telling tales of doing the impossible

Posts tagged ‘science’

Through the Eyes of the Blind

I went to college to become a science writer, but I had a bigger plan. I’d cover breakthroughs in neuroscience and nuclear physics by day and then I’d write killer science fiction by night.

I made my way through copy editing and ad writing classes while cramming in all the science and creative writing my schedule allowed. I did manage to get a fantastic well-rounded education and I left with more than a diplomma. I had a pretty decent roadmap for my life.

Then, well, life happened instead and it wasn’t even close.

However, I still have a great deal of respect for those scientists who communicate well, and those writers who love and understand science. Together they explain facts and theories about the amazing universe in which we live.

I host book tours on my other blogs and when I get a guest post that impresses me, I like to repost it here. In late March I featured author and neuroscientist Michael Tranter, PhD and his popular science book  A Million Things To Ask A Neuroscientist. I got to ask him a question and I wanted to know what he thought was the most amazing thing in his book.

Enjoy his answer.

How can you be blind but still see?

(The brain is amazing, that’s how!)

At the back of the brain we have the occipital lobe. This region receives images from our eyes and optic nerves and decides what we are seeing before sending that information to other parts of our brain to determine how to react. So, if we see an adorable fluffy dog, the light reflected from that dog travels to our retina at the back of our eye, along the optic nerve and to the occipital lobe, where it is processed. Other areas then interpret the meaning and decide what the emotional response should be, resulting in a very excited ‘Aww, a cute puppy – I like this, I feel happy!’

However, damage to the occipital lobe, for example, through trauma, a brain tumour or a stroke, can result in the images of the cute puppy arriving at the visual areas safely, but not being processed or transmitted to other areas of our brain, and hence, we become blind. This is a little different to instances where the eyes or optic nerve don’t function. This additional blindness is termed cortical blindness – essentially, blindness in the brain. You may be asking why I am talking about cute puppies and blindness. Well, because in some people with cortical blindness, even though they can’t see particular objects, their subconscious brain still perceives them. This means a person can interact with something even if they don’t actually see it. Let’s use another example. Say you want to walk across the room to the doorway, but there is a chair in your path. Under normal circumstances, you would see the chair and walk around it. A person with blindsight would also walk across the room and avoid the chair, yet they would not actively see that there is a chair in the room. They simply avoid it but do not fully understand why.

This strange phenomenon was first documented in the 1974 research by Lawrence Weiskrantz and has since been recorded in all manner of situations. A person may catch a ball in mid-air without ever seeing it, for example, but perhaps the most interesting study shows how it is possible to identify facial emotions and even mirror those same emotions in your own face, without ever being consciously aware of seeing any facial expressions.

Blindsight has been rigorously tested in many experimental settings, and as such, neuroscientists think they have an explanation. Firstly, the fact that some people with cortical blindness experience the phenomenon of blindsight may be because the superior colliculus – an area of the brain important in visual orientation – is preserved. Although we don’t yet fully appreciate the full function of the superior colliculus, we do know that this area receives information about what we see and converts it into signals that initiate an appropriate movement. To help explain this, imagine sitting down and watching a racing car drive past. Our eyes and head would instinctively follow the car as we track its movements. This is the responsibility of the superior colliculus, to instinctively monitor the environment and decide how to move our body.

The current hypothesis for blindsight states that as the brain senses damage to the occipital lobe, it starts to rewire itself to bypass the visual areas. The person may never entirely regain normal vision, but they may still be capable of living a normal life. Some neuroscientists suggest that this is a process by which the brain reverts back to a more basic form of vision, and one that is seen in animals who naturally lack the advanced visual areas of a human brain.

So, there you have it. That is how you can be blind, but your brain can still see, pretty amazing right?

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out A Million Things To Ask A Neuroscientist.

 

Harvest

My review:

Harvest by Olga Werby is an incredible book on many levels. The thought and research that has gone into this story is breathtaking. The descriptions of nanobots gone amok are chill-inducing. The affection between the father and daughter is heartwarming. And the plot moves at a pace that makes it almost impossible to put down. What more could you want?

I love stories that tackle big ideas. You know, the meaning of life, the universe and everything. This book has no shortage of grandiose themes. In fact, my only two complaints are both artifacts of this. One, the book touches on so many major themes that it has to simply let some of them drop. Two, with a scope this big, it is hard to find a satisfying end to the story. Heck, it’s hard to find any end to the story.

Without giving anything away, I’ll just say I was a little less than satisfied when it was over. Then again, I don’t know of another book of this cosmic sort that has managed to come to a better conclusion.

Did I like it anyway? You bet I did. I’d recommend this novel to almost anyone, and certainly to anyone who enjoys science fiction. This is hardcore sci-fi that is both well-written and emotionally solid, and that’s no small achievement. It will leave you thinking for days (maybe for weeks or months, I don’t know yet because it’s only been days since I finished it ….) And even if you’re a little bewildered or uneasy at the end, I believe you will have thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

For the full blog post giving more information about the book, its author, and the Goddess Fish promotional tour I originally wrote the review for, please see Harvest.

