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Computer Game Reveals 'Space-Time' Neurons In the Eye

Unknown Lamer posted about 4 months ago | from the eye-like-reflexes dept.

Science 105

sciencehabit (1205606) writes news that the EyeWire project from MIT has yielded some exciting results. "You open the overstuffed kitchen cabinet and a drinking glass tumbles out. With a ninjalike reflex, you snatch it before it shatters on the floor, as if the movement of the object were being tracked before the information even reached your brain. According to one idea of how the circuitry of the eye processes visual data, that is literally what happens. Now, a deep anatomical study of a mouse retina — carried out by 120,000 members of the public — is bringing scientists a step closer to confirming the hypothesis." The paper (paywalled), and a gallery of screenshots of the game.

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lazers (1)

turkeydance (1266624) | about 4 months ago | (#46923745)

gotta have 'em.

Midichlorians (2)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 4 months ago | (#46923917)

are real.

Re:Lazers ... Bugz (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46925357)

If true, then some of the built-in functionality of the eye was likely invented more than 500 million years ago, when insects and vertebrates shared a common ancestor.

Oh dear God, I'm part bugbrain. I thought the bugs were not like us. Please, please kill me now.

Re:lazers (2)

dmbasso (1052166) | about 3 months ago | (#46927359)

Excuse me for hijacking the first post, but there are so many people writing stupid things below, that I have to point this out: https://www.coursera.org/cours... [coursera.org]
Learn about neurology, it is very interesting. Preferentially, learn it before writing something about it as if you know it.

Blows my mind (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46923771)

After looking at the screenshots. It blows my mind that that can compute. Who's crazy idea was it to build a computer out of jello and solutions?

Re:Blows my mind (2)

Ferrofluid (2979761) | about 4 months ago | (#46924465)

It's no stranger than building a computer out of sand and minerals.

Is this all that surprising? (3, Interesting)

wbr1 (2538558) | about 4 months ago | (#46923775)

The retina and optic nerve are very complex and dense. The almost certainly perform some level of preprocessing, and as such are really just an extension of the brain. However to say that you react before -any- info reaches the brain smacks of a physical impossibility as the brain has to receive some sort of data to trigger motor action. Unless the motor nerves are connected directly to the eyeballs.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (2)

iamacat (583406) | about 4 months ago | (#46924025)

I don't find the idea that there is some direct connection between eyes and spinal cord that far fetched. What better way to avoid hazardous fast flying objects?

Re:Is this all that surprising? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 4 months ago | (#46924097)

What better way to avoid hazardous fast flying objects?

Uh...the Force? This is such a boring, mundane explanation for Jedi reaction feats...

Re:Is this all that surprising? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46928177)

Hey bigmouth: You're being called out (why're you running "forrest"?) http://slashdot.org/comments.p... [slashdot.org]

Re:Is this all that surprising? (1)

werewolf1031 (869837) | about 4 months ago | (#46924415)

If I'm not mistaken, the optical lobe is at the back of the brain, situated right above the cerebellum which is responsible for motor control. So yeah, it doesn't seem far fetched that you're physically taking action before you're consciously aware of it.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (1)

RadioElectric (1060098) | about 3 months ago | (#46929047)

The cerebellum helps to coordinate motor skills, it doesn't initiate movement.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (3, Informative)

lgw (121541) | about 4 months ago | (#46924477)

Doesn't seem that odd to me. You react to touching something hot before any signal reach the brain. That's almost the definition of a reflex vs reaction.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (2)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about 3 months ago | (#46927413)

Doesn't seem that odd to me. You react to touching something hot before any signal reach the brain. That's almost the definition of a reflex vs reaction.

That's because touching something hot triggers an action potential in the skin and only needs to travel to the spinal column and back to elicit the motion. The pain receptors fire more slowly and have to travel to the brain. That is different from neurons firing in the eye and the signal making it to the hand. It (hot reflex) is also much less complex. It only needs to jerk the hand back. Catching the falling glass requires many muscles working in concert.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46929311)

So does walking... but as I remember the direction chosen is indicated by the brain... Getting you there happens between the spinal column and the brain.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (3, Informative)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 4 months ago | (#46924771)

> However to say that you react before -any- info reaches the brain smacks of a physical impossibility

Incorrect. You have outdated information.

There have been studies shown that the heart is able to react pre-stimulus; THEN the brain reacts. The heart contains 40,000+ neurons is part of the reason.

the amygdala makes instantaneous decisions about the threat level of incoming sensory information, and due to its extensive connections to the hypothalamus and other autonomic nervous system centers, is able to "hijack" the neural pathways activating the autonomic nervous system and emotional response before the higher brain centers receive the sensory information.

(Emphasis added)

Our left brain is apparently operating at 15kb / second while our right brain is apparently operating at 20million kb / second. We don't know how fast our heart brain is operating at but we do know that the electromagnetic field around our heart is 4000 times greater than the field of our brain.

* http://www.heartmath.org/resea... [heartmath.org]
* http://www.heartmath.org/free-... [heartmath.org]
* http://www.livingtransformatio... [livingtransformation.ch]

Re:Is this all that surprising? (3, Informative)

NitWit005 (1717412) | about 4 months ago | (#46925517)

Even just reading from that quote, the information did actually reach the brain first. It just didn't reach what the authors define as the "higher brain centers". You're not contradiction him. I'm not sure how the electromagnetic field strength of the heart was supposed to be relevant either.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46926147)

+1. Excellent post. Most interesting and insightful for a long time on /.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (2)

coolsnowmen (695297) | about 3 months ago | (#46927535)

Electric field strength of the heart has nothing to do with it's data carrying capacity and everything to do with the large muscle that it is.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46930117)

And how do we know that this isn't just more pseudo science as opposed to the real deal?

