Why are we?

Consciousness fascinates me.

How can a collection of cells, which aren’t self-aware, made of atoms, which aren’t self-aware, arrange themselves into a specific pattern, which somehow IS self-aware?

How can the same stuff that makes up earth and air and stars and steel create something that can feel?

Why do humans (and a few other species) suffer grief, and delight in certain tastes, instead of simply registering damage and consuming fuel, like cleverer versions of modern cars?

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Eh?!

The technical term for such experiences or sensations is ‘qualia’.

Isn’t that a nice word?

Qualia.

Kway-Lee-Ah.

I might try to convince my sister that it means ‘More than one quail’.

Anyway.

We can build light detectors, microphones and touch sensors, but they don’t see, hear or feel – there’s no inner them that experiences things.

And the kind of awareness we’re talking about isn’t even unique to life – there’s virtually no chance that bacteria, plants or even many animals are self-aware.

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Unlikely to produce good reflective poetry.

So what makes us different?

You are (bits of) your brain

Well, we know suitably complex brains somehow generate consciousness.  In fact, as far as humans are concerned, we even know which bits of the brain generate consciousness.

These brain areas have short, punchy, easy-to-remember names like “reticular activating system” and “intralaminar nuclei”.

(I love neuroanatomical names; even Frank Zappa wouldn’t call his kids ‘Intralaminar Nuclei’ and he has children called ‘Moon Unit’ and ‘Dweezil’.)

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(Mostly)

How do we know these areas of the brain are necessary for consciousness?

Because people who have even a sugar cube sized lesion (1 cm3 of damage) in certain areas of the brain become completely, irrevocably, unconscious/unaware.  Similarly, experiments have shown that reversibly deactivating specific parts of the brain using strong magnetic fields results in complete cessation of awareness.

We know that consciousness is generated by specific parts of specific brains, but that doesn’t answer the question: why is red so red?

What makes tastes and sounds and smells feel the way they feel?

How and why do we have conscious experiences at all?

And how can ANYTHING physical, even complex brains, create these completely non-physical sensations?

This question is known as the ‘Hard Problem of Consciousness’.

There’s not a problem/It’s unsolvable/We’re not clever enough yet

Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry on the Hard Problem of Consciousness: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_hard_problem_of_consciousness.

It’s well worth a read, especially if you’ve had a drink and are feeling all profound, but I’ll summarise.

Currently the different schools of thought can be grouped into:

  • People who reckon they’ve made some inroads to the answer
  • Those who think we’re too thick to solve the problem, and that we need to evolve further or invent super intelligent computers to figure it out for us
  • Naysayers who deny there is even a problem to solve it, asserting that it simply seems like consciousness requires nonphysical features to account for its powers
I’ve figured it out Dave, but you won’t like it…

I’ve figured it out Dave, but you won’t like it…

The different theories about how consciousness ‘works’ are interesting enough, but the best part for me is that all the experts, from all the different fields, utterly disagree with one another – which shows that no one really has a clue as to the answer.

Hence this cracking quote:

Consciousness is the only major question in the sciences that we don’t even know how to ask.

How exciting is that?

This might be the single greatest mystery the universe has thrown at us.  Ever.

Think about that for a second.

We can ask questions like “Do Aliens exist?”, “Is there a God?” or “How might someone live forever?” pretty easily and at least imagine the kinds of evidence we would need to start answering them – be it close encounters, multiple miracles or someone who’s never aged a day since they met your grandfather’s grandfather – but when it comes to “why do I experience events at all?” we don’t even know where to start.

In fact, all of this mangles my mind so comprehensively that, if I could pick one scientific problem to be solved in my lifetime it would be this one.

But I won’t be holding my breath.

– Kevin Morrison

Gold, always believe in…

A couple of weeks ago, sitting between my toddler and a swaying uncle at a Polish wedding of Big Fat proportions, I had the pleasure of tasting it with every course.

With the starter.

With the soup.

With the main course at 18.30.

With dessert.

With the second main course at 21.00.

With the third main course at 23.00.

By the fourth main course at 3am, most of the bottles had been knocked back. Or over.

Last week, I was plied with vodka all over again. This time through the icy-smooth mouth of a vodka Luge, just one of the many attractions at the IPA Best of Health awards 2013.

