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squid to do these experiments on and spend $50,000 to $60,000 to look at this squid.
I think you have just got to pay more attention to the way and to the taxpaying public who is interested in the why, and somehow understand that that dual purpose of informing the scientific field and the taxpaying public, at the same time, is going to need to be served with some, perhaps, greater oversight and sophistication.
Dr. ATKINSON. Mr. Ritter, your scientific colleagues may debate the issue with you, but we certainly agree with you. The history of this issue predates the Foundation's efforts to be more careful in its communications. But even now, there are reporters who receive $500 for any story of this type that they can publish. These reporters are searching through all sorts of materials to find a salable story. An example described by Dr. Willows this morning, was much ridiculed. Why would the Foundation support research on the learning of a slug? Why don't we study the learning of something significant ? Why the learning of a slug?
No matter what titles NSF uses, no matter what abstracts, some people will be able to generate a story.
Mr. RITTER. I think you are right, and all I am saying is that I am as sure as I am sitting here today that the scientific community has just begun to communicate its purposes, its efforts and its achievements to the lay public. I think we can do a far more sophisticated job in that context.
Dr. ATKINSON. I agree, Mr. Ritter. I was impressed during the House floor debate last year when a Congressman said, “Look, we are not interested in the sex life of lower organisms. We all believe that work to be important." I think that education on this issue, as illustrated by that example, can be effective.
Mr. RITTER. Yes; as the title comes out, it looks closely at the sexlife, as opposed to the purpose of the biological control of a certain test which relates to people's food. I think you are going to have a recurring of this even though it may be better understood today than it was 5 years ago, in Congress. People who read certain media and then watch their local representatives on a particular vote, they will not fade into the woodwork unless the public information as well as the information here in Congress is more sophisticated.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Willows, just quickly, to wrap it up, yours is the kind of research that you will find will come up to you from a first rate researcher say, in a university which, in the normal course of events, would not be able to fund as a part of its research program. Am I correct?
Dr. Willows. That is correct.
Mr. Brown. And you will look at it and it will be examined through the peer review process for excellence of research and you will look at it from an administrative point of view, from the standpoint of is it more properly funded by the NSF or would it not be more within the purview of another agency, I suppose, like NIH or the Defense Department, or whatever.
Dr. Willows. That happens often. A proposal may come in that has a clear clinical motivation and we will get on the phone immediately and request, demand, in fact, if it comes to it, that the proposal be withdrawn from the NSF and submitted elsewhere.
However, it is nevertheless true, there are proposals which are appropriate to both agencies.
Mr. Brown. Well, we understand that, I think, but basically the point I am trying to get at is that we are funding research here which is fundamentally very basic in nature, that is, it doesn't have an immediate application to some useful public function. It is beyond the scope that would normally be funded in the normal educational activities of the institution or researcher and it does not clearly fall within the mission of another agency. So that the Foundation becomes the logical body or one of the most logical bodies to do the funding.
Dr. WILLOWS. That is correct and therein, I am sure you recognize, is a catch-22. The foundation has been faulted for failing to do research which has direct, immediate consequences, whereas it is clear from the enabling legislation that the foundation's role particularly prohibits doing clinical research which has immediate consequences. That fact is sometimes not mentioned.
Mr. Brown. One last question, Dr. Willows. What is the range of variation in that number that you have for human brain cells?
Dr. WILLOWS. It is enormous. I have seen figures quoted from 10 billion to 60 billion. I chose one at the higher end of the scale. It is true, however, that we are all losing them, as we age, at a disappointingly high rate.
Mr. Brown. Ten to sixty? Dr. WILLOWS. Ten to sixty billion nerve cells. Mr. Brown. I had seen figures that ran to a couple orders of magnitude higher than that.
Dr. Willows. Sometimes the figures that are quoted are indicating the connections between nerve cells. If you include the connections that are made between nerve cells, then it goes even higher. It gets to be literally an astronomical figure.
Mr. Brown. Thank you very much for your testimony, Dr. Willows. We have three more, if I am correct, witnesses from the foundation.
Dr. CLARK. The second presentation will consider a complex level of behavior and even more complex specialty.
Dr. Paul Chapin, program director for linguistics, will describe how previous research has shown high applicability and exciting research. This area, like neuroscience, is an area of rapid growth. Mr. Chairman, this is Dr. Chapin.
STATEMENT OF DR. PAUL CHAPIN, PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR
Dr. CHAPIN. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I would like to preface my remarks with a little history. Beginning around 1950, a number of scientists became interested in the acoustical analysis of sounds of speech. They concentrated their study on the frequency and intensity of the overtones present in speech sounds, not because this research problem had any foreseeable practical importance, but because these overtones seemed to correlate in an interesting way with the abstract descriptions of speech sounds by linguists. In other words, these researchers were motivated simply by scientifio curiosity.
This research, as it turned out, led in a rather natural and direct way to the possibility of synthesis of speech sounds by artificial, electronic means. The synthesis was primitive at first, and had the tinny, mechanical kind of quality we associate with cartoon depictions of robots. But as the science progressed, and our understanding increased, the synthesis improved in quality. It began to be possible to use synthesized sounds for experiments in speech perception, and thus achieve a degree of control over the experimental materials which had not been possible before. Science was building on previous science-a frequent occurrence, which is responsible for much scientific progress.
While these breakthroughs in speech synthesis were taking place, another independent development was also underway. The technology of computer hardware was progressing at an incredible pace, with ever more powerful processors and larger memories packaged into smaller amounts of space, for less money. Computers powerful enough to synthesize speech of a very natural-sounding quality became available in a readily portable size, and at a price that could be afforded by an individual consumer. Now, we are beginning to see the first fruits of these developments. Equip a portable speech synthesizer with a properly designed keyboard and you have a device which enables those with speech disabilities to communicate. Combine a speech synthesizer with a device for optical recognition of printed characters and you have a reading machine for the blind-and these are now available commercially. Put one into a largish pocket calculator, equip it with buttons for the letters of the alphabet, and you have an immensely popular toy which has the nonnegligible side effect of teaching children better spelling. All of these devices rely on the products of the electronics revolution which has affected all our lives, they also depend on our understanding of how to make such devices produce artificial human speech, and that understanding depends on three decades of basic research, inspired only by the desire to know more about this characteristic human function.
The main subject of my remarks today is some other kinds of research now in progress. We aren't certain where these lines of research may lead, just as with my example above. But we think they are of great importance because they may be leading us to new knowledge about that greatest of scientific mysteries, the human mind. Some of the ways that the mind operates every day are so familiar that we tend to take them for granted, never stopping to think about how remarkable these functions really are. Take, for example, seeing and understanding a picture of an object. A picture is a flat, two-dimensional representation of a solid, three-dimensional object. What must we be doing to perceive this flat thing as something solid? We know pretty well how the process begins; light on the retina is converted into electrical signals that go into the brain. But then what happens? We obviously can't go digging around in people's brains to find out, and even if we could do this without harming people, we wouldn't know how to do it, or what too look for. It's necessary to get at the process in some
To accomplish this, Prof. Roger Shepard and his associates of Stanford University devised an ingenious set of experiments to show that
we actually construct something equivalent to a three-dimension image in our mind.
These researchers—with the assistance of a computer-generated a large number of perspective views of three-dimensional objects which looked like children's blocks glued together in various ways.
I will show you some examples. They showed these pictures in pairs to their experimental subjects and asked them to judge for each pair whether the two pictures were the same, as in pair A, or whether they were different, as they are in pair B. Sometimes when the objects were the same, they appeared in the pictures in the same orientation, as they do in figure 1A; sometimes one was rotated at one or another angle with respect to the other, as in the two pairs shown in figure 2. The purpose of the experiment was to determine how long it took to make a correct judgment as to whether the pairs were the same or different.
To no one's surprise, identifying pairs as the same took longer when the two pictures were in different orientations than when they were in the same orientation. The interesting thing was just how much longer.
Figure 3 shows the results in the form of a graph. It turns out that the greater the angular rotation between the two pictures, the greater the time it takes to judge them as the same, along the vertical, and the increase in time is constant and consistent with the increase in rotation. The result is exactly what you would expect if the subjects making the judgments were mentally rotating one of the pictures in order to match it with the other, at a constant rate of one full rotation every 9 seconds.
The investigators followed this experiment up with another one in which the pictures were rotated not in the "picture plane,” that is, as though the paper on which they were printed had been turned, but rather in the depth plane," as in the next plane. Here the changes in the two-dimensional representation of the object, and in its image on the retina, are much more complex than for picture plane rotation; for most ways that you might think of coding the representations if you were designing a brain from scratch (or programing a computer to do the task), undoing these changes to compare the similarity of the objects would have to be a much more difficult task. But look at the graph showing the results of this task, in figure 5. They are virtually unchanged. This can be explained if we assume that a subject seeing one of these pictures actually reconstructs in his mind a three-dimensional image of the object it depicts, and mentally rotates this image in making the similarity judgments. If this is the case, then it is as easy to rotate this image around one axis as another, just as it would be equally simple to rotate a solid object held in the hand in different ways.
To repeat what I said before, we don't know where such studies will lead. But we do know that we human beings are endowed with wonderful and mysterious abilities, and that it is surely as important a task as any we have to understand them, and thus to understand ourselves. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Dr. Paul G. Chapin follows:]
DR. PAUL G. CHAPIN
FEBRUARY 20, 1980
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
I'd 11ke to preface my remarks today with a little history.
Beginning around 1950, a number of scientists became interested in the
acoustical analysis of sounds of speech.
They concentrated their study
on the frequency and intensity of the overtones present in speech
sounds, not because this research problem had any foreseeable practical
importance, but because these overtones seemed to correlate in an
interesting way with the abstract descriptions of speech sounds by
In other words, these researchers were motivated simply by
This research, as it turned out, led in a rather natural and direct
way to the possibility of synthesis of speech sounds by artificial,
The synthesis was primitive at first, and had the
tinny, mechanical kind of quality we associate with cartoon depictions
But as the science progressed, and our understanding
increased, the synthesis improved in quality.
It began to be possible
to use synthesized sounds for experiments in speech perception, and thus