Sunday, February 28, 2010

Visual Processing

I am a very visual person. I was raised by an artist and a computer programmer. This gave me access to artistic and flow-charting techniques. My dad used give my siblings and I flow chart templates to make art when we were young. When I became older, he explained what some of the shapes meant and then made a game for me. He'd give me a simple task and I would diagram the steps to do it, using those shapes properly.

As a family, we made almost weekly trips to the public library, bringing home art and music in addition to a multitude of books. Our home library sometimes had better references than my school's library. Arguments between myself and the sister just younger than me were usually solved by encyclopedias at ten paces. My mother made sure we had art classes. My dad made sure we had science lab kits. As a family, we made candles, leather and other crafts. Dad would also print out wall-size mazes which we kids and my mother would solved together. When I learned how to process information, it was not only through the verbal and mathematical means, but also visual and kinetic means.

I'm right handed, left eyed, and I have no dominant foot preference. I have taken math courses up to and including partial differential equations and I have about the same amount of credit hours in studio art as I do math. It probably follows without saying that my favorite math class was analytical geometry. I feel that this makes me qualified to make the follow statement:

Calculations can be done visually as well as mathematically.

Anecdotal evidence: When I was in high school, my mother took one of my classmates and I to an UIL science competition. Between the tests, the contestant schools could work on brain teasers. One of them was a word problem about how much material a sculptor would need if they made a bust twice as large in every dimension. While my extremely intelligent classmate began to do the mathematical calculations, my mother read the problem and immediately gave the correct answer. After verifying it with math, my shocked classmate asked my mother how she did the calculation. She used pictures and hand gestures to explain her thought process. He was totally lost by her explanation, so I gave him an interpretation he could understand. For the rest of the problems, my classmate and mother answered them with their own methods, while I translated between the two of them. In every case, both methods gave the same answers.

Historical evidence: All those wonderful geometry and trignometry relationships started out as a function of the relationships between visual elements such as lines, points, angles, planes and solids. M. C. Escher discovered several crystallography relationships years before the mathematical models, through purely graphical means. While many mathematicians hold Escher in the highest regard and consider him to have had an exceptional mathematical mind, he actually did very poorly with math in school and struggled to understand the mathematical treatises sent to him when he was older.

So, having made put that pet peeve to rest, I will share with you a diagram I made a few months ago showing visual processing as part of the problem solving process. While I do not detail how to do math visually (perhaps I will do that in another post), the diagram does show some of the ways visual processing has brought about solutions ->

O’Connor, J. J. & Robertson, E. F. (2000). Maurits Cornelius Escher. MacTutor History of Mathematicians. Retrieved February 28, 2010, from

Monday, February 22, 2010

Modern Artist Spotlight - Baptiste Debombourg

I love it when my friends send me interesting artwork such as "AGGRAVURE" by artist Baptiste Debombourg, which took 35,000 staples to make.

Thanks, Viv!!

The Fun Theory

A friend of mine recently did a post on The Fun Theory. So instead of writing up my own post on the subject (which would have been undoubtedly more wordy than needed), I will direct you to her post.

Humor research

Very interesting article: The comedy circuit: When your brain gets the joke.

So what is a joke, exactly? Most theories agree that one condition is essential: there must be some kind of incongruity between two elements within the joke, which can be resolved in a playful or unexpected way.

It was interesting to find out that it is the way the brain solves the joke that predicts preferences. Especially to find out that resolvable jokes actually create more brain activity than the nonsense jokes many people try to pull off as being more sophisticated:

. . . When comparing MRI scans of people as they viewed both straight and nonsense humour, [Samson] found that straight humour evoked significantly more brain activity than a surreal joke in most volunteers. "Making sense out of opposed scripts and integrating this information seems to be a more complex process than simply laughing about nonsense," she says.

So much for sophistication in general. However, there was a subset of people whose brains did react more strongly to the surreal stuff - experience seekers "defined by a desire to pursue novel sensations, stimulation and experiences, whether it's through art, travel, music or an unconventional living style." It is this subset that probably gave rise to the idea that surreal humour is sophisticated humor. However, like most things, the generalization fails when applied rigorously. It's like saying "puns are the lowest form of humor". Some puns really are lame, but there are some very clever ones, which required a good degree of intellect to pick up on. In a way, punsters are like fighters: the crude ones are the least skilled, most obvious, and often miss their intended mark, while a great punster is like a ninja whose attack hits the victim's awareness moments after it has been delivered.

Another thing that dictates humor preferences is our degree to emphathize with others. Many jokes rely on the "Theory of Mind" - the ability to see something from another's point of view. These are the type of jokes that people with autism don't get. On the other hand, autistics love visual puns, which are more abstract.

