Taxman triumphs on stationary bike

Taxman left the field far behind to declare victory in the JDRF 2006 Spin to Win Thursday in the heart of Washington, DC. The Lanterne Rouge rider has been embroiled in controversy after finishing atop the General Category (GC) in the Tour de Frolorado. He entered the Spin to Win hoping to resolve any lingering questions about his ranking among elite cyclists.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Capitol Chapter, sponsored this inaugural event. The field was enthusiastic and determined. Conditions were ideal. D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and U.S. Congressman Tom Davis pedaled briefly at the front of the field and urged the riders on. The event helped to raise money for diabetes research. Given its importance and the quality of its field, this event is sure to become a fixture on the U.S. cycling scene.

Emphasizing the growing importance of citizen journalism, we bring you exciting video coverage of this newsworthy event.

alternate economic analysis of underwear folding

Excited by the potential profit from a male-oriented omnimedia homemaking enterprise, I emailed to one of my female cousins:

To help [her husband] and other husbands keep house while their wives are on vacation, I’ve started a new “homemaking” series on my blog. Check out:

You might consider investing money in this enterprise. It’s going to be bigger than Martha Stewart!!!!

She responded:

Dude, you are going to remain a bachelor for a long time with a Web page like this.


I hadn’t taken that into consideration in my economic analysis of underwear folding. But because of our networked economy, I can benefit from others’ ideas!

socks in drawer

mirrors and making sense of another like oneself

The evocatively named “mirror neurons” have recently been attracting much discussion in the blogsphere. Mirror neurons seemed to be associated with hightened affective states and hyper-speculation in humans.

But they are not the only neurons with these properties. As early as 1993, two scientists found that a particular neuron in a cat’s brain responded to a wide range of auditory stimuli, but not when the cat’s eyes were closed or in the dark. After their work had been “interrupted by the inescapable late-night giddiness suffered (enjoyed?) by those who do electrophysiological experiments,” the scientists reached these conclusions:

we finally concluded that cats must be deaf at night. This, of course, began a string of other ridiculous conclusions: blind cats are probably deaf too; and on and on. [Stein and Meredith (1993) p. 108]

These are truly astonishing hypotheses!

Key images that mirror neurons evoke are probably biologically misleading. Mirrors produce representations of objects that have little relation to the physical form of the mirror. Mirrors do not adaptively tune to subjects of interests. Mirrors are typically part of a “one brain” circuit. Making sense of another like oneself is rather different from looking in a mirror.

The human brain evolved and develops in social circumstances – circumstances of living bodies communicating intensively with others like themselves. In game theory, the rules of the game are assumed to be common knowledge among the participants. In communication among conspecifics, the common structures of conspecifics’ bodies are rules of the game. The flesh-and-bone relations of whole living bodies are central to making sense of another like oneself.

Sensory tuning is an important feature of living bodies. One neuroscientist described this process thus:

every percept has two components intertwined, the sensory-induced re-cognition of a category of cognitive information in memory and the categorization of new sensory impressions in the light of that retrieved memory. Perception can thus be viewed as the interpretation of new experiences based on assumptions from prior experience — in other words, the continuous testing by the senses of educated hypotheses about the world around us. [Fuster (2003) pp. 84-5]

“Perceptual prediction” effects, such as representational momentum and the flash lag effect, suggest that the “sensory-induced re-cognition of a category of cognitive information in memory” can be highly decentralized and not dependent on traditionally defined cognitive and memory circuits.

Recently two scholars put forward a provocative proposal for motor involvement in perceiving conspecifics:

The various brain areas involved in translating perceived human movement into corresponding motor programs collectively act as an emulator, internally simulating the ongoing perceived movement. This emulator bypasses the delay of sensory transmission to provide immediate information about the ongoing course of the observed action as well as its probable immediate future. Such internal modeling allows the perceiver to rapidly interpret the perceptual signal, to react quickly, to disambiguate in situations of uncertainty, and to perceptually complete movements that are not perceived in their entirety. … Thus, what originally appeared to be a neurological extravagance – the activation of motor resources when no motor movement is intended – may instead be an elegant solution to a perceptual problem. [Wilson and Knoblich (2005) p. 468]

This proposal, while speculative, at least shifts attention from representations, meaning, and linguistic expression to presence, the real-time experience of making sense of another like oneself. The latter seems to me to connect more insightfully to developing biological knowledge about mirror neurons.

*  *  *  *  *


Fuster, Joaquin M. (2003), Cortex and mind: unifying cognition (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Stein, Barry E. and M. Alex Meredith (1993), The Merging of the Senses (Cambridge: MIT Press).

