Monday, September 25, 2006

Could I See With My Tongue?

I saw a show on TV about an artificial retina. A tiny computer chip contained

photocells whose electrical signals stimulated the optic nerve. The blind guy could "see" light patches projected on a wall, could locate them in space, and could discriminate vertical and horizontal orientation.

What was he seeing? Electrical signals? His own brain? Surely not light, because he was blind. But he said patches of light.

What if, in the middle of the experiment, all the lights in the room were cut, leaving a totally dark room, but the computer continued to trigger the same patterns of electrical signals to the optic nerve as before. The guy should continue to see rectangles of white light, just as described before. But there would be no light in the pitch-black room. So would he be wrong in saying that he saw patches of light?

What does it mean to "see" something if no actual light is involved? If seeing only means that a certain area of the brain is active, then if I routed electrical signals from my tongue to the visual area of my brain, I should be able to see light when I suck a lemon. It's logical, but I'm not sure if I believe it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Do Funnels Take Up More Space Than They Should?

A funnel is difficult to store, whether you put it in a drawer or hang it on a wall. It seems to take up way more space than it should. Nothing else stacks or packs well with it, not even other funnels of the same size. A funnel is an odd shape, and it is difficult to estimate visually how much space it needs. Why is that? It seems somehow related to its function.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

What is Food?

Here is the actual list of ingredients on a "snack" offered to me on an airline. It was a “potato skins snack chips” from Poore Brothers, Inc., of Goodyear, AZ. It contains:

Corn oil, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil with TBHQ, dehydrated potatoes, potato starch, corn, sugar, salt, cheese powder, whey, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, maltodextrin, disodium phosphate, nonfat milk, citric acid, artificial flavor, lactic acid, potassium chloride, monosodium glutamate, buttermilk solids, mono and diglycerides, dextrose, butter solids, caramel color, beta carotene, FD&C yellow #5, red #40, blue#1, extractives of turmeric and annatto, hydrolyzed soy protein, dehydrated onion, yeast extract, molasses powder, dried sour cream, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, malic acid.

By category:

Vegetables & Legumes:


dehydrated potatoes

potato starch

hydrolyzed soy protein

dehydrated onion


cheese powder


nonfat milk

butter solids

dried sour cream

lactic acid


Corn oil

hydrogenated cottonseed oil with TBHQ

partially hydrogenated soybean oil





molasses powder



potassium chloride


disodium phosphate

caramel color

beta carotene

FD&C yellow #5, red #40, blue#1

extractives of turmeric and annatto


citric acid

artificial flavor

monosodium glutamate

yeast extract

Texture or preservative:

mono and diglycerides

disodium inosinate

disodium guanylate

malic acid

This snack is a marvel of modern food engineering, no doubt. It has things in it that are derived from familiar foodstuffs. And much else besides. You have to wonder, does the end result really qualify as food at all?

Needless to say, I did not eat my "snack." I did not consider it to be food.