Sunday, October 4, 2009

Never do I want to think about Halle Berry and my Grandmother at the same time...

I've decided after reading a few of the articles in Discover magazine, the headlines do a fantastic job of tricking you into reading a story. What I mean by this is that I identify with a very well written lede , I think it is one of the most important parts of the story. it shows whether you can write on your own rather than spew a bunch of quotes from various sources. There is so much more that goes into a story, but the lede could be the one thing that has you throwing your computer out the window even though you have a full fleshed out article in your possession.

Coming away from that ridiculous tangent, when you read the headline "Can a Single Neuron Tell Halle Berry from Grandma Ester" you're probably expecting a gut-splitting, or at the most clever, lede. Luckily for them, the first thing I saw was the headline. The headline was the reason I decided to read it, and fortunately for author CarlZimmer, I was interested enough in the subject to read the whole thing. His lede reflects his whole writing style, bland and unoriginal. The lede jumps right into technical informati0n that would lead any other reader to search for Perez Hilton's Twitter page.

What is difficult for a story like this is trying to write the information in an enjoyable manner. What he does very well is covering all sides of the argument over the presence of the "grandma cell", a group of processors, or a "sparse coding network." he went in full detail about Jerry Lettvin's theory of "grandma cells" as they are neurons responding to a certain stimuli, such as Halle Berry or your Grandmother. Rodrigo Quian Quiroga of the University of Leicester in England tested this theory by showing several pictures to participants and marking the responses to a photo of Halle Berry he gathered from some neurons. There have been several disputes of this from other scientists saying that while that neuron may be responding so strongly to one image does not mean it will not do the same for another.

The rest of the article all describes different theories with no true conclusive evidence to declare any of the arguments true. Quiroga himself even admits that the "grandmother cell" theory is not an exact one, feeling that he may have missed millions of other neurons that could be firing off at other photos while only collecting 100. If anything, Zimmer's scientific research is very well done, the results themselves are what is lacking.

Much of what Zimmer discusses does not require much metaphor usage. The writing is pretty straight forward and very easy to understand. For example, it was easy to understand the description of the computer programming using processors to identify a certain individual by giving random guesses, but eventually narrowing it down to give a more perfect identification system.

Overall, the article is very interesting and poses some interesting questions. The purpose of the article seemed to be just a means of rasing those questions, not giving any conclusive evidence. What was missing were a few more interesting examples of how the "grandmother cell" is put into action. The flow of the article was fluid, as each paragraph had no problem transitioning from one to the other. All I have to say for Zimmer is, well, he needs to get working on lede writing.

1 comment:

  1. Andrew, I'm glad you took the time to read this article, but the assignment was to read the profile of Stephen Hawking (link in my blog) and grade it according to instructions in my blog.