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13 Jun 11:00

The 19th Century Doctor Who Mapped His Hallucinations

by Greg Miller
Hubert Airy's 1870 diagram of his migraine aura looks familiar to many migraineurs today.
Hubert Airy’s 1870 diagram of his migraine aura looks familiar to many migraineurs today.
The Royal Society

Hubert Airy first became aware of his affliction in the fall of 1854, when he noticed a small blind spot interfering with his ability to read. “At first it looked just like the spot which you see after having looked at the sun or some bright object,” he later wrote. But the blind spot was growing, its edges taking on a zigzag shape that reminded Airy of the bastions of a fortified medieval town. Only, they were gorgeously colored. And they were moving.

“All the interior of the fortification, so to speak, was boiling and rolling about in a most wonderful manner as if it was some thick liquid all alive,” Airy wrote. What happened next was less wonderful: a splitting headache, what we now call a migraine.

Hubert Airy's drawing shows how his migraine aura grew over the course of about 20 minutes (click the image to expand).
Hubert Airy’s drawing, shown here in its entirety, illustrates how his migraine aura grew over the course of about 20 minutes (click the image to expand).
The Royal Society

Airy was a student when he suffered his first migraine, but he later became a physician. His description of his aura—the hallucinatory symptoms that can precede a migraine—was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1870, along with a drawing that showed how the hallucination grew to take over much of his visual field. “It’s an iconic illustration,” says Frederick Lepore, an ophthalmological neurologist at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. “It’s so precise, like a series of time-lapse photographs.”

Lepore showed Airy’s drawing to 100 of his migraine patients who experience a visual aura (only a minority do). Forty-eight of them recognized it instantly, he wrote in a historical note in the Journal of Neuro-Ophthalmology in 2014. He still shows the drawing to his patients today. “People are astonished,” he says. “They say, ‘Where did you get that?’”

What’s more remarkable, Lepore says, is that Airy’s drawing anticipates discoveries in neuroscience that were still decades in the future.

Airy correctly deduced that the source of his hallucinations was his brain, not his eyes. He wasn’t the first to do this, but it was still an open question at the time.

What’s most prescient about his drawing, though, is that it anticipates the discovery of an orderly map of the visual world in the primary visual cortex, a crucial brain region for processing what we see. When Airy published his paper, that discovery was still nearly half a century away.

This diagram by Gordon Holmes illustrates how different regions of the visual field (right) map onto different regions of the primary visual cortex (left).
This diagram by Gordon Holmes illustrates how different regions of the visual field (right) map onto different regions of the primary visual cortex (left).
The Royal Society

Most accounts credit the British neurologist Gordon Holmes with that later discovery. Holmes studied the visual deficits of hundreds of soldiers who’d suffered gunshot wounds to the back of the head in Word War I. “The British helmet was seated high on the head,” Lepore wrote, in a historical paper describing Holmes’s contributions. Unfortunately, this left the primary visual cortex largely unprotected, and provided Holmes many opportunities to study damage to this part of the brain.

By carefully mapping the soldiers’ blind spots and the locations of their wounds, Holmes discovered that damage to the most posterior part of visual cortex (that is, the part farthest back in the head) resulted in blindness at the center of the visual field, whereas wounds located closer to the front of the visual cortex resulted in blindness off to the side. Everything the eyes see maps neatly onto the visual cortex.

Holmes also discovered—and this is the part that relates to Airy’s drawing—that the visual map is magnified at its center. If the visual cortex is a road atlas, the part that represents the center of the visual field is like one of those inset city maps that show a smaller area in lots more detail.

This meshes nicely with Airy’s observation that the zigzags around his blind spot were packed tightly together in the center of his visual field and grew wider in the periphery. “Airy’s drawing fits beautifully with our modern conception of how the visual cortex is organized,” Lepore says.

