30 JUNE 2002: BOB



Bob and David in “Hooray
for America!!!” is coming to your town!

So what happened was…

and I have been kicking around this idea for a live tour, and we finally
said, “Okay”. Why now? Because America needs us. And because we’ve got
all these new ideas for scenes, and we want to do them for you. You wanna
see ‘em? We hope the answer is “bring it, bitch!”

    The show
will feature NEW SCENES and some updated CLASSICS,

will be live scenes, and video pieces, and some mixed together, just like
in the show.

MR. SHOW CAST MEMBERS will be with us, a small, hi-tech, crew. We don’t
know their names yet, but that’s just because we never bothered to learn
them the whole five years we were doing the show.

    The show
just might, if you’re good, feature a guest appearance by the singing group
“Three Times One Minus One”, the Mayor of Hollywood, and various other
long dead, dear old friends from the show. Our goal is to tell a story
that will make you laugh more than you cry, teach then preach, and grab
you by the crotch until you believe in apple pie again.

are the dates and cities you must live in or move to so that we can come
to “your” town.

SAT 9/14  San Diego
California Center for the Perf. Arts @ Escondido 8:00

FRI 9/20  Washington,
DC Warner Theatre 7:30

SAT 9/21  Philadelphia,
PA Electric Factory 7:30

SUN 9/22  NYC Town
Hall 7:30

TUE 9/24  Boston, MA
The Orpheum Theatre 7:30

THU 9/26  Ann Arbor,
MI The State Theatre 7:30

FRI 9/27  Chicago,
IL The Congress Theatre 7:30

SAT 9/28  Madison,
WI The Barrymoore Theatre 7:30

SUN 9/29  Minneapolis,
MN The State Theatre 7:30

FRI 10/4  Los Angeles,
CA Royce Hall 7:30

SAT 10/5  San Francisco,
CA The Warfield Theatre 8:00

MON 10/7  Sacramento,
CA The Crest Theatre 7:30

WED 10/9  Eugene, OR
The McDonald Theatre 7:30

THU 10/10  Portland,
OR The Crystal Ballroom 7:30

FRI 10/11  Seattle,
WA The Moore Theatre 7:30

SAT 10/12  Vancouver,
BC The Vogue Theatre 7:30




4/19 -Thomas Wolfe Auditorium,
Asheville, NC–Usually we try and start a tour in a smallish bar or something,
but this was a big ass auditorium, something like 2,000 people came out.
I have no idea how we went from playing the “Be Here Now” last year (which
holds 350 people), to this place. One way or another it was a pretty great
way to kick off this short tour. After the show we got drunk and shot pool

at our hotel bar, which
had a cover band playing lots of Skynyrd. later on, some douchebag kid
knocked on my hotel room door, and said “yo dean, what was it like playing
with those Nashville guys?”, like he had waited his whole life to fuckin’
ask me that stupid shit and had to knock at 3am just to hear my answer.

4/20 – Guilford College,
Greensboro NC–We got to the campus in the early afternoon, it looked like
there were maybe 150 people on the whole grounds of the place—I got the
impression that rather than stick around for their spring festival, the
students all went home instead. The show was completely sold out in advance
(1,200 tickets), but this place would’ve held twice as many. In my opinion
this show suffered from what would become a common thing on this tour—
when you play college campuses there is almost always no alcohol allowed,
and no smoking cigarettes or anything else—on 4/20 no less. This only
applies to the audience obviously, we’re up there chain-smoking and drinking
the entire time, inadvertently rubbing people’s faces in it. I thought
we played very well, but after 2 hours and 15 minutes I felt like we had
left the crowd behind or something. For this reason we decided not to play
any encore—and that was unfortunately all anyone seemed to focus on after
the show ended. live and learn i guess.

