Tag Archives: perception

The global recession that isn’t

You can’t turn a page or click a tab here in the UK without reading about the ongoing woes of the global recession, and I rather suspect the situation is similar for Stateside readers.

Thing is, the global recession isn’t quite so global as it looks from our standpoint in the “developed” West; via Tobias Buckell, here’s a piece at Foreign Policy that paints the nations of Africa as a golden investment opportunity – a far cry from the war-scarred deserts and shanty-towns of popular perception.

Africa, in fact, is now one of the world’s fastest-growing economic regions. Between 2000 and 2008, the continent’s collective GDP grew at 4.9 percent per year — twice as fast as in the preceding two decades. By 2008, that put Africa’s economic output at $1.6 trillion, roughly on par with Russia and Brazil. Africa was one of only two regions — Asia being the other — where GDP rose during 2009’s global recession. And revenues from natural resources, the old foundation of Africa’s economy, directly accounted for just 24 percent of growth during the last decade; the rest came from other booming sectors, such as finance, retail, agriculture, and telecommunications. Not every country in Africa is resource rich, yet GDP growth accelerated almost everywhere.

Toby goes on to do some back-of-the-envelope maths:

The world population is estimated to be 6.7 Billion.

Asia and India, both currently in growth patterns, represent 60% of the world’s population. Africa represents 15%. So 75% of the world is actually right now currently growing.

However most of Western Europe, parts of North America, and parts of South America are not. So it’s a global lack of growth for 25% of the world’s population.

There’s no denying that things are looking pretty grim economically for us Euros and Yanks, and that our problems are having a knock-on effect elsewhere. But rather than a global recession, perhaps what we’re seeing is simply a globe that doesn’t spin around us as the pivot point any more. Cold comfort for the myopic, I suppose, but I’m kind of relieved; we’ve had our time in the sun, but the sun hasn’t stopped shining just yet.

Gonzo Augmented Reality

Thomas Carpenter of Games Alfresco was pretty impressed by the AR app that superimposes an oil slick on any BP logo within the frame of its image capture, and started riffing on the idea of gonzo AR – a sort of “the world as seen by [x]” idea, taking the idea of reality being defined by personal perceptions right down to the granular level of individuals.

An unofficial game of object-association could make great interactive art, political rhetoric, or dystopic reinforcing world-view; depending on its implementation.  Wouldn’t you like to point your smartphone at everyday objects and find out how your favorite artists or celebrities view the world? Seeing how YoYo Ma, or the Dalai Lama or Bruce Campbell (the guy from the Evil Dead series) view the world could be liberating. Or since our own Bruce Sterling is the Prophet of AR, one of the AR browsers could do a “Bruce Layer” and show us what kind of world he sees when he’s looking around.

Maybe if Glenn Beck was your thing, you’d have a Nazi symbol pop-up when you pointed it at an Obama sticker.  Or if you were a former Bush-hater, you could see a Stalin-esque version of the W with your smartphone.   Propaganda could be all encompassing, blotting out all but the sanctioned viewpoints.

I think we can safely assume that AR (like any other media) will get pretty ugly when mainstream politics gets a hold of it… although, going on past form, that’ll probably happen a few years after everyone else has moved on to something more novel. Back to Mr Carpenter:

And maybe that’s what a gonzo-reality could bring to AR.  Instead of a mirror reflecting all of our beliefs into an ever-increasing sine wave, we might be privy to alternate views to our own.  Maybe even trying out how someone else sees the world.


Or maybe we couldn’t handle their viewpoint.  The overstimulating rush would make our realities spin around us until we puked it back out, losing all those alternate nutrients our world views could have used to grow.

And there you have it; new technology, same old spectre of confirmation bias. Still, if AR ends up as ubiquitous and packed with stuff as the existing internet, cognitive bias will at least be a whole lot of fun.

A bearing on magnetic north growing farther away all the time

compassScience writer Quinn Norton tests a new sense, that of always knowing what direction North is via an ankle-attached bracelet that indicates true north using vibrations from eight internal buzzers:

The Northpaw is based on the Feelspace, a project organized by the Cognitive Psychology department of Universität Osnabrück in Germany. The principle is simple and elegant. The buzzers signal north to the wearer. The wearer gets used to it, often forgetting it’s there. They just start getting a better idea of where they are through a kind of subconscious dead reckoning.

Quinn has written about similar direction-sensing enabling technologies before.

I recall something like this in Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett. PTerry gifts his elves with “poise” – the ability always to know where they are.

[via Slashdot, from h+ Magazine][image from ★lex on flickr]

Lunchtime doubly so

hourglassA powerfully engaging essay on the nature of mind and the perception of time over on Edge by David M. Eagleman:

Try this exercise: Put this book down [or just stop reading the screen] and go look in a mirror. Now move your eyes back and forth, so that you’re looking at your left eye, then at your right eye, then at your left eye again. When your eyes shift from one position to the other, they take time to move and land on the other location. But here’s the kicker: you never see your eyes move. What is happening to the time gaps during which your eyes are moving? Why do you feel as though there is no break in time while you’re changing your eye position? (Remember that it’s easy to detect someone else’s eyes moving, so the answer cannot be that eye movements are too fast to see.)

Not only does our perception of time vary under different conditions, different sensory inputs do not slow down to the same subjective time:

Duration distortions are not the same as a unified time slowing down, as it does in movies. Like vision, time perception is underpinned by a collaboration of separate neural mechanisms that usually work in concert but can be teased apart under the right circumstances.

This is a fascinating and SF-mineworthy area of research.

[image from bogenfreund on flickr]

Gender differences in perception of beauty

This little bit of neurological research is all over the news outlets at the moment. Here in the UK, The Guardian leads their piece with the headline “Women appreciate beauty better than men, says study“.

Brain scans of people looking at paintings and photographs have revealed that beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder. When men and women see something they think is beautiful, their brains react differently, with the female brain showing more activity than the male, according to new research.


The researchers believe the different responses are linked to the ways in which men and women process spatial information, but suggest that men may tend to look only at the picture as a whole, while women also pay attention to the smaller details.

We never seem to tire of these gender difference studies, do we? It’s as if we thought we were having something we’d always known proved to us, no matter what the actual meaning may be at a scientific level.

But it’s always interesting to watch how they’re reported by different media channels. So, for extra points, here’s Big Blog of Cheese running the comparisons – why not play along with headlines from your own country?

BBC: Art appreciation ‘a gender issue’

Science journal: Sex-related similarities and differences in the neural correlates of beauty

Daily Telegraph: Why women cannot read maps and men lose their keys

Headlines and links in the comments, please!