Iron and Vibranium: Science of the Avengers

Melody and Alex hash out the science behind their favorite Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America, respectively.

The Marvel universe is heating up with Captain America: Civil War coming to screens on May 6. While it is undeniably going to be distressing to see my favorite band of superheroes become divided, I also can’t wait to see them battle it out while wearing 3D glasses and shoving popcorn in my face. In the spirit of true nerddom that accompanies all Marvel premeire weekends, Melody and I hashed out the science behind our favorite Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America, respectively. -Alex Continue reading “Iron and Vibranium: Science of the Avengers”

Editor’s Letter 4/20/16

Send in your contributions to the HERpothesis Golden Record project!

GIF by Alex Hanson, using photos of and from the Voyager Golden Record

Golden Record images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hi there!

For this month’s editor’s letter I want to issue a kind of call-to-action for a new HERpothesis project: the HERpothesis Golden Record. We’re making it, and I want you, you creative, smart, ambitious HERpothesis reader, to get involved.

This project is inspired by the Voyager Golden Record, a phonograph and collection of images in a time capsule that was sent out on both of the Voyager spacecraft. Since 1977 two copies of the record have traveled with Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, acting as a sort of message in a bottle for any alien species that may find them one day. The records contain several audio recordings and pictures that are meant to give an impression of life on Earth: our lives, our architecture, animals, plants, music, math, and even a recording of human brain waves. Continue reading “Editor’s Letter 4/20/16”

Flame Test

There is something to be enjoyed and learned from every class—even if it isn’t going to be on the test.

Words and art by Alex Hanson

I crossed paths with my worst academic nemesis, fourth period Honors Chemistry, in my sophomore year of high school. While much of my distaste of the subject was due to a teacher whose vibes didn’t mesh with mine, as well as my severe inability to visualize the concepts that I was supposed to understand, I did find one class experiment to be particularly redeeming. Continue reading “Flame Test”

Editor’s Letter 3/20/2016

Talking about the news-pothesis surrounding Marvel, A Wrinkle in Time, Emily Rice, and SciChic.

EIC Alex Hanson dishes out the news-pothesis, or, things going on in the world of HERpothesis. Continue reading “Editor’s Letter 3/20/2016”

A Brief Tour of a Synesthetic History

Synesthesia, like many other puzzles, should always be examined through an interdisciplinary lens.

 

By Melody Xu

Art by Alex Hanson

When people hear the term synesthesia, the image of an individual who sees the number “3” in maroon or thinks that “purple” tastes salty usually appears. However, the term serves as a term for sensation interconnections that are even more complicated— violin music will lightly stroke against a person’s cheeks, the days of the week are carts on a ferris wheel. So what exactly is synesthesia?

Synesthesia, as explained by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the production of a sense impression relating to one’s sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body”. Deriving from the Greek term “to perceive together”, the phenomenon of synesthesia can come in many different shapes and sizes; some may be able to smell pain, others may taste shapes, some might be able to do both and even more. While there are countless types of synesthesia, without any two cases being exactly the same, there are some common types of synesthesia that occur within the human population, especially grapheme-color synesthesia, which is when a person may see individual letters and numbers in different colors.

Synesthesia, like many other puzzles, should always be examined through an interdisciplinary lens. For instance, synesthesia can also be seen as a gateway for creativity. When a novel’s narrator says that they see the rainbow when they hear the deep, soothing voice of their favorite singer, or when a painting’s harsh oil strokes clearly evoke a feeling of anger— these are all examples of creativity at its finest. Taking a deeper look reveals that these are connecting experiences primarily focused on one sense with another sense, which certainly can be considered an attempt to replicate the experiences that come with synesthesia. Whether the platform for examining synesthesia comes in the form of literature, music, art, or neuroscience, it’s an experience that has been the focus of human intrigue for all of history.

For scientists especially, synesthesia presents an interesting issue. Studies have been conducted that confirm that the phenomenon is in fact biological, happening automatically and without having any learning process behind it. It is neurologically distinct from hallucinations and is unlike metaphors, but the estimation for how many people have synesthesia (from 1 in 200 people to 1 in 20,000) and the causes of synesthesia has been a prevalent problem in the scientific community. The issue of the huge disparity between the estimation of people with synesthesia in the population is so prevalent in part because of the fear of judgement that people who have synesthesia have. The fact that the term itself is a blanket term for so many different variations of the phenomenon also has an impact on the wide range of values.

