs: How Computers Use Cognitive Science to Identify Users as Human

captcha-selection1We’ve all had been asked to type in the letters and numbers in those funky pictures on websites, such as pictured to the right. These pictures are called CAPTCHAs and are used to try to identify if a visitor to a website is human or computer program. Online banks, stores, news sites, chat boards and other sites want to weed out automated programs that try to steal information and spam message boards. The question you may have is how do these pictures identify a user as human.

exemplesCAPTCHAs are designed around human psychology. Specifically they are designed on the human’s natural ability to guess at or pick out identities in ambiguous information.

The letters and numbers in the CAPTCHAs aren’t literally the letters and numbers, but abbreviated, mixed up, distorted versions, often with other information (visual noise) overlapping and/or surrounding it.

When told to pick out the symbols, the human picks out which letters and numbers they perceive. The symbols don’t perfectly match the textbook letters and numbers, but the human guesses what they most approximate. Computers can eventually, or at least sometimes, identify the symbols but it takes longer. They have more difficulty with the ambiguous, messy and mixed up images.

Humans can perceive different individual letters in this CAPTCHA, but it's really just one connected graphic.  Computers have a more difficult time picking out individual letters, not only because they are connected but because the letters themselves are distorted.

Humans can make out different individual letters in this CAPTCHA, but it’s really just one connected graphic.

This CAPTCHA tilts the symbols and places them on a background, both which make it harder for a computer program to read.

This CAPTCHA tilts the symbols and places them on a background, both which make it harder for a computer program to read.

If a computer program gets too good at solving CAPTCHAs, the CAPTCHAs can be made more difficult by distorting the letters more and adding more visual noise– but it is hoped not so difficult that they fool humans. CAPTCHAs also come in a wide variety of forms– shapes, angels, different backgrounds, colors and more– making it so a nefarious program can’t apply one cookie cutter rule.

The Human Psychology Behind CAPTCHAs
Humans live in an environment that is filled with complex, ambiguous and distorted information. Humans have learned and inborn mental methods to nonconsciously identify things and judge the complex information in our daily lives. We compare side-by-side objects to judge size, distance and speed. We identify distant silhouetted objects by how their shapes match up with our memories. We ‘recognize’ objects and qualities in paintings, sketches and movies using these same nonconscious methods.

Realize that humans never see the entirety of an object or scene, any object or scene. Not only are things such as coffee cups and sticks and tree branches partially visibly obscured by overlapping other objects, but we can never see all sides and parts of an object at once. Even with an apple you’ve turned over in your hands, you can’t be sure whether it’s fresh or rotten in the core until you bite or cut it apart. Humans live, learn and learn how to process and judge information in an environment where information is always obscured or otherwise hidden from view.

Ambiguity is a concept essential to understanding humans, as humans constantly make choices in the face of ambiguous information. Often caused by missing or obscured information, ambiguity means there is more than one possible explanation to something, and the viewer doesn’t know, often can’t know, which one is correct. In the face of ambiguity, the mind will almost always pick the explanation that meets its expectations and experience.

CAPTCHAs are examples of ambiguous information where we guess what is the identity.

The following is a closer look at some of the specific cognitive techniques we use to process ambiguous information, both in nature and in CAPTCHAs.


Shape, patterns and form biases

bias1

Human visual perception is profoundly influenced by biases about forms, shapes and patterns. Humans have ingrained and nonconscious attractions for specific forms, shapes and patterns. Some of these biases are genetic, while others are learned. These biases greatly influence how we perceive, organize and label, and are essential to the quick identifications needed to go through life.

You instantly perceived a dog in the black shape that started this chapter, even though the shape lacked fur, eyes, whiskers, correct size and other essential doggy details. You didn’t have to contemplate the shape. You perceived it instantly.

The problem for humans is that their biases for certain shapes, forms and patterns are so strong and ingrained that they will perceive these things when don’t objectively exist. These biases lead to many visual illusions.

