five times a

analyzing architecture at any angle

Category: psychology

/txt/ How to Have 
 a Bad Career 
 in Research/Academia 
 Pre-PhD and Post-PhD
 (& How to Give a Bad Talk) 
 David Patterson UC Berkeley November 18, 2015

Acknowledgments & Related Work
  • Many of these ideas came from (inspired by?) Tom Anderson, David Culler, Al Davis, Ken Goldberg, John Hennessy, Steve Johnson, John Ousterhout, Randy Katz, Bob Sproull, Carlo Séquin, Bill Tetzlaff, …
  • Studs Terkel, Working: People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do. (1974) The New Press.
  • “How to Give a Bad Talk” (1983),
  • “How to Have a Bad Career” (1994), Keynote address, Operating Systems Design and Implementation Conf.
  • Richard Hamming, “You and Your Research” (1995),
  • Ivan Sutherland, “Technology and Courage” (1996).
  • “How the RAD Lab space came to be” (2007),
  • “Your Students are Your Legacy” (2009)
 Communications of the ACM 52.3: 30-33.
  • “How to Build a Bad Research Center” (2014)
 Communications of the ACM 57.3: 33-36.



  • Part I How to Have Bad Grad Student Career,and How to Avoid One
  • Q&A
  • Part II How to Have Bad Research Career
  • Part III How to Avoid a Bad Research Career+ Richard Hamming (Turing Award for 
 error-detecting and error-correcting codes) 
 video clips from “You and Your Research” (1995)
  • Q&A
  • My Story: Accidental Academic (3 min)
  • What Works for Me (3 min)


Part I: Commandments on
to Have a Bad Graduate Career

I. Concentrate on getting good grades

  • –  Postpone research involvement: 
 might lower GPA
  • –  Aim for PhD class valedictorian!Alternative: Maintain reasonable grades– No employer cares about GPA » Sorry, no valedictorian

    – Only once I gave below B in grad course

    – 3 prelim courses only real grades that count

    – What matters: Letters of recommendation

    » From 3-4 faculty & external PhDs 
 who have known you for 5+ years


Read the rest of this entry »


/txt/ The Brain Basis for the Continuity of Thought

The Brain Basis for the Continuity of Thought

If we could pause your mind at this instant and look carefully inside your brain, we would see that some brain cells are active and others are inactive. How long these neurons continue to fire after we unpause your mind is determined by how much input they are getting from other active neurons. If they are not being sent more than the requisite number of messages from their peers, they slow down or turn off. Some of the currently active neurons will remain active for only a few milliseconds, others for large fractions of a second and others for several seconds. None remain active indefinitely, but rather they each persist for different durations. The pattern of activity in the brain is constantly changing, but because some individual neurons persist during these changes, particular features of the overall pattern will be conserved over time. In other words, the distribution of active neurons in the brain transfigures gradually from one configuration to another, instead of continually changing all at once. I believe that the persistence of certain neurons allows the temporary maintenance of mental imagery which is a central hallmark of consciousness and working memory. I also believe that this persistence lends continuity to the train of thought.

Six years ago I was waiting at a bus stop wondering how my mind is different from that of other animals. I realized that my thoughts can extend further in the sense that I can carry a complex concept out to its logical conclusion. I can take more information with me through time before I lose it and forget what it was I was just thinking about. Psychologists agree that working memory, or the ability to preserve information and perform manipulations on it, is more highly developed in humans. Influenced by the various lengths of different pine needles on a Douglas fir at the bus stop, I concluded that human thoughts were somehow “longer.” But if thought has a length associated with it, then it must have a beginning and an end too. I wondered for a while if thoughts really do begin and end, and if so, on what time scales. I now believe that it is possible to answer these questions using the reasoning in the previous paragraph.

