visual activism

Balancing Time and Space in the Brain: A New Model Holds Promise for Predicting Brain Dynamics

For as long as scientists have been listening in on the activity of the brain, they have been trying to understand the source of its noisy, apparently random, activity. In the past 20 years, “balanced network theory” has emerged to explain this apparent randomness through a balance of excitation and inhibition in recurrently coupled networks of neurons. A team of scientists has extended the balanced model to provide deep and testable predictions linking brain circuits to brain activity.

Lead investigators at the University of Pittsburgh say the new model accurately explains experimental findings about the highly variable responses of neurons in the brains of living animals. On Oct. 31, their paper, “The spatial structure of correlated neuronal variability,” was published online by the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The new model provides a much richer understanding of how activity is coordinated between neurons in neural circuits. The model could be used in the future to discover neural “signatures” that predict brain activity associated with learning or disease, say the investigators.

“Normally, brain activity appears highly random and variable most of the time, which looks like a weird way to compute,” said Brent Doiron, associate professor of mathematics at Pitt, senior author on the paper, and a member of the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute (UPBI). “To understand the mechanics of neural computation, you need to know how the dynamics of a neuronal network depends on the network’s architecture, and this latest research brings us significantly closer to achieving this goal.”

Earlier versions of the balanced network theory captured how the timing and frequency of inputs—excitatory and inhibitory—shaped the emergence of variability in neural behavior, but these models used shortcuts that were biologically unrealistic, according to Doiron.

“The original balanced model ignored the spatial dependence of wiring in the brain, but it has long been known that neuron pairs that are near one another have a higher likelihood of connecting than pairs that are separated by larger distances. Earlier models produced unrealistic behavior—either completely random activity that was unlike the brain or completely synchronized neural behavior, such as you would see in a deep seizure. You could produce nothing in between.”

In the context of this balance, neurons are in a constant state of tension. According to co-author Matthew Smith, assistant professor of ophthalmology at Pitt and a member of UPBI, “It’s like balancing on one foot on your toes. If there are small overcorrections, the result is big fluctuations in neural firing, or communication.”

The new model accounts for temporal and spatial characteristics of neural networks and the correlations in the activity between neurons—whether firing in one neuron is correlated with firing in another. The model is such a substantial improvement that the scientists could use it to predict the behavior of living neurons examined in the area of the brain that processes the visual world.

After developing the model, the scientists examined data from the living visual cortex and found that their model accurately predicted the behavior of neurons based on how far apart they were. The activity of nearby neuron pairs was strongly correlated. At an intermediate distance, pairs of neurons were anticorrelated (When one responded more, the other responded less.), and at greater distances still they were independent.

“This model will help us to better understand how the brain computes information because it’s a big step forward in describing how network structure determines network variability,” said Doiron. “Any serious theory of brain computation must take into account the noise in the code. A shift in neuronal variability accompanies important cognitive functions, such as attention and learning, as well as being a signature of devastating pathologies like Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.”

While the scientists examined the visual cortex, they believe their model could be used to predict activity in other parts of the brain, such as areas that process auditory or olfactory cues, for example. And they believe that the model generalizes to the brains of all mammals. In fact, the team found that a neural signature predicted by their model appeared in the visual cortex of living mice studied by another team of investigators.

“A hallmark of the computational approach that Doiron and Smith are taking is that its goal is to infer general principles of brain function that can be broadly applied to many scenarios. Remarkably, we still don’t have things like the laws of gravity for understanding the brain, but this is an important step for providing good theories in neuroscience that will allow us to make sense of the explosion of new experimental data that can now be collected,” said Nathan Urban, associate director of UPBI.

Q: Do you have any advice on manifesting new, loyal friends?

A: Yes! Firstly, on a piece of paper write “My New Friend” and around it put in detail all the qualities you would like them to have such as loyal, fun-loving, similar interests, supportive, etc. Get quite specific here. Only use positive terminology. And start with one person. 

Secondly, be mindful that you are loyal too. You probably are, and you probably are frustrated with the lack of loyalty of others though! Pay attention to your feelings once you’ve established a clear list of qualities you want this friend to have. And follow any subtle feelings, intuitions. It might be to reach out to someone you knew years ago, or you overhear a conversation that you want to add to in a coffee shop. 

