Silk Drawings and Google Drawings

Hey guys, here’s the website where you can weave your own intricate silk drawing with your mouse (or trackpad): Weave Silk

and a while back when we were talking about human brains vs computer “brains” I brought up Google Image’s “drawings”. Essentially, Google programmers wanted to see if they could teach their artificial neural networks (what processes our image searches) an object by showing it millions of pictures of that object, and then later asking it to come up with it’s own image for it. They also played around with image layer levels. The results are WEIRD.


check it out for yourself


….take a stress pill and think things over.

The Vancouver Industrial band Skinny Puppy, included several samples from 2001: A Space Odyssey in the track Rivers on their 1989 album Rabies.  Rivers also includes samples form Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers. It’s been been posted to YouTube including the scenes sampled – so good!

The Juggler’s Brain

Here’s the link to the intro video of the Chpater 7 + Digression presentation. See if you can watch it at home, or if it’s really just too hard to concentrate for that long:

About the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (the brain region stimulated in experienced internet users, mentioned in the chapter regarding Gary Small’s study)…Where is it located? Well, it’s right here:


Here is the scientific study illuminating the Top-Down processing purposes of the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex:

Here’s the study’s diagram of all of the connections that this brain area makes, in case you’re looking to get straight to the point. With so many connections, it makes sense that it is stimulated when so many functions must be coordinated during Internet use:


Indecisive about your career path? That indecision may be more linked to your Internet use than you think:

Here are some of the University of Guelph’s resources to help you deal with your perfectionism-procrastination complex. Scroll down the page or Ctrl+F “procrastination” to find them:

Trying to quit multitasking and start focusing your attention? You may want to start by turning off all of your push notifications making your phone buzz and beep – they are apparently just as distracting as actually sending texts or checking your apps. Find out more:

Toward the end of the chapter, Carr references a study by Clifford Nass at Stanford, about how the multitasking brain functions. Here is an article that further explains the points touched upon in the book, as well as a TED Talk by Nass exploring his findings:

Here is a great blog post which puts into really understandable terms why we just can’t multitask:

As mentioned in the chapter, our working memory is quite limited, and theorized to only hold 7 items at a time. Marketers know this, and use “grouping” techniques to lump items together in ads so you retain more:

Here’s an example of “grouping” in an ad:


Here’s Torkel Klingberg’s TED Talk on how working memory works, and how you might be able to improve yours:

And here’s a link to his game:

The digression following chapter 7 is about the changes in IQ levels over time. Do you think we’re getting smarter, or are we just thinking differently?

If you’re curious about your IQ score, here’s a link to an online test:




How to spend Stephen King’s money

What happens when 2 authors release a book with the same title? In 2006 Emily Schultz published her debut novel Joyland (available in both print book and as an eBook), in 2014 Stephen King released his print only novel with the same title. Despite the fact that the eBook version of Joyland was authored by Emily Schultz, a few hundred people bought (online from Amazon), and read her eBook thinking it was Stephen King’s latest novel!!!!! Some of those people were confused and didn’t like “King’s‘ new book, so they returned to Schultz’s Amazon page to leave negative reviews.

The mistaken purchases resulted in a surprise royalty check for Schultz and because she is an artist, she took the experience to the next level and blogged about how she spent Stephen King’s money.




Chapter 4 – a little more on “The Deepening Page” & a digression

The Reading Brain

More about the reading brain, how to keep and improve your reading skills online and an interview with the “accomplished reader” Maryanne Wolf.

The Audion

audion-cover-pageThe “Father of Radio” – Lee deForest’s 1952 article Dawn of the Electronic Age (Jan, 1952) in full in Popular Mechanics with images of an atom smasher,  a 1929 TV camera and an electric selective-sequence calculator!




Food for Thoughts
“It would be a shame if brilliant technology were to end up threatening the kind of intellect that produced it.” – Edward Tenner

Watch the TED talk of historian and tech writer Edward Tenner discussing the unintended consequences of new inventions and their impact(s) on the world.

