by Lin Yung Cheng

How exactly a deep breath changes your mind

Research shows that breathing can also change your brain
December 10th, 2017

Via Quartzy: "Breathing is traditionally thought of as an automatic process driven by the brainstem—the part of the brain controlling such life-sustaining functions as heartbeat and sleeping patterns. But new and unique research, involving recordings made directly from within the brains of humans undergoing neurosurgery, shows that breathing can also change your brain. [...]

Humans’ ability to control and regulate their brain is unique: e.g., controlling emotions, deciding to stay awake despite being tired, or suppressing thoughts. These abilities are not trivial, nor do humans share them with many animals. Breathing is similar: animals do not alter their breathing speed volitionally; their breathing normally only changes in response to running, resting, etc. Questions that have baffled scientists in this context are: why are humans capable of volitionally regulating their breathing, and how do we gain access to parts of our brain that are not normally under our conscious control. Additionally, is there any benefit in our ability to access and control parts of our brain that are typically inaccessible? Given that many therapies—Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, trauma therapy, or various types of spiritual exercises—involve focusing and regulating breathing, does controlling inhaling and exhaling have any profound effect on behavior? [...]

The research findings show that the advice to “take a deep breath” may not just be a cliché. Exercises involving volitional breathing appear to alter the connectivity between parts of the brain and allow access to internal sites that normally are inaccessible to us. Further investigation will now gradually monitor what such access to parts of our psyche that are normally hidden can reveal."

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Street Art by Joshua Santos Rivera aka Bikismo

How do you persuade somebody of the facts?

by Tom Stafford
November 26th, 2017

Via Mind Hacks: "The first theory of confirmation bias is the most common. It’s the one you can detect in expressions like 'You just believe what you want to believe', or 'He would say that, wouldn’t he?' or when the someone is accused of seeing things a particular way because of who they are, what their job is or which friends they have. Let’s call this the motivational theory of confirmation bias. It has a clear prescription for correcting the bias: change people’s motivations and they’ll stop being biased.

The alternative theory of confirmation bias is more subtle. The bias doesn’t exist because we only believe what we want to believe, but instead because we fail to ask the correct questions about new information and our own beliefs. This is a less neat theory, because there could be one hundred reasons why we reason incorrectly – everything from limitations of memory to inherent faults of logic. One possibility is that we simply have a blindspot in our imagination for the ways the world could be different from how we first assume it is. Under this account the way to correct confirmation bias is to give people a strategy to adjust their thinking. We assume people are already motivated to find out the truth, they just need a better method. Let’s call this the cognition theory of confirmation bias.

Thirty years ago, Charles Lord and colleagues published a classic experiment which pitted these two methods against each other. Their study used a persuasion experiment which previously had shown a kind of confirmation bias they called biased assimilation. Here, participants were recruited who had strong pro- or anti-death penalty views and were presented with evidence that seemed to support the continuation or abolition of the death penalty. Obviously, depending on what you already believe, this evidence is either confirmatory or disconfirmatory. Their original finding showed that the nature of the evidence didn’t matter as much as what people started out believing. Confirmatory evidence strengthened people’s views, as you’d expect, but so did disconfirmatory evidence. That’s right, anti-death penalty people became more anti-death penalty when shown pro-death penalty evidence (and vice versa). A clear example of biased reasoning.

For their follow-up study, Lord and colleagues re-ran the biased assimilation experiment, but testing two types of instructions for assimilating evidence about the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent for murder. The motivational instructions told participants to be 'as objective and unbiased as possible', to consider themselves 'as a judge or juror asked to weigh all of the evidence in a fair and impartial manner'. The alternative, cognition-focused, instructions were silent on the desired outcome of the participants’ consideration, instead focusing only on the strategy to employ: 'Ask yourself at each step whether you would have made the same high or low evaluations had exactly the same study produced results on the other side of the issue.' So, for example, if presented with a piece of research that suggested the death penalty lowered murder rates, the participants were asked to analyse the study’s methodology and imagine the results pointed the opposite way.

