Friday, September 23, 2016

Educational YouTube Channels: Every Frame a Painting

My recommendations for educational YouTube channels are not limited to channels dedicated to history and science. I believe that there is something to be learned from any field of endeavor. In every field there are those who are good at their art because of pure talent. Then there are those who not only posses raw talent, but intentionally master their raw talent through education, training and understanding how and why their art takes the form it does.

Talent will only take you so far, and the difference between someone who is good at what they do and
someone who has mastered it, is a lot of hard work, practice and understanding how it works. All too often when it comes to videos, movies and pictures people just assume that all you have to do is point your camera and take the picture. But what differentiates a good movie from a great one is the preparation, forethought and understanding that goes into the picture.

The channel Every Frame a Painting covers the subtle aspects of cinema that make great movies. There are things that you don't even think about when watching a movie but can have a tremendous impact on your experience. Several years ago I watched the movie Seven Samurai and I remember being greatly impressed with it. At the time I didn't know that it was directed by Akira Kurosawa, one of the masters of Japanese cinema. It wasn't until years later when I watched the following video on the how Kurosawa uses movement to compose each shot that I learned that there was a reason why the movie had such an impact on me. The director was a master of his art and had intentionally composed his movies to produce strong emotional responses. He masterfully uses the art of the cinema to make experiences that his audience will not forget.

Similarly the director Michael Bay uses his craft to make engaging movies that are fun to watch. Even if you can't stand his movies, and I can't stand them, they are still very visually engaging. Understanding how he makes his movies will explain why his movies make hundreds of millions of dollars, even when the plots are full of holes and the characters annoying.

The same can be said of Buster Keaton. If you watch his movies, they are full of plot holes, the characters are annoying, but they are still fun to watch. There is a reason why Buster Keaton is still one of the best comedic geniuses in movie history.

There were a few videos on the channel Every Frame a Painting that changed the way I watched movies. I became more aware of how directors chose to compose a shot (or didn't choose, but just did the default, and therefore made a boring movie). I also learned what was possible in a movie and what I had been missing out in many american movies.

This is one channel that has changed (or maybe ruined) how I watch movies. I notice more and am aware of how the craft works.

One final note and disclaimer. Because this channel deals with Hollywood movies some of the subject matter on this channel is not for a younger audience. Some of the videos have graphic violence and the swearing is not edited out. I don't think any of the above videos has swearing, but several of the other videos do have extensive R rated swearing and violence. So if you let your teenage kids watch the videos on this channel, just screen them first.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

That it Exists: How Consciousness is Fundamental to the Cosmos

Recently I came across an article that was written as a response to a broader discussion regarding the nature of consciousness and the mind. The scientist writing the article took the position that all mental activity, and therefore all subjective experience, is just neurochemistry. That is, all thought can be reduced down to the motions of molecules in the brain.

His point was that we can trace neural pathways in the brain, and because we can do this we have discovered the source of consciousness. In making this assertion he was arguing against the possibility of consciousness being a separate entity apart from the measurable neurochemistry in the brain. His reasoning was that there was no evidence that human consciousness operated independent of the neuron activity in the brain. From a scientific stand point he has a very strong argument. There is no evidence that has ever been measured of human consciousness operating independent of a human brain. As he put it, "default hypothesis must be that brains cause consciousness." There is nothing to prove otherwise.

In making his argument that there is no evidence for consciousness independent of a functioning brain, he gave the following challenge in the form of a question.

"Where is the evidence for consciousness being fundamental to the cosmos?"

We must acknowledge that we have not yet observed free floating consciousnesses in the universe. We cannot look through a telescope, or in a particle accelerator, or in a microscope and observe a consciousness apart from the neural activity in our brains. So what evidence is there for consciousness in the universe?

That it exists.

Right now as you are reading this you are aware of your own existence. That fact alone is evidence that there is at least one consciousness, and that it is fundamental to the universe. You may also realize that you cannot observe, experience or measure my consciousness. You can observe the effects of my consciousness in how I act and talk, but you cannot directly observe my consciousness. (As a side note, if you were to insist that yours was the only consciousness in the cosmos and that everyone else were just clever machines then you would be slipping into the philosophy of solipsism.) So when the author of the article asked what evidence there was for consciousness being fundamental, the evidence is that it exists.

While his arguments may seem modern with their emphasis on neurochemistry, this argument is actually quite old and has been debated as far back as the ancient Greek philosophers. I can tell someone is a conscious being because of the way they act. I can observe their actions and how they react to language and conclude that they are an independent thinking being. All we have done with modern neuroscience is to do the exact same thing, but now with fancy equipment. It's a bit like inventing a car or an airplane and then concluding, "Now we have solved the puzzle of human motion! We now know how humans move!"

No, all we have done is take the same fundamental problem and wrapped it in a new shinier, more complex skin.

We have not solved the problem of consciousness. We still have not observed consciousness. We can observe the motions that result from consciousness, but we have not observed someone's self awareness. We may be closer to solving the riddle of human consciousness but we have not yet done it. Until then the idea that "brains cause consciousness" is not the "default hypothesis". To insist that "brains cause consciousness" is to assume a conclusion for which there is no evidence, while our own self-awareness is evidence that our consciousness is independent of our own neurochemistry,

Until we know what consciousness, or self-awareness, is, and not just its effects, we cannot say that we have no evidence of consciousness outside the measurable motions of neurochemistry. But we do have evidence that consciousness exists. Just think about it.