Our form and pattern biases are shown when we perceive horses or castles or hot rods or other familiar shapes in clouds. These ‘identifications’ are subjective to the viewer, and do not objectively exist in cloud. There are thousands of possible connect-the-dot shapes in a cloud, but you perceive, or mentally pick out, that which matches your knowledge. The horse or castle is a projection of what exists in your mind. If there were no horses on earth or in fantasy books, you would not perceive a horse in the cloud, as you wouldn’t ‘recognize’ it.

Technically, our perception of letters and numbers in CAPTCHAs is visual illusion, because they aren’t exact representations of those symbols.

Many see the figure of a lion cub in this cloud

Many see the figure of a lion cub in this cloud

People mentally assemble the lines and marks in this Rembrandt etching into a face

People mentally assemble the lines and marks in this Rembrandt etching into a face

As with the sketch and cloud, we pick out recognizable figures amongst the myriad of information.

As with the sketch and cloud, we pick out recognizable figures amongst the myriad of information.

Imagination
When looking at a scene, all humans have the natural and nonconscious ability to extrapolate beyond what is visible. When information is missing, or assumed to be missing, humans make it up in their minds.

This ability is essential to normal living, as we must regularly make quick guesses with limited information. When you step on a sturdy looking building step, you assume it will hold your weight. When you pull a book from the library shelf, you assume the pages are filled with words. When your waitress brings you a steaming mug, you assume it is filled with a hot liquid.

In many cases the extrapolation is accurate, or at least a fair estimate of reality. If your dog is standing on the other side of the open doorway, half hidden by the wall, you correctly assume an entire dog exists. As the dog steps forward into the room, your assumption is proven correct. When the waitress puts down your steaming coffee mug, you are far from surprised to see it’s filled with the hot coffee you ordered. Humans would be a dim, slow species if we couldn’t make these kinds of elemental deductions.

In many cases, however, the extrapolations are wrong. These bogus extrapolations involving the viewer non-consciously perceiving what he wants to see or expects to see.

Though the overlapping prevents us from knowing, most will assume the above picture shows whole playing cards. I assume the cards are rectangular and whole.

Though the overlapping prevents us from knowing, most will assume the above picture shows whole playing cards. I assume the cards are rectangular and whole.

This says 'I love you' many times

This says ‘I love you’ many times

Now read it with the ruler removed.  Your earlier reading was based on assumption.

Now read it with the ruler removed. Your earlier reading was based on assumption.

Similar to the overlapping cards and 'I Love You' pictures, we imagine this word 'behind' the line to be whole letters.

Similar to the overlapping cards and ‘I Love You’ pictures, we imagine, or guess, there to be whole letters behind the line.

With all the 'overlapping' information, it takes imagination to guess the symbols.

With all the ‘overlapping’ information, it takes imagination to guess the symbols.

Focusing and ignoring
Both in real life and when art and CAPTCHA viewing, humans focus on some information in a scene while being oblivious to other. The audience can get into a movie to a point they forget they are sitting in a theater and watching a projected image showing paid actors seen in earlier movies. This explains why a movie shark can make jump the audience in a desert theater one thousand miles from the nearest ocean. Someone get into a book or music he forgets where he is.

A human does not and cannot simultaneously focus on all information in a scene. Humans don’t have the mental capacity. Humans focus on some things and ignore others. When you enter a room, your eyes are drawn to something or things. Perhaps you focus on the gracious hosts, perhaps a statue to the side. If there is a rat in the middle of the floor, your immediate perception will be of the rat and not of the rose wallpaper.

If you enter the room and there is an attractive nude, you likely won’t notice what is on the coffee table. You might not even notice the coffee table. After blushingly excusing yourself and scooting out of the room, you may not recall the existence of a coffee table, but it was there right in front of your eyes.

This focus, and the resulting perception, is your creation.

