Consciousness: Creeping Up on the Hard Problem

by Jeffrey Gray

Via Wikipedia: "In his book Consciousness: Creeping up on the Hard Problem written towards the end of his life, Gray summarised his ideas about brain function and consciousness. He took the view that the contents of consciousness are usually about something, and this is described as intentionality or meaning. He suggested that intentionality is another aspect of the 'binding problem', as to how the different modalities, such as sight and hearing, are bound together into a single conscious experience. Gray argued that without such binding, eating a banana could involve seeing yellow, feeling a surface, and tasting something, without having the unifying awareness of a particular object known as a banana. Without such unifying binding, he argues that objects would be just meaningless shapes, edges, colours etc.

Gray thought that intentionality was based on unconscious processing. The processing in the visual cortex that underlies conscious perception is not itself conscious. Instead, the perception is argued to spring into consciousness fully formed, including the intentionality of what the conscious perception is about. In arguing for this, Gray uses the example of pictures that can be either of two things, such as a duck or a rabbit. They are never hybrid, but are always completely duck or completely rabbit. The perception of a duck or a rabbit is argued to be constructed unconsciously up to the last moment. Gray's conclusion from this part of his discussion is that intentionality arises from the physical and chemical structure of the brain, but also that if intentionality can be constructed out of unconscious processing, it is unlikely to produce a solution to the 'hard problem' of how consciousness arises. [...]

Gray disagreed with the functionalist theory of consciousness. He described the position of functionalism as saying that consciousness is the nature of certain complex systems, regardless of whether they are made of neurons, silicon chips or some other material. The underlying tissues or machinery are irrelevant. Further to that consciousness relates only to functions performed by the brain or other system, and does not arise as a result of anything that is not functional. For any discriminated difference in qualia, there must be a difference in function. It is also claimed that for every discriminated difference in function, there is a difference in qualia.

In discussing this question further, Gray looked at synaesthesia, where he described modalities as becoming mixed, as when numbers or sounds are experienced with colour. Experimentation in recent years has demonstrated that synaesthesia is most likely the consequence of abnormal projections into the V4 colour region of the visual cortex from other parts of the brain. Brain scanning studies have shown that when words are spoken, in addition to the normal activity in the auditory cortex, the V4 colour vision area in the visual cortex became active, in a way which does not occur in normal subjects. There was no related activation in V1 or V2, the earlier stages of the visual pathway. The conclusion drawn from a whole series of experiments was that the 'word-type' of synaesthete has an abnormal projection from the auditory cortex into the visual cortex causing the V4 colour area to produce consciousness of colour. However, there is no evidence that this colour sensation has any function.

Gray argued from these findings that there was no relationship between the occurrence of the synaesthete's colour experience and the linguistic function that triggers them. Gray argues that this phenomenon refutes the functionalist analysis of consciousness, because the theory claims that conscious experience relates only to functions performed in the brain, and does not arise as a result of anything that is not functional, as is claimed to be the case with this type of synaesthesia."

Thanks to Constantin Rothkopf!

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Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design

by Michael Bierut

Via Wikipedia: "Michael Bierut (born 1957) is a graphic designer, design critic and educator who designed the logo for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. [...]

Bierut was vice president of graphic design at Vignelli Associates. Since 1990 he has been a partner in the New York office of Pentagram. According to his Pentagram online biography: Bierut 'is responsible for leading a team of graphic designers who create identity design, environmental graphic design and editorial design solutions. He has won hundreds of design awards and his work is represented in several permanent collections [...]." Bierut is also known for his involvement in the film Helvetica.

He has published a book called Seventy-Nine Short Essays on Design, which was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2007. Bierut is a senior critic at the Yale School of Art in Graphic Design and co-edits the anthology series Looking Closer: Critical Writings on Graphic Design, published by Allworth Press. Bierut is the co-founder of the blog Design Observer and his commentaries about graphic design can be heard nationally on the Public Radio International program Studio 360."

Every year I read the chapter My Phone Call to Arnold Newman (page 44) to my students. It reminds me to try and stay humble.


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Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre

by Keith Johnstone

Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre is in my Top 10 of best books of all times. A live changer.

Here is the full English text.

Via Wikipedia: "Keith Johnstone (born February 1933) is a British and Canadian pioneer of improvisational theatre, best known for inventing the Impro System, part of which are the Theatresports. He is also an educator, playwright, actor and theatre director. [...]

Johnstone co-founded the Loose Moose Theatre, and invented his system of training that has been influencing practice within and beyond the traditional theatre for over 50 years. [...]

Johnstone has written two books about his system; the 1979 Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, and the 1999 Impro For Storytellers. He is known for slogans that encapsulate his philosophy of improvisation, and include:

You can't learn anything without failing.
Please don't do your best. Trying to do your best is trying to be better than you are.
Go onto stage to make relationships. At least you won't be alone.
It's not the offer, but what you do with it.

Thanks to William Bennett!

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