Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Skiing for Crumpets

The Ski Sunday theme tune is taken from the opening to a piece of music call "Pop Looks Bach" and if you don't know what I'm talking about have a listen to this excerpt. According to the BBC it conveys pure speed: close your eyes and you're whistling along on a pair of skis, on a dizzying descent down a mountain.

In contrast to the BBC's description I don't get any skiing related feelings when listening to the theme, instead I can smell crumpets. This has happened to me for almost as long as I can remember. Being a wintry pursuit I assume that Ski Sunday is only usually broadcast during the winter. As a child if we went out walking when it was cold and wintry then tea would often involve hot buttered crumpets in front of the TV -- hence the association between the Ski Sunday theme tune and crumpets. Knowing why the two things are associated doesn't though explain why I can actually smell crumpets when hearing the music.

One of my Christmas presents was the book On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee. Jeff Hawkins has devoted a lot of his professional life to thinking about intelligence. On Intelligence sums up his understandings of how intelligence works and how we could apply this understanding to build intelligent machines -- if you are looking for a book about cyborgs you will be disappointed his ideas are aimed at intelligence and not replicating human behaviour.

The framework he has developed is called the Memory-Prediction Model and in essence can be summed up as follows. Sensory inputs are used to make a prediction of what we should sense next. These predictions are passed back to our senses and then compared with what actually happens. Discrepancies are flagged as unusual behaviour. For example, if you see a cat you could predict that it might miaow. If it did, this would be normal and you wouldn't think anything of it as reality matched your prediction. If on the other hand instead of miaowing the cat barked you would be very surprised.

I think this feedback of predictions is what is enabling me to smell crumpets every time I hear the theme tune to Ski Sunday. In my memory model hearing Pop Looks Back allows me to predict the smell of crumpets which is fed back to my olfactory senses and when I don't actually smell crumpets my mind flags this as odd.

Do any of you experience (or suffer from -- smelling crumpets without being able to eat them is just cruel!) such sensory illusions?

Clearly I didn't do the memory-prediction model justice with my three sentence description, but if you find ideas about (artificial) intelligence interesting then I would highly recommend On Intelligence.

My Rating: 5 Stars A thoroughly interesting and thought provoking book that, given it's subject matter, is remarkable easy to read.
5 February 2009 at 02:30 , GB said...

One of the advantages (or it it in fact a disadvantage?) of having no conceptual ability is that you can mention crumpets and I can't smell them. So mentioning the theme tune to Ski Sunday.......

5 February 2009 at 06:34 , Scriptor Senex said...

I can't think of any examples but I shall certainly look out for them. One example of the opposite (the cat barking type) is when we had a radio controlled doorbell. Someone's car key used to set it off. Hear sound of doorbell and find step empty - strange sensation!

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