Hubert Airy's father, George, also saw zigzag hallucinations, but they didn't precede a headache for the elder Airy.
Hubert Airy’s father, George, also saw zigzag hallucinations, but they didn’t precede a headache for the elder Airy.
The Royal Society

There’s still much we don’t know about migraines and migraine auras. One hypothesis is that a sort of electrical wave sweeps across the visual cortex, causing hallucinations that spread across the corresponding parts of the visual field. In a loosely descriptive way, Airy’s time series drawings—showing an ever expanding shape—jibe with this too.

Even less is known about the neural mechanisms that might produce the vivid colors Airy drew and described. There are areas of the visual cortex, including one called V4, that contain neurons that respond to specific colors, as well as other neurons that respond to lines of specific orientations. Perhaps an electrical wave passing through such areas could produce colored zigzags, Lepore says. But no one really knows.

Airy wasn’t the first to draw his migraine aura. In fact, his father, George, who happened to be the Royal Astronomer, had published a sketch of his own zigzag hallucinations five years earlier (see above). A German neurologist published a fairly crude, looping sketch back in 1845. And others did so afterwards. The drawings made by the French neurologist Joseph Babinski (see below) are especially colorful, if lacking in detail.

But Hubert Airy’s drawing has stood the test of time better than most. His paper in the Philosophical Transactions, published at age 31, was his only contribution to the field. It’s written in the somewhat pompous, somewhat conversational style of a 19th-century polymath relating his observations to other learned men. One lengthy section recounts the observations of a Swiss doctor in the original French. Naturally, the readers of such a prestigious journal could translate for themselves.

That Airy got so much right at a time when so little was known about the brain is a testament to his powers of observation, Lepore says. He documented what he saw meticulously, even though it was visible to himself alone.

This detail from Joseph Babinksi's 1890 drawing of his migraine aura shows a zigzag pattern not unlike the one Hubert Airy saw.
This detail from Joseph Babinksi’s 1890 drawing of his migraine aura shows a zigzag pattern not unlike the one Hubert Airy saw.
Wellcome Library

–Greg Miller

21 Jul 11:00

Vows: Donald J. Trump and Michael Pence



Donald J. Trump, a son of the late Fred and Mary Trump, and Michael “Mike” Pence, a son of of Edward and Nancy Pence, were married July 19 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Reverend Sean Hannity performed the ceremony.

Mr. Trump, 70, is a reality television personality. He previously managed a failed airline, a failed for-profit education company, a failed professional football team, and a failed brand of steaks. He was recently nominated by the Republican Party as its presidential candidate. Mr. Trump graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and received an Honorary Doctor of Business from Liberty University, which teaches young Earth creationism as an explanation for the appearance of life on Earth.

Mr. Pence is the governor of Indiana.

The couple met during the Republican presidential primaries. “I wasn’t sure at first if he was the right one for me,” Mr. Pence explained. “He gave off an orange glow and had very small hands. His calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. struck me as offensive and unconstitutional. But he won me over with his denigration of women and Mexicans.”

Mr. Trump stated that he felt the same attraction. “I’m a huge Mike Penz fan!!” he tweeted.

The romance blossomed after Mr. Pence said that he found himself constantly following Mr. Trump on Twitter. “I tried conversion therapy, but I couldn’t get him out of my mind!” said Mr. Pence. Mr. Pence realized he was ready for a deeper commitment after Mr. Trump accused an American judge of being biased against him because of the judge’s ethnicity.

Two of Mr. Trump’s previous marriages ended in divorce. Mr. Pence has not yet decided whether he will be keeping his name or his position in favor of the Trans Pacific Partnership.

20 Jul 14:09

Good morning.



Good morning.

20 Jul 10:26

Most Common Family Types in America

by Nathan Yau

Household types in America

Nuclear is still the most common, but there are millions of households in the United States with a different family structure. Read More

19 Jul 11:40

Faroe Islands fit cameras to sheep to create Google Street View...

Faroe Islands fit cameras to sheep to create Google Street View | Travel | The Guardian

Living across 18 tiny sub-polar islands in the north Atlantic, Faroe islanders are used to working in difficult conditions. So tired of waiting for Google Street View to come and map the roads, causeways and bridges of the archipelago, a team has set up its own mapping project – Sheep View 360.