Thoughts have length in a sense, but thoughts do not have a clear beginning or an end. Thoughts are “longer” in humans because they are composed of elements (that correspond to individual neurons, or neural assemblies) that remain active for longer periods than they do in other animals. Our large prefrontal cortex and association areas keep some neurons online for several seconds at a time, whereas in our pets, for example, most neurons remain active only very briefly. So it is not that individual human thoughts are longer, it is that our thoughts are composed of elements that remain coactivated for longer. The neurons that persist stop and go at different intervals. It is not the case that all of the neurons that persist turn on and off simultaneously. In fact, the beginning of the activity of one neuron will actually overlap with the tails of others. The neurons act like racecars that join in and drop out of a race intermittently. Their behavior is staggered, insuring that we continually have a cascade of cognitive elements that persist through time. Thus there is no objective stopping or starting point of thought. Instead, thought itself is composed of the startings and stoppings of huge numbers of individual elements that, when combined, create a dynamic and continuous whole.

Sensory neurons in the back of the brain do not usually remain active for long. It is the anterior, association areas, especially the prefrontal cortex that contains neurons that stay online for seconds and even minutes at a time. These neurons, by remaining active, can mete out sustained signaling to other neurons, insisting that the representations that they code for are imposed upon the processing of other neurons that are firing during their span of activity. This is why the prefrontal cortex is associated with working memory, mental modeling, planning and goal setting. The longest, most enduring element or neuron would correspond to what the individual is most focused on, the underlying theme or element that stays the same as other contextual features fluctuate.

Thought changes incrementally during its course. We picture one scenario in our mind’s eye and this can often morph into a related, but distinctly different scenario. Our brain is constantly keeping some elements online whether they are representations of things that are concrete and tangible or abstract and conjunctive. I think that neural continuity as described here is an integral element of consciousness and may be a strong candidate for the “neural correlate of consciousness.” Philosophers and neuroscientists have identified many different elements of brain function (thalamocortical loops and reentrant cortical projections) and attempted to explain how these may lead to conscious experience. I think that the present concept of “continuity through differential temporal persistence of distributed neural activity” is instructive and I even feel that it is the core aspect of conscious experience, qualia and phenomenality.

Figure A shows two time points and the change in activation over time. Undoubtedly the longer the separation in time between time one and time two, the fewer reactivated elements. Figure B shows the time course for eight hypothetical neurons. Note how some remain activated for longer than others and that they overlap frequently.




/vid/ Anticipate? Ecological Urbanism at the Venice Biennale

Mohsen Mostafavi continues the interchange at the 2010 Venice Biennale between panelists, beginning with a question to Rem Koolhaas of the role of preservation and heritage in cities, with Michael Sorkin and Olafur Eliasson adding their comments.




/vid/ Mazda Adli: Stress in the city




/txt/ Ceiling Height Influences the Notion of Freedom and Thinking Processes

When speaking of living space, working space, or any (closed) public space, we usually think of the space that we actually use, so it seems ironic that the space that we don’t actively use can be very important for us – the empty space above our heads. The height of a ceiling influences our feelings, thoughts and behaviour. This is not a revolutionary idea. I belive that we’re all intuitively aware that room’s height affects us, and can trace that awareness throughout the history of architecture. Some types of buildings like churches and temples always tended to have high ceilings, and were supposed to prompt abstract, spiritual thoughts. Maybe by making us feel small, they prime us to think about greater things – to think “outside the box”.


Musée d’Orsay, Paris; photo by Mark Bridge

What I like about investigating something so exact like room height is how easy it is to conduct an experiment. You just place people in two rooms that are identical in all features except the one you’re interested in, and record people’s feelings, thoughts and behavior. That’s exactly what Meyers-Levy and Zhu (2007) did in their three experiments when investigated the effects of high (10 ft; 3 m) and low (8 ft; 2,4 m) ceiling height on individuals’ notions of freedom versus confinement and how such effects further influenced information processing.


Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York; photo by Drumaboy

Subjects in the high ceiling room were more likely to report feeling a sense of freedom  and completed freedom-related anagrams more quickly and confinement-related anagrams more slowly than those in the low ceiling rooms. This means that high ceilings can prime the concept of freedom and low ceilings can prime the concept of confinement.


Alexandria Library, Egypt; photo by macloo

Authors further hypothesised that priming of notions of freedom and confinement would influence subjects’ thinking processes in a way that they would predominately use either relational or item-specific processing. This is because relational elaboration entails elaborating freely or uninhibitedly on multiple pieces of data so as to discern commonalities that they share. On the other hand, item-specific elaboration involves confining or restricting one’s focus to each item by itself and concentrating on its precise attributes.