With this visual illusion, the viewer forms a perception about the whole from looking at just one end. When she looks at the rest of the graphic she realizes her extrapolation, or initial perception of the whole, was wrong. All of the information is there for the eyes to see, but the viewer forms her perception as if information is hidden.

This visual illusion involves both focusing and ignoring, and imagination. The viewer forms a perception about the whole from looking at just one end. When she looks at the rest of the graphic she realizes her extrapolation, or initial perception of the whole, was wrong.

When you label this picture as 'a fox' you both ignore or 'bleep over' the marks around the fox design and the fact that it has no front legs.

When you label this picture as ‘a fox’ you both ignore or ‘bleep over’ the marks around the fox design and the fact that it has no front legs. The fox label involves human imagination and a choice how the marks fit together, which matter and which don’t to identity. Of course, this isn’t a real fox, but a bunch of pen marks that you subjectively assemble into a fox.

As in the 'fox' picture, you simply ignore the marks around the symbols, as if they don't exist.

You simply ignore the marks around the symbols, as if they don’t exist. The computer has a harder time ignoring the marks.

Getting back to CAPTCHAs
As already mentioned, CAPTCHAs aren’t fool proof and internet bad guys are continually trying to break CAPTCHAs. In fact, computer programs can solve CAPTCHAs. It is just that it usualy takes longer and with less accuracy that with humans. Bad guys also hire humans to solve the CAPTCHAs. They literally have a room full of low paid humans in India or wherever solving the puzzles. Websites usually use CAPTCHA’s as one of numerous ways to block hackers and spammers. Passwords, monitoring message language and other puzzles to solve are also often used. It’s a never ending taste to keep websites safe and CAPTCHAs is just one tool.

How Humans Use False Information and Made Up Beliefs to Produce Personal Achievement

Humans use arbitrary rules, false information, biases and imaginary environments to reach higher levels of achievement. This achievement can range from a musician composing a great symphony to a ten year old improving her math scores.

Humans do not have the mental capacity to effectively focus on a variety of tasks simultaneously. To reach higher levels of achievement in an area, the human must put most to all of its focus on that area. Humans must eliminate or stabilize (make a non factor) areas that distract from the needed focus.

This is comparable to a water kettle with four equal sized holes in the top. When water is boiled inside, steam will raise a height from the holes. If three of the holes are sealed, the steam will rise much higher from the remaining hole.

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The following are everyday examples of manipulating one’s mental and physical environment to produce achievement:

* While background music or others’ chitchat may be fine while browsing a glossy magazine, many of us cover our ears in order to comprehend a difficult passage or perform a math problem.

* To expand one’s mind by meditation someone focuses on a repeated mundane and often arbitrary task, such as following one’s breath or repeating a word.

* To improve the team’s horrid free throw percentage, the junior high basketball coach teaches the players to focus on the basket and their shooting motion and to ignore the crowd. He has them practice by ignoring recorded crowd noise and cardboard cutouts of fans.

* Many with a fear of speaking reduce their nervousness by imagining the audience wearing only their underwear. They create a fantasy.

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The Rituals of Baseball

Ty Cobb batting circa 1910

Ty Cobb batting circa 1910

Many consider hitting a baseball to be the most difficult feat in sport. The batter swings a stick to hit a small ball. The thrown ball can reach speeds of over 100 miles per hour. Early 1900s player Ty Cobb holds the record for the highest career batting average in Major League Baseball history. His batting average was 0.367, or 3.67 hits per every 10 turns at bat. Even the greatest hitters fail more than they succeeded. Enough to give anyone a complex.

Baseball hitters, and baseball players in general, are notorious for their strange rules and rituals. Players often wear the same unwashed undershirt and socks during a hitting streak. Most players don’t step on the white foul lines when entering and leaving the field. Pitcher Turk Wendell waved to left field every time he entered and left a game. When coming to bat, Nomar Garciaparra went through a well documented ritual of pulling at his shirt, opening and closing the Velcro straps on his batting gloves and tapping the toes of his shoes. Lucky charms, bracelets, necklaces, gum brands abound the game. Five time batting champion Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game. U.L. Washington batted with a toothpick in his mouth. After parents complained that kids might emulate the unsafe habit, he switched to a q-tip. After the first slump, U.L. was back to the toothpick.

