‘HSE Gave Me a Chance to Meet New People and Explore a New Part of the World’
Joe MacInnes has been Assistant Professor at HSE School of Psychology since 2013. Before coming to HSE he lived and worked in Scotland. When looking for new opportunities in his career, he saw HSE School of Psychology. ‘It sounded like it was starting something very fresh and innovative and it also gave me a chance to meet new people and explore a new part of the world. It was a very easy choice at the time,’ he says.
Currently Joe MacInnes is teaching Psychology courses on Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes offered by Faculty of Social Sciences. In February, together with HSE doctoral students Mikhail Pokhoday and Ekaterina Gordienko, he conducted an intensive workshop on eye tracking for students of Master’s programme 'Cognitive Sciences and Technologies: From Neuron to Cognition' and everyone interested in the topic. The workshop covered basic principles of eye tracking, introduction to eye tracking hardware and practical sessions.
Eye tracking research
According to Joe MacInnes, the hardest part about describing eye tracking research is convincing people that we don’t see the world perfectly. When we look at the world, we do it without effort, so we also think it is simple. What our conscious brain thinks it sees is quite different from the light/image that falls on the retina. We actually move our eyes roughly 3 times every second we are awake, and these ‘saccades’ are constantly disrupting and changing our visual input. We perceive a world that is very stable and rich in information, but the visual parts of the brain actually get constantly changing ‘snapshots’ of information that we have to somehow piece together. We call this the problem of visual stability and we are getting close to solving it, but we haven’t yet. ‘My piece of the puzzle is trying to figure out why vision and attention are often different things, and how they work together in the brain to build this rich visual representation,’ says Professor MacInnes.
One of his favourite research methods these days is computational modelling. ‘You probably know that meteorologists create models of weather to understand patterns and predict things like hurricanes?’ Physicists also create models of the universe and black holes to try understand how they work. The human brain is another example of a complex system that people can try to understand by creating models and simulations of different cognitive functions (vision, attention, memory). These models take a very large amount of data and very fast computers but they can let us test simulations that we never could before. ‘I can get all the data I need from eye tracking and I can test my simulations on the same experiments that I run with human participants,’ says Prof MacInnes. ‘Plus it means I get to play with artificial intelligence.’
Living in Russia
As Professor MacInnes notes, ‘everyone comes to Russia knowing that the language and differences in culture will be a challenge. I think my best advice is to be open to surprises. Some things I expected to be difficult have been very easy, and some things I didn’t expect have been hard challenges. Also, as a general rule, people here want to help you solve your problems if they can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help as often as you need it.’
In Moscow Joe enjoys going to Pirogovaya lavka for authentic Russian pirogi (pies). He believes that there are more places to see live rock music in Moscow than any other city he’s lived in and bands come here from all over the world. ‘I just discovered the old ‘second’ Kremlin and plan to go back once the weather warms up.’
Professor MacInness has some practical tips for people coming to Russia for the first time. He recommends Nievsky express for trips to St Petesrburg as a nice alternative to Sapsan express train. In Moscow he suggests visiting The Russian Space Museum, which is a great place to learn a side of the space race that many are not aware of. In Joe’s view, Moscow has a great sports tradition with live hockey and football matches and the ticket prices are very reasonable. ‘My favourite local hockey team is CSKA Moscow since they have such a long history playing against my home country, Canada’.
Learning about Russian culture
Joe MacInnes thinks that the best way for beginners to understand Russian history and culture would be popular movies, music and even children’s cartoons. ‘History books and documentaries will give you the facts, but watching the Russian version of Winnie-Pooh will give you a feel for the humour and the inside jokes that everyone in this country knows by heart and grew up with. The cartoons are also great for practicing the language since they tend to use simpler words and are very visual. Find the ones with Russian subtitles if you are an absolute beginner, like me. Some of the old popular Soviet movies are great as well. If you can watch ‘The Irony of Fate’ and understand the humour of how someone could confuse the same street, building and apartment in a different city? You are on your way to understanding the history of this country and its people. And for the truly brave, you could practice your pronunciation at Russian Karaoke.’
Prepared by Anna Chernyakhovskaya, HSE News Service