Humans Fall for Optical Illusions, But Do Cats?

Peripheral Drift Illusion

Most “opti­cal illu­sions” are not real­ly opti­cal. They have less to do with the way the eyes work than with the way the brain process­es the infor­ma­tion sent to it from the eyes. For this rea­son, many sci­en­tists pre­fer to call them visu­al illu­sions. So if visu­al illu­sions are a trick of the brain, and human brains dif­fer from the brains of oth­er ani­mals, does that mean our visu­al illu­sions are unique­ly human?

The answer would appear to be no, judg­ing from the cute video below from YouTube. The kit­ten is falling for the “rotat­ing snakes illu­sion” devel­oped in 2003 by Japan­ese psy­chol­o­gist Akiyoshi Kitao­ka. The rotat­ing snakes (click here to view in a larg­er for­mat) are an exam­ple of the “periph­er­al drift illu­sion,” a phe­nom­e­non first described in 1999 by Joce­lyn Faubert and Andrew Her­bert of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mon­tre­al. Cats are very adept at per­ceiv­ing motion in their periph­er­al vision. It helps them elude preda­tors and home in on their own prey. But this kit­ty is thrown for a loop by the illu­so­ry motion of the rotat­ing snakes.

The periph­er­al drift illu­sion occurs when cir­cu­lar­ly repeat­ing fig­ures with reg­u­lar saw­tooth pat­terns of light and dark are viewed in the periph­ery. You’ll find that if you move your eyes around the var­i­ous cir­cles, for exam­ple going from cen­ter point to cen­ter point, the cir­cles in your periph­er­al vision will appear to be mov­ing but the one you are focused on will not. If you stop mov­ing your eyes, a moment lat­er the cir­cles will all appear to stop mov­ing. In the abstract of their 1998 paper (open PDF), Faubert and Her­bert write:

Illu­so­ry motion is per­ceived in a dark-to-light direc­tion, but only when one’s gaze is direct­ed to dif­fer­ent loca­tions around the stim­u­lus, a point out­side the dis­play is fix­at­ed and the observ­er blinks, or when the stim­u­lus is sequen­tial­ly dis­played at dif­fer­ent loca­tions whilst the observ­er fix­ates one point. We pro­pose that the illu­sion is pro­duced by the inter­ac­tion of three fac­tors: (i) intro­duc­ing tran­sients as a result of eye move­ments or blinks; (ii) dif­fer­ing laten­cies in the pro­cess­ing of lumi­nance; and (iii) spa­tiotem­po­ral inte­gra­tion of the dif­fer­ing lumi­nance sig­nals in the periph­ery.

via Stephen Law

Leonard Bernstein Demystifies the Rock Revolution for Curious (if Square) Grown-Ups in 1967

Many of today’s thir­teen-year-olds sure­ly have the Bea­t­les on their iPods (or their iPhones or Androids, or what­ev­er now ranks as the cut­ting-edge ado­les­cen­t’s lis­ten­ing device of choice). Yet they would have been born in 2000, forty years after the dis­so­lu­tion of the Bea­t­les them­selves. Their par­ents would prob­a­bly have been born in the six­ties, already the height of the band’s cre­ativ­i­ty. The star­tling impli­ca­tion: these kids rock out to some of the very same songs their grand­par­ents may well have loved. As P.J. O’Rourke once wrote upon spot­ting an aged hip­pie with a walk­er and a hear­ing aid at an Iraq War protest, sic tran­sit gen­er­a­tion gap. But back in 1967, when that gap yawned so chas­mi­cal­ly wide as to ren­der any com­mu­ni­ca­tion across it seem­ing­ly impos­si­ble, the young Baby Boomers and their own Great Depres­sion, Sec­ond World War-forged par­ents used the musi­cal land­scape to draw their bat­tle lines. Who could bro­ker a peace? Enter com­pos­er, pianist, and New York Phil­har­mon­ic direc­tor Leonard Bern­stein. Born in 1918 and hailed as one of the most accom­plished and astute musi­cal minds in Amer­i­can his­to­ry, he could not only appre­ci­ate the tech­niques and inno­va­tions of the youth-dri­ven pop-rock explo­sion of the six­ties, he could get the ear of his mid­dle-aged peers and explain to them just what they were miss­ing.