Sounds implausible to me.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 4 months ago | (#46924785)

The tracking starts before the brain is notified. The eye "knows" to look at unusual events, even without asking the brain for permission.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46925337)

It's a misnomer to say "before the information reached the brain" because as you say these nerves are parts of the brain - a proper way to say it would be "before you're consciously aware of it". The conscious mind often operates with a surprisingly long delay, even a second or more. All matter of sensory input takes a lot of processing before you're aware of it, and even some decision-making (like catching the glass in the example) is "automatic" and happens before you "think of it".

Re:Is this all that surprising? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46925885)

misnomer
msnm/Submit
noun
a wrong or inaccurate name or designation.
"‘King crab’ is a misnomer—these creatures are not crustaceans at all"
a wrong or inaccurate use of a name or term.
"to call this ‘neighbourhood policing’ would be a misnomer"

Re:Is this all that surprising? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46929525)

I think you meant to say they're not crabs. King crabs are crustaceans.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46925771)

At some level, you are aware that your cupboard is overcrowded and so you already somewhat expect that something could come falling out when you open it. Even if it's not your own cupboard, just the past experience of having something fall out is enough to have the possibility in your brain prior to open the cabinet. There is no space-time quantum magic shit happening here, it's just that people already expect these things to happen.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (1)

Paradise Pete (33184) | about 4 months ago | (#46925871)

You are nitpicking the chosen example, not refuting the idea behind it.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46925899)

No shit, Sherlock. My intent wasn't to refute wbr1. In the future I suggest you allow the information that your eyes see to reach your brain before commenting.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (2)

Aeonym (1115135) | about 4 months ago | (#46925787)

My neurobiology degree is about 20 years outdated, but I'm still confident in declaring you 100% wrong. It is well established that many reflexes--which are 'motor action'--occur without any intervention or even awareness of the central cortex. The doctor hitting your knee to get an involuntary kick is one example. Most of the processing involved in walking, including recovering from imbalance, actually happens below the spinal cord.

Re:Is this all that surprising? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 4 months ago | (#46926593)

Agree, but it's still pretty weird to think that your brain is always a quarter second ahead of your body and manages to trick the ghost into believing it's in sync with the machinery.

The network lag from eye to hand is about 200-250ms and it's not that hard to prove it by experiment (there are many and varied fairground/gambling games that rely on that delay to make money). Anything faster means you're picking up early clues, other senses are in play, or you're not human. Fast reactions are obviously an evolutionary feedback that has been sharpened by time, predicting the trajectory of a moving object is a primary survival skill for both predators and prey.

Humans are the super-dominant predator on the planet, top cricket players use electronic blindfolds to practice their batting, the goggles the batsmen wear turn opaque the instant the ball leaves the bowlers hand (detected by an electronic sensor). It's amazing how often they hit the ball "out of the park" especially considering the skill of the bowler hurling 90mph cricket balls at them. Thing is the bowler can't even attempt to hide the clues he is giving because (past a basic level) even the batsman doesn't know what they are, they just "feel it" and connect with the ball.

Not all muscle movement goes via the brain, one modification nature made to vertebrates is that she put specialized high speed processing nodes along the spinal cord that control involuntary reflex's, but I'm pretty sure they don't have anything to do with eyes and ears..

Re:Is this all that surprising? (1)

mikael (484) | about 3 months ago | (#46926831)

With some critters, that is exactly what happens. The jellyfish doesn't have a brain but it does have some muscles and a series of simple "eyes" that detect dark and light. That's enough to allow it to remain in the shadow of floating objects.

Eyes are Brains (4, Interesting)

pubwvj (1045960) | about 4 months ago | (#46923803)

The eyes are actually part of the brain and have computational and comparative circuits built into them. This has been known for many decades.

Re:Eyes are Brains (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46924199)

I believe this has evolved due to fight or flight responses e,g predator evasion.

Re:Eyes are Brains (4, Interesting)

rk (6314) | about 4 months ago | (#46924291)

Truth. One of my favorites is motion detection. It is carried out in the retina, and curiously, the neurons that compute motion are only wired to rods, not to cones. You can do some pretty freaky things to your vision armed with this knowledge. Example: write a simple program to bounce a green dot on a red field smoothly. It looks like motion. Get two polarized lenses, one green, one red, and put them together. You can then turn the lenses to a point where the contrast of the green and red are similar and you quit perceiving the motion of the dot and you only perceive discrete jumps of it. It's a very jarring experience.

Re:Eyes are Brains (1)

dmbasso (1052166) | about 3 months ago | (#46927517)

Can you provide me a reference for the experiment you mentioned? It seems odd that motion circuits would be connected only to rods, as they get saturated pretty easily (in other words, wouldn't work in daylight conditions), and I didn't find any mention to it in [1]. Aren't you actually exploiting an artifact of binocular vision?

[1] Gollisch, Tim, and Markus Meister. “Eye Smarter than Scientists Believed: Neural Computations in Circuits of the Retina.” Neuron 65, no. 2 (January 28, 2010): 150–64. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2009.12.009.

Re:Eyes are Brains (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46930109)

Retinal circuits for motion detection are wired to cone pathways. The point of the paper was that different classes of cone-contacting bipolar cells have a different spatial arrangement of contacts onto another type of neuron, which then detects direction.

Worst Video Ever (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46923819)

Take a nasally voice, add lots of extraneous noise, and you have the walkthrough from Hell

Re:Worst Video Ever (2)

webmistressrachel (903577) | about 4 months ago | (#46923933)

As much as it's a rubbish summary and so forth, the game itself (eyewire.org) is actually quite compelling, at least on a par with those silly bubble saga things - and it gets human "mice" to map neurons for us science types!

