Elephant Expressionism is Dead

Watch this amazing video of an elephant painting a portrait.


1. Is the video real?
2. If it is, is the elephant just trained to draw that specific picture?
3. If #1 is true, there's also the possibility the elephant is creating the painting freestyle.

Assuming it's just #1, someone is a final cut pro genius. Either that or someone picked up the slack for Jim Henson, and there are two dudes in there animating Mr. Snuffleupagus (yeah, I looked up the spelling for snuffy).

If it's #2, it's still pretty astounding. I'm really surprised an elephant has that kind of dexterity with his trunk; not to mention the visual acuity required to see the details of what he's painting. Whenever he starts a new line, he nails it pretty perfectly.

After watching it a few times, I'd really doubt it's #3. Something about it looks like a set of trained steps, especially since he doesn't really make any discernable mistakes. It's seems like more of a performance than an "expression" per se.

Either way, makes me wonder what the subjective reality of an elephant is like as they're part of the small collection of animals that are known to be fairly intelligent (along with apes and dolphins). Does an elephant feel the need to express himself? And if so, does "elephant holding flower" really give us much to think about?


Relating to Robots

From an article in the Washington Post about military personnel and their relationships with their field robots:

"Ours was called Sgt. Talon," says Sgt. Michael Maxson of the 737th Ordnance Company (EOD). "We always wanted him as our main robot. Every time he was working, nothing bad ever happened. He always got the job done. He took a couple of detonations in front of his face and didn't stop working. One time, he actually did break down in a mission, and we sent another robot in and it got blown to pieces. It's like he shut down because he knew something bad would happen."

Something about the specific filter of human consciousness can turn anything into a real life character - inanimate or not. It's everywhere from Santa Clause, to Father Time, to God, to talking teapots in Disney films. It's an illusion that's generally impossible to see past.

Somehow I doubt the robot knew something bad was going to happen, it's far more likely God decided to spare Sgt Talon at that moment (I kid!).

Army Colonel Shows Compassion...for Robot

A robotics physicist, Mark Tilden was demoing quite a piece of technology in Los Alamos for an army colonel - a search and destroy robot for land mines. It's a five-foot centipede that will seek out a mine, set if off, put itself back together, and continue its work.

As the amazingly willful little creature was down to its last, charred leg, the army colonel aborted the demo. Apparently, the sight of this non-sentient being barely functioning, but soldiering on had an effect on the colonel who deemed the demo inhumane.

I'm pretty fascinated by the anthropomorphizing colonel. He has to know somewhere in his mind that it's just a robot, that it doesn't have "courage," or a sense of "duty." Assuming this colonel has seen action, it was too traumatic to watch the poor little robot put to its limits.

Ironically, the robot is actually incredibly humane - it would be saving countless lives and terrible agony. What's interesting is that the demo was inhumane for the colonel. It's basically an exercise in post traumatic stress for anyone that's fought in a war.

Couldn't find a video of the robot in question, but here's a creepy, primitive version.


The Emporer's Clothes Don't Keep Him Warm

Aside from my father who is working on a ground breaking book on psychotherapy and consciousness, this Psychology PhD from Austin, TX, John Breeding is the clearest I've seen about the danger of prescribing pscyhotropic drugs for "bogus, made-up" conditions like ADHD and depression. Pretty ballsy given the current climate of psychiatric treatments. Amen, brother.

CLARIFICATION: After a brief comment dicussion (thanks Adam), I wanted to say that I don't think the symptoms of depression or ADHD aren't real, and that certain drugs can't be helpful in certain, specific instances. What I will say is that the idea behind the mechanism of action for anti-depressants is heavily flawed, and basically unproven. Contrary to popular belief, there is no established baseline for the "normal" levels of the neurotransmitter most anti-depressants are supposedly regulating (serotonin and dopamine).