Chapter 3, Tools of the Mind


Maps are Beautiful. Christine De Vuono, 2014

Chapter 3 is a bridge set up between the exploration of neuroplasticity (Chapter 2) and the evolution of the written word (Chapter 4).  Carr has set up a variety of “tools” that we use in everyday life that we rely on in an unconscious way – our mental maps, our sense of time and punctuality, and what/how we remember.  Carr looks at three historic tools in this chapter; the evolution of maps and how they shape our abstract assumptions of the world into an internal understanding of space and placement; clocks and how our sense of time (and timing) went from a publicly organized indicator to a personal one; and how ‘poetry’ from the Ancient Greeks segued into the written word, altering the emphasis from an oral tradition to a written one.

As we go through this chapter, Carr seems to utilize many Eurocentric assumptions regarding the progress of civilization.  There is a huge swathe of humanity that does not feature in his historical analysis, which should be kept in mind.     We are brought along a specific path that supports the ideals and lived experiences of his largely North American non-academic audience, which given the real thesis of the book, (that we are able to condition our minds and bodies into certain ways of behaving and remembering, and that the Internet is forming much of that behaviour, unbeknownst to our conscious selves) Carr needs to keep his audience with him until he can explore his thesis in totality.  Having said that, let’s look at the tools Carr outlines and how they support his argument.



A version of the World Map from early 1500s (

When discussing maps, Carr states that “the map is a medium that not only stores and transmits information but also embodies a particular mode of seeing and thinking.”(pg.41) Here we see a map from the heady days of global exploration, where the oceans seem manageable and full of vessels (and monsters).  Although the lands are not accurate, the map has an overall sense of adventure. Later, a new, more accurate map is created by Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569.

Mercator Projection Map, 1569

This map allowed for ease of navigation across oceans, but due the fact that the map is flat, but the Earth is round, this map is heavily distorted as it reaches the northern and southern hemispheres making European and North American land masses and the Antarctic absurdly big.  Given that this map dominated for over 400 years during which colonization spread across the globe, how does this distortion affect our understanding of countries that seem small? As Carr states, “The more frequently and intensively people use maps, the more their minds came to understand reality in the map’s terms” (pg. 41)

Arno Peters, a German historian, addressed this concern in his 1973 map, the Peters Projection map.  Coming out 6 months after the Apollo 17 released their photos of Earth from space, Peters claimed “that his new world map offered the best alternative to the 400-year-old hegemony of Mercator’s 1569 projection, and the supposedly ‘Eurocentric’ assumptions that lay behind it” (pg. 379, Brotton, J. A History of the World in Twelve Maps).

The Peters’ Projection map was adopted by many groups almost immediately, including the UN through UNICEF and UNESCO, Oxfam, Action Aid, and the British Council of Churches with the slogan “New Dimensions, Fair Conditions”, distributing over 60 million maps worldwide (Brotton, 380). But did it go far enough? The video above asks a question about how people would react if the map was shown with the North on the bottom, something that artists like Joaquin Torres Garcia explores in his challenge to view the world with the South at the “top”.



But really, who uses maps anyway?  How many of us still have paper maps that we rely on to navigate?  Hardly any of us. And why should we when Google Maps has over 10 petabytes of geographical data at our fingertips? (as of 2012, Brotton, pg 406) A petabyte represents 1 million gigabytes! Although there are criticisms about Google maps having a Western bias, and (before 2012) censoring, then (after 2012) not censoring militarily-sensitive sites throughout the world, who is not in awe of the fact that I can type in my Skipton home address and get this:…/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x487bf3959ed9622f:0x213522ce86a87040

And we can also look at the moon:

Or Mars:

We may need to remind ourselves of the notion that the mapmaker is seeding his/her/its own perspective of the world within and we need to scrutinize our assumptions even as we enjoy the wealth of fast, free knowledge on our phones, computers and tablets.