Review: The Three-Body Problem

I loved the unexpected ideas, the unusual perspective and the way it made me think about issues large and small. I have a fond spot for stories that give me insights into other parts of the world, and for characters who plausibly behave in ways I cannot imagine myself doing. This book has all that and more.

…. this particular passage from the author sticks with me:

But I cannot escape and leave behind reality, just like I cannot leave behind my shadow. Reality brands each of us with its indelible mark. Every era puts invisible shackles on those who have lived through it, and I can only dance in my chains.

Read my full review at Review: The Three-Body Problem.

A sense of time

I have less of a sense of time. Hours pass unnoticed when I write, minutes last forever as I stare at a blank page. I attribute this to living more inside my head than out of it. But if hours and minutes confound me, years and decades are worse.

Read more at A sense of time.

(For more of my recent thoughts on time, see my post Spending Time.)

Caring About Far Away Places

My stories make it obvious that I love places that require a difficult journey to visit. Greenland. Bhutan. Antarctica. Tierra del Fuego. A small village in Nigeria. A lake in the Mountains of Guatemala. If it’s hard to get to from where I am, I love to write about it.

No place is more remote to a Texan that the island nation of Kiribati. This south pacific country of 100,000 people is made up of 33 low-lying coral atolls with a total land area of about 300 square miles. More spectacularly, it is the only nation on earth to set inside of all four hemispheres, and it covers a million square miles on the globe.

Read more at Caring About Far Away Places.

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door, Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away PlaceAs Far Away Places Edge Closer and The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places.)

Smarter, kinder and living in 2017

Part of my growing politicization is that I have decided that I do not have to apologize for thinking the following:
1. Education is a wonderful thing. However you make your living, knowledge makes you a better person.
2. Open mindedness is a wonderful thing. What ever your religious beliefs, being hateful to any group does not please anyone’s God. I think every holy book on the planet is pretty clear about this.

This does not make me an elitist or a snowflake. Education makes us smarter. Open-mindedness makes us kinder.

Read the entire post at Smarter, kinder and living in 2017.

The Trouble with Telepathy

magicYes, it may not be the classic telepathy of fiction, but we are talking about direct brain to brain communication here, aided by modern technology. The article goes on to address possible real life uses including already successful work on adapting a brain-to-machine interface to help paralyzed patients walk by using their brain signals to control prosthetic devices. This is cool, and it is really happening.

Read this update on achieving telepathy through technology at The trouble with telepathy.

The Magic of the Solstice

sunsetYou probably can tell that I’m fascinated by the seasons, just as I’m fascinated by pretty much everything else about our amazing planet. If you find such things interesting, check out a wonderful site called Time and Date where you can get a wide variety of information about observing the heavens from various places here on earth. I used the website as I wrote d4, researching the movement of the sun in both Greenland and Iceland as it affected my characters and my story.

Read this entire post on my d4 blog at The Magic of the Solstice

Safety in Science Fiction

how-to-live-safely-coverTaking the time to read Charles Yu’s “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” was a special treat for me. If I let myself read science fiction at all these days, it is flash fiction; something that won’t stick in my head while I try to finish my own science fiction novel. But I was at a retreat for three days, without computer, internet or television, and it was dark before six p.m. What was I to do? So I took peak into Minor Universe 31 and became trapped for many enjoyable hours.

Read the full review on my z2 blog at Safety in Science Fiction.

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A radio wave is that long?

emsRadioWavesOne of the things about writing magical realism, at least the way that I do it, is that you are always trying to explain mystical, magical things in terms of believable science.  I am fascinated by this fuzzy boundary between the astonishment of the enchanted and the astonishment of what modern science tells us.

Read the entire post at A radio wave is that long?

x0: Telepathy and Technology

magicA couple of months ago Mark Zuckerberg made news by saying that the future of communication is telepathy. In a Q&A session with site users, he wrote “One day, I believe we’ll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology. You’ll just be able to think of something and your friends will immediately be able to experience it too.”

The Washington Post responded with … “even if Facebook isn’t leading the charge toward telepathy — a worrying concept in itself, given the site’s past indiscretions re: research consent and user privacy — the field poses tons of ethical challenges”.

Read the entire post at Telepathy and Technology

How happy is your brain?

While it sounds great to say that taking this medication is “fixing chemical imbalances in the brain,” the problem is that no one gets to do experiments on a live human brain. Thankfully. And dead human brains don’t send chemical messages and can’t be depressed. Neither really can animals, at least those generally accepted for grisly lab experiments. So no one actually knows whether depressed people have less serotonin in their brains.

Read more at How happy is your brain?

From Wired.com

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