4/21 – The Plex, North Charleston,
SC —-This was a new venue for us, we usually play the Music Farm when
we’re in Charleston. They hooked us up with a kick-ass meal before we played,
which is a rarity on tour and much appreciated. Probably one of the best
shows that we’ve played this year except for the Columbia show. Maybe it
was the food, or maybe it just took us a couple days to get the ball rolling,
but for whatever reason everything kinda fell into place musically for
us on this night. People started throwing 20 dollar bills onstage with
requests written on them, we played a whole mess of the requests and bought
ecstasy with the cash after the show. From there we went out and spent
the night getting lap danced on X in Charleston’s seedier clubs. Actually
I’m lying—we just got on the bus and drove to Kentucky overnight. All
‘n all a great night.

4/23 – Kentucky Theater,
Lexington, KY—This was our first time in Lexington and I was impressed
by how clean the city was—also, there wasn’t a soul on the street after
dark. Mick Preston and I generally will walk or drive as far as we have
to go to find a Waffle House when we’re on tour, but we ended up settling
for a Huddle House instead, which to my surprise was every bit as delicious–even
though it’s an

obvious rip-off of the real
thing, right down to the pecan waffles and scattered and smothered hash
browns and shit. This was a really cool old theater, and directly adjacent
to the concert was the Miss Gay Kentucky drag queen paegant. I don’t remember
much about this show, except I thought we played pretty solid and we hit
some bar afterwards and then some house party, and then a second trip to
the Huddle House.

4/24 – Axis, Bloomington,
IN–This was our first time ever playing in Indiana, and the crowd was
ready to tear the roof off the club by the time we hit the stage. I felt
like shit thru most of this show and almost puked all over my amp during
“Doctor Rock.” This was one of three nights on the tour where I got to
watch my team (the Flyers of course) get shutout about 15 minutes before
it was time to play, and it put me

in a really bitter, fucked
up mindframe all 3 times. I was kind of thankful when Ottawa finally laid
a mercy-killing on their sorry asses. Anyway, the gig was great, it was
a fuckin sweatbox in this joint, but we gave it up punk-rock style for

4/25 – Univ. of Iowa Main
Lounge, Iowa City, IA—This room was a big square box with carpeting—-again,
no smoking and no drinking allowed, but over 2,000 people showed up and
we played our asses off. Me, Claude, and Mick had lunch at Hamburg Inn,
which is supposed to be famous for it’s burgers and shakes or something.
After we kicked Iowa City’s ass with our rock and roll, we went out to
a bar and Mick Preston and I held the pool table for the entire night—-I
bet we must’ve won 25 consecutive games. I’m sorry I don’t have any better
tour stories from this tour, but look at where the fuck we played—Greensboro,
Bloomington, Carbondale….I mean what the fuck are we gonna do, fuck sheep
and tip cows after the gigs?

4/26 – Missouri Theater,
Columbia, MO–As I mentioned before, this was pretty much the most inspired
show we’ve played in a very long

time—I really have no
idea what makes one night better than any other, because I felt like ass
before this show and was pretty much exhausted. It had been about 7 or
8 years since we were last in Columbia—last time was the night that the
30 minute live version of “Poopship Destroyer” on PTTB was recorded and
this gig was probably better than that one. One of the highlights for me
was the 15 minute

version of “Never Squeal
on the Pusher” that we played to close the show—-Glenn took a fucking
wicked theremin solo that set this whole show over the top. Other than
that, we pulled out some tunes we haven’t played in a while and had an
awesome time in Columbia.

4/27 – Shryock Auditorium,
Southern Illinois U, Carbondale, IL—-One more show with no alcohol or
smoking for the audience—this was a really cool auditorium, unlike any
other that I can remember playing—-like a U shaped theater with a balcony
that wrapped from the left side of the stage to the right. We had a really
strong show and finished with the best version of “Buenas Tardes Amigo”
we ever did—we all basically agree that we wouldn’t give a shit if we
ever played that one or “The Blarney Stone” again in this lifetime—but
maybe the time off from playing it helped us get back into the heart of
it. After this show we were all feelin pretty good about the tour and decided
to go out—well it looked like the world was about to come to an end,
the nastiest storm I’ve ever seen was developing, like gravel was blowing

off the pavement into the
air. We drove thru it on the way home—about 1,000 miles. Next day we
found out that it was the tornado that killed 11 people in the mid-west—-4
died 20 miles south of Carbondale. The wrath of the Boognish strikes
down the haters and non-believers.