Please be more positive, the more we know about such things, the sooner I'll have my network socket... ;-)

Teaser? (5, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | about 4 months ago | (#46923833)

The "space-time" intro at first made me think they discovered quantum sensors in the eyes that detect action slightly before it happens using parallel universes or the like. But they are just talking about motion-sensing pre-processing by the retina itself.

Disappointment. I wanted the ability to walk into my boss's office and say, "Before you get up to fire me, I quit!"

Re:Teaser? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46923911)

Disappointment. I wanted the ability to walk into my boss's office and say, "Before you get up to fire me, I quit!"

you really should have that ability already. try it out tomorrow.

Re:Teaser? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 4 months ago | (#46924269)

Yes, boss.

Zoned? (2, Interesting)

mfh (56) | about 4 months ago | (#46923879)

I had a friend and he was one of those friends who would always get me into trouble when I was a kid. He was four years older than me... and this was in grade 9 for me. He was the kind of dude that would just throw something at you and yell your name last second. It got so that I had developed Jedi reflexes around this kid. Something told me exactly what to expect. One day the bastard throws a big knotted wooden log towards my head, and calls it out last second as it's about to hit my face.

Without any hesitation I caught it!! About 45-55lbs, which isn't that much -- but it's a hell of a lot to catch without warning.

My point is that there is probably some kind of zone of effect to this type of thing where in a kitchen for example you could expect that a plate or glass might get knocked off the counter so you would be queued up to catch something whenever you enter the kitchen.

Re:Zoned? (2)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 4 months ago | (#46923947)

We call it the clumsy/adroit syndrome.

Because I have always dropped and spilled things, my brain is fine tuned to the slightest evidence of an impending gravitational incident...

thus I catch my own drops better than average.

Re:Zoned? (4, Interesting)

sexconker (1179573) | about 4 months ago | (#46924049)

I had a friend and he was one of those friends who would always get me into trouble when I was a kid. He was four years older than me... and this was in grade 9 for me. He was the kind of dude that would just throw something at you and yell your name last second. It got so that I had developed Jedi reflexes around this kid. Something told me exactly what to expect. One day the bastard throws a big knotted wooden log towards my head, and calls it out last second as it's about to hit my face.

Without any hesitation I caught it!! About 45-55lbs, which isn't that much -- but it's a hell of a lot to catch without warning.

My point is that there is probably some kind of zone of effect to this type of thing where in a kitchen for example you could expect that a plate or glass might get knocked off the counter so you would be queued up to catch something whenever you enter the kitchen.

You should have gone with 15-20 pounds. Someone might have believed it then. Your scrawny freshman ass wasn't catching, deflecting, or parrying 50 pounds of anything near your head, let alone a log chucked at you by someone who was a legal adult to your legal minor. At a distance far enough for you to not see or hear the initial throw, the mass would have to be traveling moderately fast in order to be anywhere near your head before hitting the ground. Moderately fast squared, times your ridiculous claim of 50 pounds, equals you not standing a fucking chance, quick or not.

I don't know what prompted this lame exaggerated story about an older boy molesting you with 50 pounds of hard wood, but there are better uses for a low digit UID.

Re:Zoned? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46924145)

But dude... he's a 2 digit!

Re:Zoned? (4, Interesting)

artor3 (1344997) | about 4 months ago | (#46924879)

He might just suck at estimating weight. I used to play a game at work where we would have people guess how much a package weighed before putting it on a scale, and some people are really, jaw-droppingly bad at that sort of thing. It's sort of interesting how people can usually estimate lengths, and volumes, and temperatures quite well, but on weight they'll be off by a factor of five or more.

Re:Zoned? (1)

Solandri (704621) | about 4 months ago | (#46926595)

I had a friend who would always exaggerate the weight of the fish he caught. After years of listening to hist boasts, then weighing the fish later when we got home, I developed a heuristic of simply dividing any weight he claimed by 1.7 to get the actual weight.

The weird thing was, it was incredibly accurate. He may have exaggerated a lot, but he exaggerated consistently. After dividing by 1.7, his claimed weight was almost always within 10% of the actual weight.

Re:Zoned? (0)

Khyber (864651) | about 4 months ago | (#46925471)

"You should have gone with 15-20 pounds. Someone might have believed it then. Your scrawny freshman ass wasn't catching, deflecting, or parrying 50 pounds of anything near your head, let alone a log chucked at you by someone who was a legal adult to your legal minor. "

You must've been homeschooled, you poor sap. I've seen plenty of brawny freshman able to take on junior and senior football players and wrestlers on equal term. I knew 160-pound freshman weightlifters able to bench 250 and squat 700+, and could tie your ass in a pretzel with their tongue alone.

If you did attend a public school, you very obviously sat in the back of the class.

Re:Zoned? (1)

ooshna (1654125) | about 4 months ago | (#46925759)

You've never tried to catch a 50lb spinning object going for your head that you reacted to last second have you? Deflected ok maybe but actually catch up that high? Come on now.

Re:Zoned? (0)

Khyber (864651) | about 3 months ago | (#46927253)

"You've never tried to catch a 50lb spinning object going for your head that you reacted to last second have you?"

Guess your childles sself has never had your own child (or niece or nephew) run at you, leap up in the air, and scream 'surprise!' right before they collide with you. It's catch. Drop is not an option.

Re:Zoned? (0)

Khyber (864651) | about 4 months ago | (#46925487)

Oh, and to add on to this, I'm 150 and right now I'm tossing around 70+ pound 4x4 posts and 2x12 planks in Texas building a demo hydro shed. And yes, when someone says 'Throw me that...' on a code-exempt agricultural site, shit gets THROWN.

http://imgur.com/jx7FleE [imgur.com]

Back to school with your poor understanding of classical physics.

