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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine

'Human Perception' Archive


by Mike Neuenschwander ~ April 18, 2008

I’ve just finished reading Denise Caruso’s book, Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet. I absolutely love it! As the book’s subtitle suggests, Denise recounts the tragedy of how hubris in the biotech industry — compounded by sub-standard risk assessment methods used by government regulators — has blinded us to potentially catastrophic consequences of releasing billions of living, reproducing, evolving man-made organisms the environment, the long-term effects of which are completely unknown.

But Intervention delivers a much broader message, about how the human propensity for hamartia isn’t miraculously expunged by mathematics, statistics, or the scientific method.

In proving her point about assessing the risks of genetic engineering, Denise calls into question the seemingly unassailable position of science in our culture. The book suggests we desperately need “a new kind of science” (to borrow Steven Wolfram’s phrase) — one that accounts for the nature of the beings (i.e., us) who are wielding its increasingly powerful tools. Try as we might, whatever model we create to try and describe reality, our scientific models inescapably say much more about human beings than they do about some objective reality. In the book, Denise exposes our lapses in rationality due to cognitive, social, and technological realities. Such lapses are everywhere in the areas I cover (technology, social trust, and privacy).

So while reading the book, I decided present my views on these issues in a blog post. Admittedly, going into some depth on Denise’s book on the Hybrid Vigor blog (which is Denise’s creation) seems almost self-congratulatory. But I think the larger themes in Intervention are relevant to most of the really difficult problems we’re trying to solve globally today, and understanding these issues will help focus our discussion at Hybrid Vigor. Continue reading »


by Denise Caruso ~ February 7, 2007

A friend sent me this (old! 2002) story from The Guardian Unlimited today, an excerpt from Graham Farmelo’s book It Must Be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science, and it made me think lots of appreciative thoughts about human perception and the kinds of people who are able to make such meaningful connections and perceive and understand the world so holistically.

The first such person I met was my wonderful chem professor at Cal Poly, Grant Venerable, who I met while I was still in high school and who encouraged me to write a paper for credit comparing Shakespeare to chemistry (I still have the paper somewhere, typed onto that funny translucent erasable paper, using a portable Smith-Corona).

The Guardian story also reminded me of two books that I bought and never got around to reading: Cross Pollinations: The Marriage of Science and Poetry, by Gary Paul Nabham, and Water and Dreams: An Essay On the Imagination of Matter, by Gaston Bachelard, which had been highly recommended to me when I started Hybrid Vigor. Now out of print, the cheapest copy on Amazon is $129. Glad I kept mine.

I’m also about to start reading Sharon Begley’s new book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves. Begley, a terrific science writer, most recently as a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, used as the foundation of her book a yearly gathering of Buddhist monks and neuroscientists on the subject of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to physically change in response to stimuli or activity. Intro and foreword were written by Daniel Goleman and HH Dalai Lama, so you get the drift. Very exciting stuff happening here; I’ll write more about it soon.


by Denise Caruso ~ February 5, 2007

Here’s the top of a recent New Scientist article on geckos’ night vision (subscription required):

Geckos: Under the colour of darkness
06 January 2007
Sally Palmer
Magazine issue 2585
When our world turns dull and grey, a gecko’s life is a riot of colour, as New Scientist discovers

THERE’S a German expression which translates as “all cats are grey at night”. It’s certainly true for humans. As night falls, the colour-detecting cone cells in our eyes switch off, the rod cells take over and the world turns to fuzzy black and white - until we go indoors and switch on the lights.

It has always been assumed that nocturnal animals also see the world in black and white, albeit far more clearly than us. So when animal biologist and vision specialist Almut Kelber began studying nocturnal vision in geckos and moths, she was intrigued to discover that some species were actually seeing in colour.

Kelber and her colleagues at the vision research group at Lund University in Sweden now believe that nocturnal colour vision may be far more common than anyone imagined and could be found in toads, frogs, bees, wasps, fireflies and creatures of the deepest oceans. …

I find vision fascinating; it was the topic that inspired me to start Hybrid Vigor. Richard Solomon, then a senior scientist at MIT, had helped Polaroid build the first high-definition TV camera (this was back in the early ’90s, as I recall), and wondered why this remarkable camera still couldn’t see the way the human eye could see. He started doing research and discovered that several disciplines studied human vision, but for various reasons weren’t and/or wouldn’t share information.

He wasn’t so constrained, and ended up using what he knew to start developing a new machine vision system based on what he’d learned. I conned him into writing a Hybrid Vigor Journal on the subject, “As If You Were There: Matching Machine Vision to Human Vision.” (This is the link to the PDF.) It’s a terrific paper.


by Denise Caruso ~ February 5, 2007

A friend just forwarded me the cover article in New York Magazine, called “Kids, the Internet, and the End of Privacy: The Greatest Generation Gap Since Rock and Roll,” with a note:

i’m interested in whether there are neurological differences between younger people/older people that are tied into their exposure habits.

Me, too. I think it’s an important question for those of us who are interested in the mechanics and mechanisms of human perception writ large. I wonder if Steven Johnson ran across any of this evidence while he was researching Mind Wide Open or Everything Bad is Good For You.

In any case, it freaks me out. This is the first time I’ve found myself on the wrong side of the gap.