Wilson, Margaret and Günther Knoblich (2005), “The Case for Motor Involvement in Perceiving Conspecifics,” Psychological Bulletin, v. 131, n. 3 pp. 460-73.

sensory economics: cheaper is better

Experimental studies indicate that persons rate images that they process more fluently as more aesthetically pleasing:

We propose that aesthetic pleasure is a function of the perceiver’s processing dynamics: The more fluently perceivers can process an object, the more positive their aesthetic response. We review variables known to influence aesthetic judgments, such as figural goodness, figure-ground contrast, stimulus repetition, symmetry, and prototypicality, and trace their effects to changes in processing fluency. Other variables that influence processing fluency, like visual or semantic priming, similarly increase judgments of aesthetic pleasure.

Speed of identification and categorization of stimuli indicate processing fluency. They are also plausible indicators of the bodily cost of processing stimuli. Thus an economic interpretation of these results is that, among images with a common (zero) external price, persons prefer images that they process at low bodily cost.

Processing fluency implicitly refers to some processing objective. A typical biological approach divides making sense into stages of sensation, perception, and cognition. Then perceptual fluency refers to processing through the stage of perception. Conceptual fluency would then be understood as adding additional meaning-related processing beyond the stage of perception. However, these stages are not biologically well-defined. Much evidence points to a more flexible and functionally organized process of making sense.

The experimental evidence on processing fluency might be better interpreted with respect to the subjects’ plausible goals in processing the stimuli that the experiments present. The experiments present to subjects individual images not related to a narrative or a personal encounter. For example, some experiments present subjects with random patterns of dots. The subjects are then asked questions about the image, such as “How attractive is it?” and “To what category does it belong?” The latter question clearly points to an information processing objective. The former question is an affective evaluation of the results of such an information processing objective. These experiments thus suggest that, given an information processing objective, persons prefer images that they process at low bodily cost.

These experiments point to much additional useful research. Recent work on multi-sensory perception and mirror neurons indicates that the body creates common effects from different sensory services. That suggests, as does other evidence, that sensory form affects stimulus processing fluency. Moreover, making sense of information, narratives, and persons probably has significantly different implications for stimulus processing. Experiments that incorporate multiple sensory dimensions and that more explicitly structure communicative objectives could make an important contribution to science and to the practical design of communication services.

None of these comments should be interpreted to devalue aesthetic pleasure in the here and now. Experimentally unifying figural goodness, figure-ground contrast, stimulus repetition, symmetry, prototypicality, and visual and semantic priming in a common economics of processing fluency and preference is a great scientific achievement!

Cited reference:
Reber, Rolf, Norbert Schwarz, and Piotr Winkielman (2004), “Processing Fluency and Aesthetic Pleasure: Is Beauty in the Perceiver’s Processing Experience?” Personality and Social Psychology Review, v.8 no. 4 pp. 364-82.

call to action to form a broad-based coalition of progressive organizations

Singles’ Party

Anyone lacking the career and family support traditionally provided by a “wife” is at a serious disadvantage in academe, evidence shows. — National Academies (2006)

How many women,
paying the full share
of their rent,
how many men,
surveying decaying
carrots in the frig,
have thought of having
a singles’ party,
a party for singles,
the single most oppressed
minority in America.

A single woman
is a witch or a bitch;
a single man,
a misanthrope or
a child molester.
And in our age
when everyone’s actions
come with no-fault
if you’re single

it’s your fault.
So half your food will
rot and you’ll pay double
for your apartment. And
the claim that your spouse
wanted to move
you can’t use
to explain
why you wanted
to change jobs.

Single people, rally
your votes!
Organize and mobilize!
Demand a deduction
for standing alone and vulnerable
on only health insurance.
Demand leave to care for
your inner child.
Demand two for one
social obligations, and
saints and hermits on
postage stamps. Demand
sympathy, understanding,
and respect.

Remember –
politicians tremble at
Cadillac drivers clutching
social security checks. You
must be focused, firm, and earnest.
Only in politics can you
assert your rights and
control your life.

COB-3: gender in college bureaucratic work

This month’s contest for Bureaucrat-of-the-Month was close and difficult to decide. But decisions must be made. Petitions for Reconsideration will be accepted as usual.

Top bureaucratic honor this month goes to a committee of 18 eminent public figures. The Committee was sponsored by the National Academies — the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council. This committee included five university presidents and chancellors, a Dean of Science, an Executive Vice Provost, a Co-Director, two Heads, an Editor-In-Chief, and nine Impressively Titled Professors. A large committee of prominent experts is bound to produce bureaucratic excellence. This committee exceeded expectations.