Re:Zoned? (1)

Raenex (947668) | about 4 months ago | (#46925691)

Nothing there looks like it weighs 70+ pounds. I'm also guessing you don't catch them when they are thrown in your direction, either. I tell you what. Put 40 pounds of weight in a box and have somebody launch it at your head, and then attempt to catch it. Please video. You could probably make a few bucks selling it on one of those "jackasses get hurt" shows.

Re:Zoned? (1)

Khyber (864651) | about 3 months ago | (#46927271)

"Nothing there looks like it weighs 70+ pounds. "

Each beam alone is plus 70 pounds if its not a 2x4.

"I'm also guessing you don't catch them when they are thrown in your direction, either."

Yes, I do, same way we caught 50 and 100lb bags of rice just tossed off the back of the freight truck when I was 15 working at an oriental market as the stock boy.

The joys of ignorant people who have very little life experience. I just look at you and shake my head at your poor sheltered life.

Re:Zoned? (1)

Kielistic (1273232) | about 3 months ago | (#46928879)

Catching an expected object tossed toward / dropped into your centre of gravity is wholly different than catching an unexpected object thrown at your head. Can a fit human toss a 70 pound object? Yes- that's not too difficult. Can they throw it at someone's face? A little harder but still not difficult. Can you spin around and catch such a flying object? Certainly not reliably.

If people are regularly hurling 70 pound beams at others on a construction site they are probably stupid and a liability (note: throwing them into a pile doesn't count is not the same thing). 70 pounds is over half your claimed weight. Very easy to be knocked off balance by half your weight. If they are consistently throwing heavy objects at your head I think that maybe you just aren't taking the hint that they don't like you.

Re:Zoned? (1)

Kielistic (1273232) | about 3 months ago | (#46928919)

Almost half your weight damnit.

Re:Zoned? (1)

Khyber (864651) | about 3 months ago | (#46929779)

"Can you spin around and catch such a flying object? Certainly not reliably."

Wanna know how I know you're without children of your own? :)

Re:Zoned? (1)

Kielistic (1273232) | about 3 months ago | (#46930813)

Unless you are some sort of "little person" children are going to have a hard time flinging themselves above your centre of balance. They also lack certain properties of a 16 foot 4x4 (which is approximately how long a 4x4 has to be to be 70 pounds). If a 70 pound child unexpectedly flies into you at head level there is a very good chance you are going down. They don't do that though do they? They run into your waist or possibly jump off a couch into your arms. The amount of force needed to heave a 70 pound object at head level gives it a great deal of momentum. This isn't dropping it to you; this isn't lobbing it a foot into your arms.

Maybe you should shift the goal posts some more- that might give you more credibility.

Re:Zoned? (1)

Raenex (947668) | about 3 months ago | (#46929075)

Each beam alone is plus 70 pounds if its not a 2x4.

So you say.

Yes, I do, same way we caught 50 and 100lb bags of rice just tossed off the back of the freight truck when I was 15 working at an oriental market as the stock boy.

A bag of rice is not a solid and edgy piece of wood, and I'm sure it was dropped into your body with outstretched arms and not launched at your head.

The joys of ignorant people who have very little life experience. I just look at you and shake my head at your poor sheltered life.

The joys of jackasses who talk stupid shit on the Internet.

Re:Zoned? (1)

Raenex (947668) | about 3 months ago | (#46929135)

Each beam alone is plus 70 pounds if its not a 2x4.

Oh, and just to inject some reality [menards.com] into this discussion:

Dimensions: 3 9/16" x 3 9/16" x 8' Actual
Shipping Dimensions: 96.0 x 3.5 x 3.5
Shipping Weight: 20.0 lbs

But keep on thinking you're tossing around and catching 70+ pounds of wood. Jackass.

Re:Zoned? (1)

Khyber (864651) | about 3 months ago | (#46929975)

Regular wood, not pressurized heat treated (you can't even identify your fucking lumber, how the fuck can you be expected to know what weighs what?)

Re:Zoned? (1)

Raenex (947668) | about 3 months ago | (#46930223)

The pressurized wood is only 10lbs more. Not that any of this matters, since you're making up shit anyways. People on constructions sites don't throw heavy pieces of lumber at each other for the other person to catch. Anybody with a functioning brain would throw it on the ground next to the person, jackass.

Re:Zoned? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46929143)

This 4x4x8 weighs 30.78 lbs:

http://www.homedepot.ca/product/4x4x8-treated-wood/941772

Re:Zoned? (1)

Khyber (864651) | about 3 months ago | (#46929993)

Yea, PINE.

Now start building your buildings from OAK, like a real person. Only pine in the entire place is the pine plywood.

Re:Zoned? (0)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 4 months ago | (#46924143)

Any serious baseball player will tell you that its your peripheral vision that is fast enough for this sort of catching-unexpected-things behavior.

See this fine catch [youtube.com] for evidence of how not only is the speed almost instant, but that the player himself wasnt even surprised that he caught it. "Keep it on the field, guys."

Re:Zoned? (4, Informative)

RalfM (10406) | about 4 months ago | (#46924205)

Possibly not the best example :-)

http://www.snopes.com/photos/advertisements/longoria.asp [snopes.com]

Re:Zoned? (0)

hyades1 (1149581) | about 4 months ago | (#46925341)

As much as I love Snopes, I don't think the fact that the Longoria incident was staged outweighs the mountain of anecdotal evidence indicating something else is probably going on.