Royal Masonic Girls’ School, London, U.K.; photo by stevecadman

As expected, the salient high ceiling height prompted subjects to analyze information in more abstract and integrated ways (relational processing) then low ceiling heigth which was evident in three tasks – item categorization, product evaluation and recall task.

Participants in the high ceiling condition used relational processing in the item categorisation task, producing a larger number of dimensions, greater abstraction in those dimensions that they identified, and a smaller average number of subgroups per dimension, than participants in low ceiling room.


The Nave, Canterbury Cathedral, U.K.; photo by stevecadman

When asked to evaluate the appearance of two products – coffee table and a wine rack, participants in the high ceiling room were more likely to pay attention to product’s overall appearance, and participants in the low ceiling room were more likely to notice the details.


Seattle Public Library, U.S.; photo by David Zeibin

In the recall task, subjects in high ceiling rooms were more successful at the free recall task (relational processing) and subjects in the low ceiling rooms were more successful at the cued recall task (item-specific processing).

Differences in processing strategies only emerged when due to salient ceiling hung lanterns, people were likely to attend to ceiling height.


The Blizard Building, laboratory, at the Royal London Hospital, U.K.; photo by stevecadman

Meyers-Levy and  Zhu concluded that ceiling height affected subjects’ subconscious perception of the environment and therefore, the information processing method they used. These findings are widely applicable.

For example, authors  suggest that art galleries featuring hard-to-interpret abstract art should install a high ceiling in order to prompt relational processing. Yet, those that feature more concrete, detail-filled representational art might benefit from low ceilings that prompt item specific processing.


The Blizard Building at the Royal London Hospital; photo by stevecadman

Similarly, rationally processing consumers in a high ceiling room may better make sense of quizzical ads, while ads that are ment to be understood literally, get more attention in a low ceiling room. These findings should also be taken into consideration when designing workspace, lecture halls, scientific institutes and study rooms. Designer should answer the question whether users would benefit more from being primed for relational or abstract thinking.


Meyers-Levy, J. and  Zhu, R.J. (2007) The Influence of Ceiling Height: The Effect of Priming on the Type of Processing That People Use. Journal of Consumer Research, 34,2, 174-186. (link)




/txt/ Do these buildings turn you on? The strange psychology of curvy architecture

Zaha Hadid's design for the Qatar 2022 World Cup stadium attracted criticism for its resemblance to a certain part of the female anatomy. She says that it was inspired by the sail of a dhow, a traditional Arab fishing boat, but we leave it to you to decide.Zaha Hadid’s design for the Qatar 2022 World Cup stadium attracted criticism for its resemblance to a certain part of the female anatomy. She says that it was inspired by the sail of a dhow, a traditional Arab fishing boat, but we leave it to you to decide.
  • There has been a flurry of ultra curvy building proposals of late
  • New research suggests our attraction to soft lines rooted in psyche
  • One design expert believes it’s all related to sex

(CNN) — Are things looking a little wavy to you?

From London’s “Gherkin” to the “Marilyn Monroe” Towers in Ontario, when traveling through most of the world’s major cities, you’d be forgiven for thinking that town planners had tried to baby-proof new buildings by imposing a strict ban on right-angles.

Indeed, if a flurry of new landmark building proposals are anything to go by, things are about to get a whole lot curvier.

Last week, Zaha Hadid unveiled her design for the 2022 World Cup soccer stadium in Qatar. Inspired by the dhow, a traditional Qatari fishing boat, its sensual roof curves and bends, like a free-flowing sail in the wind.

At the same time, the Cupertino city council gave Apple final approval for Apple Campus 2 — its massive new headquarters designed by starchitect Norman Foster. With an ultra-orbital shape and curving glass exterior, the building resembles a shimmering spaceship that has landed delicately in the fields of California.

And these are just two examples plucked from an ever-swelling list of proposed major structures with curling, sinuous and twisting features.

Nature vs nurture

It’s tempting to think that this wave of wavy buildings merely reflects the dominant fashion of the age. But a growing body of research suggests that a strong preference for curvy shapes may in fact be hard-wired into the human brain.