The tele­vi­sion broad­cast Inside Pop: The Rock Rev­o­lu­tion gave Bern­stein a mass-com­mu­ni­ca­tion plat­form on which per­form this analy­sis, ask­ing aloud the ques­tions of (a) why this music so infu­ri­ates Amer­i­cans over a cer­tain age and (b) why he him­self likes it so much. Decked out in a square-friend­ly suit and tie and appear­ing on the even square-friend­lier CBS net­work, Bern­stein plays clips of songs by the Bea­t­les, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, and the Asso­ci­a­tion, break­ing down the gen­uine musi­co­log­i­cal mer­its of each: their vocal expres­sions, their unex­pect­ed key changes, their count­less son­ic lay­ers, their stripped-down melod­ic sense, and their lyrics’ adept­ness of impli­ca­tion (“one of our teenager’s strongest weapons”). Bern­stein also calls upon “Soci­ety’s Child” singer-song­writer Janis Ian and Beach Boys mas­ter­mind Bri­an Wil­son to per­form live. Quite a few crew-cut, cardi­gan-clad, mar­ti­ni-sip­ping adults must have come away from Inside Pop with a new, if grudg­ing, appre­ci­a­tion for the craft of these long-haired young­sters. But now, to address the con­cerns of the 21st cen­tu­ry’s bewil­dered grown-ups, who will go on tele­vi­sion and explain dub­step?

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via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed con­tent:

Leonard Bernstein’s Mas­ter­ful Lec­tures on Music (11+ Hours of Video Record­ed in 1973)

Leonard Bernstein’s First “Young People’s Con­cert” at Carnegie Hall Asks, “What Does Music Mean?”

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

The Nazis’ 10 Control-Freak Rules for Jazz Performers: A Strange List from World War II

Bass SaxophoneLike the rock and roll rev­o­lu­tion of the 1950s, which shocked staid white audi­ences with trans­la­tions of black rhythm and blues, the pop­u­lar­i­ty of jazz caused all kinds of racial pan­ic and social anx­i­ety in the ear­ly part of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Long before the rise of Euro­pean fas­cism, many Amer­i­can groups expressed extreme fear and agi­ta­tion over the rise of minor­i­ty cul­tur­al forms. But by World War II, jazz was intrin­si­cal­ly woven into the fab­ric of Amer­i­can major­i­ty cul­ture, albeit often in ver­sions scrubbed of blues under­tones. This was not, of course, the case in Nazi occu­pied Europe, where jazz was sup­pressed; like most forms of mod­ern art, it bore the stig­ma of impu­ri­ty, inno­va­tion, pas­sion… all qual­i­ties total­i­tar­i­ans frown on (even anti-fas­cist the­o­rist Theodor Adorno had a seri­ous beef with jazz).

And while it’s no great sur­prise that Nazis hat­ed jazz—so much so that, as we not­ed yes­ter­day, Stan­ley Kubrick almost made a film about the WWII-era Euro­pean jazz underground—it seems they expressed their dis­ap­proval in a very odd­ly spe­cif­ic way, at least in the rec­ol­lec­tion of Czech writer and dis­si­dent Josef Skvorecky.

On the occa­sion of Skvorecky’s death, J.J. Gould point­ed out in The Atlantic that the writer was him­self one of the char­ac­ters that so inter­est­ed Kubrick. An aspir­ing tenor sax­o­phone play­er liv­ing in Third Reich-occu­pied Czecho­slo­va­kia, Skvorecky had ample oppor­tu­ni­ty to expe­ri­ence the Nazis’ “con­trol-freak hatred of jazz.” In the intro to his short nov­el The Bass Sax­o­phone, he recounts from mem­o­ry a set of ten bizarre reg­u­la­tions issued by a Gauleit­er, a region­al Nazi offi­cial, that bound local dance orches­tras dur­ing the Czech occu­pa­tion.

  1. Pieces in fox­trot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the reper­toires of light orches­tras and dance bands;
  2. In this so-called jazz type reper­toire, pref­er­ence is to be giv­en to com­po­si­tions in a major key and to lyrics express­ing joy in life rather than Jew­ish­ly gloomy lyrics;
  3. As to tem­po, pref­er­ence is also to be giv­en to brisk com­po­si­tions over slow ones so-called blues); how­ev­er, the pace must not exceed a cer­tain degree of alle­gro, com­men­su­rate with the Aryan sense of dis­ci­pline and mod­er­a­tion. On no account will Negroid excess­es in tem­po (so-called hot jazz) or in solo per­for­mances (so-called breaks) be tol­er­at­ed;
  4. So-called jazz com­po­si­tions may con­tain at most 10% syn­co­pa­tion; the remain­der must con­sist of a nat­ur­al lega­to move­ment devoid of the hys­ter­i­cal rhyth­mic revers­es char­ac­ter­is­tic of the bar­bar­ian races and con­duc­tive to dark instincts alien to the Ger­man peo­ple (so-called riffs);
  5. Strict­ly pro­hib­it­ed is the use of instru­ments alien to the Ger­man spir­it (so-called cow­bells, flex­a­tone, brush­es, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instru­ments into a Jew­ish-Freema­son­ic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);
  6. Also pro­hib­it­ed are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quar­ter beat (except in styl­ized mil­i­tary march­es);
  7. The dou­ble bass must be played sole­ly with the bow in so-called jazz com­po­si­tions;
  8. Pluck­ing of the strings is pro­hib­it­ed, since it is dam­ag­ing to the instru­ment and detri­men­tal to Aryan musi­cal­i­ty; if a so-called pizzi­ca­to effect is absolute­ly desir­able for the char­ac­ter of the com­po­si­tion, strict care must be tak­en lest the string be allowed to pat­ter on the sor­dine, which is hence­forth for­bid­den;
  9. Musi­cians are like­wise for­bid­den to make vocal impro­vi­sa­tions (so-called scat);
  10. All light orches­tras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of sax­o­phones of all keys and to sub­sti­tute for them the vio­lin-cel­lo, the vio­la or pos­si­bly a suit­able folk instru­ment.

