Visions of the past (album, 1994) by Robert Leiner.

The good of boredom

by Andreas Elpidorou
February 3rd, 2018

Via Taylor & Francis: "I argue that the state of boredom (i.e., the transitory and non-pathological experience of boredom) should be understood to be a regulatory psychological state that has the capacity to promote our well-being by contributing to personal growth and to the construction (or reconstruction) of a meaningful life."

Thanks to Elmar Hintz for the cover!

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We’d all like to be a little happier

Most unhappy people are unhappy for the exact same reason
February 2nd, 2018


Via Quartz: "The problem is that much of what determines happiness is outside of our control. Some of us are genetically predisposed to see the world through rose-colored glasses, while others have a generally negative outlook. Bad things happen, to us and in the world. People can be unkind, and jobs can be tedious.

But we do have some control over how we spend our leisure time. That’s one reason why it’s worth asking which leisure time activities are linked to happiness, and which aren’t.

In a new analysis of 1 million U.S. teens, my co-authors and I looked at how teens were spending their free time and which activities correlated with happiness, and which didn’t. [...]

Every year, teens are asked about their general happiness, in addition to how they spend their time. We found that teens who spent more time seeing their friends in person, exercising, playing sports, attending religious services, reading or even doing homework were happier. However, teens who spent more time on the internet, playing computer games, on social media, texting, using video chat or watching TV were less happy.

In other words, every activity that didn’t involve a screen was linked to more happiness, and every activity that involved a screen was linked to less happiness. The differences were considerable: Teens who spent more than five hours a day online were twice as likely to be unhappy as those who spent less than an hour a day.

Of course, it might be that unhappy people seek out screen activities. However, a growing number of studies show that most of the causation goes from screen use to unhappiness, not the other way around. [...]

Somewhat surprisingly, we found that teens who didn’t use digital media at all were actually a little less happy than those who used digital media a little bit (less than an hour a day). Happiness was then steadily lower with more hours of use. Thus, the happiest teens were those who used digital media, but for a limited amount of time.

The answer, then, is not to give up technology entirely. Instead, the solution is a familiar adage: everything in moderation. Use your phone for all the cool things it’s good for. And then set it down and go do something else."

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Girl and Dinosaur (1970) by Arthur Tress.

Can Machines Create Art?

by Mark Coeckelbergh
January 20th, 2018

Via Springer: "As machines take over more tasks previously done by humans, artistic creation is also considered as a candidate to be automated. But, can machines create art? This paper offers a conceptual framework for a philosophical discussion of this question regarding the status of machine art and machine creativity. It breaks the main question down in three sub-questions, and then analyses each question in order to arrive at more precise problems with regard to machine art and machine creativity: What is art creation? What do we mean by art? And, what do we mean by machines create art? This then provides criteria we can use to discuss the main question in relation to particular cases. In the course of the analysis, the paper engages with theory in aesthetics, refers to literature on computational creativity, and contributes to the philosophy of technology and philosophical anthropology by reflecting on the role of technology in art creation. It is shown that the distinctions between process versus outcome criteria and subjective versus objective criteria of creativity are unstable. It is also argued that we should consider non-human forms of creativity, and not only cases where either humans or machines create art but also collaborations between humans and machines, which makes us reflect on human-technology relations. Finally, the paper questions the very approach that seeks criteria and suggests that the artistic status of machines may be shown and revealed in the human/non-human encounter before any theorizing or agreement takes place; an experience which then is presupposed when we theorize. This hints at a more general model of what happens in artistic perception and engagement as a hybrid human-technological and emergent or even poetic process, a model which leaves more room for letting ourselves be surprised by creativity—human and perhaps non-human.

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Scene from Rabbits (2002) and Inland Empire (2006) by David Lynch.

Polish Poem (2011)

Written by David Lynch and Chrysta Bell, produced by David Lynch
January 11th, 2018

I sing this poem to you
On the other side I see
Shining waves glowing
It’s far away, far away from me,
I can see it there
The wind blows outside
And I have no breath
I breathe again and know I’ll have to live
To forget my world is ending I’ll have to live
I hear my heart beat fluttering in pain missing something
Tears are coming to my eyes
I cry
I cannot feel the warmth of the sun
I cannot hear the laughter
Choking with every thought
I see the faces
My hands are tied as I wish
But no one comes
No one comes
Where are you?
What will make me want live
What will make me want to love
Tell me tell me
I sing this poem to you
To you
Is this this mystery unfolding
As a wing floating
Something is coming true
The dream of an innocent child
Something is happening

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Eye clinic in Tainan, Taiwan (1962), photo by Wang Shuang-Chuan.