"He told me, No, he was not on drugs. He had been hanging out at the wang ba. He said he went there almost every night."

28 JUNE 2002: “He told
me, No, he was not on drugs. He had been hanging out at the wang ba.
He said he went there almost every night.”

From The
Los Angeles Times

Dens of the Cyber Addicts

A deadly fire prompts
China’s latest crackdown on seedy i-cafes filled with game-obsessed players.
‘You can’t stop us,’ one youth says.


BEIJING — At first, Song
Yozhu thought that his 14-year-old grandson was on drugs. The boy rarely
came home. When he did show up, he was lethargic. Then, a few weeks ago,
he and a 13-year-old friend bleached their hair blond and started living
together in an empty apartment.

    “He told
me, no, he was not on drugs,” Song said. “He had been hanging out at the
wang ba. He said he went there almost every night.”

bas are China’s 200,000 Internet cafes, the vast majority of them illegal.
To the West, they may appear to raise the prospect of free expression in
a country with an authoritarian regime, but to Chinese parents, they are
smoke-filled rooms with substandard safety conditions, nothing more than
modern-day versions of opium dens ruining their children’s lives. And,
in some cases, taking their children’s lives.

month, 25 people, many of them teenagers, were killed in a blaze at a Beijing
wang ba. Chillingly, it was no accident. Song’s grandson and his friend
have confessed to setting the fire, allegedly as revenge against the owners,
who had refused to let them in.

    The government
immediately shut down every wang ba in the capital, and Chinese parents
cheered. Large cities across China took similar action.

    “I am
very happy the government closed all the Internet cafes at the moment,”
said Lu Mei, who said his 16-year-old son was forced to repeat a year of
high school because he spent too much time at the cafes. “He used to lie
to me about where he was going. I thought he was studying at school, yet
he was playing games at the Internet cafe. I was so angry, I didn’t know
what to do. I couldn’t follow him everywhere.”

ba translates as “Net bar.” But the majority of them qualify neither as
cafes nor bars. You won’t find espresso machines or beer on tap. You will,
however, see plenty of ashtrays and breathe in lots of smoke. Some facilities
are so primitive, the only bathroom is a bucket against a wall.

those at the wang ba that burned, most owners skirt the law, operating
without a license and serving minors. China permits people younger than
18 to patronize licensed wang bas on weekends and holidays. Those younger
than 14 can enter only with an adult.

say Beijing is responsible for promoting illicit wang bas. The Communist
government is so afraid of the Internet’s power to spread antisocial activities,
it has tried to control Internet cafes by making it nearly impossible to
get a license. Instead, the move has had the opposite effect.

    The illegal
market has flourished, with fewer safety precautions. Periodic crackdowns
such as the one underway have only made the cafes more popular.

    As much
as the government is wary of the Internet, it also understands the Web’s
economic and social benefits. For example, Beijing wants to be known as
a digital city for the 2008 Olympics. That won’t be possible if the authorities
unplug all the Internet cafes.

    The state-owned
telecommunications sector also has tremendous financial interest in promoting
the use of the Internet. The question Beijing is wrestling with is how
best to control the phenomenon without killing it.

hard to imagine they would want to crack down on a permanent basis,” said
Dali Yang, a China specialist at the University of Chicago. “No sane Chinese
leader would want to say that. This is not an absolute issue of Internet
freedom but how to best regulate the industry.”

if the government wanted a total ban, physically it wouldn’t be possible.
The wang bas pop up easily: All you need is a few computers and a room
and you’re in business.

this month’s fire has become a rallying point for worried parents long
eager to stamp out the illegal cafes and rein in the country’s out-of-control
cyber kids.

what is happening on two decades of dramatic social change. China went
from being a nearly computer-illiterate nation a few years ago to one with
33 million Internet users.

might seem puny compared with the 143 million signing on in the United
States. But China’s numbers are growing exponentially and are expected
to reach 100 million by mid-decade. The country soon could boast the biggest
online population on Earth.