As The Atlantic notes, “being a Nazi, this pub­lic ser­vant obvi­ous­ly did­n’t miss an oppor­tu­ni­ty to couch as many of these reg­u­la­tions as he could in racist or anti-Semit­ic terms.” This racial­ized fear and hatred was the source, after all, of the objec­tion. It’s almost impos­si­ble for me to imag­ine what kind of music this set of restric­tions could pos­si­bly pro­duce, but it most cer­tain­ly would not be any­thing peo­ple would want to dance to. And that was prob­a­bly the point.

For more on Josef  Skvorecky’s life as a writer under Nazism and his escape from Czecho­slo­va­kia after the Sovi­et inva­sion, read his illu­mi­nat­ing Paris Review inter­view.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Jazz Pho­tog­ra­phy and The Film He Almost Made About Jazz Under Nazi Rule

Watch Lam­beth Walk—Nazi Style: The Ear­ly Pro­pa­gan­da Mash Up That Enraged Joseph Goebbels

Jazz ‘Hot’: The Rare 1938 Short Film With Jazz Leg­end Djan­go Rein­hardt

Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

Enter Jeff Slatnick’s Wonderful World of New-Fangled and Resurrected Instruments

Jeff Slat­nick has been the “guy in the store” over at Music Inn World Instru­ments for over 40 years, a land­mark music store in the West Vil­lage of NYC. When you step into the Music Inn, you’re step­ping into “a muse­um, rich with music his­to­ry from around the world.” You’ll encounter instru­ments from far-flung coun­tries, instru­ments that died out cen­turies ago, and new-fan­gled instru­ments designed for the hus­tle and bus­tle of today’s New York City. The short pro­file film above comes from NYork­ers, a series of shorts ded­i­cat­ed to fea­tur­ing “New York­ers that you don’t read about in head­lines…”

via The Atlantic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Recy­cled Orches­tra: Paraguayan Youth Play Mozart with Instru­ments Clev­er­ly Made Out of Trash

The Joy of Mak­ing Artis­tic Home­made Gui­tars

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New Heat Map Reveals the Creation of Our Infant Universe

Planck Light

This map shows the old­est light in our uni­verse, as detect­ed by the Planck mis­sion. Click on the map for a larg­er image.

By now the Big Bang the­o­ry is wide­ly accept­ed sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly. The idea is that the uni­verse began to expand rapid­ly about 14 bil­lion years ago from a dense, hot state and con­tin­ues to expand to this day.

One of the most telling fin­ger­prints left behind by the Big Bang is cos­mic microwave back­ground radi­a­tion. This ther­mal radi­a­tion was thought to be left over from the Big Bang itself. It fills the uni­verse almost com­plete­ly.

A new map of cos­mic radi­a­tion ques­tions some of the core con­cepts of the Big Bang. What if, this pre­cise heat map sug­gests, the Uni­verse expe­ri­enced a long, pre-Bang phase? What if the Big Bang wasn’t the first burp of cre­ation after all?

The Euro­pean Space Agency’s Planck space­craft mea­sures between infra-red and radio waves, mak­ing it pos­si­ble to see back in time to the first light ever pro­duced.

Cos­mol­o­gists released the new images of the ear­ly uni­verse this week. What sur­pris­es them is that Planck detect­ed stronger light sig­nals on one half of the sky than the oth­er and picked up a series of anom­alies or “cold spots.” While this doesn’t chal­lenge the Big Bang the­o­ry as a whole, it does height­en the mys­tery around the universe’s birth and devel­op­ment.