Thirdly, visualize what activities you would do with your new friend, and feel how much fun you’re having. Feel how pleasant it is to be understood on every level. Feel how thankful you are for this. 

Lastly, if you have had friendships that have left you disappointed, find a way to let it go. Write down “ I release ____ to their highest good and me to mine.” See that if they knew better, they would do better. 

I have had great manifestations come out of this. Once in Starbucks I overheard two ladies talk about a subject I’m so interested in, so I politely joined in and went on to have coffee with one of the ladies and became friends. I showed her this website, actually, as she’s creating a personal development programme herself! So it was as something simple as following my curiosity in the moment. 
Another time I had specifically been looking for a meaningful soul friendship in my life, and then had a dream/vision where I was told someone who I was watching on TV at the time would come into my life. I took the action of making contact with that person, and it has happened! We met, connected and I am deeply grateful for it. 

Gang Activity Part 2

You never imagined yourself to be the one to sneak out but here you were, quietly slipping on a hoodie over your tank top and slipping out of your sleeping shorts and into a pair of black skinny jeans. The house was quiet since your parents had finally gone to bed and your brother was locked away in his room in the basement. The floors creaked slightly under your weight as you tiptoed down the stairs and towards the front door. You would stop and hold your breath every few seconds keeping an ear out for any sounds of your parents or your brother. You were finally able to breathe properly after you had very slowly and quietly shut the front door behind you and jogged over to the black BMW sitting beneath the large oak tree a few houses down from your own. “Took you long enough." 

 "Shut up.” You buckled yourself in and looked over at Calum. His attire was much like he always dressed; a black jacket worn over a black t-shirt with black jeans. This boy really needed some color in his life. His hair was messy in a dangerously sexy way and you were tempted to run your fingers through the thick strands to make it even more messier than before. 

Calum started the engine which was, thankfully, really quiet and started driving with one hand on the wheel and the other perched on top of the gear, dangerously close to your thigh. You wondered what it would feel like to have his hand shift onto your thigh, to feel the warmth seep through your jeans and for you to trace the smooth skin underneath his jacket.   

You were brought out of your daydream when Calum leaned over to your side and reached in front of you to open the glove compartment. You were highly aware of how close he was to you. The temperature suddenly seemed to go up and you couldn’t help but hold your breath as Calum scrounged around for something, his body only inches away from your own. 

“Finally.” Calum leaned back in his seat allowing you the chance to breathe and slipped a cigarette between his lips. Lighting the end, he inhaled before slowing letting the smoke out between his lips. It was an attractive sight even though you were repulsed by the thick smell of toxins.   

The rest of the ride went by in comfortable silence much like it always was with Calum. Ever since your official introduction in the grocery store, you had talked to Calum a handful of times about anything and everything. You had shared your embarrassing story of your first kiss and even though Calum had teased you about the “way-too innocent’ peck, you felt comfortable telling Calum things that you were afraid you would be judged for. 

Calum talking about himself was another story. Even though he seemed comfortable enough to joke around with and tease you, his story still seemed a mystery since he never spoke of his family or past experiences. You had subtly tried to ask about his “gang”, if it was one, but he just laughed and changed the subject. Even after not knowing about his past, you felt comfortable with Calum because he had no trouble talking of his future. He admitted to wanting to travel the world and making music and supporting his family so they wouldn’t have to worry. His ambition was attractive and you knew you were falling for this guy no matter what he could have done in the past.

Twenty minutes later, Calum stopped the car in the middle of the driveway of a small, brick house. All the lights were off except a lone porch light illuminating the cracked steps leading up the army green front door. 

“Stay close to me.” Calum spoke authoritatively once you had both stepped out of the car and walked towards the sketchy house. 

As soon as the two of you walked in, the different smells hit you. The air was humid and slightly smoky as you followed Calum down a flight of stairs into what appeared to be the basement of a very old home. There was a group of people sitting on old, worn couches, some making out, others with either a drug or drink in hand and others doing both. 

Calum got a very nice welcome by everyone who immediately dropped what (and who) they were doing to greet the dark-haired man. Calum’s face was calm as he greeted everyone, until he saw a man sitting across from Calum at a round table with a beer bottle in one hand and the other wrapped around the waist of an unknown girl. 

“What are you doing here?” Calum snarled at the man who merely smiled back mockingly. 

