Thursday, 23 July 2020

Binding and Combining

Two big problems inside the mind, neither of which I really understand.

'Binding' which I think is working out what objects are which, and 'Combination' which is about creating the matrix-like world-view which our little homunculus sits inside while riding the body around.

All of this started because I like Louise Sugdens painting style and because I like Dazzle Patterns on ships, and so I began a small investigation into colour, in particular, into colour and mass/shape...

After all, it’s only trying to understand how colour works, and how that combines with our sensation and understanding of mass.. how hard can it be?

Answer - INFINITELY HARD, for the very question opens the doorway to a crystalline dungeon of PRISMATIC MYSTERIES.

The search has taken me through Neurobiology (We Know It When We See It by Richard Masland), Ship Camouflage in WWI (Dazzle - disguise and disruption in war and art by James Taylor), and a deep cut into colour as used by artists (Interaction of Colour by Josef Albers).

We can also possibly add 'Through the Language Glass' by Guy Deushter, about a mild Sapier-Whorff effect in language and colour.



or just the most obviously relative?

So many scientists, art teachers, philosophers, messing around with coloured thread, coloured sheets of paper, swatches of colour, showing them to people of different nations, in classrooms, in laboratories, to rabbits while a hole has been drilled in their skulls to let the electrodes in, sailing around looking for rare islanders so you can show them the colours and write down what they say. More flags, shining lights, patterns of shade and texture.

Albers would remind us that our understanding of all these colours is massively shaped by context, types of light, (electric, dawn, dusk, passing clouds, albedo), by the arrangement of colours around and within each other, one colour on another, next to another, torn edges, straight edges, curly shapes, blocky shapes, texture on flat and so on and so on, so that he might regard these neurologists and cultural analysts running around as quite mad and pointless.

ALBERS - The most curious and unique of the minds I have witnessed through text. A man with the very tight, intense, highly disciplined brain of a laboratory scientist, a careful, systematic and procedural method to his teaching (learning about colour is *not about self-expression!*). And yet, with the least scientific aim and probably the greatest scepticism towards the systematising, totalising goal of science.

Albers is learning and teaching his students, through the medium of relentless attention and careful systematic analysis, about something he believes is very, very, highly relative. Fluid within perception and within the mind, to the extent that considering colour outside of its context, as an isolated quality, I think to him that would be utterly insane, since that is something it can never be.

Is it really the most relative of sensations? I think probably it is not, but that it is the most *observably relative* because it comes to us always alongside shape, objects and *DIVIDING LINES*, and I think the secret to the perceived relativity of colour is not that it is more relative than touch, smell or sound, but that it is more relative than objects and lines.

The mind is Binding and Combining the shapes of objects and dividing lines between things ("edge detection") all the time, and however it is doing this (we still don't really know), it seems to me that shapes, objects and lines are a lot less relative and debatable (both within the mind and beyond it) than the colours which always are sensed with and alongside them.

We might not all be seeing the same colours, and we can be certain, that in different lights and different times of day, things which register as always having the same colour in our minds, in fact have quite different colours, and that our brain is clearly fudging the issue, but *in comparison* to colour, we can be much more certain that the lines, shapes and objects we perceive, are both coherent to themselves and coherent when discussed and compared between individuals.

"That big rock, is it more yellow or green would you say?"

and never (ok, rarely)

"That big yellow-green thing, rock or sponge, would you say?"

And it is this, the evidently-relative-relativity, if you will excuse an awful phrase, which makes colour more obviously relative than sound or touch, because it lives along side and is always contrasted with, shape and line, which is very much less relative (probably more dominant, earlier maybe, in the binding & combining process).

Neurons! How do they work!


It’s likely. If it’s not exactly the same it’s probably pretty similar, unless you are at the far end of the curve, and most crucially, as Albers would tell you, IT DOESN'T MATTER!

For colour is RELATIVE and exists only relative to its context and therefore all that truly matters is if what you see as blue has the same relative relation to what you see as red green etc as everyone else which it probably does (though maybe not entirely).


While I know nothing about any of this I know even less about this part so beware, but it seems to me that vision and in particular the binding and combining of colour and form, and many colours, gives us access to a kind of island of no-time within our own minds.

