Saturday, June 10, 2017

Catching up to TV culture


My personal life lately has included binge-watching of TV shows I had heard of but never watched before, like Mr. Robot, Breaking Bad, and Walking Dead.

All of them are bleak, dystopian. The last two were saturated with violence.

I'm currently watching episodes of Handmaid's tale and Vikings.


By far the most disturbing is Walking Dead, on so many levels. And it also seems to be the longest lasting with season 8 coming up. (Maybe this show is a zombie itself.)
Each episode is a waking nightmare of zombies, gore, betrayal, existential crisis, prisoner's dilemma, trolley dilemma.
The protagonist group can't go anywhere or do anything without having to expend energy fighting off/slaying "walkers." Other humans are constantly stealing from them or threatening their existence in multiple ways. They constantly steal and threaten too. Whether they decide to trust others or not seems to depend a lot on whim. As the episodes and seasons have rolled by (99 episodes total so far) the outer threats have become much more about humans in groups than the walkers. The walkers are fairly slow and thoroughly stupid, easily dispatched with a bit of physical force. Killing them requires a stab in the head, through a ridiculously soft skull filled with dilute ketchup. The ketchup budget must be huge in that show.

Here is a short list of things I like:
1. The exploration of ethics and values and how humans behave in groups, how groups treat each other.
2. Women have strong roles, gays are included, racism (apart from the first episode) is a total non-thing. Diversity is valued.
3. It reflects US culture wars.

Here is a short list of things I don't like:
1. Zombies. The premise is stupid, literally. Slightly more plausible metaphorically, perhaps (people who are zombie-like throughout life, mere system-wonks working for/supporting institutions, religions, and political parties that are like un-thinking zombies).
2. The premise of increased environmental stress leading to more egalitarianism, not less, is quite stupid. Humans, especially white male humans still imbued with the value system they have designed and deployed down through generations, do not go from being racist, sexist and gay-phobic to not being any of those things, so instantly, without considerable effort. Especially under the sorts of increased environmental stress posed by having no food/clothing/shelter security, constant vigilance/dependence on others to watch out for all these blood-thirsty mobile walkers, poor nutrition, little sleep, outdoors in the rough, dirty/filthy/no toothpaste, never being able to ever go off to eliminate by yourself (because walkers), and even if you do get hands on some stuff to help you survive, other people will be right there to take it away from you by force.
3. That CGI tiger. 


So, why do I watch these implausible TV shows?
They are immensely popular. I think they are morality plays, disguised, dripping in blood.
I want to catch up to wherever the TV watching culture thinks it is at.
Also, I remind myself that for long long long stretches of time in human evolution and history, life kind of was kind of like that, living rough, minus the zombies of course. Which reminds me to appreciate that I have lived and still live in an era where people like me can lead a comfortable safe private reflective life separated from societal expectations without having to join a monastery. And also that I don't live in the US, although I appreciate how hard its regular people have worked and still work to make it into something, in spite of the current president and his Neganesque amorality, which he seems to be trying to institutionalize.

Vikings is set in the 8th century AD; life is rough, violent, bloodthirsty. Wars are common and mainly fought up close with sharp blades. The premise is valid.

The Handmaid's tale is based on the notion that when push comes to shove, women lose to male-supported institutions. Their default value seems to always end up that they are mere uteruses with arms and legs. The premise is valid.


I have come back in this post to add this: I am also reading these days. Not much in a row, but a few pages or chapters at a time. I've finished Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, and am in early pages of his latest book, Homo Deus. I'm concurrently reading Behave, by Robert Sapolsky.  Here is a nice interview with Sapolsky, You Have No Free Will.

Here is an excerpt of the interview with Robert Sapolsky about the book, and for me, a reflection on The Walking Dead, given that it takes place in the rural US south:

(Q) "What if you're from the rural South?" 
(A) "There's a famous study where student volunteers thought they were involved in a study surrounding their math abilities, but the experiment actually occurred outside in the hallway. Some beefy guy walking the opposite way bumps into a student as he walks past, then says, "Watch it, asshole," before marching away. When the student comes in to take the math test, the researchers take their blood pressure, check their hormones. And if you're from the American South, your blood pressure will be higher, and you'll be more stressed out. This impacts your judgement and how you respond to a given situation.
"This is because, by best evidence, the American South was settled by herders and pastoralists from northern England and Scotland, who had a culture of honor. Centuries later, there's still a residue of that. So this makes culture not such an intangible factor of brain development and behavior. Within minutes of birth, this kind of training starts."

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Ownership and agency in a predictive brain, implications for manual therapy


Recently I stumbled upon a lovely article in The Scientist, Understanding Body Ownership and Agency

It suggests there are several "selves" within each of us that integrate into a singular seamless "self". 
It's easy enough to manipulate the sense of ownership in several ways - research on kinaesthetic body illusions such as mirror therapy, rubber hand, are discussed. Brain interface prosthetics for amputees are mentioned. 

A slide I made using definitions from the article

The article proposes that agency and ownership, while slightly different, are integrated into one another, and are interdependent. 

"...recent research has sought to understand how body ownership might have developed through the sum of agency experiences that we accrue throughout our life. What we perceive as our body is not only what looks like our body, but what we typically have conscious control over. This control is asserted by learned associations between our muscular movements and the sensory feedback we perceive when performing an action—the so-called “action effects.” 

So, agency precedes ownership, sounds like... we learn our arm is part of "us" i.e., "self", by realizing we can control its movement. Bring food to mouth. Etcetera.

The two are slightly separable concepts though: Ehrsson's virtual body part research is mentioned.

In 2012, Ehrsson, along with his then graduate student Andreas Kalckert, designed a rubber-gloved wooden model hand to make finger movements that were either linked by a wooden rod to (and thus synchronous with) movements of the participant’s own hidden hand, or detached and controlled independently by the experimenter.16 Initiation of synchronous movements by the participant elicited a strong sense of ownership and agency over the model hand; linked, synchronous movements initiated by the experimenter (passive movements) abolished the sense of agency, while the sense of ownership remained intact. Conversely, when the experimenters rotated the robotic hand by 180 degrees—putting it in an anatomically implausible position, with the fingers facing toward the body—participants maintained a sense of agency, but not of ownership.

(I'll never forget the drama involved in Ehrsson's set up, where he induced the illusion of ownership of a rubber hand, then attacks the rubber hand with a hammer, or a knife or something, and measured all the autonomic reaction in the subject.)

The paper brings up some definitions:

"Based on theoretical ideas of 19th century physician and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, German scientists Erich von Holst and Horst Mittelstaedt demonstrated the reafference principle in 1950 to distinguish between self-generated movements and external perturbations. Any time we move, we generate a motor command (efference) to control the muscles. At the same time, we also generate a prediction—based on prior experience of the sensation resulting from the movement—termed the efference copy. The actual movement-related sensory input, which comes from receptors in the muscle and skin, is referred to as reafference. Any difference between the two signals (reafference and efference copy) is the result of environmental input, which is termed exafference. Understanding errors that may occur within this system is probably central to understanding problems in agency and ownership perception."

Hurray! Words!
I wondered how manual therapy might be involved. 

.... And I speculate: 

 May 1, Understanding Body Ownership and Agency,  2017, The Scientist