Though many of the rituals are comical, they can aid performance. Hitting requires a calm and focused mind and exceptional mind body coordination, all while the player is surrounded by television cameras, screaming fans and the other pressures of being a professional athlete expected to perform. If wearing the lucky undershirt or repeating an odd ritual eases the batter’s mind and gives confidence, it can increase the player’s batting average. U.L.’s reason for switching back to a toothpick was because it made him feel more comfortable. While a toothpick as aid may seem nonsensical, the desire to be comfortable makes sense.

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Faith
For a rule or belief to aid performance, the person must have faith in the rule or belief.

During a meditation session, one must accept that the thing of mental focus is worthy (breath, mantra, stone, other). Whether the thing was carefully chosen by an instructor or picked in a rush (a pebble hastily grabbed from the ground), meditation requires you to focus on that thing. If you fret about whether or not the mantra was the perfect pick, this very fretting makes the meditation session less effective.

The lucky blue undershirt only helps the baseball player if he believes it lucky. If the blue undershirt is deemed lucky because he had a great game the first time he wore it, this illustrates the arbitrariness in his belief. If before that big game he pulled his grey undershirt from the drawer, it likely would be the grey undershirt that is considered lucky.

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Positive achievement is regularly based on false beliefs

There are regular cases where positive achievement is achieved from a false belief. This includes in your daily life. Believing the false, if only temporarily, is a technique we all use to remove distracting thoughts. The following are two examples.

* A placebo helps when the patient falsely believes it is medicine. When the patient knows what it is, a placebo doesn’t help.

* A freshman at the University of Georgia, Jessica is entering final exam week before winter break. Unknown to her, her beloved 14 year old cat Tiger just died back home in Savannah. The night before her first test she has her weekly telephone conversation with her parents back home. Jessica asks how Tiger is doing. Her mother says Tiger is doing just fine, adding that the cat is playing with a toy on the couch. After hanging up, Jessica’s mother feels bad about lying, but thinks it was best considering the exams. After a productive week, Jessica takes a bus home to Savannah where her parents break the bad news and explain why they delayed it. Jessica understands, agreeing that the news would have distracted her from her studies.

In both these cases it was a false belief that lead to the desired achievement. In both cases, knowledge of the truth would have hindered the achievement.

This shows that positive achievement arising from a belief is not proof that the belief is correct.

Patients who get better after taking a placebo often swear the pills had to be medicine. To them, getting better is the proof. Even when the doctor informs them it was a placebo, some patients continue to believe it was medicine because they got better.

A sincere faith involves a psychological, often irrational attachment to the ideas. This psychological aspect is both what helps the placebo-taking patient get better (Most doctors believe positive ‘I am getting better’ thinking aids recovery) and what prevents him from accepting his belief as false even when confronted with the facts. This psychological attachment has both a positive and a negative result.

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This points to the fascinating relationship humans have with facts. A human cannot function as it desires without the distortion and suppression of facts.

Even a search for the truth requires false beliefs to focus mental attention. In other words, a search for the truth requires lies.

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Olympic psychology
ddddiiiFor world class Olympic athletes a common rule is that one must believe one is going to win in order to win. Paraphrasing a top speed skater interviewed the day before an Olympic race, “You shouldn’t just think you will win, you must know you will win.” In a track, swim or bike race, the difference between first and fourth may be a fraction of a second, and the winning psychology can mean the difference between a win and loss. Of course most of these athletes who are sure they will win will not win, and those who win do not win every time. Even when the belief turns out to be wrong, it may better the athlete from, say, fifth to third or third to second.