    The more
open society of modern China has brought not only unprecedented personal
freedom but also an explosion in juvenile crime.

    In a
country that not long ago was filled with young Communists so morally upright
that they would turn a penny found on the street over to police, juvenile
delinquents now regularly make the news, mirroring their naughty counterparts
in the West.

to what some Westerners–and members of the Chinese Communist Party–might
expect, many young Chinese Web surfers show only minimal interest in the
Internet as a tool for information gathering or political subversion. Like
youngsters around the globe, what they really crave is computer games.
Lots of computer games.

    To them,
wang bas function as a giant video arcade. At the cafe that burned, for
example, players paid less than $2 a night for all the games they wanted.
Even those who have their own terminals find the cafes cheaper, faster
and infinitely more fun than signing on from home or school, where parents
and teachers may be around to supervise.

is a generation of spoiled only children–”little emperors,” as they’re
often called. They grew up in a society without devotion to God, Mao or
sometimes even their parents. The online world of violent games serves
as a kind of surrogate faith for many.

seem to delight in their addiction.

    At Beijing
Science and Technology University, which reportedly lost nine students
in the blaze, it was standing room only last week in one undergraduate
computer room, which is still open because it is part of the school’s academic
facility, not a wang ba.

    The vast
majority of the 100 or so students there were male, and virtually all the
on-screen activities were games.

    The atmosphere
was so charged, it felt like an actual combat zone, with players linking
up in online squads and firing away as if their lives depended on it.

    “If I
don’t play for one day, I can’t concentrate on anything,” said Liang Sai,
a 19-year-old chemistry major waiting for a terminal. “If you ban all the
Internet cafes, we’ll find somewhere else to play. You can’t stop us, because
we’re hooked.”

    For the
two boys accused of setting the deadly fire, the wang ba was practically
their second home.

Song’s grandson, who because of his age has been identified only by his
last name, Song, and his accomplice, identified as Zhang, have drug-addicted
fathers now in jail, said the grandfather.

aren’t spoiled children. Song’s parents divorced before he was a year old.
He hasn’t seen his mother since he was 7. He grew up with his father, who
had a string of girlfriends. Some of them used to beat the boy, his grandfather

    The grandparents
once found the boy, then 2, waiting for his father on a trash pile, chewing
on rotten fruit. Early this year, when his father went to jail, the boy
went to live with his grandfather, a 67-year-old widower who uses a wheelchair.

basically lived on his own in his mother’s bare apartment. She was never
around. A few weeks ago, young Song moved in with him, hauling over the
TV, refrigerator and washer from his father’s house. They smoked cigarettes
and literally played with fire, twice almost burning down the apartment,
the grandfather said.

    The grandson
pretended to go to school, but classmates said they rarely saw him. When
he did show up, he behaved like a bully, borrowing money he never returned
so he could head back to the Internet cafe.

    “He has
suffered too much pain. He’s not afraid of anything,” the older Song said.

the boy needed, it seemed, was hope. Sometime last year, his mother called
his grandfather to say that if he did well in school, she would find a
way to take him to the United States. The thought that his mother still
cared seemed enough to transform the delinquent into an angel.

teachers were so shocked at his progress they cried during the PTA meeting,”
the grandfather said. “But then his father got into trouble, and the boy
gave up again.”

