Sunday, January 22, 2006

"You think you know who you are. You have no idea..." [Crash]

Another two weeks have past already. Let me fill you in on my whereabouts of the last two weekends and the small amount of during-the-week-activities, that are worth mentioning. I mostly spend my days reading about visual perception, consciousness and awareness, to suck up all the information I need to write my thesis. Besides this thesis I am finishing the book "the history of thinking" and I attend my philosophy class twice a week. The evenings are mostly filled with work, after all the rent has to be paid and this new Dutch health insurance system means I have to pay more in assurance as well.

Friday (13) I visited the Central Museum in my home-city Utrecht. I did not particularly like the fashion exhibition they had, but I pretty much enjoyed the Rietveld and Bloemaert exhibitions.

The saturday night after this museum visit I visited another piece of the museum's collection. The estate "old Amelisweerd" in the forests just outside of Utrecht, was build in the 18th century and is now a monument, managed by the museum. Sita used to be roommates with a couple; the girl worked for the museum and they were offered to live at the estate for a couple of years. The guy is a photographer that spends half the year in eastern europe photographing typical russian, hongarian etc scenes. These two facts lead to a russian-new-year-party at the estate, which in turn resulted in flat tires for both Sita and me (remember in the middel of the forest). We almost made it home on slowly deflating tires.

This weekend we went to the "cultural cinema" to see Crash. I can recommend this movie to anyone that doesn't necessarily need a lot of special effects and violence. The movie tells a whole bunch of apparent parallel stories of individual people in L.A. In the end all their stories collide. The movie deals with prejudice, racism and miscommunication in a very confronting fashion. Great movie! These are the first lines:

"It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something."

Now that I am telling you what the watch, I might as well advise you all to check out the new System of a Down; Hypnotize. It's weird, it's fast, it's good!

Monday, January 09, 2006


After seeing a whole bunch of people from Papendrecht on friday night at Steven's party (next door!) I had the saturday off from work. Saturday night I went to Amsterdam to see Lagwagon perform in my favourite Dutch club "Melkweg" (milky way). Hooray for dutch trains; upon arrival at the train station I got notified they were working on the trail between Utrecht and Amsterdam and there would be less trains... Fortunately, I didn't have to wait too long and arrived in Amsterdam reasonably on time. I always like walking through Amsterdam at night, you are guaranteed to run in to some wierdos and I just like the atmosphere. So I walked to the Leidseplein where the Melkweg is. Turned out I was right in time to miss the first support act. The second was pretty cool though. They were called "A Wilhelm Scream" and it was a nice bunch of original hardcore. I am curious how they will sound on record, but live, they were okay.

My brother who was there as well, told me he had read in an interview that Lagwagon intended to play mostly songs of their newest record and ease down on their classics. I am happy to say this was far from the truth. They played a kick ass set with some new songs but almost all classics were played as well. The only song I missed was "Alien8", an old song but one of my favorites and a classic in lagwagon live sets. Alltogether it was a great show.

Lagwagon - Falling Apart
Lagwagon - Mr Coffee

As I walked back to the station the percentage of weirdos and drunks in the streets of Amsterdam had only increased which made it an interesting walk again. Arriving at the station I realized i should have walked a bit faster, 'cause I just missed the last regular train and the first night train (in the altered schedule; are they really working the rails at 1 am?) wasn't due for a good 40 minutes. Too short to go back in town, too long to not freeze your ass off at the station...

Luckily I had foreseen this scenario somewhat and had my bike at the train station in Utrecht, so I was able to get home (the last bus home departs at 1 am), just in time for a couple hours of sleep before I had to get up again and work on sunday. After work I met with Sita for dinner. I had forgotten that the supermarkets are closed on sunday and you have to buy your food earlier. Sita just returned from a week of snowboarding in France and didn't have any food either. So I paid "new china" a visit on my way home. I just don't get why chinese people are so small if those 2-person take-outs are enough to feed approx. 5 people. Weird!

Anyways, it's monday now, back to work!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Started working on my thesis

I have started working on the last hurdle towards my masters degree in Neuroscience; my masters thesis. Although I still have to hand in the official proposal for it, I am confident it will be approved. After all, I have the supervision and approval of two professors of our own university and I don't easily see the exam committee going against that. The reason the proposal is still on my desk is that it has to be signed by one of the professors and he's in Boston till january 18th to do some fMRI scanning at the Vision Science department of Harvard University. Ah well, I decided to start anyway. Looking at my thesis set-up I think I am being overambitious as always when I start writing a report or thesis. I hate leaving out interesting and relevant information which usually leads to me trying to put too much into a single thesis. Halfway the writing process I suddenly realize that if I will go on like this I will end up writing a book, so I end up leaving out some stuff and save the book for later (when I am all grown up and stuff). Grrr, damn you science with your questions-creating answers!