“Just having a drink with my fellow friends.” 

Calum growled out a response before wrapping an arm around your waist and leading you over to the other side of the room. His scowl was present for the rest of the night as he kept on shooting dirty glances at the other man. 

Somewhere between having a beer and the onslaught of dirty comments from the other man, did Calum get up from his seat and crossed the room to land a punch in the other man’s face. 

That was only the beginning. The other man tried to fight back but Calum was restless and his punches were powerful. You had never seen Calum like this and it did scare you, but you were also fearful for Calum’s sake. 

Majority of the others were egging on the fight while you were trying desperately to be heard over their nonsense and get Calum to stop fighting. You were terrified by now and the only thing that finally got Calum to stop his attack was the distant sound of sirens. 

“Shit!” He turned away from the bloody body on the floor and looked around with wide, frantic eyes. 

“Calum, you need to get out of here! You’re on probation!” You could this coming from another one of the guys but didn’t register who it was since you were  still trying to make your way over to Calum through the crowd of panicking people. 

You felt a hand wrap around your wrist and tug you towards the exit. You raced behind Calum all the way to his car where you hurriedly buckled yourself in before Calum was speeding off away from the sirens. 

Now, not only did Calum smell of smoke but the smell of blood and sweat was mixed in as well. Calum was still breathing heavily from both the fight and the mas dash and his knuckles were ripped and bloody. His face was clean except for a little splotch of swelling on his right cheekbone. 

The ride to your house was silent except this time the silence was tense instead of comfortable. 

“I’m sorry.” he finally spoke once he parked the car in front of the large oak tree, houses down from your own house. 

“What happened?” 

“A lot. A lot has been going on with that fucker…in the past and I just snapped. I’m sorry.” 

“Why are you on probation?”

This time, he didn’t bother an answer at all. 

Turning to leave, you stopped with one foot out the door when Calum’s hand held your arm. Despite his violent actions only half an hour earlier, his touch was gentle now against your skin. 

“I told you to stay away.” his voice was low but you heard him in the tense silence of the car. 

You didn’t really have an explanation for what you did next but you leaned back into the car and planted your lips on Calum’s. His lips  were slightly dry but you didn’t care because you had been wanting to kiss him ever since the first day he called you to hang out. The kiss was slow but still held a sense of urgency as you tasted the remnants of Calum’s anger and his gentleness towards you. Calum’s hand was holding your face as you made out for a long time in his car. 

You finally pulled back, out of breath and got out of the car. 

Before you could walk off, Calum leaned over and looked up at you through the open window, “Now, that’s what you call a first kiss.”   

Re: that post on using references; it is such a *sensible* thing to do. I honestly don’t see how you can learn if not from reality. I know several artists (who I highly respect) who take selfies in different poses so they can figure out if and how they work for real life humans. It’s good practise!

As for myself; I am really not a visual person (auditory person presents!), so I need to actively put visual references in my writing to create the feeling my written people live in a sort-of real world. I’ve used The Sims 3 to create real visuals of both people starring in my work and for houses to make real sense. This kind of thing doesn’t come naturally to me as a gift or something. Also used it experimentally to see how certain personalities would do together tbh, but I take that a lot less serious.  

/tl;dr research is not cheating and I consider using references a form of research


The Superlatively Superfluous Adventures of Legolas (&Tauriel)

Dateline: Laketown refugee camp (35/40)

Energy First, Action Second

Would you like to know of a simple way to make any task or activity easier and more effective?

Envision it before you take any action on it!

This technique is used by professional athletes, successful businessmen and women, visionaries, leaders, and more.

Many of them know that visualizing an activity or endeavor the way you want it to go greatly enhances the likelihood of success.

Why does this work?

Because you are aligning your energy, your intention, your will, with the outcome you want to happen. You are directing your full mental and emotional creative power, not just your physical effort, toward the successful outcome.

Try it yourself! The next time you need to attend an important meeting, perform a chore or task, or do anything at all, take just a few minutes to visualize yourself doing it well.

See yourself feeling good, happily doing what you need to do, and having the outcome turn out exactly as you would like it to be. See yourself smiling and feeling very satisfied with the outcome.

Then take action.

Project Submission Guidelines!