My direct personal experience includes a couple of occasions where the moving object (in one case a puck, in the other a baseball) seemed to slow down to a crawl. Both were heading directly at my face very fast, and both times I got a glove in the way with trivial ease, even before I realized I'd moved.

I'm no stranger to the "catch a falling glass" trick, either, and I've heard many other people say they've had similar experiences. I don't for a minute believe all of them were lying or self-deceived.

If this explanation isn't the right one, I'm quite confident that it's a step in the right direction, and sooner or later we'll have a good explanation of how people somehow manage to react faster than is theoretically possible from time to time.

Re:Zoned? (1)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | about 4 months ago | (#46924207)

That's a fake video.

Re:Zoned? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46925581)

What happens with some people, is this peripheral movement triggers the flinch reflex. This causes the person to squint their eyes, which protects the eye, but guess what bad thing happens with that? You lose your peripheral fixion momentarily. This tendency can be "trained out". (basically, by practicing the opposite thing to flinching, while things are flying at your face.)

Re:Zoned? (1)

Solandri (704621) | about 3 months ago | (#46926757)

Yeah, anticipation or expectation is probably a big part of it. I was shopping at a supermarket and needed to check the price of some small jars of jam on the top shelf. The jars were sold in pairs, one atop the other and shrink-wrapped together, with the price printed on top. So I tipped one over to check the price.

In the back of my mind, I recall thinking "gee, wouldn't it be funny if I was imagining the shrink-wrap and they weren't sold in pairs, and by tipping it I would cause the top one to fall off. And then, that's exactly what happened. I had an image of a jar of jam hitting the floor, breaking, and making a mess, and a part of my brain screamed "NO, that's not gonna happen!" Before I even knew it, I had ducked down and caught the jar in mid-air at about shin level. A couple people who'd seen it happen gasped because of how quickly I reacted.

The shelves were about 6 ft, and the jars another 3 inches. So 75 inches in all, or about 1.9 meters up, and I caught it at about 0.25 meters off the ground. So total distance fallen was 1.65 meters. d = 0.5gt^2, so t = sqrt (2d/g) = sqrt(2*1.65/9.8) = 0.58 seconds. Figure 0.15 sec to react to the fall, and that leaves 0.43 sec to formulate a plan to catch the jar, move to position, and catch it. With horizontal movement I can see that being enough time, but this was a falling object. You cannot move your torso down - you have to stop supporting it and wait for gravity to pull it down. My hand rests about 75 cm off the ground, so my torso had to fall 0.5 meters before my hand could catch the jar where it did. sqrt(2*0.5/9.8) = 0.32 seconds minimum to drop to position. Probably more because I recall shooting my hand forward beneath the jar and letting it fall into my palm, indicating my torso had dropped more than 0.5 meters. I'll assume I was coordinated enough to guide my hand as my torso was dropping, so the catch itself didn't take any extra time.

0.58 - 0.15 - 0.32 = 0.11. Just 0.11 seconds at most for my brain to realize what was happening, formulate this plan to catch the jar in mid-air, and put it into action by beginning to drop my torso. I don't think my brain is that fast. It has to have been the anticipation, the "what if" scenario my brain had already thought through just before the jar began falling. The moment it realized the jar really was falling, it simply kicked in this plan that it had already thought up.

Re:Zoned? (2)

Agent0013 (828350) | about 3 months ago | (#46928707)

I have witnessed my step-dad do an amazing catch. He knocked filled glass off the table with the back of his hand. While the glass was falling, mouth faced downward, he moved quick enough to catch the glass. Then, rather than just catch the glass, he continued the motion to scoop up the falling liquid. He got all of it but two small drops that hit the floor. He was a black-belt tae kwon do instructor at the time, so his reflexes were probably pretty good from training but it was still really impressive to see.

Sorry... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46923935)

Eye, for one, welcome our new ninja mouse retina overlords

Re: Sorry... (1)

mordjah (1088481) | about 4 months ago | (#46924769)

Eye see what you did there.

mouse central vision != primate central vision (1)

Ascoo (447329) | about 4 months ago | (#46923949)

While this finding is interesting it's not the first time neuroscientists have found complicated functions being performed in the retina of non-primates; the extrapolation in the summary to implications on human vision is a bit of stretch. Mice have poor high-frequency vision, but they can sort of make up for it with vision that's sensitive to motion. Many others mammal have this feature as well (rabbits, cats, etc).

not time travel - practice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46924161)

Our brains don't solve complex simultaneous differential equations. we use a more half-assed but faster approach. Faster means we have some chance in hell of coming up with a reaction in time.

Now, the basics of the approach is merely successive approximations. We start with a guess. If it's something we do a lot, like a ninja catching an arrow out of mid air, then their "first guess" is going to be pretty good, and their approximations will be even better, meaning they might just do it. If you've never played baseball before and you have to catch a high fly ball before it bonks you off the forehead, well, since you have no practice, your first guess at the motion of the ball will likely be wrong, and it may take you too long to figure it out, so you won't catch it. instead you will go home with a lump in your head. oops.

Getting the correct answer, too late, is no good. Not when some of the problems that might happen, is a Tiger pouncing on you. Getting a "good enough for now" answer fast enough to start making descisions, is often better.

We don't need time travel to catch the falling glass. We need enough practice with falling objects in general, to start moving our hand in the right general direction, and then adjust its course mid-way as we get a better idea of where it's going.

Re:not time travel - practice (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 4 months ago | (#46924899)

If you've never played baseball before and you have to catch a high fly ball before it bonks you off the forehead, well, since you have no practice, your first guess at the motion of the ball will likely be wrong, and it may take you too long to figure it out, so you won't catch it. instead you will go home with a lump in your head. oops.

