Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review: "Out of Our Heads" by Alva Noe

Review of: "Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness" by Alva Noe

Review by Todd Stark, 3/30/09

An accessible and compelling exploration of the extended mind

The mind is more than what the brain is doing. The idea isn't new, but it often gets too little respect. Perhaps because people think it implies something supernatural, or perhaps because it just seems weird, but it is a very respectable argument and in Alva Noe's hands, a powerful one.

We often take for granted in brain science that the mind is implemented by things happening inside the skull. That goes against the growing findings that perception is an active process of exploration that depends on our contact with the real world and the skills we possess for navigating its structure. This book takes on the significant challenge of bringing that difficult idea accessibly and non-technically into the popular mind and I think he does an excellent job.

Although Noe doesn't talk about it specifically, Ruth Millikan makes a good related argument that substance categories are really skills. We know substances by our skills for finding and identifying them over and over, not through their intrinsic properties. Noe approaches perception in much the same way. We know the world by interacting with it, not by (or in addition to?) simulating it with detailed models inside our head.

Noe goes a step further and points out how some concepts just don't make from a detached viewpoint, so we are often forced to destroy the phenomena of consciousness, reducing them to something else, in order to study them dispassionately. This is a tough sell, I think, to habitual materialists, but he doesn't rely too heavily on it.

The implication Noe emphasizes is that consciousness is a process involving interaction of the nervous system with the world, not (just) something that is lighting up inside our neural nets. The distinction is sometimes more subtle that Noe acknowledges. He approves of Gibson's ecological theory of perception, but doesn't address the equally important work on expectancy and hypothesis testing approaches to perception, such as Richard Gregory's ideas and the experimental work done around them.

He is probably right that much of our basic perception relies heavily on active engagement with the world, but then some of it, to me, clearly doesn't. He does a good job showing limits to the feature detection approach to vision (doesn't it beg the question to say that features are "built up" toward pictures in the brain?), but doesn't have an alternate explanation for the elaborate architecture of columns and receptor fields and their activity in dreaming and imagination that seem to support at least some version of the mental representation concept in some kinds of mental activity. It seems in places that Noe acknowledges this sort of work but considers it an impoverished-perceptual or non-perceptual kind of mental activity.

Other than the excellent writing and clear arguments, the best part of this book is the skillful use of various findings regarding phantom limbs, sensory illusions, and inattention phenomena to illustrate the empirical implications of a mind extended beyond the brain case. Even if you don't buy the full externalist argument in all its details, it's hard to read those examples and not have a little light go off in your head and think "oh, so that's what he means by the mind being outside the brain!" That's a mark of good writing.

Noe mentions but does not dwell on the role played by philosopher J Merleau-Ponty in many of these ideas, and his work is worth exploring as well. A good non-technical intro in keeping with the spirit of Noe's book is: Merleau-ponty: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed).

This book is a good read, a relatively quick read, and very thought provoking.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Moving Your MOSS Databases to a new SQL Server

If you manage a single-server SharePoint 2007 farm, which is a very common configuration, there's a good chance that at some point you will want to move to a separate SQL Server. Maybe for performance, maybe to improve your infrstructure, maybe to help meet corporate database guidelines. There are lots of reasons you might want to do this. So what is involved? Is it a big deal?

The short answer is that it takes a SharePoint admin to do this (instead of or in addition to a SQL admin) and I generally allow about a day to do it if it is a machine I know well. If it is client machine rather than one of mine, and there are unknowns, I allow an additional day to troubleshoot the things that will inevitably break after the move.

So you shouldn't fear this move, but don't take it for granted either. It isn't usually trivial and sometimes can be a little painful. The obvious question in your mind will be: "what in SharePoint is directly dependent on the database server, isn't there a single setting somewhere that tells SharePoint which database server to use?" Unfortunately, it isn't quite that simple. You can't just go into Central Administration or someplace in the registry and tell SharePoint to use a different database server. You will effectively need to back up your farm, disband it, recreate the farm and restore the original content to the new farm. Then you will need to go through and check for various little things that might have directly specified database connections and so will need to be modified. Of course if you know about or can find that sort of thing ahead of time, that would be preferable.

1. The first step is preparation.

---> a. Make sure things are currently working. You don't want to find something broken after the move and be unsure of whether it was working before the move. That makes troubleshooting a lot tougher. If practical, fix broken things before the move, or at least make a note of them. Take snapshots of the most critical pages, so you can look back fondly on them as a pleasant memory if they never come back. Well, also to help troubleshoot them if they don't look quite right at the end. Yes, I've actually had to use this.

---> b. Gather the required information: the file location of the SQL database files on the old and new servers, the name and password for the SQL admin accounts, the account names and passwords of the SharePoint service and administration accounts, the old and new database names. I use a template I call a "configuration sheet" which captures all the server, web application, site collection, database, and IIS information I would need to recreate the farm topology. I recommend using something like that to be sure you have all of the informatiom you need before diving in, to avoid any panicky last second calls.