    The wang
ba became his refuge.

the boys remain under police detention, pending further investigation and
possibly a trial.

say that if Beijing seizes on the wang ba fire to toughen regulations overall,
it could deal a serious blow to legitimate cyber cafes–which already are
weak competitors of the illegal operators, partly because they tend to
be nicer, safer and more expensive.

good and simple regulations that distinguish between good and bad Internet
cafes, it’s very hard for entrepreneurs to invest in the business,” said
Edward Zeng, the self-proclaimed founder of China’s first upscale Internet
cafe in 1996.

    His cafes
actually serve coffee and turn away minors, but he said he’s paying a price
for following the law. In the last two years, poor business has forced
him to cut his chain of about 20 shops by half, he said.

about 10% of Beijing’s estimated 2,200 Internet cafes are legitimate, because
the state makes obtaining licenses very difficult. Illegal operators thrive–they
give young Web users what they want: 24-hour service for as little as 25
cents an hour, cigarettes, even cots to crash on. This makes for cheap
entertainment, even in China. Youngsters in school uniforms are the illicit
cafes’ main clientele.

    The Chinese
press is splattered with horror stories about the tragic consequences.

    A high
school sophomore came home late from a wang ba and confronted his angry
father, according to one account. Then the teenager leaped from the family’s
seventh-floor window.

    One middle
school student had been playing for so long that he insisted he was being
abducted by aliens. His parents sent him to a mental hospital.

have tried begging and grounding. Some have cut their children’s allowance.
No matter–the kids borrowed, stole, sold their bicycles. Anything to keep

desperate parents have hired private detectives to hunt down children who
go missing for days. Others have formed neighborhood brigades to patrol
local haunts.

    But the
games go on.

a great way to kill time and fill emptiness,” said Liang, the chemistry
major. “Most of us can’t afford to travel or do other things for fun. I
don’t know about the girls, but for the guys, it’s our No. 1 recreational

the girls turn up, they tend to stay in a separate part of the room reading
e-mail and chatting online. Many drown out the noise from the game-crazed
boys by downloading pop songs and listening to them on headphones.

said he likes to play as many as seven hours a day straight, and Saturdays
are usually all-nighters. On the night of the fire, he was playing at a
nearby wang ba when the blaze illuminated the sky.

    The two
alleged arsonists apparently bickered with the owners because they had
no money to play. So the boys torched the place with gasoline, according
to their confession.

who died were trapped on the second floor of the building. The only exit
was engulfed in flames–or perhaps locked from the outside. The windows
were bolted with steel bars, a common practice for owners afraid of inspectors
and computer theft.

of yellow chrysanthemums appeared last week on the curb next to the gutted
building. Reading the messages of grief left most parents shaken and determined.

    Zo Jianjune,
the mother of a 21-year-old son who lives next door to the burned cafe,
said her husband had run to the wang ba, unbolted the steel bars and saved
seven people.

    “A crackdown
is absolutely necessary,” she said. “Otherwise, there’s no telling what
else could happen.”



The Grand Illusion:

Why consciousness
only exists when you look for it.

by Susan

From New Scientist,
22 June 2002, p 26-29

„The last great mystery
of science‰; „the most baffling problem in the science of the mind‰; this
is how scientists talk about consciousness, but what if our conscious experience
is all a grand illusion?

Like most people, I used
to think of my conscious life as like a stream of experiences, passing
through my mind, one after another. But now I‚m starting to wonder, is
consciousness really like this? Could this apparently innocent assumption
be the reason we find consciousness so baffling?

Different strands of research
on the senses over the past decade suggest that the brave cognitive scientists,
psychologists and neuroscientists who dare to tackle the problem of consciousness
are chasing after the wrong thing. If consciousness seems to be a continuous
stream of rich and detailed sights, sounds, feelings and thoughts, then
I suggest this is the illusion.

First we must be clear what
is meant by the term „illusion‰. To say that consciousness is an illusion
is not to say that it doesn‚t exist, but that it is not what it seems to
be?more like a mirage or a visual illusion. And if consciousness is not
what it seems, no wonder it‚s proving such a mystery.