With the help of a local shepherd and a specially built harness built by a fellow islander, Durita Dahl Andreassen of Visit Faroe Islands has fitted five of the island’s sheep with a 360-degree camera.

20 Jul 04:33

Color the Universe

Wouldn't it be fun to color in the universe? Wouldn't it be fun to color in the universe?

18 Jul 13:54

Erwin and the Method Demons

by Juan


New comic: Erwin and the Method Demons. I hope you like it!

18 Jul 11:00

Charting all the Pokemon

by Nathan Yau

Pokemon space

Pokemon is everywhere these days. I think it’s just something the world really needs right now. I know very little about the universe, but I do like it when people analyze fictional worlds and characters. Joshua Kunst grabbed a data dump about all the Pokemon (seriously, I don’t even know if I’m referring to them/it/thing correctly) and clustered them algorithmically. The t-Distributed Stochastic Neighbor Embedding (t-SNE) algorithm to be specific.

Tags: clustering, Pokemon

16 Jul 09:37

Innocuous words that sound sexual

by Mark Liberman

FLM writes:

A colleague (who has request anonymity) and I have developed a fondness for perfectly innocuous words which, to the linguistically unwashed masses, sound sexual. My colleague's example sentence is

Because her husband was intestate, she sought to dilate her fungible assets; despite cunctation for titivating, she managed to masticate and lucubrate far into the night.

A website of possible interest: Chuck Lorre Productions — words that confuse the CBS censor

I'd be curious to see how your Language Log aficionados might augment this body of knowledge.

28 Jun 11:00

A cartoon I made for the Guardian a while back.

A cartoon I made for the Guardian a while back.

15 Jul 19:02

"At the risk of taking Gingrich’s nonsense seriously, just imagine for a moment what translating his..."

At the risk of taking Gingrich’s nonsense seriously, just imagine for a moment what translating his proposal into action would mean. The government would round up 3.3 million American Muslims, then “test” them to see “if they believe in Sharia,” a notion about which Gingrich doesn’t have the remotest clue. Sharia is the Arabic word for “law”; there’s no guidebook of official Sharia, and Islamic scholars have a multitude of ideas about how Koranic ideas could or should be translated into civil rules. But even if there were, Gingrich is literally proposing to prosecute thought crimes, as well as jettisoning the First Amendment to throw people in jail for visiting certain web sites. And where is he going to “deport” the Americans whom he decides believe in Sharia to?

Frankly, I think we need to ask just how Newt Gingrich got radicalized, and what caused him to reject the values of the country that gave him so much. Was it some radical cleric who did this to him? Is there a church somewhere in Georgia we need to be monitoring?

- On terrorism, Republicans reach for new heights of stupidity and moral repugnance.
15 Jul 13:53

Nice, from Another Time

by MessyNessy

Ah, Nice.


I find myself needing to escape these dark times we live in. My instinct to withdraw from the present grows stronger; to retreat to a place lost in time where the world appears innocent and beautiful. If I could just close my eyes and find myself walking down the Promenade des Anglais, feeling the salty wind dance around me, hearing the sea birds overhead and seeing the joy on a little boy’s face as his father launches his brand new kite. I’d smile at the elegant women sitting under the white linen parasols and listen to the café chatter and the clinking of spoons stirring ice cubes and grenadine. An elderly man passes by with his walking stick and pauses to bow his head, wishing me a good day as our eyes meet. It’s a pure and peaceful place where time stands still, far away from the terror and tragedy. I hope the souls that we’ve lost wake up in this perfect place…












These are dark times for the human race. I’m hoping we will find the light again soon.

Images via Life Magazine, Zazzle

This article Nice, from Another Time was published by Messy Nessy Chic.

15 Jul 10:17


n. a state of exhaustion inspired by an act of senseless violence, which forces you to revise your image of what can happen in this world—mending the fences of your expectations, weeding out invasive truths, cultivating the perennial good that’s buried under the surface—before propping yourself up in the middle of it like an old scarecrow, who’s bursting at the seams but powerless to do anything but stand there and watch.