---> c. Go through Central Admin in SharePoint and make a note of the critical settings that you care about (because you will probably lose these in the move): SMTP server address for incoming and outgoing mail, alternate access mappings, accounts and permissions, yes just about everything! The fact that you have to do this tedious step is the biggest reason why the move is not as simple as you might have assumed. There are some tools that can help with this, but they cost. You wouldn't need my instructions here if had that kind of scratch. You should also get an SPSREPORT (this is a free tool used by Microsoft to capture configuration information and logs).

2. The second step is to get a good multi-technology backup (you should already be doing this routinely):

---> a. Backup your IIS metabase - not strictly neccessary but definitely recommended just in case. Sometimes you need to recreate web sites, and this will save your butt if there were IIS settings you didn't know about.

---> b. Get SQL backups of your content dbs -- hopefully you won't need them, but a good thing to have. Don't bother backing up the configuration db or admin db, you can't do much with them anyway.

---> c. Backup your web server extensions and inetpub (IIS) folders on the web server. This is not an optional step, this is essential. Most of SharePoint's content is in the database, but some things you need to properly render and use pages are in the front end web server files.

---> d. Perform site collection backups from STSADM for the site collections that are most critical to you. This will give you a way to quickly and easily recover them elsewhere to keep your business going in case of a complete FUBAR.

---> e. Perform "catastropic" backup from STSADM if you are familiar with this. If not, don't worry about it. It's just another way to recover in case of an unexpected problem.

---> f. Lastly, and most importantly, perform a full backup of the farm from the Central Administration GUI interface. This (plus the web server file backup) is going to be your primary tool for SharePoint recovery in most cases). This is a kind of backup that can't be scheduled, it must be performed interactively by an administrator, and it isn't very robust for restoration, but it has some unique advantages for convenient recovery. You should use the Central Admin backup just before any configuration change to your farm.

3. Take a deep breath. You're about to dive in. Run the technologies wizard on the SharePoint server and use it to disconnect the web server from the farm.

4. Use the technologies wizard to create a new farm on the NEW SQL server (this is the key step that recreates the configuration database, which cannot be moved due to dynamic links with other things, thus the root cause of the complications). This is where all that preparation starts to pay off, you should know the right accounts to use for everything. Using the right accounts in the right places in MOSS is critical. If you don't know the rules for this, you should not be recreating the farm, go back and do the homework. No kidding. I promise that you (or someone that curses your name) will be sorry later if you take the account assignments for granted or just use the same admin account for everything.

5. Configure the Office SharePoint Search Service from Central Administration. This may allow you to restore search indexes later if neccessary. It is optional, since you could always recreate the indexes if neccessary.

6. Using SharePoint Central Admin, perform farm restore of the backup you took in step 2f. Did it work? Phew, you're mostly done. I feel your relief. [No? Well, that's why we grabbed all that other stuff before! You have everything you need for a complete disaster recovery. Good luck. Or just reconnect your original databases and try again when you figure out what went wrong.]

7. Tedious but easy: go through Central Admin and replace all of those settings you captured before. Oh, you didn't believe me that you would need them? Too busy to do all that work? Just hope there wasn't anything important in there that you can't figure out later.

8. Take the original databases offline and go through the portal and fix anything that is broken because it needs to be reconfigured or has connection back to the old databases. This is the part that may sometimes take the additional day on a farm with unknowns. Don't forget to go through and change any database backup and maintenance procedures to use the new server if neccessary.

If you can't use the SharePoint Farm Backup and Restore from Central Administration for some reason, the process gets more complicated but it can still be done.

For example, you can sometimes use the "catastrophic" restore to restore the GUI backup using STSADM. You have to get the ID of the appropriate backup and figure out all of the parameters for accounts and locations and so on, but it may work even when the Central Admin restore does not (mainly because it doesn't rely on the timer service).

If you end up having to restore from a site collection backup for some reason, notice that your sites may not work properly. That's because there are some components in the file system for IIS and SharePoint that may have been modified. That's why you took those backups of INETPUB and WEB SERVER EXTENSIONS before. First try replacing the WEBCONFIG and GLOBAL files in your web site virtual folder with the original ones. That often does the trick. If not, you may need to do some more work to track down what is different. That's another reason I plan for a second day for these database migrations.

Best of Luck to you!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Hypnosis Research Text: Hypnotic and Subtle Influence (PDF)

My text about the psychological and neuroscience perspectives on hypnosis Hypnotic and Subtle Influence is posted on Jake Shannon's "Scientific Mind Control" site.

The text is dated but I think by and large still accurate and useful. The basic concepts and research models have not changed significantly, other than to fill in more of the details.