They called this the consider the opposite strategy, and the results were striking. Instructed to be fair and impartial, participants showed the exact same biases when weighing the evidence as in the original experiment. Pro-death penalty participants thought the evidence supported the death penalty. Anti-death penalty participants thought it supported abolition. Wanting to make unbiased decisions wasn’t enough. The consider the opposite participants, on the other hand, completely overcame the biased assimilation effect – they weren’t driven to rate the studies which agreed with their preconceptions as better than the ones that disagreed, and didn’t become more extreme in their views regardless of which evidence they read.

The finding is good news for our faith in human nature. It isn’t that we don’t want to discover the truth, at least in the microcosm of reasoning tested in the experiment. All people needed was a strategy which helped them overcome the natural human short-sightedness to alternatives.

The moral for making better decisions is clear: wanting to be fair and objective alone isn’t enough. What’s needed are practical methods for correcting our limited reasoning – and a major limitation is our imagination for how else things might be. If we’re lucky, someone else will point out these alternatives, but if we’re on our own we can still take advantage of crutches for the mind like the “consider the opposite” strategy."

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Photo by Wojciech Kruczynski / The Epson International Pano Awards

It's real

Physicists find we’re not living in a computer simulation
November 21st, 2017

Via Cosmos Magazine: "The finding – an unexpectedly definite one – arose from the discovery of a novel link between gravitational anomalies and computational complexity.

In a paper published in the journal Science Advances, Zohar Ringel and Dmitry Kovrizhi show that constructing a computer simulation of a particular quantum phenomenon that occurs in metals is impossible – not just practically, but in principle. [...]

The researchers calculated that just storing information about a couple of hundred electrons would require a computer memory that would physically require more atoms than exist in the universe. [...]

And given the physically impossible amount of computer grunt needed to store information for just one member of this subset, fears that we might be unknowingly living in some vast version of The Matrix can now be put to rest.

There is a caveat to this conclusion: if our universe is a simulation, there is no reason that the laws of physics should apply outside it. In the words of Zohar Ringel, the lead author of the paper, 'Who knows what are the computing capabilities of whatever simulates us?' "

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Johannes Geier

Red Orange Ground
November 6th, 2017

Red Orange Ground is a contemporary sports film about the sense of temporal dimension during a 100 meter sprint. Johannes Geier's idea for the film developed over a period of six years until he finally decided to produce it as his graduate film for his Motion Design diploma at the Baden-Württemberg Film Academy. He translated his feeling of temoral expansion when he runs with immersive metaphors and unique key visuals on to film.

Red Orange Ground was supervised by Alexander Hanowski and me. Johannes Geier's final presentation and exam were in spring this year, and now, finally, all rights are clarified and the clip is online.

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Photo by Denis Cherim from his "Coincidence Project".

Strange-face Illusions

October 28th, 2017
During Interpersonal-Gazing and Personality Differences of Spirituality

Via National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Strange-face illusions are produced when two individuals gaze at each other in the eyes in low illumination for more than a few minutes. Usually, the members of the dyad perceive numinous apparitions, like the other's face deformations and perception of a stranger or a monster in place of the other, and feel a short lasting dissociation. In the present experiment, the influence of the spirituality personality trait on strength and number of strange-face illusions was investigated. Thirty participants were preliminarily tested for superstition (Paranormal Belief Scale, PBS) and spirituality (Spiritual Transcendence Scale, STS); then, they were randomly assigned to 15 dyads. Dyads performed the intersubjective gazing task for 10 minutes and, finally, strange-face illusions (measured through the Strange-Face Questionnaire, SFQ) were evaluated. The first finding was that SFQ was independent of PBS; hence, strange-face illusions during intersubjective gazing are authentically perceptual, hallucination-like phenomena, and not due to superstition. The second finding was that SFQ depended on the spiritual-universality scale of STS (a belief in the unitive nature of life; e.g., 'there is a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people') and the two variables were negatively correlated. Thus, strange-face illusions, in particular monstrous apparitions, could potentially disrupt binding among human beings. Strange-face illusions can be considered as projections of the subject's unconscious into the other's face. In conclusion, intersubjective gazing at low illumination can be a tool for conscious integration of unconscious shadows of the Self in order to reach completeness of the Self."