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Whether the idolized is a sports coach, historical leader or artist, most worshipers of a human being worship an unreal representation. Much of the misrepresentation is intentional, followers embellishing good qualities and glossing over bad.

At first it seems strange that groups intentionally misrepresent the person they supposedly idolize. However, the representations aren’t about complete factual accuracy. Amongst other things, they are concerned with gaining and maintaining members’ loyalty and spirit, group self importance, gaining power versus other groups and perhaps giving a representation to whom members can better relate and understand (see ‘Racial Depictions of Jesus Christ in Art’). The word idolizes implies the act of changing, changing something into an idol.

It should not surprise that during a political election supporters put their candidate in the best light and their competitor in the worst. Their representation isn’t about truth, it’s about winning the election. If you ask either campaign manager why he doesn’t include bad facts about his candidate in the campaign literature, he’ll look at you as if you are crazy.

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This essay show how false beliefs can lead to productive practical results and how practical results do not prove that the underlying beliefs are correct. Do you believe that the fiction and make believe of art can produce results where telling the truth would not? For example, can fiction be a better way to teach people important ideas and concepts? People sometimes say “To illustrate my point, let me give you a theoretical example.”

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British Rock Star Donates Rare Alamo and Davy Crocket Artifacts

Interesting to read that the largest private collection of ‘the Alamo’ (a very American thing) historical artifacts and memorabilia was owned by a British man lliving in Switzerland– named Phil Collins. Yes, that Phil Collins, the 1980s pop star rock musician.

Collins recently donated his multi million dollar collection to San Antonio Texas so they could form a new Alamo museum. Even though the British citizen Collins flew in from his longtime home in Switzerland and has never lived in the US much less Texas, the Mayor of San Antonio labelled him “a true Texan.”

Collins said he’s been fascinated by the Alamo since watching Disney’s 1950s Davy Crockett television series as a young boy in London, and has been a longtime collector of Alamo items.

The Battle of the Alamo was an important battle in the Texas Revolution against Mexico and one of the most famous events in American history. All the American defenders of a San Antonia fort, including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, were killed by the Mexican Army. ‘Remember the Alamo’ was a rallying cry for Texans and is still a well known phrase.

Collins’ collection of over 200 rarities, includes Jim Bowie’s personal knife, Davy Crockett’s gun and solders’ swords.

Initially gaining fame as singer and drummer for the rock band Genesis, Collins later had seven Number One hits on the US Billboard Top 100, sold over 150 million records and won seven Grammy Awards as a 1980s solo artist.

King Charles VI ‘The Mad’ and the Glass Delusion

King Charles VI

King Charles VI

1380-1415 French King Charles VI, commonly called ‘Charles the Mad,’ suffered from servere mental illness episodes through his life, including murdering his four of his own knights while in a psychosis, forgetting his name and that he was king, at times not recognizing his wife and kids, running through the halls of his castle until exhausted and screaming uncontrollably due to unseen enemies.

His most curious psychosis was that he at times thought he was made of glass. During these times, he would not let anyone touch him, was scared of furniture and even reinforced his clothes with metal rods to prevent accidental breakage.

Modern physicians and scholars have studied this so called ‘glass delusion.’ Though many experts today believe Charles suffered from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, the glass delusion remains something of a mystery. There are few and unverified modern cases of people thinking they are made of glass, but there are numerous historical examples. A 1621 medical book by a prominent Oxford University professor described how mentally ill people were known to have thought they were made of glass, cork, feathers and lead, which the professor compared to psychiatric disorders of seeing demons and devils. 1800s Princess Alexandra of Bavaria, who had numerous neurosis and minor psychosis, thought she had swallowed a glass piano as a child and it was still inside her as an adult. Examples of people with the glass delusion appear in old literature, including a Miguel de Cervantes story where a poisoned law student falls into a long depression and believes he’s glass and a Rene Descartes philosophical essay where he uses an example of an insane person who thinks he’s glass.