No, it won't hit you in the head. It'll land 30 feet behind you. The ball will "appear" slower because it's far away, but because binocular vision is mostly useless for gauging distance over 20-30 feet, your brain will think it's much closer than it is, and tell you to run towards the ball. The ball will sail over your head before you have time to react.

Why yes, I do clearly remember learning to catch high fly balls around 35 years ago. I also remember one I caught in a game where I ran in, then corrected and was running out at full speed, tracking it with perephrial vision over my right shoulder and made a jumping/twisting over-the-shoulder catch about 10 feet from the fence. Made the throw to second from there, getting a double play. Nobody on the field thought I'd come up with it, so the runner ran and didn't come back until my throw was in the air and it beat him.

Bruce Lee (1)

CaroKann (795685) | about 4 months ago | (#46924685)

This story brings a couple of quotes from the movie Enter the Dragon: 1) To a student he's instructing - "Don't think, feel" 2) Holding up his fist - "It hits all by itself"

The title poorly choosen (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46924839)

A summary / cut&paste of the information in the articles:

"In 1964, scientists showed that some neurons in the retina fire up only in response to motion. These detectors have so-called direction selectivity, each one sensitive to objects moving in different directions. No one knew the fine-grained anatomical detail about how the neurons in the retina are wired up to each other. We have no computer model that can figure it out. Only humans have good enough spatial reasoning to trace out the borders of all the neurons to map their circuitry."

They knew that our eyes contain motion tracking receptors that have their own path to the brain. They had lots of maps but couldn't get a computer to find the way so they asked a bunch of people to do it instead. Now they have a better understanding of how, where and why impulses are sent from those receptors.

"space-time", come on. Mixing neuroscience with terms most frequently used in physics to get people excited. Tsk, tsk.

Duck! (3, Interesting)

Flammon (4726) | about 4 months ago | (#46924851)

The first time I experienced this affect was a few year ago while I was walking in some local trails. All of a sudden my body ducked and only after did I realise that I was about to hit a low hanging tree branch. Our mind is living in the past.

Re:Duck! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46929665)

Well, by your own admission, it was a few years ago.

Interesting.... esp in big-deal circumstances... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46924901)

Now we know why even if it's not preventable, time slows down when "something big" is about to happen (eg, you're in a car crash)...
Yet I can't see at that rate all the time. I wonder if this has persistence / jitter implications for the Oculus Rift?

Re:Interesting.... esp in big-deal circumstances.. (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 4 months ago | (#46925153)

One of the more interesting explanations that I've heard for the so-called slow motion effect that seems to happen during periods of high stress or anxiety is actually just the conscious mind's interpretation of the relationship between the amount of new information being recalled by the act of remembering something and the passage of time.

The brain has a way of focusing a larger amount of attention to anything that is novel or different, and in certain types of "big" situations, the circumstances can be extremely novel, warranting a high level of attention to immediate detail. This effectively increases the quantity of new data that will be processed by the brain over that span of time. Your mind is accustomed to generally receiving such data at certain speeds through daily experience, however, and amounts that are in excess of that will cause you to recall the experience as taking proportionally more time than it actually did. In fact, it's really your memory fooling you about how much time actually passed, not how fast time actually seemed to take for you while it was happening. It's only when you try to recall the event that it will seem to have took so long. Although it will genuinely seem like you are remembering time seeming to slow down for you as the events were happening, this illusion is only caused by a skewed sense of time impressed into your memory by the amount of new information you were absorbing.

Re: Interesting.... esp in big-deal circumstances. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46928047)

Perhaps that also explains why time seems to pass slower when tripping balls. Look at the clock after an hour, and you see it's only ten minutes later :D

Re:Interesting.... esp in big-deal circumstances.. (1)

ledow (319597) | about 3 months ago | (#46926853)

I was always of the opinion that this is just perception - it feels longer because more is happening.

That was until I was driving through unknown roads, at night, in horrendous driving rain on my own. I passed through a small town, and was way under the speed limit as I could see there was a pub (hence drunken people getting home in the rain was my thought) and yet the rain on my windscreen hindered my vision slightly even with the wipers on full. I was crawling along.

So I poodled through the town, out the other side, and up a tarmac incline. It was at this point, driving along, that my brain decided to supply me with information. I'd just passed a road sign on a pole, stuck at the bottom of the incline. It wasn't a usual one. I can remember in my head clearly debating whether I'd seen it correctly, and what it could mean. The debate went on for a while, foot still gently resting on the accelerator.

The sign was a red circle, inside which was a picture of a car, tipping over an edge into some wiggly lines. It's not one that I have cause to see very often. And I swear, in my head, for several tens of seconds, I was pondering the sign while the car was still moving.

It is, of course, a "harbour ahead" warning telling that you are about to plunge into the water. The ramp I was going up was not an incline, but a ramp into where (presumably) a ferry or similar would normally dock. Except there was no ferry.

I slammed my brakes on and was left with my headlights beaming out and catching only the top few feet of blue waves. And the waves must have been 15 feet high, and went on forever - they disappeared into absolute darkness as, obviously, there was no light ahead of me but the projected by my headlights. But I was that close on the incline that I could actually project light and see the waves ahead of me, sitting on the sheer vertical drop that would go into the water.

I cannot swim in a pool, I certainly cannot swim in a sea like that, from a car, in that amount of surprise. It was late at night, pitch black and I was actually outside the village. Any splash I made would be inaudible against the rain (in fact, nobody heard my screech of tyres at all). I was out on a drive after my wife and I had split but were still living together and she'd brought her parents around to visit, in order to disconnect for a while. To say that I would probably not have survived, and that people weren't likely to hunt too hard, and certainly not immediately, is an understatement.

In my rear view mirror, the view hadn't moved far enough to see the sign that had made me stop - that was still alongside my rear passenger window. Hence my braking distance in those "several tens of seconds" was approximately 6 feet, if that. In the wet. So I was poodling along, but still, the ramp was barely 10-15 feet long itself.

After what was, literally, ten minutes or so of very heavy breathing and watching the waves in front of me, I reversed the car slowly back (I remember having difficulty seeing as I hadn't put my rear wiper on), parked up, and got out into the torrential rain to look around. There was only one sign. The one I'd seen. There was no warning, no hint that there was even water nearby, no nautical theme at all in the whole village. Driving home, I kept my eye out for signs I might have missed in the rain, there were none, except for the one that made me stop.

But I swear, I can remember my entire thought process of - at one point - thinking how the sign must be wrong and someone was playing silly beggars, my highway code, all sorts, until the realisation hit me of what it was. It was then an awful long time before my brain supplied the notion "Well, stop then, you stupid bugger". In reality, my car would have been on the bottom of the ocean by the time I'd had all those thoughts if they'd happened as I remember them - and also how I remember thinking of them immediately afterwards.

My life didn't flash before my eyes, but there was time too. My brain must have been working that hard, in panic mode, that it felt like forever. But my brain had read the sign, interpreted it, panicked, and sought solutions long before *I* was even aware of what the sign meant.

I have a friend online who has multiple-personality-syndrome. She once asked me something quite interesting - how did I get home yesterday? And she's right. The part of my brain that drives me to and from work operates without conscious thought. It's like another "me" inside. If anything happens, it nudges "me" awake and says "Here, quick, take over!" (like the idiot that slammed his brakes on for no reason in front of me this morning - again, safe braking distance saved me). But I did not make those actions. It's easy on a long journey to suddenly realise you've driven 200 miles without knowing where, when or how you did so. It's possible to automatically drive to work when you meant to drive somewhere else.

The conscious part of the mind is only one part of your brain. There are myriad systems to do all the other stuff, from breathing up to and including the skill needed to drive hundreds of miles in traffic, following directions, driving sensibly, avoiding all hazards and warning you when something bad is about to happen.

And depending on the capabilities of, and your reliance on, those systems, you can be perceived as having multiple personality syndrome, or just "being miles away" or being a good multi-tasker, or someone who just vegs out in front of the TV.

But your perception of time is thus not like a "clocked" bus on your computer - where things happen in discrete units of time synchronised across the entire brain - but multiple, independent, units operating on their own relevant schedules. And when something happens that requires interaction, it's like sections of the brain "clock" into each other and make things seem more prolonged than they actually are.

More amazing is not that time slows down, but that the brain already knows, by subconscious systems operating at a very high intellectual level, about problems that "you" are only informed of because of those subconscious systems nudging you.

Very little processing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46925321)

I suspect this is a semi reflex action with small amounts of preemptive or situational processing. Possibly certain types of stimulus or environments cause a bypass of usual processing systems. Consider the same situation but it is a knife. The same reaction is rarely triggered, otherwise we would have a lot of Chefs missing fingers. You know which directions the knife and cups are positioned in a room and your brain knows beforehand that anything falling to the left of you from cupboards is likely safe , to the right... maybe let it drop.

Most of you have probably reacted to catch something unusual or out of place, something too heavy or dangerous and had to retract your hand quickly in response, this would explain those instances.

My dreams! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46925379)

This explains why my dreams always have 2-5sec "visions" of the future... I can't believe I'm a mouse... I am hairy enough though...

Or a lot more preprocessing (1)

medv4380 (1604309) | about 4 months ago | (#46925381)

It easily could be that your mind is simulating everything a few moments into the future. Trying to anticipate the actions of others, your own actions, and the possible events that could occur. Occasionally it could find something's going to fall, but can't insert an action far enough ahead to prevent it from starting like tipping a cup. The result is you responding to a falling cup prior to you knowing it was going to fall.

Paywalled... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46925513)

I hope I am missing something, but it seems like:

Thanks for your help J.Q. Public!

If you are interested in the results, buy access here:
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13240.html#figures [nature.com]

AC CAPTCHA = "despise" ...'nuff said...

Blindsight (1)

Nova Express (100383) | about 4 months ago | (#46925749)

Visual information controlling physical action without conscious thought. [wikipedia.org] Think of it as a higher level of autonomous nervous system.

Peter Watts wrote a very depressing novel [amazon.com] involving the idea which explores the possibility that consciousness is not necessary for intelligent life, and, indeed, may ultimately turn out to be an evolutionary dead end...

Re:Blindsight (1)

Bongo (13261) | about 4 months ago | (#46926479)

I find it a bit odd how it seems very rational to maintain that the brain and nervous system is all we are, at the end of the day, so all our complex human behaviours, intelligence, and emotions, are purely the result of a physical machine running, and death is a physical and complete end, yet as soon as we imagine that this machine could run in the dark, ie. we'll all still be talking to each other, interacting, going about our day, just there would be no sentience to experience any of these events, as soon as we imagine there might not be any sentience, it sounds depressing. Sentience and experiencing existence are so primary, my body could be here going about its normal day, yet unless I am sentient and experiencing it, it would seem like complete death, I "would not exist", even though the physical body would still be just the same, so strange how sentience is primary, yet generally philosophy and science in the modern age doesn't concern itself much with sentience itself, perhaps because it is so hard to even know how to define it or how to study it.

Like, if you could give someone a choice, you can either be a real piece of meat, a human organism in the real physical world, with high intelligence and ability to manipulate your environment, with the catch that you won't be sentient, you'll experience none of it, OR you could be purely a sentience, and free to dream any experience you want, just without any body or physicality or means of interacting with the real world, which would you choose?

And I think there is an odd catch with both of those, namely, that they are both eternally lonely.

I saw this happen just today! (1)

proca (2678743) | about 4 months ago | (#46925969)

I was at PetSmart and a girl was restocking the cat food can shelf and bent over to get the next box. The previous one fell (a 24-can package! not exactly light) and she snagged the thing backhanded as it fell off the shelf. Apparently, ninja's work at PetSmart.

Re:I saw this happen just today! (1)

deviated_prevert (1146403) | about 4 months ago | (#46926249)

she snagged the thing backhanded as it fell off the shelf. Apparently, ninja's work at PetSmart.

Either that or she was a really hungry. Working stocking the shelves at PetSmart cat food is most likely all she can afford to eat. I am a pensioner and sometimes my cat eats better than I do, Friskies starts looking better and better all the time, wonder if their chicken and giblets pate would taste ok with mustard on a cracker? Might need a little salt but honestly some high end cat food is starting look better than what I have to eat most of the time.

Waste of money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46927241)

This study has shown, using a huge amount of money and effort, something that we've known since the 60s: neural circuits can detect motion if afferent projections along the axis of motion have increasing delays. It's a very simple idea. Say that neuron A is activated when neurons B-D are all co-active. Now say that B-D lie along a trajectory across the retina. If a bar of light falls across all three, then A is active. Now add a conduction delay to the projection from C and a larger delay from D. If a dot of light falls on B then C then D with the appropriate timing, then the signals will all reach A at the same time. A will be activated when a dot of light moves across the trajectory from B to D at the correct speed. Hence, A is a detector for this specific type of motion. Like I said, hypothesized in the 60s, called a Reichardt Detector, well-accepted in the field for decades, etc.. Google it. Also, complex calculations happen in the retina. This is known. There is a good review from 2010 by Gollisch and Meister published in Neuron called "Eye smarter than scientists believe: neural computations in circuits in the retina".

This is a Nature paper because the 1. study is the only known "success" for the trendy but controversial field of "connectomics" (trendy because "mapping the brain", controversial because it costs a lot and, even when it works, doesn't actually tell us much) 2. it uses the trendy methodology of "crowd-sourcing" to conduct the research. It doesn't teach us anything we don't already know. The approach doesn't scale (if it took years of work and for 120,000 "citizen scientists" to analyze enough imaging data to decode this simple circuit in the retina, how long would it take to do anything in the cortex? The answer is forever) and relies on a huge number of people being playing a game that is, by comparison to all of the other options, pretty boring. The approach also requires that function emerges directly from anatomy to have any chance of success (good luck using this tool to figure out the role of inhibition, neural modulators, etc.).

Sebastian Seung (the PI on this paper) is a smart and successful guy, but this is a triumph of web 2.0 hype, not an actual scientific advance. Evidence? Amy Robinson, the eyewire "creative director" whose job is to drive hype (by being cute and enthusiastic, social media, TEDx talks, etc) but not to develop technology or conduct science or analyze results, is an author.

Re:Waste of money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46929593)

Mod this up. Interesting.

Midichlorians (1)

crndg (1322641) | about 3 months ago | (#46927337)

So space-time neurons are the new midichlorians?

privatized science is theft (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46927831)

The study was "carried out by 120,000 members of the public" and the paper is paywalled?

The whole scientific publishing industry is a classic example of privatizing benefits and socializing costs. This is thoroughly corrupt, it is impeding science and human progress, and needs to be overthrown.

spilled beer (1)

Quirkz (1206400) | about 3 months ago | (#46928551)

Does this explain why, when my daughter dropped her plush animal toy last night I automatically grabbed for it, even though it meant I would spill my beer all over the place in order to catch something that couldn't possibly be damaged by a short fall?

Re:spilled beer (1)

ImprovOmega (744717) | about 3 months ago | (#46931457)

You can train your reflexes though. And you can override them (to an extent). If you reach for something hot and consciously decide not to pull away from it, you will not automatically jerk your hand away if you have prepared for it.

Similarly you can tailor your reflexes to respond in a limited fashion. For instance most people jump when they are startled or unexpectedly touched. It is entirely possible to change this reflex to a defensive one where you attempt to grapple/control the person grabbing you. People with self defense training will often find this becomes their reaction.

You can liken this to EEPROM programming vs. general purpose computing. Your reflexes/spinal motor neurons have a limited subset of specific functionality that they can be programmed for which they perform incredibly quickly within their limited domain. For more broad/higher level processing you have to kick it up to the brain to make decisions like threat assessment and planning for next steps.

What the hell does "Space-Time neuron" mean? (1)

harvestsun (2948641) | about 3 months ago | (#46929187)

Doesn't EVERYTHING (as we know it) exist in the space-time continuum? Now excuse me as my space-time motor neurons move my space-time legs so I can go get some space-time coffee.

Re:What the hell does "Space-Time neuron" mean? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46930189)

You've never made a model of neuronal information processing using only time as a variable? What the hell is wrong with you? The space-time continuum is probably just a perceptual artifact of a more fundamental model with time as the only essential parameter.

so cool, except for the complete BS part (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46931079)

The part of your brain in charge of making sense of the world and deriving "deeper meaning" is slower than the part of your brain that has pattern recognition, muscle memory and motion sensing.

So.... it doesn't matter that the actual signals to the brain are so fast... the reaosn you perceive it as being so fast is that the REST of your brain is so slow.

How about this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46931153)

Instead of reacting before the info reaches your brain. I think your brain creates an assume trajectory and velocity of the falling object that you body then uses to catch the object before your visual cortex process all of the information. As someone who juggles with their feet and hands and plays ball based sports, that is my take.

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