Brownian thought space

Cognitive science, mostly, but more a sometimes structured random walk about things.

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Location: Rochester, United States

Chronically curious モ..

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Was at Skillman, NJ, for a short trip, and found a most interesting photograph, of the Bachelor of Science graduating class from the Fergusson College, Pune, in 1922.

The last part of the caption reads:
Long hair for men is not so unique to the present generation. ...Mr. Lele... courts long hair.
Mr. Lele, is the one on the top row, the second from the left who for some reason has a blue light thingy around him. Here's the funny thing - my mother's side are Leles! Looks like long hair and doing science runs in the family ;)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Butt Te Bathi

AKA Shanghai Noon. I'm not sure I can get enough of this. Owen Wilson's "accent" is enough to slay a thousand :)

Rush Hour in Punjabi

Can anything be funnier?

YES! Watching the whole film in Punjabi! Till then, here is one more teaser...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bowling award

Hard work. Dedication. Rigorous training. These are the things that make other people winners. Me, I'm content to sit on my ass :)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Slavoj Žižek and cinema

That excellent Dryden theatre last night screened all three of a 3-part series, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema by Sophie Fiennes (yes, Ralph & Joseph's sister), in which Slavoj Žižek psychoanalyses films. For a 3X50min session, it was most provocative, thoughtful, very funny and should've come with a "Spoiler's Ahead" warning.

Also, it would probably have helped to have seen all the films SŽ refers to during the course of the documentaries.

SŽ starts by asking what it means to desire something, and contends that all desire is something that must be taught to us. Further, that films provide us with a version of reality that reflects, but also drives our own desires (presumably for those who actually watch films).

This is followed by loads of psychoanalysis of a bunch of films. While very entertaining and funny - he frequently appears to be in the same room as some shot, to some very comic effect.

SŽ himself enters into the reality of films (rather like in the film Last Action Hero). According to him, the identification with films is impossible to avoid. That, despite the blatant fakeness, it nevertheless evokes in us pretty real emotions. But is not the whole world like that? According to SŽ, you need a symbolic structure to interpret the world, but I guess the distance from someone like me is that according to him, these symbolic structures are acquired from the environment and are merely frames in which to understand (what passes for) reality. Instead, the current view from the kind of cognitive perspective of mine, a large part of these structures come out of the gene-envronment interaction, and are as deterministic (stochastic) as this interaction itself.

On sexuality, SŽ makes a strong dichotomy between men and women. On the male side, in the sexual act there is a (mentally construed) third person, who is the true object of sex. While, for women, sex is the thing that they will talk about afterwards. Of course, not as simple as this, but without any hint of justification, the split and the analysis seems far too tied to Wester norms; making them a cultural artefact, which ofcourse, is what according to him everything is, including desire.

At one point, SŽ talks about video game personas. He analyses the difference between a diffident, geeky/nerdy and his superhuman game alter-ego not as the making up of a lack in the former through the latter, but rather as the latter being the true self (the id and its libido), and the former the (super-ego controlled) 'external' self that obeys the constraints of the society.
Surely this is abundantly clear to every game player? Some research on this point would be SO useful! As a gameplayer, it certainly works the second way for me :)
But! If this is true, then where is all the social-based acquisition of structures coming from?

In the end, SŽ seems to be saying something that is probably true of all art anywhere and is not limited to the cinemas that, as caricatures of reality, they are in a sense more real than reality itself, and help us to understand and grasp reality. This is precisely the point that I think art meets science- a scientific model of the brain is not the brain, it's a caricature. It's a caricature that, like the paintings of the impressionists, captures the essence and shows us the deeper reality of something that can be quite mundane.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mithun and Maggi Memsaab

This smashing young couple made a great early-week bbq, and we were lucky that it only rained before and after the bbq. Yay!
If you knew Maggi, you'd see she was born a Memsaab... :)

Interpreter of Maladies

Currently catching up with Jhumpa Lahiri after liking the film "The Namesake". One line particularly stood out (from the book so far) for its cheek:

By the next morning, three separate palmists had examined Bibi's hand and confirmed that there was, no doubt, evidence of an imminent union etched into her skin. Unsavory sorts murmured indelicacies at cutlet stands; ...


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Maths has no structure

Imagine a Martian; perhaps the same Martian that Chomsky & colleagues saw as looking down (up?) onto Earth and noticing the funny thing about language. Imagine that the Martian is a Bayesian dude, much like computational linguists (and others) today are, and he gets his hands on a bunch of mathematical derivations by, to pick random examples, Einstein and Bohr. If said Martian is anything like the computational people today, he would look at all the symbols, and try to extract the statistical probability that, say, the ')' symbol was followed by the '=' symbol, and so on. Then, being an empiricist, the Martian would involve him(her)self in a textbook alien abduction scenario and test how good this Bayesian statistical model of the Einstein/Bohr symbols was against a carefully chosen subject (it wouldn't make sense to pick a Tibetian monk to test a theory of maths symbols, just as it wouldn't make sense to pick a Navajo tribesman to test a Bayesian model derived from an English corpus). Let's assume that the fit is good. the Martian would claim that he(she) had now a good theory of (a) what the end state of a mathematically minded person is and (b) by adding a few more parameters, how acquisition would proceed, by updating a flat distribution against the data - p('='|')') would go from a small, (null) prior to a high value, given the data. Q.E.D.!
(Einstein himself might have objected)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Red Wings Rochester

My first baseball game! Thanks to Anne Pier (and others), went to see the Rochester Red Wings vs. some Canadian Lynx team. It's F.U.N.!!

(with my Red Wings baseball cap ;)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Growing pains ;)