Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Deja Vu

(x-post from my old blog)

Deja vu, the phenomenon of feeling that events occuring have occured before in exactly the same fashion, can be explained very simply as a matter of timing in the brain's processing of events. It's not hard to imagine that some aspects of a stimulus are processed faster than others. Have you ever raised your head before you "heard" the telephone ring--before your frontal lobes perceived and recognized a sound? Hearing a sudden, unexpected noise will cause an almost reflexive reaction in most humans. They jump and look towards the origin of the sound. It isn't necessary to fully perceive sounds like that prior to responding to them, and because such noises could signal danger, it could be a deadly mistake to rely on the much slower frontal lobes to finish up before a response is coordinated.

A similar system is likely in play during deja vu. A stimulus is perceived and processing begins on it. However, the memory storage process encodes the stimulus just a fraction of a second before the frontal lobes. The frontal lobes, in processing the stimulus, refer to memory, including the memory just encoded for the same stimulus, and therefore recognize the stimulus as something _that already happened_. This out-of-step-processing hypothesis also explains the decay of deja vu. As an episode of deja vu progresses, the two processes of conscious perception and memory gradually return to their proper order, closing the time gap until conscious processing overtakes memory processing. This closing gap agrees with the experience of the deja vu memory becoming progressively less certain until events no longer appear to have happened before.

It's still not clear what causes deja vu or why episodes tend to stick out in a person's memory. Memories are more concrete when the stimulus is very strong or traumatic to the observer, but that doesn't imply that the processing is *faster*, and furthermore the events that surround episodes of deja vu are typically very mundane and in no way emotionally charged. Possibly, deja vu merely shows evidence of the brain's imperfect powers of perception and time gaps result from a race condition in our brain software. The more common explanation, that deja vu arises from the association of long passed or familiar memory traces with present stimuli could provide part of the answer. Assuming that the memory process must precede the conscious proces we have to assume that either the conscious process slows or the memory process accelerates prior to an episode. If the prior-memory-association hypothesis is correct, then it's possible the memory of a past event is substituted into evolving memory and thereby speeds up the process.

My hypothesis comes from a conceptualization of the brain as a sort of neurochemical computer. I assume that certain processes are distinct, identifiable, and observable. I may be wrong and the brain may be organized in ways that I did not anticipate and cannot understand. Even so, my explanation is at least as good as any other I've heard and I beleive it can be tested with in a drug trial.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Remote access tip with Firefox

I discovered today that if firefox can detect a firefox session running on a remote X server, it will connect to it. This can be disabled by the no-remote option on the command line (as per the man page).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Conway's Game of Life in Racket

Since I have some free time right now, I thought it would be cool to try my hand at making a GoL simulator. I would have used C since that's just what I've been using lately, but I ended up doing it in Racket (Scheme).

The grid can be made toroidal or as if the edges are all zero. Putting in new patterns is pretty simple. Display is simple text output.

Source includes glider, lwss, and gosper gun patterns.