For the proposal „It‚s all
an illusion‰ even to be worth considering, the problem has to be serious.
And it is. We can‚t even begin to explain consciousness. Take this magazine
in front of your eyes. Right now, you are presumably having a conscious
experience of seeing the paper, the words, and the pictures. The way you
see the page is unique to you, and no one else can know exactly what it
is like for you. This is how consciousness is defined: it is your own subjective

But how do you get from a
magazine composed of atoms and molecules, to your experience of seeing
it? Real, physical objects and private experiences are such completely
different kinds of thing. How can one be related to the other? David Chalmers,
of the University of Tucson, Arizona, calls it the „Hard Problem‰. How
can the firing of brain cells produce subjective experience? It seems like
magic; water into wine.

If you are not yet feeling
perplexed (in which case I am not doing my job properly), consider another
problem. It seems that most of what goes on in the brain is not conscious.
For example, we can consciously hear a song on the car radio, while we
are not necessarily conscious of all the things we do as we‚re driving.
This leads us to make a fundamental distinction: contrasting conscious
brain processes with unconscious ones. But no one can explain what the
difference really is. Is there a special place in the brain where unconscious
things are made conscious? Are some brain cells endowed with an extra magic
something that makes what goes on in them subjective? This doesn‚t make
sense. Yet most theories of consciousness assume that there must be such
a difference, and then get stuck trying to explain or investigate it.

For example, in the currently
popular „Global Workspace‰ theory, Bernard Baars, of the Wright Institute
in Berkeley, California, equates the contents of consciousness with the
contents of working memory. But how does being „in‰ memory turn electrical
impulses into personal experiences?

Another popular line of research
is to search for the „neural correlates‰ of consciousness. Nobel Laureate,
Francis Crick, wants to pin down the brain activity that corresponds to
„the vivid picture of the world we see in front of our eyes‰. And Oxford
pharmacologist, Susan Greenfield, is looking for „the particular physical
state of the brain that always accompanies a subjective feeling‰ (New Scientist,
2 Feb, p 30). These researchers are not alone in their search. But their
attempts all founder on exactly the same mystery?how can some kinds of
brain activity be „in‰ the conscious stream, while others are not? I can‚t
see what this difference could possibly be.

Could the problem be so serious
that we need to start again at the very beginning? Could it be that, after
all, there is no stream of consciousness; no movie in the brain; no picture
of the world we see in front of our eyes? Could all this be just a grand

You might want to protest.
You may be absolutely sure that you do have such a stream of conscious
experiences. But perhaps you have noticed this intriguing little oddity.
Imagine you are reading this magazine when suddenly you realise that the
clock is striking. You hadn’t noticed it before, but now that you have,
you know that the clock has struck four times already, and you can go on
counting. What is happening here? Were the first three „dongs‰ really unconscious
and have now been pulled out of memory and put in the stream of consciousness?
If so were the contents of the stream changed retrospectively to seem as
though you heard them at the time? Or what? You might think up some other
elaborations to make sense of it but they are unlikely to be either simple
or convincing.

A similar problem is apparent
with listening to speech. You need to hear several syllables before the
meaning of a sentence becomes unambiguous. So what was in the stream of
consciousness after one syllable? Did it switch from gobbledegook to words
half way through? It doesn’t feel like that. It feels as though you heard
a meaningful sentence as it went along. But that is impossible.

The running tap of time

Consciousness also does
funny things with time. A good example is the „cutaneous rabbit‰. If a
person‚s arm is tapped rapidly, say five times at the wrist, then twice
near the elbow and finally three times on the upper arm, they report not
a series of separate taps coming in groups, but a continuous series moving
upwards?as though a little creature were running up their arm. We might
ask how taps two to four came to be experienced some way up the forearm
when the next tap in the series had not happened yet. How did the brain
know where the next tap was going to fall?

