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A conversation with Anil Seth

Anil brought up the Bayesian equation that coincidently is also in my Human Camera book in an essay by Chris Frith  (who has also peer reviewed Anil’s work). This early equation (1763) recognises the idea that perception and the interpretation of our senses depends on our prior beliefs and factors in an x amount to account for this preconception which distorts pure perception. The equation allows for the flux between evidence and beliefs in perception which is important for Anil’s work.

 

 

My understanding of Anil’s research/experimentation is that it seems to infer that emotion follows from physiological changes in the body – ‘emotion as interpreted body arousal’. This is perhaps counter-intuitive as my impression is that the feelings effect the body – does love quicken the heart, or does the quickening heart get interpreted as love after the fact? A difficult thing to prove neurologically?

 

Anil demonstrated his virtual hand experiment in which I was able to experience a virtual hand as replacing my own (my own hand was in a different physical place to the virtual hand but my interoceptive body awareness accepted the virtual version as being in the right place). Using commercial gaming technology for an augmented reality, my new phantom hand – in spite of pixilation, really did feel like my own. Anil described the use of heartbeat in another experiment with the fake hand to increase this sense of ownership by taking the pulse of the participant into the computer. By pulsing the colour of the hand to the rhythm of the participants actual heartbeat assimilation was increased for the sense of ownership of the hand. Tests were made to the hand – such as seeming to attack it to measure responses. This delineation of the nature of body awareness is important for A’s analysis of cosciousness.

 

 

On my visit I also wore a VR unit that had 360 degrees of vision (using the extremely expensive omni-directional google streetview camera). Although I thought I was watching the room I was sat in through the VR headset some of the images were in fact pre-recorded in the same room previously so characters appeared to be entering into the room etc. This was at a development stage so there were still some things to be resolved with the stitching of the images together (I could see when the image jumped from live to pre-recorded). There was still something uncanny about this experience despite the fact that I was always pretty certain when the image was not a live feed. I used looking down at my own hand in the VR unit to double check the status of the image as live feed or not. If it was not live I could not see myself anymore. The reasons for developing this technology were primarily that participants/subjects need to be attached to machines to record neurological activity for some of the data required. Subjects simply can not be just walking around in the world feeling and thinking things as they usually would because of the cumbersome quality of brain scanning. This for me is the biggest technological challenge for neuroscience, can we accept that a subject strapped into a machine watching filmed images (often of quite low quality) and not the ‘real’ world tell us about consciousness effectively? Physiologically these devices have a large impact on the subject, distorting results, given that physiological changes are what are at stake in this particular research that seems like a problem.

 

Interestingly when I suggested the Deleuzian proposition that film is not any different from any other image in the world – it is not in a different spectral order, Anil spoke about the mug on the table I was drinking from. He posited that it fundamentally differed from a photograph of it (particularly he referred to the 3d quality of it – its spatial dimension) but I think perhaps even though the photo does differ in terms of space from the other 3d mug it could be different but equal in a realm of images rather than being placed in a different order of existance(?). The paradox for me was that given that A is working with consciousness of the world it would be better for him to try to argue that film images are just another image in the world because his experimentation is using lens based imagery as a substitute for the real – he is not testing how consciousness responds to photography (although in a sense he is…+ how a body responds to being caught in a science machine).

 

I was also shown an electromagnetic device in another small studio that is being used to effect brain activity – this is working towards understanding how we can make external forces effect the brain so it will think certain things. This was a very contraption heavy device– the subject would be wearing a cap covered in wires with their chin resting in a head clamping device in a very small blacked out cabin in which a big black metal 8 shaped magnet being passed over the back of the participants head. One of the experiments with this set-up was to show the eyes two different images and test if the magnetic force could influence one image to be more dominant than the other for the observer simply by locating the magnet at one side of head or the other. I asked if they had tested the subjects both with and without the electro magnet on, they hadn’t but perhaps it is so obvious that it is on (or off) there would be no point (?) – my reasoning however is that the subject is so physically constrained and trapped they may hallucinate events through the nature of the experiment itself. I was quite terrified by the set-up so my heart would be beating very fast!

 

In our discussion about schizophrenia Anil talked about how top-down predications are not modified by bottom-up predicative errors. In any case the perceived reality is distorted by a strong preconception and fails to be modified by reality checks so the mind continues to find reasons that deny the fact of what is manifesting in reality. Anil also defined stress as the complete inability to find a cause for physiological changes in the body. This would differ from my presumption that the mind produces a thought which affects the body, but perhaps I am confusing a thought with an emotion?

 

It is interesting to read the papers Anil gave me on his research precisely because what has long been a conversation for philosophy needs to be verified as measureable by science – how to prove the nature of consciousness by experimentation, not by introspection. Perhaps one feels one can verify ones own consciousness through introspective experimentation – like Huxley, James etc? Do electrical pulses in the brain tell us anything important about consciousness? I hope so…

 

On another note by chance today I saw a trepanned skull from the Bronze Age in a museum (early brain surgery?). I thought how I am interested in Newton’s proposition that the ancients knew all that can be known, that it was all there already and he was given the task to rediscover it. But then Newton does seem quite insane despite inventing calculus  - without which there would be no modern science. It is the offsetting of experimentation and belief that is very curious in Newton.

 

What I want to bring forward from this meeting with Anil is the use of virtual reality as being just another image in the world and also where these images touch on consciousness particularly in a mind that could on the one hand be called ‘unhealthy’ but on the other very inventive/creative. I will look further into Anil’s work with the heart-beat and intend to use this directly in my work (probably my own heart as it is very irregular like some kind of mad jazz improvisation –I would like to see my hand flashing red to that!

 

A’s analysis of top-down prediction overwhelming bottom-up reality checks in schizophrenia mirrored a conversation with David (paranoid schizophrenic friend/ex-student) in which he described how he was convinced that his friend had an earpiece from which he was recording their conversation, he described how no matter what physical evidence was brought to him he found a reason why reality and everyone else was hiding the truth from him – he described himself through the descriptions of his friends witnessing this scene rather than from his point of view. There was absolutely nothing they could do to prove to him that what he thought was happening was not.

 

I would like to record a subject in the experiment set-ups; wearing all the various bits of equipment. Or may just build my own versions.

 

This meeting has helped me think about a new idea of emotion following physiological responses. In some ways it confirms my belief that the position and architecture around the viewer of a film can produce emotions which seem to emanate from the film alone.