Monday, August 31, 2009

A Small book about the greatest mistery.
The Brain: A Very Short Introduction

There is no question: the mystery of brain is a challenge for science. Not just for the neuroscience.

The challenge that most surely will not be met in any predictable time.
The amazing little book: "The Brain: A Very Short Introduction" is a title in the Oxford University Press Series "Very Short Introductions" aimed at general readers and beginners alike.

Michael O'Shea's "The Brain" is a kind of the popular review of the state of art of brain research. Using simple terminology the book covers the structure of the brain, signal transmission, evolutionary transformation of the brain, senses and effectors and the current understanding of the complex problem of memory. It also contains some analysis of very recent advances in robotics when it comes to its relation to neuroscience. And many, many more fascinating topics...

Among them is the very recent notion of "wireless-like", non-synaptic communication in the brain. Called "volume signalling" or GasNets, allows remote neurons to communicate without any synaptic connections.

You can find there fascinating short stories of discoveries as well. For example I was amazed by the description of the essence of Eric Kandel remarkable discoveries about memory (BTW, watch fantastic interviews with Eric by Charlie Rose).

I also found a very good, non-naive passages about relation of modern neuroscience and computer science. Some simple analysis presented by the author make the pretentious claims of strong AI proponents just ridiculous.

Finally, I dare to express my personal view on this field of science. I must only emphasize that I'm not a specialist. However, I think that the modern neuroscience ignores the fact that the brain IS a computing device. Paradoxically, Micheal O'Shea is the coordinator of "Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics". Yet, when you read the book you will notice that neuroscience is still analysing the "hardware" of the brain - and ignores the brain "software". There are some parts of the book that suggest the "non-linear" software of the brain could be analysed. But there is no example in the book - what it could really mean.

I know that the brain "software", when discovered, will be entirely of different kind than current "Turing machine" software - we write and use. It is certain, that the brain runs something that can not be even remotely compared to the current "programs". Yet, so many facts support that simple conclusion about the brain science - we still analyse brain hardware, we are not even ready to accept the brain software existence....

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Snow, The Conflict, The Love - Orhan's Pamuk novel

After reading „Istanbul—Memories and the City” by Orhan Pamuk (see my review) I knew that his Snow would be a great reading.

But the impression I had greatly outgrown my expectations. The book's plot is set in the eastern, border city of Kars (BTW, Kar means Snow in Turkish), the city that bears the memories of its Russian, Georgian and Armenian past. A poet, named Ka, returns to Kars after long life in Istanbul and in Germany. He meets here his love, witnesses a political/religious murder, faces the mysterious young women suicides and gets involved in the conflict - which is no less than the main Turkish conflict between secularism and violent religious extremism - on a microscale. When it comes to this very conflict, still so important in Turkey and other Islamic countries - Pamuk is truly even-handed. He spurns the murderous nature of some of Islamists, while he condemns despicable and completely unjustified action of Turkish army that led to a military coup in the city.

In beautiful narration, Pamuk uncovers the motifs of both sides, contemplates the deep philosophical questions, and shows how human emotions of love, hatred and jealousy cast shadow on the historical events.

The thread of love between the main protagonist and beautiful, yet troubled woman is described with such truth and tenderness, without false pretence of romantic innocence - that I must say it was one of most beautiful yet non-naive love story I ever read.

The language of Snow is simple but beautiful; the poetry is in flow of thought rather than in words and sentences.

Last but not least - Pamuk is another great story teller - at some moment of the book, about 2/3 of it, we are suddenly spoiled ... and exposed to the tragic finale of the plot. I was almost sure the book ends just then, or it will no longer be worth reading. However, at this moment the story starts to be even more intriguing, and the fact the reader knows the end - not only does not spoil the reading - but makes it even more fascinating...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Five giants of modern music

While in Paris in July, I had a chance to buy a collection of five films on the greatest XX century composers: Boulez, Carter, Glass, Messiaen and Part. The series seems to be available on Amazon in individual pieces (see, for example: Carter, Messiaen, Boulez). Seems it's hard to find the collection itself on the web. It is a part of "Juxtapositions" series, but I do not see where it could be ordered in the 5 pieces collection I bought in Virgin Megastore in Paris.




Despite of the potential difficulty to buy it, I strongly recommend it for all serious/contemporary music lovers. All the movies are great, but I must say that those about Carter, Glass and Part are of utmost beauty. They not only tell us about the musicians — they are pieces of art on their own!
The great value of the films lies in the attempt to show the music as being tightly bound to the personality and experience of the composer. I can't forget pictures from Elliot Carter's Manhattan window, scenes from Glass New York's apartment or Arvo Part's scenes from Estonia. The images of nature and songs of birds connected to Olivier Messiaen are also very moving.

However, the music is the main hero of the collection - and you will not be disappointed to listen to the composers' most famous pieces, usually played with the composer during the rehearsals and on informal concerts. The great value of the authors of the films lies in their great sensitivity to the music they tell about.

If you love classical or contemporary music - this 5 DVD collection should be on the top of your list.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Zafon's Prequel to "Shadow of the Wind"

I had been reading "Shadow of the Wind" about a year ago and it was great, captivating reading.
This year I have chosen "The Angel's Game" - designed as a prequel to the first novel. The reading experience was just great. Literally, you devour page by page and you just can not stop until you reach to the end.

"The Angel's Game" is set in Barcelona in the beginning of XX century. The protagonist of the novel is a writer who, at some moment in his life is commissioned to write about (or rather create) a new religion.

But the fantastic Zafon's narration is not the only value of the book.

As it was in "Shadow of the wind", in the background, the novel is about books and their value and importance. In the Act I we meet the problem of an author who, while writing under his own name fails, while he is highly acclaimed when doing it under other names.
In Act II we are exposed to the dilemmas of the author whose writing power greatly exceeds the notion of literature. Together with the hero, we ponder upon the role of religion...

The entire novel is full of relations to the books and their specific existence. It describes the world in which book's physicality is so important. The plot takes us to the "Cemetery of forgotten books" (direct connection to SOTW)- where we literally feel how important this physicality of books was.

Good for reflections today, when with all these electronic books we no longer have such "physical" bonds between the words and the book as an object.

However, I have some reservation and small issues to the book. At some moment in the narration, we loose this fantastic Zafon's soul-searching tone about books, religion, love and we are overwhelmed by the action, action, action. As in good thriller. In particular, I missed that thread about the very content of the book commissioned in Act II. It was extremely interesting, yet it disappears from the book under the heavy matter of plots.

Also, the very end of the story was not satisfactory and a bit exaggerated.

But - I do not want to spoil it for you !!! All-in-all - it was a very good reading !!!

PhotoSynths of my holidays

I made some experiments with Microsoft PhotoSynth technology. I used pictures I made during my holidays. You will be asked to install Microsoft SilverLight to view them.
The interesting thing of these Synths is that you do not need any preparation to make them.
Just through a number of pictures of the place - and the software does the rest.
Sometimes the effect is astonishing !
See:












Enjoy !!!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Come back to digital world

I spent three weeks on my holidays. One full week with my daughter riding our bikes and making millions of photos of ordinary things in North Poland. Later with all the family and finally on my canoe on wild rivers in Pomerania.

I (almost) disconnected myself from digital world and that was what I truly needed.

I will post more pictures soon. Two of them now:




During this weeks I was reading "Angel's Game" by Ruiz Zafón. Not finished yet :-) and Maimonides "Guide for the Perplexed". Not finished as well :-(
It is sometimes good to put your brain out of digital world.