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Musings... on teaching, science, etc.

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Mar. 20th, 2007 | 10:20 am
location: 488 Minor Hall, Berkeley, CA
mood: busybusy
music: quiet in the lab

I've gotten out of the habit of writing regularly and this is leaving me not knowing where to begin. My mind has been busy lately with many thoughts on many things. (Ranging from projective geometry and perspective projection to the mechanics of samba to all sorts of neat vision science questions).

I'm descending into complete science geekery... my department's retreat was this weekend and for the first time that I can remember, I really enjoyed most of the talks. I enjoyed learning about GFP mice (they glow green under a blacklight. Which is kind of bizarre but also really cool. I told my psych 1 students about this and they asked if we could do this to humans. I'm not sure if this makes me or my psych students the odder bunch...) and the way that responsive cortical surface "shrinks" in area when one is attending. This is a somewhat misleading statement... more precisely, the cortical areas that are excited by a stimulus become smaller and those that are inhibited by the stimulus are larger, as if attention is more of a process of selectively ignoring certain areas of visual space.

I'm going to a picture perception conference for part of the weekend, mostly because it's free and in Berkeley. Sad to be missing some of the sessions on aesthetics, but they are Sunday and I'm hoping to be off in Tahoe skiing around then.

Still. Good to feel motivated and excited about and interested in all of these things again. A bit dangerous perhaps that my happiness level of late has been a bit more dependent on whether or not I have subjects scheduled to come into the lab or not, but there is some degree to which that is purely a function of the fact that subjects in the lab means my thesis will get done and subjects not coming in means that I will spend the end of April and beginning of May not sleeping in an effort to finish the thesis.

This too shall pass.

And then I can study attention and crowding and feature integration and perceptual learning! Which are all things that I find a great deal more interesting than my present project.

That said, I've learned a lot from the whole master's detour experience. Knowing that I have the ability to complete something that I found out I didn't so much care for is valuable, as is discovering that I get excited about data and seeing how things work even in an experiment I'm not thrilled to be doing. Knowing what kinds of experiments to do and not do (given a certain desired time to completion), what I have patience for as a scientist, what I don't have patience for, what I need in terms of mentoring, how to own my own project and so on. All "Life lessons" as Cliff would call them.

And the teaching. Teaching undergrads is very different from teaching optometry students and the two different courses I've had the opportunity to teach this year have given me a way to develop a teaching and mentoring philosophy for the academic world. (I've had one with dance for a while, but then I've been teaching dance in various ways for something on the order of 10 years, off and on). I've learned a lot about what I like and don't like about course organization, course content, grading, etc.

Psych 1 is terrifying because it's more than a little disorganized (and thus hard to answer the many forms of the classic "how do I get an A?" question), but it's also really fun because when we get to weeks like this one about vision and perception, I can tell my students about the things that I love and I got to watch 'oohs and aahs' and delighted suprised looks on people's faces as I showed them the bar-cross-ellipse illusion as an illustration of "top-down" processing at work. What you see in something is dependent both on the information available and what you choose to see.

So glad for that. It's fun to have my students try experiments with each other, or with me, and see them really work. I (optimistically) get to see material come alive for them and know that this has made something that could be dry and dense something fun and interesting.

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from: threadwalker
date: Mar. 20th, 2007 07:01 pm (UTC)

Good to be sorting out how you work and what you like. :)

The illusion- is it the one withe two upright parallel lines and the partial starburst thing? I take it the lines are meant to look curved. Funny, after enough art, I see it both ways right away. Tests on people who are visually trained to see what's actually there instead of what they expect to see could be interesting.

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from: stellae
date: Mar. 20th, 2007 07:37 pm (UTC)

It's a new one, actually... introduced at the Annual Best Visual Illusion Contest last year.

It's basically an oscillating cross that can be seen as a cross with a constantly changing height and width, 2 perpendicular bars oscillating in depth, a black ellipse rotating behind a 4-paned white "window" (except the panes are opaque) and an elliptical aperture rotating in front of a stable black cross.

Sort of a neat study in gestalt, illusory contours and top-down processing. :-)

The same happens to me with a lot of illusions, especially figure ground ones. I can get the faces/vases and old lady/young lady ones to flip back and forth so fast that I have essentially a bistable percept. (But then I was lucky and always got validated for seeing what was actually there... even being a little kid and saying stuff like "Look mommy! The puddle is purple!" After which she would internally think 'it's a puddle it's clear, then look and go 'wow, so it is.') Sometimes I wish I'd invested more in art training, but I suppose there is always time for such things. :-)

Tests on people who are visually trained to see what's actually there instead of what they expect to see could be interesting.

I wonder if such tests have been done rigorously. There was one done on people with amblyopia versus "normally sighted" observers that showed that amblyopes didn't see a fairly simple illusion (saw what was actually there) while the normal observers did. Also some published stuff on how Rembrandt, at least may have had strabismus (and therefore no binocular vision) and this allowed him to create a strong sense of depth in his paintings b/c he only had monocular depth info to rely on and thus was better at using it than people who tend to rely on binocular depth cues.

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