27 Jun 12:33

felidae-sapiens: weavemama: SOMEOME SPRAY PAINTED THE MUTE...




Reblog to empower the sigil!

Dedigitization as political street art.

15 Jul 04:00

Go home cartographer - you’re drunk....

Go home cartographer - you’re drunk.

24 Jun 13:23

This is super cool: This Optical Illusion Changes the Way You...



23 Jun 12:22

publicdomainreview: Max Brückner (1860–1934) was a German...


Catch 'em all, etc


Max Brückner (1860–1934) was a German geometer, known for his collection of stellated and uniform polyhedra, which he documented in his 1900 book Vielecke und Vielflache: Theorie und Geschichte (Polygons and Polyhedra: Theory and History):

22 Jun 12:51

Drones Coloring Book | Next Nature Network


So 2016

13 Jul 14:20

(via Eric Hu on Twitter: “This week in a single photograph...

13 Jul 19:28

Sketchy summary statistics

by Nathan Yau

Odd average

Ben Orlin of Math With Bad Drawings explains the pitfalls of using summary statistics — mean, median, and mode — to make decisions in life. Aggregates like these are meant as wideout overviews. Look deeper for details.

Tags: humor

13 Jul 02:22

I think, if I were black, I’d start shopping for dash cams after watching this

by Chris Blattman
10 Jun 08:50

Mar Adentro

by Jorge San Luis

The limit of the view is the horizon, constant and linear; only its mood changes, never its form.

Located in San Jose del Cabo on the Sea of Cortez in Baja California Sur, Mexico, Mar Adentro is a fantastically minimalist and poetic hotel developed by renowned Mexican architect Miguel Ángel Aragonés. It’s a place where every detail flows and melds together beautifully.

The 198 guest rooms and additional private residences have been designed like boxes and chambers suspended over mirrors of sea water. Miguel Ángel explains:

I imagined floating houses, houses like boxes that I would harvest in order to trap light. At Mar Adentro, the houses are made of glass on the seaside, and of concrete where they meet both sun and desert. They are cubes in the middle of the ocean that use water not to navigate, but to sustain life.

All spaces are simple, comfortable, elegant and predominantly white, outfitted with sleek Poliform furnishings and top-of-the-line appliances, and always considering the two great protagonists of this work over all: the horizon and the ocean.

Mar Adentro also features different office buildings and public spaces like a private beach club, shopping plaza, restaurants, yoga and fitness facilities, a spa, and even an art gallery.

Photography by Joe Fletcher.

Miguel Angel Aragones 'Mar Adentro' 01 Miguel Angel Aragones 'Mar Adentro' 10 Miguel Angel Aragones 'Mar Adentro' 11 Miguel Angel Aragones 'Mar Adentro' 12 Miguel Angel Aragones 'Mar Adentro' 06 Miguel Angel Aragones 'Mar Adentro' 02 Miguel Angel Aragones 'Mar Adentro' 03 Miguel Angel Aragones 'Mar Adentro' 08 Miguel Angel Aragones 'Mar Adentro' 09 Miguel Angel Aragones 'Mar Adentro' 07
09 Jun 11:20

Advice on Choosing a Career

by Alex Tabarrok

Having spent many years figuring out my career path (which is still not settled!), I think this is a genuinely useful guide.

One branch of the effective altruism movement emphasizes the rigorous evaluation of charities. A second branch is focused on a different but related aspect, career choice. Choosing a career to benefit others actually strikes me as a bit of a downer–get out the sackcloth and ashes, repent, renounce your sins and all that.

The 80,000 hours research charity, co-founded by William MacAskill, can be a bit preachy but they have assembled and reviewed a large amount of research on careers–not just on what makes a career useful but also what makes it enjoyable. Young people spend surprisingly little time thinking about a career. There’s a lot more advice about choosing and getting into a college than there is serious advice about choosing a major let alone figuring out a practical plan towards a career.

The 80,000 hours career guide, offers quite a bit of practical, scientifically-based advice and it’s not the usual join the Peace Corp kind of thing.

Here’s two lovely hard-headed graphs that skewer common wisdom and give a taste of their approach:



If you know a young person nearing college, the career guide is well worth a few hours of their time.