As Albers would tell us, and here I'll bring in Ian McGilchrist of "The Master and His Emissary", sound is sequential, it can only happen in a row of information (though different sounds can be combined at the same time), touch is a bit less sequential, you can tough something with different bits of yourself, or be touched at once. Movement has a 'moment of movement' but is quite largely sequential, it happens in a row but vision, and the sensing of colour and shape, am I wrong in thinking that it has the least sequential elements?

McGilchrist would say that one part of the mind senses and 'sees' everything in one big burst and the other scans and sequentialises, so maybe sight, vision, has the most complex experience of time within the mind.

When I imagine the binding/combining process, I imagine something with a 'loose moment', a kind of drifting, or indistinct sense of the 'now'. The mind sees, absorbs, identifies, arranges and understands, all happening together. The big blurt of information from the all-at-once scan, the rapid sequential object scanning, the binding and combining shape colour, shade, light, fluid integration and re-integration with the imagined and re-constructed mind-state, both what 'just happened' (the part that makes us think the rabbit is still inside the hat) and the 'about to happen' (that lets tennis stars work out where the ball is *going to be*, all of this, binding and combining, looping and feeding back, continually, whenever our eyes are open.

And so, within the mechanisms of vision are many mutual but simultaneous *perceptions of time*. sequential, global, memory looking back and imagination/modelling looking forward, all happening "at once". The experience of vision is like a kind of time machine, a timeless, or looped moment within ourselves, which we can dip into and experience, slightly, a more or less time-powered moment, variations on what 'now' is.


Perhaps this presentiment of the complex nature of consciousness, vision, time, self awareness, is why when I reach certain points of Albers book, Maslands book and McGilchrists, I get a kind of giddy feeling. That feeling when you are just on the borders of a great idea, the moment before something complex, difficult and indistinct synthesises inside your mind into a coherent whole.

This might just be the borders of my own stupidity.

Or am I pressing against the edge of REALITY ITSELF????

More Albers, you and your GODDAMN SQUARES JOSEF


Probably not really no.

Masland is pop-sci and at the deeper end I struggle.

Albers, god damn fucking Germanic Albers. First its a book of experiments really, that you are meant to perform, and I didn't. Didn't have the right stuff, time or will. And second he writes in this bloody art-school Germanic hyper-clear style, which because it is hyper clear and has only the correct info in it
is fucking hard to get through. There is no pulse of info/blather for you brain to take a moment to recombine, instead its infoinfoinfoinfo.

Its one of the most interesting books on colour that I have ever read, but again, I found it a struggle, especially towards the end. There were effects and ideas that I found it hard to perceive, model and consider, and so I ended up somewhat, sweeping over the words in a fearful rush. Back in secondary school maths again! fuck!

Ian McGilchrist being a WEIRD DUDE


God fucking damn it brain, why you have to be so complex. All I wanted to understand was colour and mass.

Well, good news. Brain works out what shape and mass things are about 20 different ways at once. Edge detection and memory probably the most simple, though they exist at different ends of the binding/combining process (probably, we don't really know, and as I theorised above, 'different ends' likely doesn't make much sense in a temporarily fluid process with massive feedback loops).

Other ways - shade, light, texture, gleam, RELATIVE COLOUR. whoop de fucking do, all these things are changing massively, continually, always, depending on light, weather, perceptions, environment, background, movement between objects , movement WITHIN an object (which way will the Zebra jump - dunno as bunching muscles all fucked up by those dang stripes), and everything else.

False weathering patterns on 40k minis, showing you illusory mass one way, comic book style highlights on minis showing you mass another way, fake metal gleams in the non-metallic metal process showing you shape of imaginary metal, Blanchitsu style with decay and deep shadows, and the pale and nacreous skin which is good at showing those gothic shadows, showing you mass another way.

All somehow dealing with mass, or the delusion of mass, enhancing and re-creating the sense of 'shape' using false or simulated miniaturisations of aspects of the real(er) large scale world.


Especially when considered as different painting techniques, as in you literally need to do and think about a lot of stuff differently to employ each one.

Camouflage probably provides the key to entry to this subject but I have only read one book on it - stuff on 'Dazzle' (which seems like it didn't actually work, looked fucking cool though - raised morale, that counts!

But there are even different techniques and ideas behind kinds of camouflage. Camo for invisibility
for disruption of shape, of movement, counter-shading seems to have been invented, or re-invented by camo people (and oddly enough that is the exact opposite of a mini technique called zenithal highlighting).