In addition to holding meetings, the Committee produced a 364-page report on a fundamental challenge to the U.S. “amid increasing economic and educational globalization.” This challenge isn’t to make a better future for men and for women who care about men in a country where about 140 women now receive college degrees for every 100 men who receive degrees. The challenge isn’t to meet better the needs of boys who are often deprived of contact with their fathers, who face a public education system in which most of their teachers are female, and who are disproportionately drugged into docility and conformity. No, keenly intelligent readers, the grave challenge is to increase the share of female professors in science and engineering. After all, as the report explains, “the United States must aggressively pursue the innovative capacity of all its people.” In emphasizing the importance of increasing the share of female professors in science and engineering, this committee of leading educational figures in science and engineering (17 women, 1 man) brilliantly illustrates the value of bureaucracy for aggressively pursuing innovative approaches.

Despite an apparent lack of constraint on the type of recommendations it might issue, The Committee, like most bureaucracies, did not act as vigorously as it might have. The Committee emphasized the importance of gender accounting and forming new administrative bodies:

And departments should be held accountable for the equity of their search processes and outcomes, even if that means canceling a search or withholding a faculty position. The report also urges higher education organizations to consider forming a collaborative, self-monitoring body that would recommend standards for faculty recruitment, retention, and promotion; collect data; and track compliance across institutions. [National Academies news release]

The Committee also issued recommendations to journals, foundations, professional and educational societies, honorary societies, federal agencies, and Congress. But note: The Committee failed to issue recommendations to bloggers. It did not recommend mandating careful blog reading.

The Committee’s review of scientific evidence revealed an extremely significant but seldom recognized problem:

Anyone lacking the career and family support traditionally provided by a “wife” is at a serious disadvantage in academe, evidence shows. [National Academies news release]

With respect to “specific recommendations on how to make the fullest use of a large share of our nation’s talent,” that is, the talents of single persons, the Committee offered nothing. It did not even issue a call to action to ensure that single persons “see a career path that allows them to reach their full intellectual potential.” This is truly Beyond Bias. With my meager influence as an obscure blogger, I’ve attempted to address the pressing problem that our educational leaders have recognized.

A close second to the Committee for bureaucratic honors is Wikipedia. Nicholas Carr at Rough Type has thoroughly documented this achievement, as well as explored the interesting related issue of expertise. Mr. Carr describes Wikipedia as an “emergent bureaucracy.” He notes that Wikipedia has already surpassed key performance standards: “Wikipedia today has more layers of bureaucracy than the average Fortune 500 company and more factions than the Italian parliament.”

Of considerable importance is the question of whether Wikipedia qualifies for the Carnival of the Bureaucrats under Rule 2.a. No parties have disputed that Wikipedia is an Internet enterprise. Internet enterprise operate on Internet Time. According to commonly recognized standards, one year of normal time equals seven years of Internet Time. Wikipedia was founded on January 15, 2001. It is thus approximately 5.71 years old in normal time. Hence we estimate that Wikipedia is 39.99 years old in Internet Time. Thus Wikipedia satisfies Carnival of the Bureaucrats’ Rule 2.a.A, or, in the alternative, Rule 2.a.B.

Other carnival entries:

Purpleslog presents Physical Security and Social Engineering With A Bonus PurpleSlog Story, saying, “My Failed Attempt To Fight Workplace Theft and My Interaction With Security Bureaucrats.”

Aleksandr Kavokin, MD, PhD at RDoctor Medical Portal presents How do they make a guinea pig out of you? Part 2 saying, “about process of drug development – bureaucratic and not,” and How do they use you as guinea pig? Part3, saying, “about clinical trials.”

That concludes this edition of the Carnival of the Bureaucrats. Submit your blog article to the next edition using our carnival submission form.

more empirical evidence on making sense

Brain effects are communicative goods. A recent study found common effects among reading and seeing actions:

Participants observed actions and read phrases relating to foot, hand, or mouth actions. In the premotor cortex of the left hemisphere, a clear congruence was found between effector-specific activations of visually presented actions and of actions described by literal phrases.

For example, reading the phrase “biting the peach” and seeing a video of a person bite a peach activate a common set of premotor neurons called “mirror neurons.” These neurons also trigger muscular actions such as actually biting a peach.

Consider the economics of activating these neurons. Making sense of text is relatively expensive. Actually executing actions involve the caloric cost of moving bodily mass. Observing actions is probably the cheapest means to activate the common neurons associated with these different sensory circumstances. Perhaps this helps to explains why so many persons spend so much time on couches, watching sports on television.

Past physical experience affects the extent of neural activation. A scholar who has studied this relation noted:

“When we watch a sport, our brain performs an internal simulation of the actions, as if it were sending the same movement instructions to our own body. But for those sports commentators who are ex-athletes, the mirror system is likely to be even more active because their brains may re-enact the moves they once made. This might explain why they get so excited while watching the game!” [supporting scholarly paper (pdf)]

Sense of presence involves attunement to another like oneself. Common experience of physical action heightens sense of presence. Current demand for televised sports probably depends strongly on explicit marketing investment. An interesting challenge might be to try to calculate the implicit marketing value of sports participation.