The post Advice on Choosing a Career appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

12 Jul 14:11

The 200 Happiest Words in Literature

by Adrienne LaFrance

There are six main types of stories in fiction. That’s what computer scientists found after teaching a machine to map the emotional arc of a huge corpus of literature. The overall research they did is fascinating (I wrote about it in greater detail here), but several smaller components of the work are compelling in their own right.

To prepare a machine to carry out a sentiment analysis, for instance, computer scientists had to assign a happiness index to 10,222 individual words. That way, as the machine scanned passages from books, it could assess the emotional arc of the narrative.

But how do you decide how happy a word is?

In this case, researchers at the University of Vermont and the University of Adelaide enlisted the help of the crowd. Using the website Mechanical Turk, where anyone can sign up for odd jobs—many of them related to academic research—researchers asked people to rate the happiness quotient of the words they encountered.

In the end, they had a huge list of words as ranked by happiness.

The happiest word: Laughter.
The least happy: Terrorist.

In the middle of the pack you’ll find words like particularly, list, brown, expectations, equation, index, and explain.

And though the results aren’t altogether surprising, it’s intriguing to see words grouped by happiness this way. Let’s start with least happy, so we can end on a high note.

Here are the 100 words that scored worst for happiness, beginning at the bottom of the heap:

Terrorist, suicide, rape, terrorism, murder, death, cancer, killed, kill, died, torture, raped, deaths, arrested, killing, die, terror, jail, kills, war, murdered, killings, fatal, tortured, abused, sickness, failed, cry, cruel, violence, sadness, diseases, abuse, wars, evil, earthquake, depressing, poison, fail, disaster, bomb, tumors, poverty, headache, depression, criminal, punishment, killers, illness, disease, dead, slavery, sick, motherfucker, rejection, injury, destroyed, crying, violent, tragedy, slaves, slave, prison, hates, failure, fails, bankruptcy, virus, suffer, robbery, rejected, racist, dies, worst, pain, funeral, dying, heartbreak, unhappy, unemployment, sorrow, painful, hurts, hated, crimes, corruption, pollution, homeless, drowned, agony, tsunami, robbed, hurt, divorced, depressed, loser, crime, cried, suffering, injured.

Ugh, that was brutal, right? I think we’re going to need twice as many happy words to make up for it. Beginning with the happiest, we have:

Laughter, happiness, love, happy, laughed, laugh, laughing, excellent, laughs, joy, successful, win, rainbow, smile, won, pleasure, smiled, rainbows, winning, celebration, enjoyed, healthy, music, celebrating, congratulations, weekend, celebrate, comedy, jokes, rich, victory, Christmas, free, friendship, fun, holidays, loved, loves, loving, beach, hahaha, kissing, sunshine, delicious, friends, funny, outstanding, paradise, sweetest, vacation, butterflies, freedom, flower, great, sunlight, sweetheart, sweetness, award, chocolate, hahahaha, heaven, peace, splendid, success, enjoying, kissed, attraction, celebrated, hero, hugs, positive, sun, birthday, blessed, fantastic, winner, delight, beauty, butterfly,entertainment, funniest, honesty, sky, smiles, succeed, wonderful, glorious, kisses, promotion, family, gift, humor, romantic, cupcakes, festival, hahahahaha, honour, relax, weekends, angel, b-day, bonus, brilliant, diamonds, holiday, lucky, mother, super, amazing, angels, enjoy, friend, friendly, mother’s, profit, finest, bday, champion, grandmother, haha, kiss, kitten, miracle, mom, sweet, blessings, bright, cutest, entertaining, excited, excitement, joke, millionaire, prize, succeeded, successfully, winners, shines, awesome, genius, achievement, cake, cheers, exciting, goodness, hug, income, party, puppy, smiling, song, succeeding, tasty, victories, achieved, billion, cakes, easier, flowers, gifts, gold, merry, families, handsome, lovers, affection, candy, cute, diamond, earnings, interesting, peacefully, praise, relaxing, roses, Saturdays, faithful, heavens, cherish, comfort, congrats, cupcake, earn, extraordinary, glory, hilarious, moonlight, optimistic, peaceful, romance, feast, attractive, glad, grandma, internet, pleasant, profits, smart.