Looking into the way camo destroys the understanding of mass and shape as a method for understanding how the eye and mind create and perceive mass and shape seems like a good idea.

More on this later perhaps.


Don't blame Muse for this

Gotta do a brief postscript in Patricks Schizophrenia Hour.

As a result of looking into this I now hate Simulation Theory even more than I did before, whic was a lot.

It’s the ultimate narcissistic , ressentiment-based conspiracy theory, except instead of being focused on governments and social systems its focused on ALL OF REALITY

It’s also clearly theology, and bad theology at that. Investigation of the detail and subtlety of the human sensing, binding and combining process and its integration into consciousness, means that believing in simulation theory means that whatever is running the simulation both carefully and exactingly created the illusion of a hyper-complex system which evolved over bazillions of years to sense and inhabit a very particular complex eco-system AND left clues behind for the enlightened to see that thhis was all made up. Just like the God of Abraham leaving dinosaur bones behind as a test of faith.

It is a vile doctrine of superiority, the product of alienation, narcissism and a high IQ.


  1. It is not entirely accurate that we don't know how edge detection works. I used to study cognitive neuroscience, and while I am getting increasingly rusty, I will try to articulate it a bit.

    The idea of "edge detection" in visual signal processing is that we have neurons in V1 of visual cortex which, in a binary sort of sense, detect "edges". Then in V2 you get simple shapes as a combination of the signals from V1, at V4 you get more complex shapes as a combination of the signals from V2, and then in IT (inferior temporal lobe) you start to get more complex semantic integration (an understanding of what the thing actually is).

    But that "edge detection" is believed to actually be spatial frequency decomposition. So you're taking in this light wave as a visual signal, where the colors are different frequencies or frequency bands, and the "edges" are the boundaries when you average the frequency-band power (the color-band) over a space using a Gaussian kernel (a bell curve). I realize there's a lot to unpack there and what that all means, but it has a lot of deep implications for psychology and neuroscience, AI, and I guess technically Quantum Physics since the principles of these Gaussian waves and Gaussian uncertainty are basically the same as Heisenberg uncertainty, just conceived in a different context.

    Also, this process is not fundamentally different from auditory or tactile processing. In the case of audio processing you're doing time frequency decomposition on the audio signal, and while I'm not as familiar with touch, I believe we have two kinds of tactile processing for high-frequency and low-frequency (texture vs. pressure), but that they are each also processing basically the same way.

    That being said, as you suggest, the actual perception of the thing may be different from its exact dimension-frequency properties, in part because of all that processing, and in part because of interactions with other phenomena like top-down expectations or lateral inhibition.

    Although I don't get too deep in the weeds on the science, I talked a bit about these ideas from color theory in a recent blog post of mine about the positive and negative planes, of all things:

    I should reiterate that I am definitely not an expert on color theory, and also that my research was specifically on the cognitive neuroscience of language and not visual processing, although I did learn a fair bit about cognitive neuroscience more broadly and also my research was focused on neural oscillations which are mechanistically similar to what I'm describing here (although that's for how the brain coordinates with itself, not signal detection per se), and finally, that I am now a software engineer and not studying cognitive neuroscience so I may be a bit rusty.

    1. I actually thought we did understand edge-detection, but know that I know gaussian kernels are involved, I am pretty certain that I at least, definitely do not understand it.

    2. Another aspect of the binding question is how movement is also bound to objects with shape and color. There are unlucky people with lesions that affect area MT in the visual system who see the world as a collection of single Polaroid snapshots and are unable to assemble them into motion. Crossing the street and avoiding cards is impossible. Some unlucky people have strokes that result in lesions of the place that assemble shapes into objects. You can hand them a pencil, and if they touch it, they immediately know what it is and can tell you all about it, but if you put it in front of them on a table it gets lost in an unassembled sea of color and shape.

    3. I vaguely remember that stuff, wasn't that in hippocampus or medial temporal lobe? I think that has more to do with place cells. I could be completely misremembering that though...

      The shapes into objects thing I assume was inferior temporal but I don't remember the context at all anymore...