You might try to explain
it by saying that the stream of consciousness lags a little behind, just
in case more taps are coming. Or perhaps, when the elbow tap comes, the
brain runs back in time and changes the contents of consciousness. If so,
what was really in consciousness when the third tap happened? The problem
arises only if we think that things must always be either “in” or “out”
of consciousness. Perhaps, if this apparently natural distinction is causing
so much trouble, we should abandon it.

Even deeper troubles threaten
our sense of conscious vision. You might be utterly convinced that right
now you’re seeing a vivid and detailed picture of the world in front of
your eyes, and no one can tell you otherwise. Consider, then, a few experiments.

The most challenging are
studies of „change blindness‰ (New Scientist, 18 Nov 2000, p 28). Imagine
you are asked to look at the left hand picture in the illustration below.
Then at the exact moment you move your eyes (which you do several times
a second) the picture is swapped for the one on the right. Would you notice
the difference? Most people assume that they would. But they’d be wrong.
When our eyes are still we detect changes easily, but when a change happens
during an eye movement or a blink we are change blind.

 Another way to reveal
change blindness is to present the two pictures one after the other repeatedly
on a computer screen with flashes of grey in between (for an example see It can take
people many minutes to detect even a large object that changes colour,
or one that disappears altogether, even if it‚s right in the middle of
the picture.

What do these odd findings
mean? At the very least they challenge the textbook description that vision
is a process of building up representations in our heads of the world around
us. The idea is that as we move our eyes about, we build up an even better
picture, and this picture is what we consciously see. But these experiments
show that this way of thinking about vision has to be false. If we had
such a picture in our heads we would surely notice that something had changed,
yet we don’t. We jump to the conclusion that we‚re seeing a continuous,
detailed and rich picture. But this is an illusion.

Researchers differ in how
far they think the illusion goes. Psychologists Daniel Simons of Harvard
University and Daniel Levin of Kent State University, Ohio, suggest that
during each visual fixation our brain builds a fleeting representation
of the scene. It then extracts the gist and throws away all the details.
This gives us the feeling of continuity and richness without too much overload.

Ronald Rensink of the University
of British Columbia in Vancouver, goes a little further and claims that
we never form representations of the whole scene at all, not even during
fixations. Instead we construct what he calls „virtual representations‰
of just the object we are paying attention to. Nothing else is represented
in our heads, but we get the impression that everything is there because
a new object can always be made „just in time‰ whenever we look.

Finally, our ordinary notions
of seeing are more or less demolished by psychologists Kevin O’Regan of
the CNRS, the French national research agency in Paris, and Alva Noë
of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who first described vision
as a grand illusion. They argue that we don’t need internal representations
at all because the world is always there to be referred to. According to
their „sensorimotor theory of vision‰ seeing is not about building pictures
of the world in our heads, it‚s about what you are doing. Seeing is a way
of interacting with the world, a kind of action. What remains between eye
movements is not a picture of the world but the information needed for
further exploration. The theory is dramatically different from existing
theories of perception.

It‚s not clear who‚s right.
Perhaps all these theories are off the mark, but there is no doubt about
the basic phenomenon and its main implication. Searching for the neural
correlates of the detailed, picture in our heads is doomed because there
is no such picture.

This leaves another problem.
If we have no picture, how can we act on the things we see? This question
may seem reasonable but it hides another false assumption?that we have
to see consciously in order to act. We need only think of the tennis player
who returns a serve before consciously seeing it, to realise that this
is false, but the situation is odder than this. We probably have several
separate visual systems that do their jobs somewhat independently, rather
than one single one that produces a unified visual world.

David Milner of the University
of St Andrews, and Melvyn Goodale of the University of Western Ontario,
argue that there is one system for fast visuomotor control and a slower
system for perceiving objects. Much of their evidence comes from patients
with brain damage, such as D.F. who has a condition known as visual form
agnosia. She cannot recognise objects by sight, name simple line drawings,
or recognise or copy letters, even though she produces letters correctly
from dictation and can recognise objects by touch. She can also reach out
and grasp everyday objects (objects that she cannot recognise) with remarkable
accuracy. D.F. seems to have a visual system that guides her actions but
her perception system is damaged.