Ah, that’s more like it.

12 Jul 07:00

Spector device detects typeface, font size and colour from a printed page

by Jenny Brewer



RCA Design Products graduate Fiona O’Leary has made a handheld device that allows designers to scan printed material and detect the typeface, font size and exact colour. Spector has an integrated camera that takes a photo of the printed page and matches the font to a data base, or the colour to a specific CYMK, RGB or Pantone reference, and displays the information on Spector software.

Read more

06 Jun 18:28

Music Monday: Charan Po Rantan

by Johnny

So much fun!

charan po rantan

Klezmer funk meets circus Chic. At least, that’s how we would describe the music of Charan Po Rantan in 5 words or less. The band of sisters, Koharu and Momo, have been rocking out since 2009 but their history dates back to a when elder sister Koharu went to see a circus at age 7. Impressed and astounded by the accordion player, she immediately ask for one too and has never looked back.

The duo’s unique sound and style, which blends the festive music of Ashkenazi Jews with theatrical atmospherics of a circus, are somewhat of a rarity on Japan, to say the least. And it’s become a source of attention both at home and abroad. They count Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey as fans, which has actually helped legitimize their unconventional antics in Japan.

They made their U.S. debut in 2013 at SXSW and then returned in 2015 to make their NY debut at Japan Society where they performed a crowd-pleasing rendition of the Super Mario Bros. theme song. In 2014 they surprised their fans by signing with Avex, Japan’s biggest recording label. But that hasn’t diminished their sound or style. Their 2nd major album, “Onna no yonju-ropun” (A girl’s 46 minutes) is as eclectic and enjoyable as anything they’ve made, packed into a dense – you guessed it – 46 minutes. Oh and their outfits? They design them, themsleves and then pass the sketches along to mom and grandma, who bring them to life!

One of our favorite tracks on the new album is “I can’t be Tailor,” a reference to Tailor Swift that even rifts on the pop-artist’s hit track “Shake it off.” (Here’s an English translation of the lyrics)

Like what you hear? You can find more of their music on YouTube. Charan Po Rantan is also on Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to check out our other Music Monday picks.

07 Jul 17:18

Exquisite Corps (42 choreographers, 1 dance)

by S. Abbas Raza


07 Jul 13:20

The French Banksy of Fake Facades

by MessyNessy


The French are already really, really good at beautifying their towns and cities, but not every façade can look like it’s straight out of a postcard– that is unless you enlist the services of Patrick Commecy. Let’s just say this guy is the Banksy, the Michelangelo (or the Frida Kahlo) of fakery…


This was the wall before:


A master of trompe l’oeil, since the 1970s, Commecy has been using ugly façades of France as his canvas. Working with a team of around 30 muralists, he breathes life into local eyesores, commissioned by townships, businesses or individuals. And just look at the detail…




Not a bad exchange right? I’m sure we can all think of a few walls in our neighbourhoods that could use a lick of paint like this. Take a look at some of Commecy’s past works picked out from his website














vue_de_loin (1)






























Find all his work on

via Faith is Torment

This article The French Banksy of Fake Facades was published by Messy Nessy Chic.

05 Jul 20:35

Virtual Actors in Chinese OperaProject by Tobias Gremmler...


This is like a crazy new kind of puppetry.

Virtual Actors in Chinese Opera

Project by Tobias Gremmler visualizes motion capture of Chinese Opera actors with 3D renderings of intricate and abstracted graphics to great effect:

Created for a theatre production that fuses Chinese Opera with New Media, the virtual actors are inspired by shapes, colors and motions of traditional Chinese costumes and dance. 


07 Jul 14:18

A map of every car bomb explosion in Baghdad since 2003 (don’t read the comments)

by naunihal


This image is horrifying enough, but the comments show a typical callousness about the loss of life, especially non-American life, that is repulsive and all too typical.