Another highlight was the black and white chequered dance floor and the fascinating array of action that passed over it. Kate had obviously called ahead as she was perfectly matching in her Biba-esque dress.

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So what about the main attraction – the awards themselves?

The competition had heated up this year. Alongside old friends, bold ideas, delicate illustration, stunning photography and beautifully crafted words all made an appearance.

But two things stood out for me. Firstly, the influence of the new world (and I don’t mean the wine) which couldn’t be ignored. China and Australia stormed a number of categories, and deservedly so.

Second, the freshly-meshed media mix. A surge in film.  Social as more than just an add-on. Apps and e-details with attitude.  And a whole lot of experiential work to feel inspired by.

Of course, PLBR were on form…

GOLD for The Passage for Out Of Home.

A Special Prize for Best Use of Copywriting.  Also for The Passage.

And a nice sprinkling of bronzes.

What with that and the sunshine, we’re feeling good this week.

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– Klara Kallis

Ex-pat NYer loving the Mutts from across the pond

For those of you who read the title of this blog and thought this would be a sappy posting about missing my dogs (or as I pronounce, daaawgs) from across the pond, you might want to stop reading. Truthfully, I don’t even have any dogs (daaawgs). No folks, this is about a hardcore NY Mets baseball fan who, after this past week’s sweep of the Subway Series (more on that later), couldn’t be missing the game of baseball and my lovable Mutts more.

56100 New York Mets Cooperstown

So who are these lovable Mutts you ask? Well really, they’re the NY Mets. Why do we call them Mutts? Well, because they suck. At least we’re affectionate about it.

I liken my fan affiliation and self-inflicted suffering to being in the worst relationship I’ve ever had (and I’ve had quite a few bad ones). The Mets keep letting you down time and time again, and yet, you keep finding yourself going back for more because you just can’t help yourself. You tell yourself that this time, things will be different! You start each season full of so much hope. ‘This will be our year!’  It’s like a rallying cry. Yet, in the back of your mind you are constantly questioning whether it will be the Mets or the Mutts that will show up again this season. You dutifully keep cheering them on, buying up tickets to home games and proudly sporting your team baseball cap around the city. We might have even won the first game or two of the season and find ourselves at the top of the leader board, which, like any diehard fan, you never waste an opportunity to tout because you know you may not have a chance to do so for the remainder of the season. And then, inevitably, the epic collapse begins. It’s a vicious cycle that just never ends.

As a long suffering Mets fan (a measly 3 championships since the team came into existence in 1962, the last being in 1986), the past couple of seasons have been particularly mutt-like. A team roster riddled with injuries, players out on the DL (disabled list), young prospects who seemed so promising in Spring training have fallen flat only a few weeks in, and what always seems to be a thorn in the Mets side every season… our pitching.

We’re not even 2 full months into the 2013 season and already Mets fans are down and out. It would seem it’s the Mutts who have yet again shown up this season. In next to last place in the National League East standings and 12 games under .500 (50% win/loss), there wasn’t much to smile about. But, as we wrap up another chilly and rainy work week in London, something Amazin’ has happened (when they are doing well, their nickname is the Amazin’ Mets). The NY Mets completed a stunning 4 game sweep in the Subway Series against our crosstown rivals, the NY Yankees (and their 27 championship rings… sigh) FOR THE FIRST TIME IN FRANCHISE HISTORY. For those of you who are not math savvy, that’s the first time in over 50 years. Not only that, but it’s the first time we’ve swept 4 games in a series from any team, not just the Yankees.

I’m busy busting out my broom here in London (get it, ‘sweep’). Let’s be honest, it might be the only time I get to do so until… well, who knows when. We’re still the mutts… still in next to last place but now just 7 games under .500 instead of 12. But dare I say we’re now mutts with a bit of swagger? I predict we’re still in for another season of misery, but the long suffering die hard Mets fans have earned their bragging rights this week.

The Mets own New York… at least for the last week in May.

So cheers to that.

– Heather Verra

Does my toddler have ‘disruptive mood dysregulation disorder’?

According to the new DSM-5 – considered the psychiatry bible, and the universal standard by which doctors classify, diagnose and ultimately treat mental disorders – my toddler may well be suffering from an, as yet, undiagnosed mental health disorder. In fact, it would seem that most of my family are suffering from a mental health disorder of one form or another; my parents, whom I previously thought had the odd senior moment, actually have ‘mild neurocognitive disorders’, and I can now consider myself a ‘binge eater’ – characterised by ‘overeating that occurs at least once a week for at least three months’ (that will be my Sundays then!).