Maps are also being used in other ways, pushing into the idea that our minds come to understand reality in the maps’ terms. Check out to see how they utilize global economic, social and population information to shape maps into representational illustrations of the inequalities of the world:

One more thing, while thinking about how cool it is that we can access 10 petabytes of geographical information via the internet, you might want to check out this animation that shows where internet access is dominant (okay, the data is almost 10 years old, but it shows how not everyone in the world has access to Google Maps. )…/internet_users_animation


The second intellectual technology Carr discusses is clocks.
Humans have had a concept of time way before clocks but this relied almost entirely on the sun either through simple observation of its place in the sky or through sundials. Although they’re mostly used ornamentally, sundials are abundant in our society today and actually surprisingly easy to read – the shadow simply acts as a hour hand on a clock.

Mechanical clocks developed in the 1300s and began the shift in the way people saw time. However these clocks were often public (owned by churches) or owned by only the incredibly wealthy.  It’s when these clocks become smaller and more portable that they start changing our everyday lives – this act of measuring time swept us into the enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and new worlds and transportation. This video, sums up that profound impact pretty well.

What this video also notices is how these segments of time now control us. How many things do we do when we actually just want to do them instead of the time to eat, the time to be at work, the time until a shop closes, the time something is due, the time when you can get seven hours of sleep?

Now the mechanical clock that set this ball rolling is no longer accurate enough for our obsession with time, being on it and saving it, as it does actually fall farther behind over the years and it’s user falls behind. Other technologies are pushing the clock to its most accurate so that we can make more exact measurements and calculations.

Our love affair with time is still advancing and with every check of our phones, watches, and microwaves we’re proving that we’re still entirely wrapped up in it.


In this section, Carr discusses the slow, yet inevitable shift from oral to written traditions for Western Civilization. He tells how difficult Hieroglyphics were to learn, having various components, including “logosyllabic systems expanded to include many hundreds of characters…” which was mentally taxing and utilized both hemispheres of the brain (pg.53).  Let’s see how hard it really was:

Carr then moves through history to the Ancient Greeks, outlining the arguments both for and against the written language as a usurper of the oral tradition of memorizing long passages of information and relaying them in the form of poetry. As history reveals, and Chapter 4 will expand on, the shift to writing was unstoppable.  With it our cultures have been able to retain vast amounts of data that can live on beyond the individuals who wrote them.  The price for this has been our personal ability to remember large amounts of information and a cultural skepticism regarding oral traditions in other cultures.  A 2014 interview on Day 6 CBC with Dave Woodman, author of Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony, explores reasons why the oral legends passed through the Inuit generations were both right and befuddled through translation, cultural context and historical biases.  Well worth the listen.…/franklin-expedition-why-native-oral-history-was-right-all-along-1.2764923


Brotton, Jerry. A History of the World in Twelve Maps, 2012, USA.


The Shallows, Chapter 2- The Vital Paths (and a digression)

Some Ethical Implications of the Malleable Mind

What is neuroplasticity? Chapter 2 is largely devoted to explaining two conceptions of the mind- one of fixed rigidity, and one of malleability. Carr gives us insight into the nature of the human mind that has profound (and at times kind of scary) implications…

Neuroplasticity: Ability of the brain to modify its own structure and function following changes within the body or external environment 

So in other words: your actions and your thoughts create habits by changing the structure of your brain. 

In the digression, Carr brings up the idea that because we don’t have any physical perception of our brains existing, it’s hard to believe that they suffer consequences. The brain seems to be this ethereal thing that exists beyond our control, and we want to believe that’s the truth. But what plasticity means for us is that we have far more accountability for our brains than we think, because we choose our actions, and, to some degree, what we think about, and that affects our wiring. We actually have a degree of control over our thought patterns and feelings. But we typically conceive of these things as beyond our control. Think about it for a second- have you ever been in a difficult situation where you have expressed the sentiment “I can’t help how I feel?” or “That’s just what I believe?”

Neuroplasticity appears to challenge that. Because to some degree, it implies that you can change how you think.

