Better Living Through Neuroscience

Cod_tectum.pngNew for 2009, mindhacks.com is pleased to announce the development of two lifestyle-enhancing products. These innovations use fundamental features of perception to deliver value to YOU! For pre-ordering details please leave a note in the comments.

Introducing: The Adaptive Stereo

Adaptation is a fundamental feature of perception [see Hack #26, ‘Get Adjusted’, in the book]. Simply viewed it means that your perception adjusts according to what you are experiencing. Adaptation is why you don’t notice the noise of a fan until it turns off, and why everyone shouts at each other when they come out of a club or a loud gig.

Extensive observation by the mindhacks.com team of ethno-psychologists (i.e. me) has led to the theory that adaptation is also behind such perplexing phenomenon as bars where the music is too loud for anyone to talk and people on the bus listening to their headphones so loud that you can hear every note of their music too. Turning the volume up is nice, but once you’ve turned it up you get used to the new level (because of adaptation) and so shortly turn it up again, and so on.

Now the Adaptive Stereo is here to solve this growing problem of noise pollution and associated hearing damage. Psychologists have known for a long time that if you change the magnitude of a stimulus by small amounts it isn’t detectable. The size of the smallest change which you can’t get away with is known in the business as the just noticeable difference (a victory for plain-speak if there ever was one). The Adaptive Stereo takes advantage of this fact, alongside precise calibration according to the human auditory capacity, to continually reduce the volume it plays at, but at a rate below the just noticeable difference. Auditory adaptation ensures that people will adjust to the new volume level, within a reasonable range, so they will be able to hear the music just as well, but simultaneously a) saving their hearing from permanent damage and b) allowing you to continuously turn up the volume on your favourite songs without the music getting any louder on average!

Introducing: The Collicularly-Tuned Bike Light

This innovation solves the urban-cyclist’s annoyance of not being noticed by cars and subsequently being run-over. Although it is easy to think that the purpose of our eyes is to supply information to our conscious, deliberately directed, vision, there is another component of seeing which is unconscious, subcortical and absolutely critical if you are going to notice things on the edge of your vision. A sentinel system, controlled by a subcortical region called the superior colliculus, is responsible for noticing movements and changes in the periphery of your vision and attracting your conscious, cortical, visual attention towards them [See Hack #32 ‘Explore your defense hardware’]. It is this system that lets you find your friends in the theatre when they wave at you. Although your conscious visual system can’t pick them out, when they move their hands rapidly your subcortical sentinel systems alerts your conscious visual system so that you reorientate in their direction and can come to recognise them. Now the colliculus which commands this sentinel is very insensitive to most things – fine detail and colour for example – but it specialises in movement and changes in light levels. And this is why flashing lights are a good idea if you are riding a bike and want to get noticed by drivers who might be focusing their conscious attention on other things (cars, arguing with their passengers, smoking, shaving, etc). The Collicularly-Tuned Bike Light takes advantage of decades of precision sensory neuroscience to flash at the rate which the colliculus is most sensitive too. Drivers will find their attention irresistibly drawn to you as you appear in their peripheral vision (mindhacks.com cannot guarantee that they will then try and avoid you when they notice you). For only an extra ¬£25 an Amygdala-activating extension is available which uses the latest in silhouette technology to project the image of an angry male face directly into the subcortex of unsuspecting drivers.

3 thoughts on “Better Living Through Neuroscience”

  1. Brilliant! But could you please actually invent these now? Because my current ipod-listening and cycling habits mean that the only thing that can save me from losing my hearing in my thirties will be getting knocked off my bike in my twenties.

  2. We have something like the first one at work. The building we rent has this ‘clever’ lighting system whereby it detects the ambient light level and only adds enough electric light to reach a set level. But it has some kind of bug in it whereby – in my corner of the office – it gradually gets darker and darker over the course of a couple of weeks until we notice that it’s really dark again and reboot it.

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