The data is still com­ing in. Like the Human Genome Project, Planck stands to gen­er­ate dou­ble the amount of data it has pro­duced so far.

Planck two

This full-sky map from the Planck mis­sion shows mat­ter between Earth and the edge of the observ­able uni­verse. Regions with more mass show up as lighter areas while regions with less mass are dark­er. The grayed-out areas are where light from our own galaxy was too bright, block­ing Planck­’s abil­i­ty to map the more dis­tant mat­ter. Click the map for a larg­er image.

Some oth­er sur­pris­es from the Planck space­craft data:

• The uni­verse is about 100 mil­lion years old­er and appears to be expand­ing much slow­er than pre­vi­ous­ly thought

•  There is less dark ener­gy and more mat­ter in the uni­verse than pre­vi­ous research showed.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Leonard Nimoy Nar­rates Short Film About NASA’s Dawn: A Voy­age to the Ori­gins of the Solar Sys­tem

Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawk­ing & Arthur C. Clarke Dis­cuss God, the Uni­verse, and Every­thing Else

Google Presents an Inter­ac­tive Visu­al­iza­tion of 100,000 Stars

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal media and edu­ca­tion. Con­tact her and learn more about her work at .

The Grateful Dead Rock the National Anthem at Candlestick Park: Opening Day, 1993

The 2013 base­ball sea­son starts next week, and it’s a time when hope springs eter­nal — unless you root for the Cubs, the injury-laden Yan­kees, or the Pirates, Indi­ans, or var­i­ous oth­er small mar­ket teams. But let’s not get side­tracked by all of that. Today, we’re head­ing into the past, 20 years deep, and we’re think­ing about Base­ball, Apple Pie and the Grate­ful Dead. You heard me right, the Grate­ful Dead. On April 12, 1993, Jer­ry Gar­cia, Bob Weir, and Vince Wel­nick (then a key­boardist with the band) did the hon­ors on open­ing day at Can­dle­stick Park, singing the nation­al anthem before the San Fran­cis­co Giants — Flori­da Mar­lins game. If you thought the Dead could nev­er car­ry a tune, you’re in for a lit­tle sur­prise.

A few key things to remem­ber about this 1993 moment. 1) It was the first sea­son of base­ball for the new Mar­lins expan­sion team. 2) Bar­ry Bonds was still skin­ny and lean and home­red in his first at bat. And 3) it was the only time that Jer­ry sang the anthem at a ball game. Bob Weir and Phil Lesh made a return vis­it last fall.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

8,976 Free Grate­ful Dead Con­cert Record­ings in the Inter­net Archive

NASA & Grate­ful Dead Drum­mer Mick­ey Hart Record Cos­mic Sounds of the Uni­verse on New Album

Bob Dylan and The Grate­ful Dead Rehearse Togeth­er in Sum­mer 1987. Lis­ten to 74 Tracks.

A Year of Grate­ful Dead Tunes Up in a Mashup

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Clever Animation Brings Figure Drawings to Life

The cre­ative team of Tom Wrig­glesworth & Matt Robin­son went to an art class at The Book Club in Lon­don, and there cre­at­ed an ani­ma­tion that breathes life into a series of fig­ure draw­ings. Every easel in the class cap­tured a nude mod­el from a dif­fer­ent angle. The film then gath­ered them all togeth­er, pro­duc­ing one won­der­ful­ly ani­mat­ed com­pos­ite fig­ure. Pret­ty neat stuff. If you’re in Lon­don, you can check out the next Life Draw­ing class on April 6.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent:

James Joyce’s Draw­ing of Leopold Bloom: The Sto­ry Behind the Sketch

Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky Caught in the Act of Cre­ation, 1926

Famous Lit­er­ary Char­ac­ters Visu­al­ized with Police Com­pos­ite Sketch Soft­ware

Oxford’s “The Ele­ments of Draw­ing” in our Col­lec­tion of 700 Free Online Cours­es

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Rare Audio: Samuel Beckett Reads From His Novel Watt

Samuel Beck­ett was noto­ri­ous­ly shy around record­ing devices. He would spend hours in a stu­dio work­ing with actors, but when it came to record­ing a piece in his own voice he was elu­sive. Only a hand­ful of record­ings are known to exist. So the audio above of Beck­ett read­ing a pair of his poems is extreme­ly rare.