I make light of it but, with the changes to the DSM-5, many worry that people with slight variations of normal behaviour may now be labelled ‘mentally ill’. As a result, the recent launch of these new guidelines has attracted no shortage of critics. Many believe that through a combination of the classification of new disorders and the lowering of the thresholds of existing disorders, the DSM-5 expands the boundaries to encompass the ‘worried well’. Critics are worried these new patients may be prescribed drugs that have the potential to cause harm.

While many people previously considered borderline could now be diagnosed with a mental health disorder, changes to the classification of other disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome, which is set to lose its separate diagnosis and fall under the umbrella term, ‘autism spectrum disorders’, has caused some to worry that many may lose their diagnosis – and as a result, their services.

Protagonists view the new update as a long awaited change that will help ensure people get accurate diagnoses and treatments based on the most up-to-date scientific knowledge. Critics have vowed to boycott it entirely. I’m just hoping that those who need help are able to get it, with or without the label of suffering from a mental health disorder.

Happy or crazy?

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– Victoria Harvey

Generate your way to bad ad utopia

Publicis Life Brands Resolute's Bad Ad Generator

We live in a world surrounded by advertising. Wherever we go, wherever we look and whatever we do, some cheeky scamp, somewhere, will be trying to influence us and our decision-making process. We’re not always susceptible to such shenanigans, but there can be no doubt that a strong, positive advertising campaign can mean the difference between brand loyalty and taking a chance.

But with advertising that is ground-breaking, clever and persuasive must come that which is equal and most definitely opposite; there are plenty of examples of bad advertising in and out of our industry. You know the type – it could be it an infuriatingly irrelevant ditty (mentioning no names, naturally) on television or an unholy cluster of vaguely related images that make your eyes water for all the wrong reasons. Whether annoying, cloying, unamusing or any other adverse adjective that concludes with an –ing, bad advertising may be frequently unforgettable but it’s never aspirational.

Resigned to the knowledge that bad advertising is out there, and probably always will be, Publicis Life Brands Resolute decided to take all the hard work out of this process. The Bad Ad Generator – accessed by pointing your browser at http://www.badadgenerator.com – means that you too can play at being an advertising exec that really should know better, and experience the thrill of creating a campaign with all the panache and subtlety of a fuzzy-felt playset.

All the elements we’ve come to know and loathe from abysmal advertising are available on the Bad Ad Generator, leaving you just a point, click and drag away from puerile promotional paradise. Struggling for copy? Throw in one our banal boilerplate strap-lines, a sure-fire way of using countless words to say nothing of any consequence. Looking for the perfect setting? Never mind perfect, we have plenty of generic landscapes that make up for their irrelevance with aesthetic appeal. Can’t afford a model shot? You can these days – throw in one of our sanguine stock shots.

We know what you’re thinking – this all sounds great but there’s something missing and you can’t put your finger on what.

It’s a swoosh. The answer is always to add a swoosh. Thank us later.

The Bad Ad Generator includes a gallery on the site to browse some of the monsterpieces that visitors are especially proud of, giving any user the opportunity to share the truly optically offensive offerings with friends and colleagues. Have a play and see what you can come up with – bad advertising is an unfortunate affront that we’ve learned to accept, so we may as well have some fun with it in the meantime.

– Greg Porter

Joining the workforce in the age of austerity (or “I want a job damnit”)

I know a couple of kids graduating university in a few months, and they’re scared shirtless because they want a job. That simple, right?

Not really, because there are thousands of other kids just like them graduating, and they want a job too. Most of them are not fortunate enough to have a portfolio of work to showcase their talents. You know how most parents think their kids are the most amazing, interesting, talented beings in the world when they learn how to walk or talk or go potty? Well, they usually still think that way when they’re graduating; the rest of the world, not so much. So, if your Mother or Father is the head of Fortune 500, then you don’t need to read on.

This blog is for the rest of you.

Now, I’m assuming you all have a competently written CV – or “resume”, as we say in the States (probably written with the help of a consultant) – so I think I’ll skip talking about it. That consultant doesn’t keep food on his table or gas in her boat by writing one CV for one client. Everybody’s got one.