Neuroplasticity is challenging because it has implications for responsibility. We have social obligations to control our behavior, for both our own good and the good of those around us. We’re used the idea that we need to control our actions. But thoughts and reflexes, associations and habits, ultimately control our actions- and we can shape our thoughts and reflexes. So do we have a responsibility to conscientiously engineer how we think? Carr seems to be suggesting that we have to take responsibility for our own minds, if we want to preserve skills and ways of thinking that are replaced by digital adaptation. But what about our duties to others? What can neuroplasticity teach us about social responsibility? 

“I’m Not Racist, But…” 


You can actually take an association test to see how prejudiced you are.
(Try it! And yes, you probably are a little bit horrible, deep down. Everyone is.)

Would you be surprised to learn that you unconsciously favor one gender or racial group over another? People don’t like to take responsibility for that kind of thinking. They don’t want to admit that they believe detrimental things. When asked whether or not they are racist, sexist or otherwise prejudiced, many take the option to reply otherwise, that they don’t feel that way. Yet when placed in a situation like “who am I afraid of on the sidewalk at night”, your unconscious mind thinks otherwise.

Unconscious bias is a bit like McLuhan’s “watchdog” scenario. Media sneak changes into your brain that you don’t notice. Society sneaks prejudices into your brain that you don’t notice.


Is there evidence of plasticity and learned behaviors in this talk? “That’s my default” (~5:00) sounds a bit like neurological “paths of least resistance” (Carr, pp. 35). According to Vernā, bias is something we’ve been invisibly trained to think. We learn biases and embed them by repeating them over and over again. Sounds like brain circuits that “…want to keep exercising…”  (Carr, pp. 34)

Unlike ideological racism, behavior driven by conditioned racism is not necessarily based on conscious beliefs about supposed racial differences. While factors such as skin tone or culture or accent can act as ‘triggers’ for conditioned racism, it is largely our brains’ automated response to anything and anyone perceived as a possible threat or enemy. And our society has insidious ways of teaching us that some people are dangerous, when they are not. 

Unintended Consequences 

You can discuss neuroplasticity and ethics in a different direction. Unconscious bias is somewhat related to the idea that our societal structure, thoughts and actions can have unintended consequences. In racial bias, our own plastic minds are trained to have unintended, undesired prejudices. Our impressionability makes our brains vulnerable. It would seem true of any detrimental thought pattern. 

So our brains are not always predictable. (See the Greenburg quote on pg. 34 of the Shallows.) But what about computers? We’ve been talking about how digital technology shapes us- but how do we shape digital technology? Norman Doidge points out that biological and digital networks are very similar: 

“Electronic media are so effective at altering the nervous system because they both work in similar ways and are basically compatible and thus easily linked. Both involve the instantaneous transmission of electric signals to make linkages. Because our nervous system is plastic, it can take advantage of this compatibility and merge with the electronic media, making a single, larger system. Indeed, it is the nature of such systems to merge whether they are biological or man-made.” – Doidge, The Brain that Changes Itself, pp. 311

And keep in mind Carr’s point as well:

“Monkeys, for instance, were taught how to use rakes and pliers to take hold of pieces of food that would otherwise have been out of reach….the rakes and pliers actually came to be incorporated into the brain maps of the animals’ hands. The tools, so far as the animals’ brains were concerned, had become part of their bodies.” – Carr, The Shallows, pp. 32

Some further examples of brain/tool integration:

Circuits in your skin

Hacking into your brain???

You’d have to really love your smartphone…

(A documentary about ‘the singularity’- the fusion of humans with machines. For a particularly interesting example, go to 56:30.)

And of course, more wisdom from McLuhan:

“His first law of media is that all the media are extensions of aspects of man….the computer extends the processing capacities of our central nervous system. He argued that the process of extending our nervous system also alters it.” -Doige, on McLuhan. The Brain that Changes Itself, pp.310

“Now man is beginning to wear his brain outside his skull, and his nerves outside his skin….Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace….” McLuhan, quoted in Doige, The Brain that Changes Itself, pp. 311

So the question is, if we can develop intimate relationships with digital systems, based on feedback, can our plasticity manifest in a digital system as well? Carr explains how the brain was once thought to be rigid, fixed, and with each component serving a predictable function, and that computers are generally conceived of the same way. But then, the machine metaphor is broken down for the brain, thanks to the discovery of plasticity- it’s organic and adaptive, and reacts to its environment in ways we do not expect. So could that understanding be incorrect for a computer too?