Sidenote: While it takes longer for women to decide whether a joke's funny or not, they get a greater sense of reward from the limbic system.

What humor style do you have? is blog post about a study on types of humor. To summarize the summary, here is the stripped down list from Dr. Shock's blog:

Affiliative, use of humor to amuse others and facilitate relationships

Self enhancing, use of humor to cope with stress and maintain a humorous outlook during times of difficulty

Aggressive, use of sarcastic, manipulative, put-down, or disparaging humor

Self-defeating, use of humor for excessive self-disparagement, ingratiation, or defensive denial

Personally, I think most of us use all the types, but there is no denying that we tend to favor one over the other. Based on the feedback I get from people I interact with regularly, my preferred type is probably "self-enhancing". Or at least those are the jokes I am best at delivering. I often fall flat while delivering affiliative jokes and my memory suggests that I'm mediocre at delivering the aggressive or self-destructive jokes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Modern Artist Spotlight - Mike Larsen

The art of portraiture is alive and well in Oklahoma. The Chickasaw Nation has artist Mike Larsen among its members.

This painting and two of its subjects was part of the Mike Larsen Elders Exhibit for the Chickasaw nation.

This painting with its subject is part of the Mike Larsen Series II Elders installation. I wish I could give you more links to these series. Currently, there is a television spot showing some of the other paintings and it never fails to move me.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Einstein Quotes

“If we trace out what we behold and experience through the language of logic, we are doing science; if we show it in forms whose interrelationships are not accessible to our conscious thought but are intuitively recognized as meaningful, we are doing art. Common to both is the devotion to something beyond the personal, removed from the arbitrary.”

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

"It's not that I'm so smart , it's just that I stay with problems longer.”

“Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

"Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance."


I just thought it would be a good idea to post some of the recent research on the effectiveness of psychoanalytical therapy. The dates are when the stories hit my Google Reader.

First, an article defining Psychotherapy:

What Is Psychotherapy? What Are The Benefits Of Psychotherapy?
Jul 4, 2009
Psychotherapy is commonly used for psychological problems that have had a number of years to accumulate. It only works if a trusting relationship can be built up between the client and the psychotherapist (in psychology "client" can mean "patient"). Treatment can continue for several months, and even years. Psychotherapy may be practiced on a one-to-one basis, or in pairs, and even in groups. Generally, sessions occur about once a week and last one hour.

Some of the types of psychotherapy are: Behavior therapy; Cognitive therapy; Family therapy; Interpersonal therapy; Group therapy; and Psychodynamic therapy. If you take a college class (or two) on counselling theories, you probably will use Gerald Corey's texts, which also covers: Adlerian; Existential; Person-centered; Gestalt; Reality; Feminist; and Post-modern. There is some overlap in the two lists and some of the categories, but I like Corey's stuff because he's good at making the approaches easier to understand. For the curious, I share a study aid I made for myself, using his work: Counseling Theories Comparison Spreadsheet.

Now some research articles. I'll keep the number down for you and I'll send you to professional summaries of the research, so you don't have to worry about reading the highly academic stuff. Don't worry, the articles have the actual research publications citated. It would be nice to have direct links, but there's that subscription thing to consider.

According To New Study, Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Brings Lasting Benefits
Jan 26, 2010
The eight meta-analyses, representing the best available scientific evidence on psychodynamic therapy, all showed substantial treatment benefits, according to Shedler. Effect sizes were impressive even for personality disorders - deeply ingrained maladaptive traits that are notoriously difficult to treat, he said. "The consistent trend toward larger effect sizes at follow-up suggests that psychodynamic psychotherapy sets in motion psychological processes that lead to ongoing change, even after therapy has ended," Shedler said. "In contrast, the benefits of other 'empirically supported' therapies tend to diminish over time for the most common conditions, like depression and generalized anxiety."

Can Therapy Really Change Your Brain?
Nov 25, 2009
In the “Clinician’s Digest” section of the November/December 2009 issue of Psychotherapy Networker, Garry Cooper discusses a study led by psychiatrist Jakob Koch of Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany suggesting that “effective psychotherapy with depressed clients is associated with changes at the brain’s cellular level,” increasing the production of a key brain protein that assists in creating neural pathways. In this study they used Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) which looks through the lens of both cognitive and interpersonal issues. It would be interesting to know how other theoretical orientations would fare.