      These comments are making me sad about how much I've forgotten about neuroscience already :(

    4. so happy you brought up place cells. you can place an electrode in a rat's hippocampus, and put it on a rotating record, and have it pass through a red square, a blue circle, a green triangle, and different cells light up when it passes through each object, in sequence, over and over.

      one day a graduate student left the electrode in place as the rat slept, and at night (or like, you know, at day, since rats are generally nocturnal), the same hippocampal place cells lit up over and over, in the same sequence. square, circle, triangle, square, circle, triangle. i mean of course they do i guess, but when i read that paper i thought, shit, rats dream.

  2. Thank you for this -- I did a batch of the Albers exercises a long, long time ago and might want to run through them all now that you've brought them to mind. I believe you would find Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing by Margaret Livingstone rewarding.

    1. This may not be real, but I like to imagine a war between MIT and Harvard vision researchers, a war Harvard won (Hubel/Wiesel/Livingstone), but, my favorite I think is the MIT scientist Jerry Lettvin. I'm not sure how well this would appeal to nonscientists but his paper "what the frog's eye tells the frog's brain" is a classic.

    2. I think I have read that but can't remember. Frogs do most of their visual processing within the eye itself right? Whereas humans do some signal processing with the ganglion and bipolar cells and rods and cones and that whole deal where lateral inhibition and other stuff I don't remember super well off hand anymore happens, but otherwise do a lot of visual processing in the brain as I was describing above?

    3. i know very little about amphibian vision, but in that ground breaking paper, using natural scenery (different objects moving on the inside of an aluminum half sphere painstakingly painted to resemble a swamp or something, as opposed to horizontal bars of light on a screen-- how artificial can you get!), and carefully designed experiments, the authors concluded that via a well organized visual map feeding different classes of retinal ganglion cells, the frog already had a lot of advanced stuff worked out before it even got to the "thalamus" level, or like, in the frogs, the "optic tectum". looming foot receptors. safe dark corners to hop to receptors. delicious bug receptors. but i mean, i think? if memory serves? i think i last read this paper about ten years ago.

      brother. time for a refresher.

      lettvin's life is interesting. as with many of the crotchety neuroscientists of the era he has his share of quotable quotes. i like how MIT at some point said there was no smoking allowed inside the building, so he moved his office to the roof, into an abandoned janitor closet, and smoked there. the lives of his colleagues are a little sad. i think some of them could probably be turned into full length feature films, but elliott smith is dead, and i'm not sure gus van sant would want to make a second movie just like good will hunting where it ends in tragedy.

    4. I have added Vision and Art to my giant list. (& the frog paper too)

  3. So are the Der0 at least in some way or fashion, a manifestation of Simulation Theory?

    1. They seem more like classic old-school schizophrenia. Secret tunnels. Hidden demonic/alien forces affecting us with machines. Super-conspiracies. Hidden history of the human race. One man alone can see thu the veil etc etc.

  4. Here's a couple threads to pull on simulationism. They all rely upon the premise that simulations, while perhaps of some interest, are not nearly as interesting as "realities", which are basically the same thing as simulations, but with self-aware entities trapped inside who cannot escape.

    1. The abolitionist - unless you can prove you aren't generating suffering for beings in a sub-reality, the creation and operation of simulations is an immoral act, and it is an existential imperative that sub-realities are sought out, and destroyed. The abolitionists generally have little to say on the topic of their own reality and are uncomfortable with the rebellious act of suicide.

    2. The collector - the sheer chaos involved in sub-realities (minor adjustments have large unpredictable effects) means that every one is a rare jewel. They are to be sought out as desirable objects of ownership, collected, hidden, traded on a black market, and when inherited by a disgusted descendant, donated to a museum.

    3. The escapist - every sub-reality is of inferior quality to our own, due to our lack of understanding. It stands to reason then that our own reality is merely an inferior copy of an even greater reality that we should seek out through any means necessary.

    1. Hmm 1 is classic Bostromian mindcrime, 3 is religion, I do like 2 though, it has a very Marvel Comics feel.

  5. The mechanisms of perception are taxing to the point that they can interfere with higher level thinking, which is why we try to work in neat environments, and close our eyes and shade them while thinking hard. Simply witnessing a pattern can cause your cognition to start chugging; especially something with extreme meaning like when a beautiful woman stupefies you, or great valence but no meaning like when a highly abstract art piece agitates you with its price tag.