End of 2017

Ten Thank-Yous
31st December, 2017

Basecamp For 12 years I hosted a lecture series called BASISLAGER at the Institute For Music And Media. It all started in June 2005 with the wonderful John Tilbury, who gave a witful talk on how to play Morton Feldman, and performed three of Feldman's beautiful piano pieces. The last talk in this series was held by super smart Cal State professor Sylke Rene Meyer in June 2017, who introduced non-linear storytelling. It was simply mind-blowing to meet these wonderful artists and thinkers, and hear those 70 outstanding lectures.
Through the years many, many, many students were involved filming the BASISLAGER talks, and now we have a golden archive. Thank you so much, especially Lukas Baumgart, Christian Frentzen, Laura Greco, Sebastian Heidelberg, Julian Martinz, Beate Meinert, Peer Seuken, Lukas Truniger, and Miriam Voth.

Book This year's favorite book is Uncreative Writing by one of my heroes  – a hero, first and foremost because of his archive UbuWebKenneth Goldsmith. Every page had another idea or reminder or hint that inspired me, and filled me with fresh energy. My friend Swantje Lichtenstein translated it – I loved the German version.

Concert Got invited to join the Kompakt family for Wolfgang Voigt's Gas concert of his latest Narkopop release an Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn this summer. [The best name for an album ever?]
Not only was the music brilliant – dense and superbly light at the same time – I also enjoyed the visuals by Cologne-based Lichtfaktor, and lovely Jennifer Trees.

Game David O'Reilly did it again. His latest brain child Everything is fucking awesome beyond belief. You get a glimpse on where games and non-linear storytelling are headed. And I just love to listen to Alan Watts' voice talking about What is Reality.
An informative article about Everything quotes O'Reilly's view on his game, "the world as subtracted from the idea of the self".

Inspiration The most beautiful and awe-inspiring lessons this year came via Dana Falsetti and Jessamyn Stanley, two yoga teachers who encourage people to adopt more forgiving and affirming attitudes towards their bodies. Especially women have been told for too long that their current state of being isn't ok, when really it just is – in other words, it's all just about experience.

Memory The 1978 Nice Mover record by Gina X Performance was a life changer for me – back when I was 14 or 15. Tracks like No G.D.M. (Dedicated To Quentin Crisp), Be A Boy and Black Sheep initiated the trust in my own energy, even if called "too" something.
This year I met Gina X through my fabulous friend and witty artist Prof. Dr. Swantje Lichtenstein, who invited Gina to one of her seminars at HSD. Ladies, I am indefinitely grateful.

Relaunch Finally, after procrastinating for years, I relaunched my website this year. Germany's very best graphic designer, Chris Rehberger, and one of my oldest friends and Typo3 wizard, Tristan Thönnissen supported me.
I am thankful beyond words, gentlemen, because I so love my new outfit. You are the best. You are amazing. I love you.

Series Of all the series I saw this year two stood out: Sense8 by Lana and Lilly Wachowski as well as Twin Peaks by Mark Frost and David Lynch. For me Sense8 is pop culture at its best – "its stunning visuals, Wachowski wackiness, and great heart". Twin Peaks on the other hand is complicated, to say the least. I loved watching it with friends, especially episode 8 Gotta Light? – read this, Trying to Make Sense of the Show’s Most Bonkers Episode.

Teardrops I am trying to learn to let go of all anger and let the tears roll. I am still a beginner. After this year's Bundestag elections in which an ugly right wing party got elected with 12,6 % I went to a concert by Onita Boone's band VIP-Lounge. She has an amazing voice plus she is a brave and fabulous choirmaster. At the end of a life-celebrating concert she had us all, everyone in the audience, singing and screaming Lennon's Imagine. Yeah, and we cried.

Transformation My colleague, Prof. Oliver Kruse, told me about Thich Nhat Hanh's European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Waldbröl, and this summer the world's best DJ and I went to their open house. The work and energy of all Dharma teachers at EIAB, their community, and visitors slowly but steadily transform this intensely dark place [in 1938/39 the Nazi government deported over 700 mentally ill persons from this former hospital] into loving grace. We are deeply grateful.

So, here we are... And what is next?

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From the exhibition Bad Land by Alex Da Corte.

The memory benefit of hearing oneself

This time it’s personal
December 12th, 2017

Via Taylor & Francis Online: "The production effect is the memory advantage of saying words aloud over simply reading them silently. It has been hypothesised that this advantage stems from production featuring distinctive information that stands out at study relative to reading silently. MacLeod (2011) (I said, you said: The production effect gets personal. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 1197–1202. doi:10.3758/s13423-011-0168-8) found superior memory for reading aloud oneself vs. hearing another person read aloud, which suggests that motor information (speaking), self-referential information (i.e., “I said it”), or both contribute to the production effect. In the present experiment, we dissociated the influence on memory of these two components by including a study condition in which participants heard themselves read words aloud (recorded earlier) – a first for production effect research – along with the more typical study conditions of reading aloud, hearing someone else speak, and reading silently. There was a gradient of memory across these four conditions, with hearing oneself lying between speaking and hearing someone else speak. These results imply that oral production is beneficial because it entails two distinctive components: a motor (speech) act and a unique, self-referential auditory input."

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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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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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