The chapters organization is based around concepts commonly associated with hypnosis:

Imagination, Talents, Healing, History, Suggestion, Unconscious Mind, Trance, Rapport, Role-Taking, and "Frequently Asked Questions"

The detailed table of contents:

Chapter 1 3
The Magic of Imagination 3

The Power to Alter Our Own Awareness 3
Adaptive Self-Regulation 4
Altering Our Own Experience 8
What State Are You In ? 9
Emotional States 10
Activation States 12
States of Consciousness 13
Studying Human Experience in Science 13
Taking Consciousness Seriously 15
The Value in Studying Human Experience 16
Beyond Hypnosis: Principles of Hypnotic Influence 17
Four Themes 19
Actions that happen by themselves 22
Explaining Hypnotic Involuntariness 25
Review of Chapter 1 29
Summary of Chapter 1 33
The Story So Far … 35

Chapter 2 36
Talents Used In Hypnosis 36

Fantasy, Dissociation, and Cooperative Mindset 36
Hypnotizability 36
Highs and Lows 38
Fantasy Proneness and Absorption 43
Amnesia Proneness and Dissociation 46
The Cooperative Mindset: A Gray Area 51
The Three Types of Highly Responsive People 53
Review of Chapter 2 54
Summary of Chapter 2 55
The Story So Far … 56

Chapter 3 57
Hypnosis and Healing 57

Healing the Mind and Healing with the Mind 57
Illness and Healing 57
Coping with Different Kinds of Illness 57
Hope and Healing 60
Core Components of Psychological Healing 63
General Aspect of Mental Healing 63
Specific Aspects of Mental Healing 66
Review of Chapter 3 67
Summary of Chapter 3 68
The Story So Far … 69

Chapter 4 70
Western Perspectives 70

Hypnosis in Western Culture 70
Hypnosis Wakes Up 70
The Forms that Hypnosis Takes Today 75
The Very Different Views of Hypnosis 75
The Fundamental Problem 76
Suggestion: Explicit and Implicit 77
Hypnosis for Entertainment 78
Hypnosis for Healing 78
The Distinct Cultures of Hypnotists 79
The Evolution of the Concept 80
Roots in Faith Healing and Exorcism 81
First Attempts to Study Hypnotic Influence in Science 82
The “Sleep” Method of Hypnotic Influence Emerges 84
Bernheim and Therapeutic Suggestion 88
The Origins of the Concept of Hypnotic “Depth” 90
“Depth” and Involvement in Fantasy 91
Hypnotherapy is more than Laboratory Hypnosis 93
Psychotherapy Independent of Laboratory Hypnosis 94
Summary of Chapter 4 98
The Story So Far … 99

Chapter 5 100
Suggestion 100

Identifying “Hypnotic” Responses 100
What is Suggestion ? 100
A Special Kind of Communication 101
Learning Through Rhythm 103
Ideodynamic Processes and Induction 107
Review of Chapter 5 116
Summary of Chapter 5 118
The Story So Far … 119

Chapter 6 120
The Unconscious Mind 120

What Lies Beneath: Great Storehouse or Self-Deception ? 120
Into the Realm of the Unconscious 122
The Dynamic Unconscious 123
The Cognitive Unconscious 133
Attention and Preconscious Processing 134
Types of Knowledge and Memory 136
Unconscious Procedures 137
Remembered Experiences vs. Known Facts 137
The Social-Emotional Unconscious 139
Dissociated Mental Processes 148
Review of Chapter 6 150
Summary of Chapter 6 153
The Story So Far … 154

Chapter 7 155
Trance 155

The Experiential Mindset and The Elusive Mental State of Hypnosis 155
How does trance feel ? 161
What does a Hypnotic Trance look like ? 162
The Paradox of Alert Trance 163
Different Kinds of Trances ? 165
Attentional Focus and the Flow State 168
What are we measuring ? 173
Hypnosis and Relaxation 174
Most hypnosis is mostly relaxation 174
Trance as distinct from sleep or stupor 177
Measurements of Localized Brain Activity 178
Looking for the Phantasms of Hypnotic Trance in the EEG 178
Evoked Potentials 182
EEG correlates of effective cognitive pain control 183
Neuroanatomy and Hypnosis : Where is the “Unconscious” ? 184
Functional Systems and Outcome-Orientation 188
A speculative neurological substrate of goal-directed behavior 190
Hemispheric Asymmetry and Hypnosis 192
“Putting half the brain to sleep,” Is the right hemisphere the Freudian Unconscious ? 197
Hypnosis and Callosal Connectivity 200
The Brain in Trance 202
Information Transduction and the HPA 203
Triggering Fast Waves and the Orienting Response 204
The Hemisphere Shift 207
The Amygdala and the Hippocampus in Attention 208
Perceptual Decisions and the Prefrontal Cortex 212
Switching Between Cognitive Modes 215
Review of Chapter 7 216
Summary of Chapter 7 218
The Story So Far … 219