    There’s an idea that the giddy presentment you mentioned is the indication that you are in the optimal learning zone; you understand just enough to assimilate what you are learning. I seek that feeling whenever I sit down to read, and I’ll quickly shift contexts if there's no indication I'll get it.

    I personally see with a pale green tint in one eye and a pale brown tint in the other. It makes me wonder if there are other possibilities, and if paintings or other scenes may change slightly in meaning if the effect of someone’s eye-tint alters the hue or especially the saturation; making it paler, for example.
    I don’t think this is very likely; I think that any change in meaning or mood based on eye tint is probably below the level of perception, but I wonder about a hypothetical person whose visual tint is strong enough to alter how some part of their mind perceives the nature of the world based on its coloration, for positive of negative, towards valor or melancholy, the same way one might wear golden-lensed or rose-tinted glasses. If it’s congenital, how would you tell? Would it affect you, or would you adapt? I grew up in a place that had an extreme environmental bias towards gray and monochrome green; growing up there I was adapted to it, energetic and happy, but now when I visit I find it weighs on me. I’d like to ask a few people with total or partial colorblindness if they think this is possible.

    1. Deutscher thinks the feedback from the colour-language matrices of different cultures shifts slightly the emotional tonality of colour & vision in that culture. So what you see might have a subtly different "feel".

      Of course that loops us back into how do you judge one mind from another and how do you judge one culture from another. We know seeing things differently must do *something*, but with whole cultures, does it just even out in the end as the human experience is so similar? Or are the interrelationships so manifold, complex, subtle and continually changing that trying to measure them is a mad idea?

    2. God, that’s a fascinating idea. Environmental color effects on mood caused by one’s base cultural palette might be difficult to pick out because of adaptation, although it’s easy enough to perceive differences from the set point- the idea of prison or commieblock tenements as being enervating because of their drabness, or a Westerner’s desire to visit India as a “land of color.” I suppose one could first attempt to determine if there are fixed psychological effects from spending time in an environment with a particular color scheme, and then run a study to see if cultural environments with that particular color scheme lead people to exhibit a measurable increase in the expected feelings.
      I’ve been thinking about the extreme peacocking depicted in woodblocks of Sengoku-era samurai. These guys looked like brilliant poisonous animals. Crushing that aesthetic at the level of culture might have been part of the Imperial government’s drive to suppress the samurai and create a well-oiled machine; perhaps the same way they say the sword invites to violence, that kind of personal ostentation is one of the mechanisms of a feedback loop towards fierce pride and independence from a non-feudal authority. Think of landsknechts or Cavaliers and their colorful ostentation as well, especially compared to professional state soldiers.

      It’s all marvelous. When I think about public aesthetics in past cultures in makes me wonder about the urban/wilderness divide. Did people maximally enrich their cities and clothing in part because much of life was spent gazing blankly into the green, brown or tan haze of nature? Soldiers experience something called “ranger vision” where they associate guard duty with a world-wall of undifferentiated, mind-numbing green. How often was it primarily a status/patronage/peacocking thing (not to discount the splendor of the works)? Historically, were many urbanites content to attempt to spend their whole lives within the walls of the city because the wilderness was so dangerous and low status, and were thus incentivized to beautiful and colorize their environments? I hear of lifelong New Yorkers sometimes who have a complex about not going into nature. I wonder if this is true of some Londoners as well. So many old cities are so achingly beautiful that it’s a point of fascination for some New Worlders how such places could possibly have come to be when modern cities are so utilitarian; we could robotically chisel facades of extreme intricacy if we wanted to so it’s not exactly a craftsmanship issue

    3. Re - Cavaliers & Roundheads, that's one of the more extreme and visible colour/monotone image/word individual/uniform opposite side breakdowns in Western history.

      In 'The Master and His Emissary' McGilchrist (if I'm remembering rightly, thinks that image vs word, and the colour verses monotone etc etc that often go along with each, is a central oppositional conflict in Western History, as if they are like sides in an invisible Cold War, sending in resources to opposing sides. If one gets involved, the other comes in to support the rebels.

      I remember in anglo-saxon poetry, and a lot of early medieval/dark age poetry, the way gems and metal *shine* is a really big deal. The nature of the way they capture light is deeply engrossing to the poet, which it must be in a world with almost no polished or smooth reflective surfaces, little glass, no plastic, everything worn, no artificial light, even the candles a bit crap, and here's this thing which seems to hold light and capture it.