Psychologists have been toying with the idea that we respond to curves more positively than sharp lines for at least a century.

“Curves are in general felt to be more beautiful than straight lines,” announced psychologist Kate Gordon in 1909. “They are more graceful and pliable, and avoid the harshness of some straight lines.”

Now, more than a century later, a psychologist at the University of Toronto has put this conjecture to the test.

Oshin Vartanian and his colleagues slipped a group of people inside a brain-scanning machine and flashed hundreds of interior designs — some curvy, some angular — in front of them. They then had the choice of describing each room as either “beautiful” or “not beautiful.”

Some of the rooms had a round style like this

The study found that participants overwhelmingly preferred interior spaces with curving coffee tables, meandering sofas and winding floor patterns to rooms filled with angular furniture and rectilinear design.

But here’s the really juicy bit: Vartanian’s brain scans showed that curvy designs led to a burst of activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a region of the brain known to contribute to emotional experiences — whereas rooms filled with sharp corners and perpendicular lines did not.

Others had a rectilinear form, like this

In other words, it looks like our brain circuitry comes pre-installed with an emotional attachment to rounded forms.

But why?

Paul Silvia, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, believes that a positive response to curves may spring from our relationship with natural environments.

Between vast rolling hills and gently contoured flower petals, right-angles are a rarity in the great-outdoors.

“Curved buildings can point to nature, whereas angular buildings contrast with it,” he says. “Instead of blending into the environment or evoking natural themes, they stand apart from it by using one of the few shapes you never see in nature—a perfect box.”

Silvia also points out that we’re all born attuned to human faces. As anyone who’s ever held a baby knows, their large round eyes frequently trigger uncontrollable feelings of warmth.

“Curved and rounded objects are so much more familiar that they seem more natural and ‘right,'” he says.

On the other hand, sharp objects can appear decidedly wrong.Research from Harvard Medical School found that the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, is significantly more active when people view angular objects, such as a sofa with sharp corners or a square watch, than when looking at curvier alternatives.

Rules of attraction

Hadid’s soccer stadium in Qatar has been compared to a vagina, a description she has distanced herself from. But Stephen Bayley, a British architecture critic and the former chief executive of London’s Design Museum, is convinced there is a sexual element in our response to curves.

“For reasons hidden in the foundations of the brain’s architecture, a curve, because it suggests warmth and well-being and harmony, touches a more profound part of the psyche than a parallelogram,” he says. “Maybe this is because a woman’s breasts are generally not right-angled.”

The instinct to appreciate curves may be hard-wired, but that doesn’t mean architects will follow the instinct indefinitely. Fads tend to fall out of favor, only to re-emerge years later.

Bayley remembers how, several years ago, Norman Foster constructed an “unapologetically square building” for his London headquarters. A few years later he built a “wantonly curvaceous” residential building right next door. There is a clear lesson. “At this historic moment curves get a high approval rating,” Bayley says. “But, as the rule of taste suggests, that will change again soon.”




/txt/ Cognition & Architecture

Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, which some posit makes domestic bliss impossible – due to its lack of a psychological ‘hearth’ space and private space.

The roots of modernism lie, according to many, in a desire to transcend the ‘ornament’ that characterized traditionally middle- to lower-class aspirations towards the aristocracy (or at least a life of greater net-worth). The dawning self-awareness that excessive ornamentation reflects a desperation for social and financial success may have spurred the drive towards austerity and minimalism in design. Who hasn’t looked at someone wearing a crystal-encrusted Ed Hardy shirt and promised themselves they would never buy anything except MUJI t-shirts, ever again?

But: to what extent does science validate the idea that modernism is evidence of evolution?

Highlights from Unhappy Hipsters, the tumblr lampooning the atmospheric glamor shots found in modern design magazines.

Psychology has long played a part in the discussion on modernity. Take Adolph Loos: in “Ornament and Crime,” he posits that ornamentation and decoration are symptoms of psychological weaknesses (my personal favorite quote from that infamous essay:“Tattooed men who are not behind bars are either latent criminals or degenerate aristocrats. If someone who is tattooed dies in freedom, then he does so a few years before he would have committed murder.” YIKES!) Anyways, the idea that a minimal life means a more meaningful life is a symptom of this value system, set up to promote the notion that human evolution will favor simplicity for excess.