Psychodynamic Therapy vs CBT Smackdown for Anxiety
Aug 10, 2009
This study demonstrates that psychodynamic psychotherapy is an effective alternative for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, when compared to the more commonly-used CBT. The researchers encourage more studies like this one, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s a timely reminder of the value of the different types of psychotherapies available, not just the kind that might be in vogue at the moment.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Gets Some Research Respect
Oct 1, 2008
.... This meta-analysis shows that, contrary to many clinicians’ opinions, psychodynamic psychotherapy can be an effective modality, especially in cases of chronic depression or anxiety, or personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder. It cannot say whether it’s better than other long-term psychotherapies (virtually all psychotherapy techniques and approaches can be used for years, although many are focused on short-term symptom relief and change). And the analysis says nothing to the placebo effect of just being with another human being for a year or more.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Haiku based on the Jungian processes

Written as Amanda Barncord Doerr - requested by Robin Wiley:

Se - Extraverted Sensing
Totalling absorbed
Sensing current physical surroundings
Searching for data

Si - Introverted Sensing
Internal comparison
Memory-based differences found
Referencing history

Ne - Extraverted iNtuiting
Hidden meanings
Threads of thoughts brought to light
Woven into patterns

Ni- Introverted iNtuiting
Unexpected inspiration
Surety from depths of the unknown
Creating solutions

Te - Extraverted Thinking
Empirically based
Theories and research referenced and organized
Contingencied planned

Ti - Introverted Thinking
Catagories refined
Must find the precise term to describe
Include everything

Fe - Extraverted Feeling
Grace unbounded
Openly friendly and socially approachable
Conversation starter

Fi - Introverted Feeling
Beneath the surface
Sensing the undercurrents in the gut
Values upheld

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Blog Maintenance

Echoes Through Space isn't going down or anything, I'm just going back through my posts and adding tags. Considering how many posts I will be going back through, this is going take some time.

Modern Artist Spotlight - Tom Shannon

Tom Shannon's visually perplexing sculptures and installations allude to unseen forces better known to physics -- and to Star Trek fans -- than to conventional art.
- Art in America

I appreciate Tom Shannon's sculptures because they are not only aethetically engaging, pleasing and inspiring, but they are also wonders of science and technology, which engage the analytical as well as the artistic mind. The Artist's Official Website and the following video give wonderful examples of his works.

Gravity-defying sculpture inspired by the sun, the earth, the moon.

As a student of the mind, I am touched by his paintings on a couple of levels. First, the marriage of order and chaos - of math and art. Second, on the level of a creative and artistic mind being clever and resourceful enough to find a way to create works of interest and beauty, even while suffering from Parkinson's Disease. Lastly, and most importantly, of the human spirit to strive in the face of difficulty.

The painter and the pendulum

Monday, February 01, 2010

The Shift of Yin-Yang in View of Cultural Differences

"Whatever idea you may have, the opposite may also be true." - Derek Sivers

I love the idea of a doctor getting payed for keeping well versus getting paid for treating your illness. Of course, I know of hyprochondriacs who would be delighted to bankrupt a doctor like this. However, I suspect that part of the deal is that the patient is required to follow the doctor's orders, or find themselves in breach of contract. I do know of a case in Japan, where a woman was not told that she had bladder cancer because (at least at that time) Japanese doctors did not believe in disclosing such information to the patient. Instead, she was told she had gallstones. Her husband sued the doctor for malpractice, stating that had his wife known how serious the situation was, she would have gone through with the surgery. The doctor's defense was that had she followed his instructions, she would have lived longer. At the time, the court sided with the doctor.

In an individualistic culture, such apparently blind acceptance of another's judgment is considered by some to be nothing short of blasphemy. In a collectivist culture, it's considered a matter of respect and duty. And recent studies suggest that it might not be as blind as one might think. People in collectivist societies are more likely to read things that counter their personal beliefs than those in individualistic societies. A person in a collectivist society probably is more used to accepting ideas other than their own because they have to. They also have the security of a clearer social code than those in a society where individuality make the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors uncertain. In an individualistic society, the need to justify one's self to others is more constant.

The upshot of the study is that those in a collectivist societies are less likely to have confirmation baises. People in individualistic societies have a greater drive to "be right", which leads to a greater tendency to ignore information that might prove them wrong - which is the very definition of confirmation bias.

Ironically, I will have to admit that despite knowing all of this, I still have a hard time with the idea of accepting another's judgment in certain things. I am still very individualistic. However, even as I write this, I can think of areas of my life where I balance this out, of times when I will willingly defer to another's judgment without question. And I strongly suspect that most of us are this way. Individuality and collectivism is a continuum. Take individuality to an extreme and one runs the risk of being antisocial and/or egotistical. Take collectivism to an extreme and there is the possibility of becoming too dependent on and/or enmeshed with others. Look very close at people and you will find collectivism and individuality expressed in countless ways: like the rebel teen who wears the same clothes as their friends or the factory worker who has to alter his issued uniform.