Chapter 8 221
Rapport 221

The Cooperation Mindset and the Hypnotic Dance of Intimacy 221
Hypnotic Cooperation and Intimacy 221
Imagination Plus Intimacy 223
Cooperation of a Special Kind 227
Review of Chapter 8 230
Summary of Chapter 8 231
The Story So Far … 231

Chapter 9 232
Role Taking 232

Involvement and Our Sense of Identity 232
Who I Am Depends On Who I'm With 232
Coordinated Involvement 235
Review of Chapter 9 238
Summary of Chapter 9 240
The Story So Far … 240

Epilogue to Section One: Common Questions 242

Is Hypnosis Real ? 242
Does Hypnosis Work ? 242
Will People Do Anything the Hypnotist Says ? 243
Can Someone Be "Brainwashed" Through Hypnosis ? 244
Can I Be Hurt By Hypnosis ? 244
Can Anyone Be Hypnotized ? 245
Can Hypnosis Help Me Change My Habits ? 245
Can I Control My Body Processes With Hypnosis ? 245
Can I Control Pain With Hypnosis ? 246

Subliminal or Marginal Perception - its current scientific status

Subliminal perception is a deeply ambiguous concept, which is perhaps appropriate if you think about it!

This is partly because the concept caught on originally as the result of a hoax. The now infamous "eat popcorn, drink coke study" was a planted story by marketing consultant James Vicary which became a wildly successful urban legend about selling products subliminally in movie theatres. Vicary's model wasn't entirely impossible in theory, but as he later admitted, he made up (or exaggerated?) his results to sell his consulting services and seemed honestly surprised that people got so excited about his planted news stories. He thought of it as a rather subtle effect and the concept caught fire beyond his wildest expectations.

It is also partly because of how much the concept has been abused to make the self-help industry more lucrative. It seems like less work and more exotic to listen to music rather than repeat affirmations or use suggestions, and people like less work and are attracted to the exotic.

Of course part of the ambiguity is because we are naturally fascinated and afraid of something that can potentially influence us without being aware of it. All sorts of paranoia (and also some justified fear!) results from this, especially since it is at least theoretically a real possibility. We don't trust many people who might have a technology like this, and for good reason.

Finally, it is partly because there are legitimately difficult technical issues to resolve within the perceptual research.

Some thoughts on the technical issues in subliminal perception.

First of all, it is important to understand that subliminal perception is real. Sometimes the term "marginal perception" is preferred because the concept of a single sensory boundary is not really accurate. In either case, these terms refer to the theory stating that perception can occur without conscious awareness and have a significant impact on later behaviour and thought.

Second, most of the research on this has been on visual perception, especially using rapidly flashed images and masking stimuli. Auditory subliminal perception is not as popular in experiments for two reasons. First, it is technically much more difficult to control what is going on in order to produce repeatable results, and second, because of those problems and the lack of interest in doing real auditory subliminal research, there have been no convincing repeatable demonstrations yet that there is an auditory subliminal perception effect of the same sort as in the visual experiments. That's why the claims for auditory self-help subliminal programs are not based on any legitimate research, because there really isn't much, and because practical tests have all turned up no evidence of effects beyond placebo. Enough on that. You can check the archives of any good Skeptic magazine to find the research by Phil Merikle and others that tested many of these products.

Third, getting to the legitimate phenomenon and the technical issues, the biggest ambiguity is in how we think of perception. Is it an all-or-none phenomenon or a gradual shift between different levels? This is an important question because it tells us whether effective stimuli can really be hidden from awareness or "unconscious," or whether they just fall into the shadows of our mind but we are dimly aware of them.

This isn't as easy a thing to test as it might seem. Different experimental situations produce clear but different results, and sorting out the overall picture is an interesting but challenging job for theorists. This article from Consciousness and Cognition suggests a perspective I tend to agree with, that if some experiments show gradual levels of awareness and others show all-or-none, then the underlying phenomenon probably consists of levels. It's easier to come up with a model of how levels can become all-or-none under some conditions that a model that creates gradual levels out of an all-or-none effect.

There is a recent experimental tool called the perceptual awareness scale that has been useful so far distinguishing whether something is actually perceived or not, and to what degree. Its implications for understanding subliminal perception are described in this article from Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences.

This is just a quick intro to a very deep and very tricky topic that has fascinated me for decades. The choice of the two articles which share an author was not a coincidence, I was inspired to write this after checking in on Thomas Ramsoy's work after I noticed that his wonderful Science and Consciousness Review site had been down for a while. I hope it comes back up in some form, it was once one of the best resources for research news on mind and brain topics.

Also posted at: