The Face in Your Mind

The "Face on Mars"

When you see a face, what tells you that it is a face?

Humans are good at recognizing faces. We even see "faces" where there are no faces - in clouds, on a piece of toast, a man in the moon. A satellite photo of a mesa in the Cydonia region of Mars has been nicknamed the "Face on Mars." I don't see it as any evidence of extraterrestrial habitation, but just a natural rock formation. But it definitely registers as a face.

Neuroscientists have been studying this ability and it is part of what is labeled as pareidolia. Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus (an image or a sound) by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists

Why do most of us have the ability to tell one face from another, even if the differences are extremely small?

Some rather amazing research from the California Institute of Technology was done with macaques, a genus of monkey. Researchers identified a small group of neurons that they believe specialize in picking out individual features of faces and creating a single image.

The macaques wore EEG caps as they looked at a series of several thousand faces and recorded which neurons were active. They believe they even identified specific neurons that corresponded to different features.

The amazing part is that then working backwards they tried to reassemble faces using the information from firing neurons. They were able to rebuild very accurate versions of the faces that had been viewed. Recognizing faces seems to be a process of breaking faces apart into smaller parts for recognition. We still don't know the whole process. For example, why can we pick out a recognizable face in a crowd?

It seems that the brain’s ability to see faces from random objects is due to "configural processing." Do we always need to put together the components — eyes, nose, ears? Sometimes we just seem to recognize a face when we see it.

What can this research lead to? If researchers could stimulate the right cells in the brain of a blind person, it should be possible to give that person the experience of seeing a face, though they wouldn't actually be seeing someone with their eyes.

Sources and Further Reading

Do Nothing To Be More Competitive

It's hard to ignore a title like "Want a competitive edge? Do nothing every day."  Call it a bit of clickbait, but the article went on to discuss a way to reduce work stress, boost energy, improve focus, and help you be more productive at work. Is it a drug? No. Nothing with side effects. Do I have to buy some new tech gadget? No special equipment. Do I have to go to a gym or run 100 miles a week? Nope.

It is ancient. It’s meditation.

According to the article, 40% of us say we already meditate at least once a week. That seems high to me.

The benefits of meditation are many and have been found in multiple studies: reduced anxiety and stress, improvements in focus and cognitive function. Those are results after just a few weeks of mindfulness training. If you do it long-term, there is some evidence that your brain may age more slowly.

Probably some people meditate at home but the article suggests that meditating during the work day is also important. 

Since I have seen it suggested that you should take short naps during the work day - which sounds like a bad thing for the boss to catch you doing - I guess some meditation is possible at work.

Actually, some of the big "best places to work," like Google, Ford, Aetna and Adobe, offer corporate mindfulness programs. Viewed as a kind of preventative care, they say it improves employees sleep quality, lowers stress and increases productivity.

There are lots of classes and books and even apps to get started with meditation. I have done both of those approaches multiple times. I know what to. The tough part is doing it.

The basics are having a space that is quiet and private, and being consistent in your practice.

Every class I took or book I read starts with following your breath. That may involve counting the inhalation, holding and exhaling. Most of us are pretty shallow breathers.

The second thing that is emphasized is emptying your mind. That is much harder than the breathing. You're told that when a thought comes, realize it is that and let it go. Much easier said than done.

How much mediation do you need to do? Start out small. Even after years of on and off practice, I had trouble with sessions that ran for an hour or more (zazen). It is okay to start with 5, 10 or 15 minutes a day.

An old old Zen adage is that you should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day—unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.  Fifteen minutes a day every day is better than an hour twice a week.

It was a revelation to me to realize that meditation - or mindfulness, which is a term I prefer - can be incorporated into activities. I am very fond of recommending kinhin which is walking meditation. It is usually done between long sessions as a break, but I like doing it as its own activity. It is a lot more than just taking a walk in the woods. But it can be done as a start just walking from your desk to lunch.

Another place I often bring my meditation is in the garden. I particularly find the usually unenjoyable and "mindless" chore of weeding to be a good activity for mindfulness. It has actually become enjoyable.

Sitting on a nice empty beaching to meditate is great, but not practical for most of us on a regular basis. Find you places and times.

Animated Poe

United Productions of America (UPA) was a film studio strated by three former Disney employees in the 1950s. UPA studio was active from the 1940s through the 1970s. Beginning with industrial and World War II training films, UPA eventually produced theatrical shorts for Columbia Pictures, notably the Mr. Magoo series.

In an attempt to take animation in new directions, they made a strange adaptation in 1953 of Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Tell Tale Heart.”

I that time, it was considered adult in nature and it was the first animated film in the U.K. to receive an “X” rating. At the time that rating meant "suitable for those aged 16 and over. UPA didn't intend the film for children but it was still strange for a short "cartoon."

The film was designed by Paul Julian and shows the influence of Salvador Dali surrealism and German expressionism. It was narrated by the James Mason.


“The Tell Tale Heart” was voted the 24th greatest cartoon of all time, in a 1994 survey of 1,ooo animation professionals. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

The Simpsons love to do takes on literature and Edgar Allan Poe is a favorite from season one's episode “The Tell-Tale Head” and in the 1990 “Treehouse of Horror” they did Poe’s “The Raven” pretty faithfully with the narration by Darth Vader himself, James Earl Jones.