Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Read two articles on the train this morning, one from the Science Times on one of my all-time favorite subjects, the part of the brain that finds faces, and one from Richard Wirick's excellent journal, Transformation, by Dr. Silvana Quattrocchi Montanaro, a child psychologist who appears to be a leading thinker of the Montessori method.

This section from the Times article stood out:

[MIT prof. Takeo Watanabe's] studies of learning processes show that after the brain is bombarded with a stimulus, it continues to perceive that stimulus even when it is not present.

To demonstrate this effect, Dr. Watanabe had subjects sit in front of a computer screen with faint dots cascading across it. At first, the participants could not figure out which direction the dots were moving. Then they went through another round of tests in which they were to identify letters superimposed on the dots as they moved across the screen.

When the subjects were then presented with a blank screen and asked to describe what they saw, a strange thing happened: not only did they insist they were seeing dots, but they tended to say the dots were moving in the direction they had been moving during the previous session.

Dr. Watanabe says the results suggest that subliminally learning something “too well” interferes with perceptions of reality. “As a result of repeated presentation, the subjects developed enhanced sensitivity to the dots,” he said. “Their sensitivity got so high that they saw them even when there was nothing there.”

Because faces make up such a significant part of the visual backdrop of life, he added, they may fall into the same category as the dots: people have gotten so used to seeing faces everywhere that sensitivity to them is high enough to produce constant false positives.

"Television and the Young Child" doesn't appear on-line, I am sorry to say. After reading the Times article, though, I was sensitized to this passage:

Images on the television screen are produced and perceived as a constantly moving field of winking dots and the eyes must not move in order to track the moving image. As the television images are very rapid, a continuous effort is necessary to capture them and this work does not allow any conscious thinking, personal reflection and criticism. The mental apparatus is destructured and we have the same conditions that are present in the trance in hypnosis: darkness, a still body, intermittent light, the capture of attention and interest.

Without the filter of consciousness and critique, the television images enter into our brain but cannot be really integrated into our psychic apparatus so they become like an undigested material that psychotherapy uses to bring into consciousness that which is unconscious but alive and therefore, acting and producing mental disturbance to the human being.

The continuous work needed to capture television images produces a mental attitude of passivity that impedes a personal elaboration of what is seen and makes it possible to accept everything. In order to think about the television images that are constantly produced in our unconscious, we should bring them to consciousness. But this is impossible when we look at television because the images continue to come one after the other and there isn't time for awareness.

That's got me thinking -- what about the continuous consumption of text, as with my parody-gone-wrong of an independent autocracy of the laurels, as with any ordinary day-job internet reading.

Blogging every day has been amusing, enlightening, and consuming. I understand that many people consider blogging a more egocentric or narcissistic activity than participating in listserv or bulletin board discussions, but I think that's wild analysis, actually. The adage about base currencies driving out pure ones applies exactly to listservs, which I've found to be without exception gladiatorial arenas, and not safe collaborative spaces.

(In the early days of flarf -- forgive me for bringing it up -- hostility and one-upmanship were foregrounded, were turned into the energy source of the future! and briefly it seemed as though there might be a way to use the internet for something other than determining the next alpha of the next merchandisable movement. Oh well. At least every flarf books (so far) is intermittently entertaining and insightful, at least they don't show the wounds of slavishly working for the approval of some previous movement's alpha/leader.)

Anyway. Even if blogging has been useful to me for sorting out my own independent reactions, it's still fundamentally reactive. It rewards what everything else in the culture rewards -- novelty, aggression -- and while it purports to offer a space for critique and collaboration, in the end it's just another gladiatorial arena that turns everyone who steps into it into an isolated instance of pure opposition. I don't want to fight until I die, do you?

I don't want to look at dots all the time anymore.

Montanaro goes on to say this:

One more observation: television, because of the technical difficulties in reproducing images, must give importance especially to close-ups of faces in order to make them express something and the faces must be isolated as much as possible from the context because there is a short signal-context relationship in television. This difficulty necessarily limits the choice of programs to those that must have big and not detailed images. So it is impossible to express the important but subtle gradations of feelings produced during positive human relationships. Because television can transmit only a limited range of the emotional spectrum, all delicate and tender feelings are excluded: yet, we need to show them in order to help the children's positive emotional development -- development required for a happy and rich social life.


While scientists continue to say that the most important thing in order to live well and save the earth is love, television transmits mainly antisocial behavior which contributes to the increase of emotional illiteracy at any age.

If you're my friend, if you've been reading this robot for reasons other than the traditional ones that get spectators into the coliseum -- to watch a fighter suffer -- let's hang out and talk. Imaginary friendships are for a much earlier stage of development than this one we're in now.

Jordan - #




I'm Jordan Davis.
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Say hi: jordan [at] jordandavis [dot] com.

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