Start by realizing you already have a job. Your job is to get a job. To get a job you need to get an interview. To get an interview you need to make contact. To make contact, you need to know somebody, or know somebody who knows somebody, or know how to write a letter to somebody that will make you somebody to remember.

Let’s concentrate on your introduction letter.

Here are a few rules of thumb. Write to a specific person if possible. Try to know as much about that person as possible. Google them. Find them on LinkedIn or Facebook. It’s not really stalking (it’s not like they’re your old flame or anything), but the more you know about them the easier it is to write to them like you know them. And remember, turnabout is fair play. They can Google you too, so keep those beer pong photos on your FB page to a minimum. Better yet, don’t have them at all. Just because it happened to you doesn’t make it interesting.

Always be specific.

Now you know who you are writing to, be clear about what you’re writing for. In other words, what do you want out of it? Do you want to speak to them on the phone? Do you want an interview?

Your CV outlines your experience, but your letter needs to somehow convey who you are and what makes you tick. These people are getting a lot of letters from a lot of people so it’s important to reveal a fact, phrase, attitude or attribute that makes you stand out from the rest. Be disarming. Okay, so you don’t have a lot of face-to-face client experience. Write (briefly) about your experience one summer taking the Census in the back hill of the Appalachian Mountains.

“I don’t get flustered in front of people, and can relate to almost anybody. In my summer job as a Census Taker, I’ve walked past and ignored “No Trespassing” and “Beware of the Dog” signs, to be greeted on the front porch by a bare-footed man wielding a shotgun—only be invited in for a cup coffee once we had a little time to chat. Needless to say, I think I can face virtually anything undaunted.”

Clint Eastwood

That’s a tidbit almost anyone should remember. Think about it. In a couple of sentences you’ve conveyed you have people skills, you’re not afraid of hard, unglamorous work, and you can adapt to the most unusual of situations.

At the end of the day, all you want is someone to put down your letter and say, “This is the kind of kid I want on my team. I should meet them or at least take their call.”

Hopefully, you’ll get a response, but don’t ask them to call you. You’re the one looking for the job, not them. Tell them if you don’t hear from them this week, you’ll follow up with them the next. In other words, be persistent without being annoying. Timing is always important, and it shows you really want a job.

Don’t worry. Something will turn up. Be patient. Have fun now. You have the rest of your life to hold down a job.

– Neill Rogers

Netball is not just for girls!

I am sure the very mention of the word netball conjures up memories of cold, rainy PE lessons for some girls, but netball is so much more than that; it is also a fantastic way to exercise whilst making friends. There is a real sense of camaraderie in a netball team; there needs to be a connection as you rely on each other so much. It is a sport which requires strength, stamina, patience and teamwork – valuable skills in many situations.

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Netball is having a revival moment, following incredible whitewash wins against Australia and Jamaica in the test series earlier this year. These 3-0 wins were history in the making as, before the tests, England had only beaten world champions Australia twice before, in 1981 and 2010.

This amazing performance by the England Netball girls has led to an increase in media attention for the sport. The tests were shown on Sky Sports, an achievement in itself as it was a first for the test series, and this has led to an increase in participation. It’s not just women donning the GA bib again though; now, men are starting to realise what they’ve been missing out on.

There are a number of mixed leagues across London – the best of which is the social sports company, Go Mammoth (gomammoth.co.uk) in my opinion. OK, I might be a little biased as I umpire for the Go Mammoth mixed league in Clapham (definitely the best, come and join us!). The men can be surprised at how fast and skilful a game can be, but they are often more competitive than the women. Having men as part of the team brings a new element to the game – it definitely puts my skills to the test and keeps me on my toes.

Here at PLBR Advertising we have bandied around the idea of putting a team together a few times. We are an office which enjoys sports. We regularly compete in fun runs (up next, Beat the Banana!), and we like an opportunity to show off our sporting prowess (or lack of, but it’s fun either way!). We would love to get enough people together to hold an inter-agency competition.

Can’t get the image of shivering on a gravel court wearing a pleated skirt out of your head? Still not convinced that netball isn’t just for girls? Watch this video of England Netball beating Australia in the final test to see how netball should be played (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nv7p87e3zcc).

Hopefully the video will inspire you to put on your netball skirt and PE knickers again and join me. If you are interested, send me an email: harriet.cheshire@publicislifebrands.co.uk