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In the Flow

by Boris Groys

Via Verso: "In the early twentieth century, art and its institutions came under critique from a new democratic and egalitarian spirit. The notion of works of art as sacred objects was decried and subsequently they would be understood merely as things. This meant an attack on realism, as well as on the traditional preservative mission of the museum. Acclaimed art theorist Boris Groys argues this led to the development of “direct realism”: an art that would not produce objects, but practices (from performance art to relational aesthetics) that would not survive. But for more than a century now, every advance in this direction has been quickly followed by new means of preserving art’s distinction.
In this major new work, Groys charts the paradoxes produced by this tension, and explores art in the age of the thingless medium, the Internet. Groys claims that if the techniques of mechanical reproduction gave us objects without aura, digital production generates aura without objects, transforming all its materials into vanishing markers of the transitory present."

Via e-flux: "And that means precisely that contemporary art has become the medium for investigating the eventfulness of events: the different modes of the immediate experience of events, their relationship to documentation and archiving, the intellectual and emotional modes of our relationship to documentation, and so forth. Now, if the thematization of the eventfulness of the event has become, indeed, the main preoccupation of contemporary art in general and the museum of contemporary art in particular, it makes no sense to condemn the museum for staging art events. On the contrary, today the museum has become the main analytical tool for staging and analyzing the event as radically contingent and irreversible—amidst our digitally controlled civilization that is based on tracking back and securing the traces of our individual existence in the hope of making everything controllable and reversible. The museum is a place where the asymmetrical war between the ordinary human gaze and the technologically armed gaze not only takes place, but also becomes revealed—so that it can be thematized and critically theorized."

Thanks to Swantje Lichtenstein!

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Everything

A wonderful game by David O'Reilly
October 4th, 2017

Everything is the latest work by David O'Reilly. It is simply mind-blowing. Play it or watch a Let's Play, but don't miss it. Via Wikipedia: "Throughout the game, quotes from philosopher Alan Watts are given to the player. [...]

OReilly described the game as 'about the things we see, their relationships, and their points of view. In this context, things are how we separate reality so we can understand it and talk about it with each other'. He also considered Everything to be a continuation of themes he had introduced in Mountain. Later, OReilly described his hope for players of the game: 'I want Everything to make people feel better about being alive. Not as an escape or distraction, or arbitrary frustration, but something you would leave and see the world in a new light.' Besides the ideas of Watts, OReilly said that Everything's approach and narrative includes Eastern philosophy, continental philosophy, and stoicism. [...]

An 11-minute trailer for Everything won the Jury Prize at the 2017 Vienna Independent Shorts film festival in May 2017; due to this, it is on the longlist for consideration for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 90th Academy Awards, making it the first video game to qualify for the Oscars."

One of the quotes by Alan Watts in the game: "Let's get this clear. If there is any such thing at all as intelligence and love and beauty, well you've found it in other people. In other words, it exists in us as human beings. And as I said, if it is there, in us, it is symptomatic of the scheme of things. We are as symptomatic of the scheme of things as the apples are symptomatic of the apple tree or the rose of the rose bush. The Earth is not a big rock infested with living organisms any more than your skeleton is bones infested with cells. The Earth is geological, yes, but this geological entity grows people, and our existence on the Earth is a symptom of this other system, and its balances, as much as the solar system in turn is a symptom of our galaxy, and our galaxy in its turn is a symptom of a whole company of other galaxies. Goodness only knows what that's in."

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On identity design

by Paula Scher
October 2nd, 2017

Paula Scher: "I never knew a designer that got hundreds of thousands of dollars to design a logo.  Mostly, designers get paid to negotiate the difficult terrain of individual egos, expectations, tastes, and aspirations of various individuals in an organization or corporation, against business needs, and constraints of the marketplace.  This is a process that can take a year or more.  Getting a large, diverse group of people to agree on a single new methodology for all of their corporate communications means the designer has to be a strategist, psychiatrist, diplomat, showman, and even a Svengali*. The complicated process is worth money. That's what clients pay for. The process, usually a series of endless presentations and refinements, persuasions and proofs, results, hopefully, in an accepted identity design."