Most studies say it's barely more effective than placebo. Other reports mention how studies showing their ineffectiveness are often shelved, and even worse, the side effects of many of these drugs can be pretty awful - decreased libido, movement disorders, psychotic behavior, and most bizarrely, the zaps. The over-diagnosis of these conditions and the pursuant over-prescription of frankly experimental psychotropic drugs is a sloppy and irresponsible practice.

Actually, this is all stated better in this clip of Dr. Breeding.


Robot That Gives Me Nightmares

My friend Alex at Team Kane St. posted this a while ago, and I've watched it probably about a hundred times. It's really creepy for a variety of reasons:

1. It looks like some kind of bizarre genetic hybrid animal from the Island of Dr. Moraeu.
2. It seems to have a relentless will.
3. It annoyingly buzzes like a chainsaw and is hard not to imagine it in a bad Steve King movie. Then again, it's not as annoying as Jude Law (aka...Gigolo Joe) in AI.
4. And most of all, this feels like a step towards some realistic AI. In "On Intelligence," Jeff Hawkins talks about the pitfalls of current artificial intelligence technology, namely that it cannot anticipate or be flexible past its programming. The slow-mo shots underscore its ability to adjust on the fly, freaky.

(BONUS, parody video of the one below here, really really funny.)

Creationism Alive and Well

A pretty transparent picture of creationist indoctrination. This bible study field trip to a science museum has the "teachers" exposing why evolution is "somebody's fantasy."

These kids are taught pretty well how to defend their lunacy, here's a good argument:

"With the amount of damage happening to the earth these days, all the crazy things? it would have fallen apart by now, like billions of billions of years." Which is why it's obviously only been around for 6000 years. Convinced?

This poor brainwashed little girl just made me feel badly, she so effectively embodies what they teach - that any scientific explanation is like a cute, silly fairytale (about 7:00 into the video, watch how she says the following quote):

"God created the earth, and it didn't, like, evolve from a big asteroid in a bagillion years (like an asteroid is some absurd figment of our imagination) ."

Is the only way to fight this kind of indoctrination with indoctrination? Instead of explaining evolution like a science, maybe it just has to be taught like a religion. No matter how it's taught, the creationists will paint it that way. At best, their argument is "they have their story, we have ours." For the record, I don't believe you should fight misinformation with misinformation - as far as I'm concerned any indoctrination, even with a good cause, is a bad thing.


Sometimes I Wish I Could Be Clive Wearing

But generally not. This story is mind boggling. This man has a consciousness of about 10 seconds. Clive Wearing was left with an inability to store new memories. His older memories are also patchy, but he can remember his wife and many of his music compositions (he was a composer before his brain deficit, and can still somehow lead a choir despite his 10-second consciousness). He had a bout of encephalitis, which basically destroyed his hippocampus (the brain structure responsible for encoding long term memories). You can see in the video how excited he is to see his wife almost EVERY time he sees her because it's as if it's been years since he saw her last.

Given this state of consciousness, he is constantly talking about "NOW" and that he's been asleep his whole life except for now, and continues to manically state it every chance he gets.

This kind of amnesia is romanticized in movies (like the absurdly hollow documentary "Unknown White Male") but you can see how clearly torturous it must be.

Two Brains

After swimming with a few dolphins in Jamaica, I learned how they sleep. Only one hemisphere sleeps at a time, so they're never really fully unconscious. Made me wonder what it would be like, as a human, if only one brain hemisphere slept while the other took over all functions.

It's widely known that the left side of the brain is the "planner" and where language is located, and the right connects everything into a coherent picture. It seems on a time scale, the left hemisphere functions with a past and a future, and the right side functions in the ever present NOW.

Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist, had a stroke that effected a large section of her left hemisphere. As soon as she became aware of it she recognized the opportunity she had - a first hand experience of a stroke with a deep understanding of stroke symptoms and the neurological systems effected by stroke.

In a nutshell, she basically started tripping out about how beautiful and connected everything is. Sounds like inhibiting the left hemisphere and inhabiting the right hemisphere is like smoking a good joint. Who knew?