Modern technology and tools, including brain-imaging and molecular genetics tools, have allowed to scientists to look at the future of examining this phenomenon, along with the organization of the brain and the way we perceive and recognize the world around us, with promise. However, this was not always the case. Long having been dismissed of having neurological basis, synesthesia had been misunderstood by people for a large part of human history. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the world was swept up in a flurry of excitement over examining this phenomenon, but it also experienced a harsh dip in interest in the middle of the twentieth century. One of the incredible scientists responsible for the establishment of synesthesia as a major research area was Simon Baron-Cohen, a prominent psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist. In the 1970s he led a team who first found evidence that synesthetes have consistent experiences over periods of time, as well as established a method of measuring synesthesia through neuroimaging techniques. (Here is some info on Baron-Cohen’s book on the project.)

Despite all of these major steps forward in synesthesia research, the actual cause for synesthesia remains shrouded in mystery. Some theories claim that all newborns are born with synesthesia, with the division of sensory blocks appearing as the individual and brain mature. Other theories involve the opening of previously closed channels of communication after being exposed to “the light of consciousness,” hence why people who are under the influence of certain drugs and have these passageways coming into awareness can experience a sense of induced synesthesia. Regardless of what theory you choose to believe in, the study of synesthesia allows cognitive scientists a truly unique chance to learn about how perception is formed in our brains.

Lemonade, Paprika, and Virtual Reality: An Interview with Priscilla Wong

I spoke with DreamWorks Animation visual development artist Priscilla Wong about the role of technology in her work, her predictions for virtual reality’s role in her field, independent distribution, and being a woman a creative field.

Interview by Alex Hanson

All art courtesy of Priscilla Wong

Priscilla Wong is a visual development artist for DreamWorks Animation. She is a master of transcending mediums, from digital art to painting to creating fantasy creatures made of cloth and other textured materials. I spoke with her about the role of technology in her work, her predictions for virtual reality’s role in her field, independent distribution, and being a woman a creative field. All the art featured is courtesy of Priscilla, and you can find more of her work on her blog, her Tumblr, and her Instagram. You’ll also find her visual influence on the Trolls movie, set to release this November.

How would you describe your artistic style?

It’s like lemonade with a dash of paprika. I like using real materials, like fabric, and unconventional materials. I think part of that comes from my love for fashion. I love Project Runway. I like different disciplines within art and design: I love graphic design, I’m in animation, I love fashion and industrial design. I try to bring as much of those influences together as possible because I think it makes a unique look and makes it universally appealing. It has a sophisticated mix to it, I feel. What I mean by lemonade with a dash of paprika is that I like things to be fresh but also a little dramatic, a little spicy. I got that from loving Diana Vreeland. She’s a fashion icon and she liked to challenge norms. She pushed aesthetics along from the 20s to the 60s. So much happened during that time and I think a lot of that has to do with her.

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For the Q Pop Shop Gallery

Continue reading “Lemonade, Paprika, and Virtual Reality: An Interview with Priscilla Wong”

Extended Consciousness in the World of Tomorrow

Are we still human when our minds are cloned so many times over, fragmented into downloaded files, and uploaded consciousness?

Words and Illustration by Alex Hanson

When we die, what happens to our memories? Where do our personalities and experiences go? Don Hertzfeldt (you might recognize his out-of-this-world Simpsons couch gag or his short “It’s Such a Beautiful Day”) explores one futuristic, somewhat dystopian possibility in his short film “World of Tomorrow” (which is on Netflix and I HIGHLY recommend watching). “World of Tomorrow,” which is nominated for an Oscar and has already received awards from Sundance and South by Southwest, is a two dimensional animated short about Emily Prime, a young girl, and her adult third generation clone (let’s call her Emily Three). Emily Three brings Emily Prime to the future to share her personal experiences in a dystopian world where no new humans are born. Instead, every living person is a clone of someone who lived many years ago, injected with the memories of their prime and all the clones in line before them. Emily Three struggles with her low emotional capacity in a world where consciousness and body no longer develop together. Instead, consciousness is transferred between clones, or can be downloaded from a person once they die. For some elderly, their consciousness is transferred into a bodiless box, where they exist alone in darkness for an undetermined number of years. Continue reading “Extended Consciousness in the World of Tomorrow”