The record­ings were made in 1965 by Lawrence Har­vey, pro­fes­sor of com­par­a­tive lit­er­a­ture at Dart­mouth Col­lege, who trav­eled to Paris to meet with Beck­ett a num­ber of times from 1961 to 1965 while research­ing his 1970 book Samuel Beck­ett, Poet and Crit­ic. At one point dur­ing their dis­cus­sions, Beck­ett recit­ed sev­er­al pas­sages from his third but sec­ond-pub­lished nov­el, Watt. The book was writ­ten in Eng­lish in the 1940s, most­ly while Beck­ett was hid­ing from the Nazis in south­ern France. It’s an exper­i­men­tal nov­el (Beck­ett called it an “exer­cise”) about a seek­er named Watt who jour­neys to the house of the enig­mat­ic Mr. Knott and works for a time as his ser­vant. “Watt” and “Knott” are often inter­pret­ed as stand-ins for the ques­tion “what?” and unan­swer­able “not,” or “naught.”

The two poems recit­ed by Beck­ett are from his 37 intrigu­ing Adden­da at the end of Watt. Har­vey also record­ed Beck­ett read­ing a prose pas­sage from the book. The full four-minute tape is now in the col­lec­tion of the Bak­er Library at Dart­mouth. The short clip above is from the 1993 film Wait­ing For Beck­ett. The image qual­i­ty is poor and there are dis­tract­ing Dutch sub­ti­tles, so per­haps the best way to enjoy the read­ing is to scroll down and look instead at Beck­et­t’s words while you lis­ten to his voice. He begins with the 4th Adden­da, lat­er pub­lished as “Tail­piece” in Col­lect­ed Poems, 1930–1978:

who may tell the tale
of the old man?
weigh absence in a scale?
mete want with a span?
the sum assess
of the world’s woes?
in words enclose?

The images in the poem are, accord­ing to schol­ars S.E. Gontars­ki and Chris Ack­er­ley in their essay “Samuel Beck­et­t’s Watt,” a rework­ing by Beck­ett of the bib­li­cal pas­sage Isa­iah 40:12, which says, “Who hath mea­sured the waters in the hol­low of his hand, and met­ed out heav­en with a span, and com­pre­hend­ed the dust of the earth in a mea­sure, and weighed the moun­tains in scales, and the hills in a bal­ance?” The next poem is the 23rd Adden­da. It tells of Wat­t’s long and fruit­less jour­ney through bar­ren lands:

Watt will not
abate one jot
but of what

of the com­ing to
of the being at
of the going from
Knot­t’s habi­tat

of the long way
of the short stay
of the going back home
the way he had come

of the emp­ty heart
of the emp­ty hands
of the dim mind way­far­ing
through bar­ren lands

of a flame with dark winds
hedged about
going out
gone out

of the emp­ty heart
of the emp­ty hands
of the dark mind stum­bling
through bar­ren lands

that is of what
Watt will not
abate one jot

If Beck­ett seems to mis­pro­nounce cer­tain con­so­nant sounds, it may have some­thing to do with a surgery he had in Novem­ber of 1964 to remove a tumor in his jaw. The surgery tem­porar­i­ly left Beck­ett with a hole in the roof of his mouth. Accord­ing to a 1998 arti­cle by Peter Swaab in The Times Lit­er­ary Sup­ple­ment, the record­ings were prob­a­bly made in March of 1965, when Beck­ett was await­ing a fol­low-up surgery to fix his palate. Still, many lis­ten­ers have been struck by the beau­ty of the record­ings. As Swaab writes:

Beck­et­t’s voice is unex­pect­ed­ly soft, and seems more suit­ed to the serene­ly com­mis­er­a­tive vein of his writ­ing than the sple­net­ic and cyn­i­cal one. He reads the poems a lot more slow­ly than the prose–with a pro­nounced chant­i­ng mel­liflu­ous­ness.… The over­all effect of these rare and fas­ci­nat­ing record­ings is of a deliv­ery like that which Beck­ett rec­om­mend­ed to the actor David War­rilow for Ohio Impromp­tu, “calm, steady, designed to soothe”–or (to bring in two of the cen­tral words in Watt) a “mur­mur” meant to “assuage.” The tape evi­dent­ly records a sort of rehearsal, and the per­fec­tion­ist Beck­ett would sure­ly not have been sat­is­fied with it, but it is good to know that his voice has not alto­geth­er dis­ap­peared.

via A Piece of Mono­logue

Spe­cial thanks to Dr. Mark Nixon, read­er in Mod­ern Lit­er­a­ture at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Read­ing and direc­tor of the Beck­ett Inter­na­tion­al Foun­da­tion, for con­firm­ing the authen­tic­i­ty of the record­ing and point­ing us on the way to more infor­ma­tion.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Samuel Beck­ett Speaks

Samuel Beck­ett Directs His Absur­dist Play Wait­ing for Godot (1985)

Find Works by Beck­ett in our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks col­lec­tions

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