In a revealing experiment
D.F. was shown a slot set randomly at different angles. (Trends in Neurosciences,
vol 15 p 20, 1992). She could not consciously see the orientation of the
slot, and could not draw it or adjust a line to the same angle. But when
given a piece of card she could quickly and accurately line it up and post
it straight through. Experiments with normal volunteers have shown similar
kinds of dissociation, suggesting that we all have at least two separate
vision systems.

Perhaps the most obvious
conclusion is that the slow perceptual system is conscious and the fast
action system is unconscious. But then the old mystery is back. We would
have to explain the difference between conscious and unconscious systems.
Is there a magic ingredient in one? Does neural information turn into subjective
experiences just because it is processed more slowly?

Perhaps the answer here is
to admit that there is no stream of conscious experiences on which we act.
Instead, at any time a whole lot of different things are going on in our
brain at once. None of these things is either „in‰ or „out‰ of consciousness
but every so often, something happens to create what seems to have been
a unified conscious stream; an illusion of richness and continuity.

It sounds bizarre, but try
to catch yourself not being conscious. More than a hundred years ago the
psychologist William James likened introspective analysis to „trying to
turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks.” The modern
equivalent is looking in the fridge to see whether the light is always
on. However quickly you open the door, you can never catch it out. The
same is true of consciousness. Whenever you ask yourself, „Am I conscious
now?‰ you always are.

But perhaps there is only
something there when you ask. Maybe each time you probe, a retrospective
story is concocted about what was in the stream of consciousness a moment
before, together with a „self‰ who was apparently experiencing it. Of course
there was neither a conscious self nor a stream, but it now seems as though
there was.

Perhaps a new story is concocted
whenever you bother to look. When we ask ourselves about it, it would seem
as though there‚s a stream of consciousness going on. When we don’t bother
to ask, or to look, it doesn’t, but then we don’t notice so it doesn’t

 Admitting that it‚s
all an illusion does not solve the problem of consciousness but changes
it completely. Instead of asking how neural impulses turn into conscious
experiences, we must ask how the grand illusion gets constructed. This
will prove no easy task, but unlike solving the Hard Problem it may at
least be possible.


Susan Blackmore is a psychologist,
writer and lecturer based in Bristol.

Further Reading

Consciousness Explained
by Daniel Dennett, Penguin (1993)

O‚Regan and Noë‚s ideas
will soon be debated in a special issue of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

N.B. The current issue of
Journal of Consciousness Studies is devoted to the Grand Illusion. 

This will also be published
as a book Is the Visual World a Grand Illusion? Ed. Alva Noë, Imprint
Academic, 2002.




Ocean Sunfish

It has many names in many
languages, but the ocean sunfish vies for the title of strangest fish in
the sea. Its Latin name, Mola mola , means millstone. Recorded up to two
tons, this gentle giant inhabits all tropical and temperate seas.

The ocean sunfish (Mola mola)
is the world’s largest known bony fish (sharks and rays are cartilaginous,
not bony).  At least one estimate over 3000 lb. has been recorded
and individuals reaching 11 ft. (3 m.) from fin tip to fin tip have been
seen. It is found in all oceans in tropical and temperate climes, and is
known to eat gelatinous zooplankton (jellyfish) and probably small fishes
and algae.  In the eastern Pacific, Mola mola is normally found from
British Columbia to South America, although in El Nino events it has been
recorded as far north as Alaska.

Long dorsal and anal fins
are the mola’s principal source of locomotion — they are flapped from
side to side. The caudal fin of the ocean sunfish is quite short and acts
like a rudder.

Molas are often covered with
small parasites, and will approach drift kelp and other flotsam to recruit
small fish (which hide in and below the kelp) to remove these parasites.