Please submit photos, videos, illustrations, visual posts that show your real life, every day experience of the world as a disabled person. Whatever that may be! It can be anything from mundane every day things, your fashion, your selfies, your food habits, the things you enjoy doing, to the adventures you go on, basically anything anyone would ever share about themselves. It doesn’t have to be a 100% positive experience, though, as that is not real life. Any emotion, any experience. I’m interested in presenting what it is like for disabled people to live their lives.

Photos, videos etc. should probably include you, a part of you, or your actual Point of View to be a true depiction of you and your experience. They should also be clear, the subject matter should be recognizable, and relatively interesting to look at (if not downright hilarious commentary on the mundaneness of living life as a human being). If we want this project to make a difference it should be something that all kinds of people want to look at. Let’s burst out of our echo-chamber and refuse to be ignored!

Whatever else, you should be presenting yourself and your experience how YOU want to be presented. This is about both education and empowerment. I’m not here to dictate how you depict your life and what “Disability Is Normal” means for you.

No photos or videos of disabled people that are not you, please, unless it is a group shot that includes you and you are also disabled.

If you know a disabled person who wants their experience to be shared as part of this project please have them submit. If they are not physically able to submit, then please message me with a copy of their explicit consent - this would be either in physical signed form (a photo of a signed note), a video of them consenting, or a voice recording. A simple YES answer to a ‘do you want this to be shared on Disability is Normal’ - a physical nod, or thumbs up etc. is good enough for me if the person is non-verbal.

I want to try and be inclusive as is absolutely possible, but this is a place for us to be represented exactly how we want to be. These are our voices!

This is a project for all disabilities, all genders, all ethnicities, all skills, all lifestyles, all perspectives, all social classes and all disabled experiences. We are numerous, we are everywhere and we WILL be acknowledged <3

Neuroscientists find evidence for ‘visual stereotyping’

The stereotypes we hold can influence our brain’s visual system, prompting us to see others’ faces in ways that conform to these stereotypes, neuroscientists at New York University have found.

“Our findings provide evidence that the stereotypes we hold can systematically alter the brain’s visual representation of a face, distorting what we see to be more in line with our biased expectations,” explains Jonathan Freeman, an assistant professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and the senior author of the paper, which appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

“For example, many individuals have ingrained stereotypes that associate men as being more aggressive, women as being more appeasing, or Black individuals as being more hostile—though they may not endorse these stereotypes personally,” Freeman observes. “Our results suggest that these sorts of stereotypical associations can shape the basic visual processing of other people, predictably warping how the brain ‘sees’ a person’s face.”

Prior research has shown that stereotypes seep into the ways we think about and interact with other people, shaping many aspects of our behavior—despite our better intentions. But the researchers’ findings show that stereotypes may also have a more insidious impact, shaping even our initial visual processing of a person in a way that conforms to our existing biases.

“Previous studies have shown that how we perceive a face may, in turn, influence our behavior,” notes Ryan Stolier, an NYU doctoral student and lead author of the research. “Our findings therefore shed light upon an important and perhaps unanticipated route through which unintended bias may influence interpersonal behavior.”

The research relies on an innovative mouse-tracking technique that uses an individual’s hand movements to reveal unconscious cognitive processes—and, specifically, the stereotypes they hold. Unlike surveys, in which individuals can consciously alter their responses, this technique requires subjects to make split-second decisions about others, thereby uncovering a less conscious preference through their hand-motion trajectory. Using this mouse-tracking software Freeman developed, the millimeters of movement of a test subject’s mouse cursor can be linked with brain-imaging data to discover otherwise hidden impacts on specific brain processes.

In the first of two studies, Freeman and Stolier monitored subjects’ brain activity—using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)—while these subjects viewed different faces: male and female as well as those of various races and depicting a range of emotions. Outside the brain scanner, the subjects were asked to quickly categorize the gender, race, and emotion of the faces using the mouse-tracking technique. Despite their conscious responses, the subjects’ hand movements revealed the presence of several stereotypical biases. Notably, men, and particularly Black men, were initially perceived “angry,” even when their faces were not objectively angry; and women were initially perceived “happy,” even when their faces were not objectively happy. In addition, Asian faces were initially perceived “female” and Black faces were initially perceived “male,” regardless of the faces’ actual gender. The researchers confirmed, using a separate group of subjects, that the specific pattern of visual biases observed matched prevalent stereotypical associations in the U.S. to a significant degree.