For those interested in what I intend to write the thesis about, this is a short section from the proposal that kind of covers it:

The Neuroscience of Conscious Visual Perception

Our perception of the world that surrounds us highly depends on our visual information about this world. The information we gather throughout life will in turn influence how we perceive new visual stimuli. We are not aware of everything we see, but even stimuli we are not aware of can have an effect on our perception and influence our behaviour. Some visual stimuli are ambiguous. They can elicit two different percepts with the exact same physical characteristics. Examples of such stimuli are the Necker cube and the well-known young/old woman picture. We can consciously switch between the two percepts, indicating a role for willpower in visual perception. This master thesis will review what is known about the neuroscience of conscious visual perception in a bidirectional fashion; how does a visual stimulus reach consciousness and how can consciousness influence a percept?

The different chapters will roughly address;

See what you see: A short introduction to the visual system and its basic neural circuitry will be given. How does a visual stimulus hit the retina and what happens after that? How are different aspects of a visual stimulus such as form, motion, color, etc perceived?

Know what you see: How do images on the retina become a percept? When and how does a stimulus reach consciousness and how is this consciousness characterized? What happens with visual stimuli that we are not aware of?

See what you know: How does existing knowledge influence a percept. Do we observe objectively, or is every percept derived from known concepts? How do we fill in the gaps in partially occluded figures and what is the role of context in percept formation?

See what you want: How is possible that we can consciously switch between the two percepts of an ambiguous (bi-stable) stimulus. What is the role of willpower in perception? How does this fit with what is known about percept formation and how can we investigate this issue?

Discussion: What you see is what you get! There is more than meets the eye! The exclamation marks in these expressions will be replaced with question marks in the discussion of this thesis. I will attempt to summarize the points made in the preceding chapters and discuss the possibilities for neuroscience to investigate the processes underlying conscious visual perception and the voluntarily control of visual perception.

As I probably wrote on this blog before, this topic is a great preparation for te project I will do my PhD on. I am eager to work on this thesis but I am also confident that it will be a lot of work. Anyway, I have started, now well see when I will finish it. Starting next week I will be working at a desk at uni to minimize distractions during the writing process. I only manage to work efficiently at home under time-pressure, so the first couple of weeks I will sure be better off working elsewhere. This is also the reason I have restarted my webradio project. takes you to the shoutcast-page where you can tune in. I usually just put a lot in the playlist and leave it on shuffle. this allows me (and others) to listen to my music online.

Well, coffee's ready, I'll be off to work again. By the way, does everyone see the two percepts of the ambiguous picture at the beginning of this post (yes there are 2 percepts, you perverts!)?

Monday, January 02, 2006

2006...time flies by like time well spent...

And all of a sudden it was january 2006. Wow, didn't see that one coming. And alle the signs were there; cold weather, christmas lights, overview shows on tv. Still, 2005 past by like it never happened. This is a good thing. We all know that good times speed by while the boring times never seem to end. I had a great time in 2005; spent half a year abroad and had a blast getting to know some of my family better and working in a new environment, I landed a job at my university without having to be unemployed after graduation (actually, even without graduating). Nothing too awful happened to me or any of my friends. Sita and I are still together without any trouble. Yep, I got a lot to be thankful for.

Enough with the sentimentalism! So it's 2006, so what? It's no different from 2005 or 2007, just like december and january are not really different from november or february. It's a weird thing we celebrate that one night a year that starts off a period of having to think what year it is when putting a date on some form. And that's exactly what I have been doing today. Filling out tons of forms. Research-project-assesment-form, master-thesis-proposal-form, PhD-agrement-form, Job-contract-form, getting-a-course-paid-for-form etc. Well, it's a nice stack of paper on my desk. I will tour all the necessary university departments to get all the signatures that are needed tomorrow. Than I can start working on my thesis..

Christmas was well-spent. Sita and I missed the last train at christmas eve to get to her parents because we were to caught up in the national science quiz on tv and forgot about the time. So we went christmas morning and spend the day doing as little as possible, which worked out pretty well :) The next day we went to my family and I had a computer to fix again (cause christmas just isn't complete without that!). We also checked out the place my brother and his girlfriend will be living. It's really nice. If I could get something like that here in Utrecht... but hey, big city, I should be happy I have a place at all.

New years eve was fun, I went to a small party in an old basement at the canals in our city center. At 12 we were at the "Dom-church" with a lot of people, champaign (some of it so distastful we didn't even finish it), fireworks and the churchbells at 12. After that, a lot of un, nonsense and all of a sudden I woke up and it was the afternoon of january 1st.

Well, 2006, the very best to all of you!!