Creating new senses for humans

I just watched this TED talk with David Eagleman, and I am impressed, astonished and excited for the future of our species.

After seeing all the different ways our brain is able to process sensory input in this video, I am convinced that Eagleman’s ‘Mr. Potato-head’ analogy is not far off at all.

If blind people can learn to see via electromagnetic impulses on their tongue, then why shouldn’t I be able to learn to sense electromagnetic waves, or ultraviolet light, or radio waves in some similar fashion? Our brain is so adaptable at interpreting sensory input, that I can see a future where people can pick and choose what senses they want equipped at any time. If it’s dark out, turn on your heat vision, which you feel via vibrations on your fingertips, or in your forehead, or any other number of options.

Eagleman also goes into possibilities that I found extremely interesting from a sci fi perspective. He talks about having, for example, instrumentation on a space shuttle be connected to sensory input, so instead of reading charts and graphs and counting numbers or ratios, you just feel when something is wrong, on a gut or instinctual level. The same way you are aware of your own body and when something is wrong with it.

This really interested me because this is how I, and a lot of people, think naturally. I don’t always know why I make a certain decision at the time I make it, I just know that it feels right. Only afterwards, when I try to analyse my feelings, do i realize all the underlying information that lead to the decision. But the feeling comes instantly. The calculations are done on some subjective level and I’m left with what I can only call a ‘gut instinct’ at the time it happens.

Now imagine if you were getting sensory information about the altitude of the plane you are flying, as well as the speed of the winds outside, the condition of the engines, the state of the crew, the fuel levels, your speed–Imagine you could ‘feel’ all of this. And then imagine something goes wrong. Your instincts are going to take over much more efficiently if you can feel your altitude dropping instead of seeing it on a gauge. If you can feel all these inputs at once, and your brain is allowed to process it all on a subconscious level, you may even get that ‘gut instinct’ about the decision to make. And this time you’d know your brain has all the information it needs to make the right decision.

Our brain does a lot more behind the scenes than we are even aware of, and the more tools we give it to work with, the more it can accomplish. This kind of technology has me excited for the future, and I think I’ll be paying very close attention to Eagleman’s work from now on.


I’ve been watching this 1970’s detective show again, and I’m trying to put a finger on what makes it so good. I don’t re-watch many shows, but I keep getting the urge to watch Columbo, even though I’ve seen them all.

I know it’s not nostalgia, because I never watched the show growing up. My first time watching was only a few years ago, after Stephen Fry said on QI that it was the best show he’s ever seen. After watching one episode, I watched another every night until I’d seen them all.

Now, lately, I’ve been re-watching them. And I’m not one to do that. When there’s something new to watch I’ll almost always pick that over revisiting something I’ve seen, but for some reason I enjoy re-watching Columbo.

I think part of it might be the way the show is framed. In most detective / mystery shows, part of the excitement is discovering who committed the crime and how. With Columbo, you know that in the first few scenes. With the mystery taken out of the mystery show, the focus rests more on the characters. And they are all good, from William Shatner to Lesley Neilson to Johnny Cash. Yet Peter Falk always manages to steal the show, and you never find yourself rooting for, or even sympathizing with the villain.

I know I’ve posted about it a few times here, but many shows have the problem of their villain having more charisma and being more likable than their protagonist. Not one episode of Columbo has that problem. Whether it’s the writing or the directing or the genius of Peter Falk’s character, I can’t decide. But it works so well. Every villain on the show falls to hubris, and you can only shake your head and watch as they spiral to their doom. You don’t despise them, you may even empathize with their motives, but all you feel is satisfaction when Columbo holds up his finger and says “Oh gee, I almost forgot, just one more thing.”

It’s not sci fi, and it may be old and outdated, but I’ve spent a lot of time watching it and have enjoyed every minute. I think everyone, even those not into mysteries, should watch at least one episode of Columbo in their life. Give it a shot, you might find a new addiction, like I did.


Dumb and Dumber To

Well I wouldn’t bother writing about this except that I made a point to write a post about EVERY movie I watched this year that I hadn’t seen before. So, here goes.

This movie was stupid, mean-spirited, thoughtless and lazy. And that coming from a fan of the original.