Essentially what this guy is saying is that we have written code we can no longer control, with effects we cannot predict. And that code is changing its environment to facilitate itself. The technology is a positive feedback loop, just like the “vital paths”. Perhaps we have designed something that is more like ourselves than we realize. We should be responsible for how our technologies behaveBecause they ultimately come back to shape us. 

Can you think of any situations where your use of digital technology has changed how it behaved? Has your usage had unintended consequences? 

In Conclusion…

Both of these discussions show the changing nature of our mind; your actions have unintended consequences on how you think, and how you think has unintended consequences on your actions. Those consequences are unintended because we aren’t used to the idea of shaping our brains to perform to what we think we believe. We don’t think about the psychological consequences for what we do, feel or experience. We’re not used to paying attention. 

And we probably should, because as racial bias and thieving algorithms show us, not all unintended consequences are harmless. As Pascual-Leone says, “…plastic changes may not necessarily represent a behavioral gain for a given subject.” (Carr, pp.34)

We become so addicted to our devices, unknowingly. Just like we become programmed to fear. Our hearts race a when we see the police, and our palms may sweat when we walk down a dark alley with someone of a different racial group. The plasticity that is embedded in us not only changes the way we view the people around us, but also the technologies we have created and unknowingly become so accustomed to. And can’t live without.

So if you recognize a bad thought pattern, how to go about changing it? How do you take advantage of your plasticity to shape your mind for the better?
Have you ever deliberately tried to change how you think? Undo a reflex? Eliminate a bias?  Quell an irrational fear? 

Vernā has a few strategies in her TED talk, linked earlier.

And so does Jiro.


It’s like Carr says:

“That doesn’t mean that we can’t, with concerted effort, once again redirect our neural signals and rebuild the skills we’ve lost.” (pp.35)

Building neural structures takes work. You can’t unseat a bias in a day. You can’t become a master sushi maker in a day. Changing a “vital path”can be a fairly simple exercise, (see pg. 30 of The Shallows, regarding stroke recovery) but all three of these people iterate that it takes discipline and patience. After all “Plastic does not mean elastic…” (The Shallows, pp.34)


So we leave you with a challenge: identify a thought pattern, an association, a bias- anything that’s been trained into your mind- and see if you can change it. Seek new experience. Imagine what it would be like to feel differently in a given situation. Fire new neurons together. Do it for the rest of the semester and work at it and see what happens. Try engineering your mind.

And the sooner the better, because plasticity doesn’t last uncompromised:

“As we age and plasticity declines, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to change in response to the world, even if we want to. We find familiar types of stimulation pleasurable; we seek out like-minded individuals to associate with, and research shows we tend to ignore or forget, or attempt to discredit, information that does not match our beliefs, or perception of the world, because it is very distressing and difficult to think and perceive in unfamiliar ways. Increasingly, the aging individual acts to preserve the structures within, and when there is a mismatch between his internal neurocognitive structures and the world, he seeks to change the world. In small ways he begins to micromanage his environment, to control it and make it familiar. But this process, writ large, often leads whole cultural groups to try to impose their view of the world on other cultures….” -Doige, The Brain that Changes Itself, on the work of Bruce Wexler (pp. 304-305). 

So can you set yourself on a trajectory of thought you might get stuck in? Yikes. If intolerance and colonialism are the product of an inability to neurologically adapt to other people, then teach yourself tolerance, full speed ahead!

Take advantage of your flexible mind. And if you can, bend it into positions that cause more good than harm to those around you, and yourself.


 (Did any of you have this poster in a classroom in elementary school? That’s neuroplasticity. Pay attention to your brain.)