* Via Wikipedia: "Svengali is the name of a fictional character in George du Maurier's 1894 novel Trilby. A sensation in its day, the novel created a stereotype of the evil hypnotist that persists to this day. [...]
The word svengali has entered the language meaning a person who with evil intent manipulates another into doing what is desired."

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rand

Cover artwork for "Neue Bilder"

Published by Mikroton, Moscow
September 28th, 2017

Thomas Lehn and Marcus Schmickler hired me to design the cover artwork of their new release Neue Bilder on Mikroton Recordings. I decided to use my old Letraset sheets once again to connect this deep, dynamic, and beautiful album with their 2000 release Bart.

Via Mikroton: "Thomas Lehn and Marcus Schmickler have been known for building their sonic worlds for 17 years since their first album Bart. After 6 years of studio silence, here comes Neue Bilder. Their 5th allbum is a constant flux of musical juxtapositions, collisions and balance of their tour de force with analogue synth and computer. The album features two tracks created from two concentrated performances in Münster and Wels, both being magnificently reworked stereo versions of their quadrophonic live concerts. Neue Bilder goes further in their development of sound with meticulously constructed abruptly appearing and disappearing abrasive and tonal sound clusters, remote echoes, and lonely remnants."

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Photo by Marisol Rodriguez.

Uncreative Writing

by Kenneth Goldsmith

Best book in years, and translated by my dear friend Prof. Dr. Swantje Lichtenstein. You can not afford to miss out on this one.

Via Brain Pickings: "Goldsmith echoes legendary designer Charles Eames, who famously advised to 'innovate only as a last resort,' and writes:

Having worked in advertising for many years as a ‘creative director,’ I can tell you that, despite what cultural pundits might say, creativity — as [it has] been defined by our culture with its endless parade of formulaic novels, memoirs, and films — is the thing to flee from, not only as a member of the ‘creative class’ but also as a member of the ‘artistic class.’ Living when technology is changing the rules of the game in every aspect of our lives, it’s time to question and tear down such clichés and lay them on the floor in front of us, then reconstruct these smoldering embers into something new, something contemporary, something — finally — relevant.

In addressing the most common contestations to his ideas about accepting all language as poetry by mere reframing — about what happens to the notion of authorship, about how careers and canons are to be established, about whether the heart of literature is reducible to mere algorithms — Goldsmith seconds a sentiment French polymath Henri Poincaré shared more then a century ago when he noted that to create is merely to choose wisely from the existing pool of ideas:

What becomes important is what you — the author — [decide] to choose. Success lies in knowing what to include and — more important — what to leave out. If all language can be transformed into poetry by mere reframing — an exciting possibility — then she who reframes words in the most charged and convincing way will be judged the best. I agree that the moment we throw judgment and quality out the window we’re in trouble. Democracy is fine for YouTube, but it’s generally a recipe for disaster when it comes to art. While all the words may be created equal — and thus treated — the way in which they’re assembled isn’t; it’s impossible to suspend judgment and folly to dismiss quality. Mimesis and replication [don’t] eradicate authorship, rather they simply place new demands on authors who must take these new conditions into account as part and parcel of the landscape when conceiving of a work of art: if you don’t want it copied, don’t put it online.

Ultimately, he argues that all of this is about the evolution — rather than the destruction — of authorship:

In 1959 the poet and artist Brion Gysin claimed that writing was fifty years behind painting. And he might still be right: in the art world, since impressionism, the avant-garde has been the mainstream. Innovation and risk taking have been consistently rewarded. But, in spite of the successes of modernism, literature has remained on two parallel tracks, the mainstream and the avant-garde, with the two rarely intersecting. Yet the conditions of digital culture have unexpectedly forced a collision, scrambling the once-sure footing of both camps. Suddenly, we all find ourselves in the same boat grappling with new questions concerning authorship, originality, and the way meaning is forged.

The rest of Uncreative Writing goes on to explore the history of appropriation in art, the emerging interchangeability between words and images in digital culture, the challenges of defining one’s identity in the vastness of the online environment, and many other pressing facets of what it means to be a writer — or, even more broadly, a creator — in the age of the internet."

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