It started out promising. The idea of Lloyd faking a coma for 20 years just to say ‘gotcha!’ to Harry is pretty funny, and I probably would have laughed a lot if it hadn’t been given away in the trailer. The jokes after that are low hanging, predictable and mean. And when the jokes weren’t mean or gross, I felt like i was being mocked. Everything else was a cheap callback, stealing any positive feelings fans might have had for the original, instead of coming up with their own jokes. Much of the main plotline made no sense, many of the jokes were impossible to have occurred in real life, (like, physically impossible) And Jim Carry’s face has never been more punchable.

Just to make sure this wasn’t me having a case of the olds, I rewatched the original right after watching this horrible sequel.

Even 20 years later, when I’m an adult and rarely watch comedies, I found the first one to be charming, heartfelt and funny. Yes it’s stupid. Yes the characters might as well be mentally handicapped. But they have motivations and you can almost believe they might be real people, instead of walking gross-out punchlines that could never exist in the real world. Incompetence is real, and the original movie is actually internally consistent. The characters don’t appear places without having to get there, or disappear for a few scenes then reappear saying they’ve been to Mexico, like bugs bunny popping up out of his hole.

The people in the sequel could never have been real people. They have no redeeming factors, skills or anything positive about them. Even their friendship seems false most of the time. In the original, Harry and Lloyd are dumb, yes, but even they show some skills. Lloyd tricks Sea-bass into a free meal, and Harry is actually charming enough to get Mary to go out with him a second time. In the sequel, Penny has to be (and is) portrayed as an imbecile in order to show even a brief interest in either of these characters.

I also got the impression that the Jeff Daniels must have been forced into doing this movie somehow, because he didn’t seem to be trying, and often it felt like he was making fun of me for even watching.

The whole movie just felt thin, hostile, and cheap.

Not recommended. Just watch the original again if you want that nostalgia.


Enemy, 2014

This was a weird one, and by the end of it, I’m not sure i really understand what was going on.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a boring history teacher, who, when watching a movie notices an actor that looks exactly like him. He tracks the actor down and finds that they seem to be exact doubles. And the movie just gets weirder from there.

The whole film has some kind of filter over it, making everything seem in shades of brown and yellow. I don’t know if that’s just supposed to make everything seem dirty or drab, or if it has some other meaning… with this movie, I’m second guessing what every little thing might mean.

The music, for the most part, was good and helped build the weird ambiance. It worked well, because I found myself on the edge of my seat, so to speak, for most the movie, even though most of the time nothing was really ‘happening’ as far as action goes. I just felt a very intent desire to see what happened next. There was one note, though, that repeated throughout the movie, that seemed very out of place and kind of, Italian? like it should be in the Godfather or something. But again, with this movie, I have no idea what is symbolism and what is literal and what is just for convenience.

And the end of the movie, i just don’t understand. I feel I’m missing the point of the movie, because the last scene is very shocking, and I believe that it is meant to bring some revelation, but, I just don’t get it.


So, is she a spider? Is that symbolizing some side of her he is seeing, some dark side? It doesn’t seem literal because his reaction, that little sigh he gives, is more like someone saying ‘oh, okay.’ or, being resigned to something, or giving in to something. Not like someone seeing a giant spider instead of their pregnant wife.

There were spiders in the beginning of the movie too. And of course in the dreams he had. But I don’t get what they represent. At the strip show, or whatever it is, people are watching the spider maybe, instead of the women? And the guy who lets him into Anthony’s apartment mentions that he’d do anything to see the show again. Does the spider symbolize some addiction?

I don’t get it.


Even though I don’t get it, I enjoyed it. Jake is a good actor and was very believable as each person. If you like slow, creepy movies that you have to think about, then I’d give this one a shot. Don’t expect it to make sense though. And if it does make sense to you, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised and enjoy it even more!

The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut

This was clever, fun and charming, as is everything by Vonnegut that I’ve read. And it also says a lot about how the world works.

