A Chicken’s Remarkable Image Stabilization Ability

By Anupum Pant

Background

I saw this Smarter everyday video, made by Destin, a very long time back and I remember very well that I had stored it away in my notes somewhere to share it with you guys in the future, but it was nowhere to be found. As time passed, I totally forgot about it. Just yesterday, while writing about how chicken heads saved Switzerland from rabid foxes, there was a sudden flash in my mind and I recalled having seen Destin’s video (I don’t know how that happened. Brains are amazing). I’ve attached it below for you to see.

In the video, Destin demonstrates how chickens have an amazing ability which enables them to keep their heads perfectly stable. It is just one of the many ways birds are better than humans. Irrespective of how their body moves, their head remains perfectly still in a way that their eyes are able to see a very stabilized image.

It is interesting to note that it isn’t just chickens who have this ability. Owls and a couple of other birds have this built-in too. In fact, cats can do it to some extent too, but chickens and owls are definitely better at it.

NASA, before it had sent humans to space, conducted a similar experiment with owls with an expectation that they would learn something that’d help them reduce trauma to humans in space. This is how an owl was moved around by them in every axis possible. It passed every test they threw at it. Look at it go…

The Vestibular Ocular reflex system

Most vertebrates have this device inherently built into their inner ears which has three tubes (probably to detect movement in all three dimensions). The biological device is called the Vestibular system. This is what it looks like. You can clearly see the three semi circular tubes coming out.

These three tubes are filled with a fluid which moves around when the head moves. As the fluid moves, it pushes something called a cupula and converts mechanical movement into an electrical signal. The signal is sent to the brain to process.

As a result, the brain sends back information to the eyes and moves them in the opposite direction. That is how your eyes are involuntarily able to stay focussed at a single point even when you move your hear. This is called the Vestibular ocular reflex system.

But the chicken’s eyes don’t move, so it isn’t probably correct to call it an ocular reflex. Instead their whole head moves in the opposite direction to their body movement. Thanks to the vestibular system. I’m not totally sure, but this could have something to do with righting reflex – the same thing that makes cats turn the right side up when they fall. Please help me with this in the comments section if you know more…

Chicken steady head cam

Using the same amazing biological image stabilization technology that was at his disposal, a youtuber decided to tie a camera to the chicken’s head to make a steady headcam. I think it’s an amazing idea for R&D.

Halo Effect – Helping You Make Poor Judgements

By Anupum Pant

Despite being well aware of the adage – “Don’t judge a book by its cover” – our not-so-smart-brains fail us on this every time. Unknowingly, humans are prone to the Halo effect. And they’ll even deny that this harmless looking effect was what led them to make a wrong judgement about someone or something.

Halo Effect: In simple terms, we create a whole fake image about anything in our minds, based on a single trait.  For instance:

  1. Don’t you thing Steve Jobs must have been a perfect human being in person? I’m not saying he wasn’t, may be he was. Assuming you never met him, what made you construct that image of his, in your mind? Probably his warm, friendly presentations. Or it is even possible that the seemingly flawless physical designs of Apple products did that trick. Often marketers use this effect to create a warm image of themselves in the audience’s mind by saying little of any substance.
  2. By the good looks of this website, which I’ve made sure are really good, you’d unknowingly judge it as a page presenting you with quality content. You might do this without even looking at the content. May be it really is good content in this case, but it isn’t always.
  3. A well known brand that releases good commercials is often believed to be a quality brand. You’d feel no pain in shelling out thousands of bucks for a simple pair of shoes, saying it is a good quality shoe and will last long. There is a chance that you’ve never really looked deeper into the quality of the shoes this company makes. You’ll simply trust them because of the world-class commercials they come out with – which of course are only a result of outsourcing of creative work to a professional company. Which is not to say that the company really does make poor quality shoes. May be it doesn’t. But you just made a snap judgement without enough information.

The name Halo effect:
Its called the Halo effect because of this general tendency among us to make a snap judgement about the overall good traits of a person by just looking at a halo painted on top of their heads (one good trait of their’s).

But here is the catch, it works both ways:

Suppose you dislike one thing about something, you’ll build an image of “bad” around it, in your mind. This has been tested widely and it is true. People unknowingly do it and don’t realize why they did it. Moreover they’ll deny that it affects them.

Suppose you go to a restaurant and see that there is nothing fancy inside – naked tables, poorly dressed waiters and shabby flooring – you’ll never expect tasty food coming out of its kitchen.

Same thing happens with poorly designed websites. The content isn’t considered credible if they don’t look good. That is one reason, I take time to muster up good-looking images for my featured section.

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Human Echolocation – Seeing With Your Ears

By Anupum Pant

Bats can see, but Daniel Kish can’t. Due to Retinal Cancer (Retinoblastoma), Daniel has been completely blind since the age of 13 months. To save his life, both his eyes had to be removed at a young age. But, even with no eyes, he can see. He sees with his ears. People call him the real-life batman.

What? When Daniel was young, he started making a clicking sound with his tongue to understand his environment. Little did he know, at a young age, he had mastered Echolocation – A technique used by dolphins, and bats to navigate when there is no light. At the age of 11, only when a friend told him about Echolocation, did he realize what he was really doing.

How? By listening to the reflected clicking sound, Daniel is able to map the shape, dimension, depth and density of objects in his brain. Like we use light to see, he uses sound to create a 3D map in his brain. He has trained his visual cortex to process non-visual information. With this ability he is able to ride a bicycle around, effortlessly. Think about riding with your eyes closed. He does it everyday.

According to him, what he does isn’t rocket science. He thinks every one, if trained well, can do it. With a concern for blind people around the world who aren’t encouraged to use echolocation to move around, he started an organization where he teaches people how to do it. You can watch his TED talk here. [video]

Side note: In a Tamil movie, Taandavam, he was the one who taught Shiva to move around using echolocation.

If you think Daniel’s ability doesn’t talk enough about the amazing human brain. This video of David Eagleman talking about how our brain perceives the world, will probably make you appreciate it [the brain] more. Watch it till the end where he talks about these plug-in-brain devices.
In short, brain can learn to interpret various kinds of signals to produce an image.

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