Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dee Dee Dee pak

Deepak Chopra is a rock star of philosophy. I should point out that Justin Beiber and DeeDee Ramone (RIP) are also rock stars of…well…rock. It would be more specific to call Dr. Chopra the DeeDee Ramone of philosophy, but since he purports to know the secrets to anti-aging he might prefer to be called the Justin Beiber of philosophy.

I personally would rather be called the DeeDee Ramone of something than the Justin Beiber of just about anything. DeeDee added significantly to the lexicon of the American Experience. With such hits as “Carbona not Glue”, “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”, “Suzy is a Headbanger”, “Teenage Lobotomy”, “Chinese Rock”, and the iconic “Rockaway Beach” DeeDee lyrically explored Love, Loss, and extreme drug usage. DeeDee Ramone (Douglas Glenn Colvin) was found dead of a heroin overdose in his Hollywood CA apartment on June 5th 2002, just a few weeks shy of his 51st birthday.

“Wondering what I'm doing tonight I've been in the closet and feel all right” – DeeDee Ramone from the song “Carbona not Glue

“The drug ketamine, used as a ‘dissociative’ anesthetic, can produce subjective reports of conscious awareness outside the body, as can various other psychoactive drugs.” -- Stuart Hameroff and Deepak Chopra from their essay “Can Science Explain the Soul?”.

Many inhalants (like carbona, roach spray, and glue) are dissociative in effect, and extensive use can lead to profound dissociation. Perhaps Deepak could have discovered hidden secrets of the soul after sharing a bottle of trichloroethylene with DeeDee? Of course such a course of research would do little to dispel a criticism of science that is often repeated by popular mystics:

“Unable to fathom a rational explanation for out-of-body and/or after-death consciousness, modern science ignores such reports. Short-sighted skeptics reinforce the assumption that they are either subjective folly, hallucinations, or outside the scope of scientific proof.” -- Stuart Hameroff and Deepak Chopra from their essay “Can Science Explain the Soul?”.

Some of you probably suspect a ‘disturbance in the context’ as I juxtapose Deepak and Stuart’s description of philosophical pharmacology with DeeDee’s description of recreational pharmacology. However, pharmacology is directly tied to many ‘understandings’ in both philosophy, and rock-n-roll. The connection here is not an exercise in quote-mining. Stuart Hameroff (Deepak’s co-author for the quotes I’ve used) of the Center for Consciousness Studies of the University of Arizona is a professional anesthesiologist. DeeDee Ramone used a whole bunch of drugs.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a rabid tea-totter, and no proponent of experimental pharmacology. I am, in fact, possessed of a singularly prejudiced anti-drug opinion. I have surely annoyed some of you in person when I agonize over simple decisions, like mundane on-label use of over-the–counter antihistamines, simply because they involve using drugs. Why then am I discussing the use of rather crude drugs? The reason is that the drugs with dissasociative properties present a unique type of pharmacology; the discussion of which should help me eventually reach the point of this essay.

Dissociative dugs reduce the connection of perception to consciousness. There is a dosage with these compounds where perception is not cut off, but is severely restricted. Another way of saying this is that there are dosages which restrict the mental aperture through which reality is perceived by the consciousness.

Perception is typically a process of filling in information that is not gathered by our mistake-riddled sensory machinery. There are many methods the mind uses to fill in missing information. The melding of filled-in information and sensory stimulus is so seamless that our perception suggests that we can get a fairly comprehensive view of the world simply by sensing it.

Every once in a while we come across an illusion that challenges our level of comfort in our senses’ accuracy. We usually try and dismiss things like optical illusions as tricks or games. Some of you probably think the picture I posted with yesterday’s post was a trivial mind trick, and you would be partially correct.

Yesterday’s post was meant to be a whimsical introduction to the “Tinkerbell Effect”. I will write more about the “Tinkerbell Effect” another day. Today I want to introduce another motion-based optical illusion called the aperture effect. I hope to leave you the reader with some interesting, but open-ended, questions about the relationship of the aperture effect to what we think of as consciousness.

The aperture effect is easy to describe. I’ve even made a simple illustrative picture for you.


Imagine how a barber pole looks. If you walk around it the construction is obvious. There is a cylinder with parallel slanted red and white bars on it. When you look at it from just one side, while it is spinning, it appears as if the bars are rising. You know the bars are actually spinning around perpendicular to their apparent motion, but it really appears as if they are rising. Look at my picture. The red bars look like they are rising in my picture.

I made the picture by taking a small slice of a larger picture of slanted red and white bars. I could have accurately reproduced the picture in a low-tech analog way by printing out the big bar picture, cutting out a small window (or aperture) from another sheet of paper, and sliding the window across the picture of bars.

It might be interesting to note that the movement in my animated gif is also due to another illusion called the correspondence effect. By alternately showing pictures where images are slightly displaced it appears as if the images are moving. All moving-picture-type media (like TV and movies) is based on this effect. I’m not going to talk any more about the correspondence effect in this essay.

The aperture effect can be even more startlingly demonstrated by moving a small circular aperture across a field of slated bars. With only trivial exceptions the bars will appear to travel perpendicular to the motion of the aperture across the field regardless of the direction the aperture is moving. If you hold the aperture still and move the field of slanted bars behind it, the apparent motion of the bars will be perpendicular to the motion of the field. If you remove the aperture the field will appear to move in the direction it is being moved. The apparent perpendicular motion is an artifact of the aperture.

All of our sensory-derived experiences are acquired through the use of an aperture-hindered mechanism. Or mind fills in what we believe is happening outside of that aperture. Sometimes the aperture is spatial, sometimes it is temporal, sometimes it is emotional, and sometimes it is philosophical.

DeeDee described feeling “all right” when he constricted his sensory aperture. He constricted his aperture by inhaling toxic industrial chemicals. This in turn caused liver and brain damage. An MRI would have uncovered swelling of several vital organs. Blood chemistries would have shown a buildup of both the toxic chemical and the various breakdown products produced by the body’s desperate attempts to rid itself of the poison. A casual observer might note that inhaling toxic industrial chemicals creates a condition the opposite of “all right”.

Both the shape and size of the aperture contribute to the effect. In the picture I created it is impossible to actually determine what direction the field is traveling in. With the rectangular aperture the field could be traveling in the direction of the apparent motion, or perpendicular to it. Why does the mind choose one direction rather than the other?

There are various factors that affect how the aperture illusion works: the size of the bars relative to the aperture dimensions, the speed of the relative movement of the aperture, the amount of competing noise in the image, and the receptive nature of the observer (one can train to not recognize the illusion in these trivial demonstrations).

Because the mundane demonstrations are limited we can discount the aperture effect in our perception of the world. In many cases this is the most comfortable thing to do. When focusing our attention (or expanding our field of ignorance) allows us to see new universal behaviors it is tempting to use these to enhance our belief system.

How many popular ideas are dependent on “looking at things just right”?

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