The plot centers on Malachi Constant, son of the luckiest man on Earth, who invested in the stock markets using the Bible as a guide telling him what to buy or sell, and when. Malachi continues his father’s system and with it, his luck. Until during a month-long bender he gives away most of his wealth in a drunken haze, and with nowhere left to turn he joins the Martian army, has his memory wiped and an antenna put in his head… and that’s just the start of the story.

I enjoyed this a lot because the innocence of the characters really seemed out of place with what was going on around them, and that made them all the more likable. Malachi, or ‘Unc’ as we come to know him, really has no idea about anything that is going on, and is an almost literal pawn in giant schemes he can’t conceive of. Yet he still retains goals and ideas of his own, even with no memory to speak of.

Something about the bluntness and simpleness of Vonnegut’s characters has always made me enjoy them. Not to say that they are simple, but their thoughts are simple, their way of seeing and understanding things are simple, every day, identifiable. A simple understanding of complex things as are found in sci fi novels can be very entertaining.

The over all theme of this book seems to be ‘we have no control over anything that happens in life, and we shouldn’t pretend we do’. Or something like that. The characters often seem to be out of control, that is to say, they are being lead by someone or some outside force, and have no real influence on their own lives. They are always being used by someone for this or that. By the end of the book it seems that humanity itself has had no control over the direction it took. I’m not sure what commentary the author is trying to make on this other than ‘that’s just how life is’. Maybe he’s saying that in a sardonic tone.

A lot of crazy stuff goes on in this book, and all of it loads of fun to read (or listen to, in my case). I very much recommend it to any sci fi fan. Check it out!


NASA’s budget for 2016 was announced on Monday, and within the 18.5 billion they received, is 30 million specifically for a robotic mission to Europa.

Europa has always been the hot spot for the possibility of life in our solar system, and now we may be able to catch a glimpse of anything living beneath the frozen oceans of the moon.

This started me thinking about what would happen if we really did discover life there. Life of any kind. How would it affect the psyche of the world, knowing that we are not alone? How would it affect religions and philosophies?

I tried to think about how it would affect me. Would I be changed, knowing that there was other life, completely alien from anything I knew before, that had sprung up spontaneously in the same way I, and every other living thing I’ve encountered, did?

I think it would make me feel awed, in the true sense of the word. I get a little tingling in my gut, thinking about it, a glimmer of how huge and old and completely unknowable the universe is. It feels strange, and a bit scary, but also comforting in a weird way.

Would such a discovery make the rest of the world feel this way? Or would they brush it off, joke about it, minimize it, or outright deny it? Or would it be met with a collective ‘huh, that’s interesting’ and be old, forgotten news in a few weeks?

I don’t know anymore. I feel like it should be momentous, it should be history making, the biggest event in modern science and something unforgettable and world shaking. But maybe these things aren’t important to most people. You cant interview a microbe or fish-like thing beneath ice on a moon four-hundred million miles away. Maybe it would only mean anything to scientists or sci fi fans.

I’d like to think not, though. I’d like to think that kind of news would draw humanity together in collective amazement, and joy at such a discovery. I’d like to think it would make us all better people.

But maybe I’m just an idealist.

Anyway, we’ll have to actually get to Europa first! Right now a launch date of 2022 is in the works. I’ll be watching excitedly as the mission is planned, implemented and executed over the coming years.

Ad lib writing

I haven’t been doing a lot of writing lately, and what I have been doing has been completely improvised and for no purpose other than my own entertainment. Of course, I do hope other people end up enjoying it, but if they didn’t and told me to stop, I wouldn’t.

It’s sort of cathartic, liberating even, to write without a care of the outcome. To purely improvise with imagination the only tool. With zero planning and plotting, with every stroke and twist of story coming as if drawn from thin air. Maybe I enjoy this kind of writing because I’m good at it, but I find it exercises a certain kind of imagination, an unfiltered, unedited creation that can be a great resource.

I recommend any of you writers to try it as well. Write with careless abandon, reckless glee. Change nothing, edit nothing, disregard punctuation and spelling if you wish. Just write write write. And the ideas you’ll find flowing out of your head may surprise you in their quality. And even if you control + a delete the whole lot of it, the scenes and scenarios and ideas that came from it can be used elsewhere. And you’ll get much practice stitching unrelated themes and characters together and forcing them to make sense.