Turns out, the angular, stark geometries that may seem ‘free’ of the psychologically-loaded baggage that, say, a rococo drawing room brings with it actually trigger negative stimuli in the brain. A 2007 study in Neuropsychologia proved that unusual, angular geometries activates your amygdala – the part of your brain associated with emotional memory and fear. There are many ways to explain this – for example, your reptilian mind may associate bleak, stark landscapes with inhospitable spaces your ancient self wouldn’t be able to survive. The study suggests that our conscious and unconscious minds have very different ideas about what a ‘good’ space is – and that we may train ourselves to believe that minimalism is spatially pleasing.

OMA’s Seattle Public Library, which a study suggests confuses users because of the complexity of its form. Image (c) lmna architects.

But to what extent this value system actually does engage a “higher plane” or evolutionary instinct in humans is.. uh, debatable. In fact, some argue that the modernism at what is mostly considered its “best” is actually pretty worthless to anyone without an education in space and, generally, architectural history.

Case in point: A new study suggest that that architects – who, unsurprisingly, tend to have highly developed spatial reasoning – may often design spaces difficult for normal brains to conceive of – resulting in the psychological distress that comes with getting lost all the time. You see, we assume that what sets designers apart from the general populace is what qualifies them to shape our spaces. And to a certain extent, that reasoning holds up. But on the other hand, a brain that can easily process complex spatial ideas can’t anticipate what would confuse a person with less of a grip on 3D reasoning. So we end up with buildings that make life, in some regards, more difficult than it needs to be for most of the population.

Polshek Partnership’s Brooklyn Museum of Art addition, which has been cited by many as an example of architectural cognitive dissonance. Image (c) StructureHub.

Obviously, Loos’ Prussian over-excitement about minimalism was only an early chapter in the narrative about modernism – critical regionalism and phenomenology got real and brought human comfort and the organic back into the discussion decades later. But it’s an interesting problem – does pop-psychology help or hurt architecture and, by extension, the public?




/vid/ Jinsop Lee: Design for all 5 senses

Good design looks great, yes — but why shouldn’t it also feel great, smell great and sound great? Designer Jinsop Lee (a TED Talent Search winner) shares his theory of 5-sense design, with a handy graph and a few examples. His hope: to inspire you to notice great multisensory experiences.

Jinsop Lee

A former professor of design, Jinsop Lee founded the firm Uncle Oswald Is My Hero, which produces clever iPod speakers from old telephone handsets. And we’ll let him take it from here:

“My design background began when I was 5 years old. My mother cruelly refused to buy me a Star Wars X-wing fighter, so I built my own from Lego. Yes, I was the traumatized little boy in the corner of the playground holding the multi-coloured Lego X-wing fighter. However, this did teach me an important lesson: You don’t have to follow the instructions that come with the box.

As an adult, I started my career as a suit-wearing design consultant, designing stuff and strategies for large companies. I then spent a mandatory two years in the Korean Army without killing anybody. Then I began teaching English, which eventually led to a job as an associate professor of industrial design. Being a professor means you’re designing the most important thing of all: students and the type of designers they will later become.

“Now I am working on a series of short videos about industrial design. Each video follows a simple formula: the viewer must learn something new about design while laughing (or snickering) an average of two times per minute. It turns out the second criteria is much harder than the first.”




/book/ Ways of Seeing

How do we see the world around us? The Penguin on Design series includes the works of creative thinkers whose writings on art, design and the media have changed our vision forever.

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.”

“But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but word can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.”

John Berger’s Ways of Seeing is one of the most stimulating and influential books on art in any language. First published in 1972, it was based on the BBC television series about which the (London) Sunday Times critic commented: “This is an eye-opener in more ways than one: by concentrating on how we look at paintings . . . he will almost certainly change the way you look at pictures.” By now he has.




/book/ Environmental psychology: principles and practice

A comprehensive, current resource for the growing field of environmental psychology.A complete view of research and practice in Environmental Psychology, this book clearly explains the complex nature of person-environment interaction, and each chapter offers several real-life design applications based on research in the field.