The researchers’ fMRI findings backed these assessments, demonstrating that such stereotypical biases may be entrenched in the brain’s visual system, specifically in the fusiform cortex, a region involved in the visual processing of faces. For instance, the neural-activation patterns elicited by Black male faces in this region were more similar to those elicited by objectively angry faces, even when such faces did not display any actual angry features (e.g., due to stereotypes of Black individuals as hostile). Moreover, the extent of this stereotypical similarity in neural-activation patterns was correlated with the extent of bias observed in a subject’s hand movements. For example, the extent to which a subject’s hand initially veered toward the “angry” response when categorizing a non-angry Black male face predicted the extent to which neural-activation patterns for Black male faces and angry faces were more strongly correlated in the subject’s fusiform cortex.

The numerous other biases described above were also observed in the brain-imaging results. As another example, the neural-activation patterns elicited by White female faces were more similar to those elicited by objectively happy faces, even when such faces did not display any actual happy features (e.g., due to stereotypes of women as appeasing). In addition, neural-activation patterns elicited by Asian faces were more similar to those elicited by female faces, regardless of the actual gender (due to stereotypes associating Asians with more feminine traits).

In the second study, the researchers replicated the overall findings in a larger group of subjects and ruled out alternative explanations, such as whether inherent physical resemblance or visual similarities in certain faces may explain the results. They also measured each subject’s own stereotypical associations using an additional task and demonstrated that it was a subject’s own unique associations that specifically predicted the visual biases and neural-activation patterns observed. These findings cemented the evidence that one’s own learned stereotypes can change the way that an individual sees another person’s face and also demonstrated that this form of visual stereotyping is not limited to particular associations. Rather, whatever associations an individual has learned over his or her lifetime are likely to be expressed in the form of this visual stereotyping, the findings suggest.

“If stereotypes we have learned can change how we visually process another person, this kind of visual stereotyping may only serve to reinforce and possibly exacerbate the biases that exist in the first place,” Freeman notes.

“Ultimately, this research could be used to develop better interventions to reduce or possibly eliminate unconscious biases,” he adds. “The findings highlight the need to address these biases at the visual level as well, which may be more entrenched and require specific forms of intervention. This visual bias occurs the moment we glimpse at another person, well before we have a chance to correct ourselves or regulate our behavior.”

Visualization activates the brain to release a neurotransmitter called dopamine which is part of the brains reward system and makes us feel good. While dopamine kick starts our motivation, we need to maintain a steady dose to keep us on track when things get tough.

Each time we visualize a compelling goal, our brain releases another dose of dopamine so do what successful athletes do and make mental visualization a regular part of of your preparation.

Use words, pictures, feelings or sounds to give your brain a rich internal experience when focusing on your goal

Jenny Nabben

People born without sight appear to solve math problems using visual areas of the brain.

A functional MRI study of 17 people blind since birth found that areas of visual cortex became active when the participants were asked to solve algebra problems, a team from Johns Hopkins reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“And as the equations get harder and harder, activity in these areas goes up in a blind person,” says Marina Bedny, an author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

In 19 sighted people doing the same problems, visual areas of the brain showed no increase in activity.

“That really suggests that yes, blind individuals appear to be doing math with their visual cortex,” Bedny says.

When Blind People Do Algebra, The Brain’s Visual Areas Light Up

Photo: Stuart Kinlough/Getty Images/Ikon Images

Oh, I should probably share this here too!

I discovered a much higher quality version of Kin No Tori on youtube. Here’s a link:

UNFORTUNATLY, despite the obvious improvement in picture quality, there appears to be a bunch of weird VHS transfer errors interfering with viewing the animation. (Lots of odd zooming/picture jumping around during moments of high visual activity. i don’t really know anything about what causes this.)

This new version is useful for capturing higher quality stills, of course.

I’d still recommend this previous upload if you want to properly enjoy the animation in the witch sequence:

Honestly, people complain about idols like Yeri who are added just for their looks, but then proudly call red velvet a group with no visual hole. You say you want talent, but idols like Umji get so much hate for not being conventionally attractive. Is it only me seeing the hypocrisy? Stop saying you want talented idols if you only mean, and support, ones you also find attractive. Stop tearing down visual members when you actively contribute to the culture which feeds off of them.