Unit 2: Future of the Mind – Telepathy context / research / my work

One of the things that captivated me following the initial group ideation session we had around Futures, was the notion that technology could progress such that not only human-computer mental interfacing was possible, but human-human, i.e. telepathy (the communication of ideas/thoughts by means other than the senses).

The idea of telepathy first caught on in western culture in the 19th century, following on from the spread of spiritualism (communing with the spirit realm/the dead) and animal magnetism/mesmerism (whereby healing can occur via induced trances and hypnotism). These pseudosciences caught on in response to the fantastical advances in science that were making the world at once more understood and more mysterious. Why should we only trust our senses if there are microscopic cells (with cell theory – that we are made up of cells – only being formulated in 1839), and if time can be relative (theory of relativity in 1905).

Hilma af Klint was interested in spiritualism, and can also be credited with the first abstract art – exploring automatic drawing in attempts to visualise this non-visible reality. I encountered some of her sketches in the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and enjoyed how naive and free they seemed, some of which are below. The nesting and interaction of colourful organic forms, and looping, swooping lines also appeal.

Magicians then, using biological cues, performed ‘thought reading’ stunts, which still continue to this day. Indeed, much of the trends seen in the 19th century reared their heads again during the New Age in the 1970s, e.g. the idea of ‘channelling’ spirits or the collective unconscious via trances to gain new information. This took a strange turn as documented in the book and film adaptation of The Men Who Stare at Goats, with the American military hoping to harness the power of psychic agents for intelligence-gathering (and also, bizarrely, attempting to harm or kill psychically)

This idea of psychic ability being used as a weapon or military advantage is also explored in fiction, e.g. in Star Trek with the Vulcan mind meld appearing in it’s first season, and then later too with empaths such as Betazoids and the hive mind of the Borg. The notion of ‘hacking’ or mind control of another by means of such interfacing is a central theme of fiction such as Ghost in the Shell. This relies too on the notion of interconnected technological knowledge and AI systems within a ‘cyberspace’ – a concept conceived before the internet by William Gibson in his Neuromancer novel, but now a term used to refer to it.

But for me, I am interested in the consequences of such technology. If we were able to communicate telepathically, would this make language redundant? Would we lose language, particularly in our more intimate relationships? This could be a means in which telepathy could be a force for good, and answering a central human desire to be understood – enabling us to fully intimately understand and know our romantic partners and significant others. But what might be lost from our current relationships, and would this be a destructive or positive change?

There is a unique mode of communication already in existence between romantic partners, a secret language you only use within that context – formed of in-jokes, pet names, and particular phrases or patterns of speech that you build together. In a world where you could communicate without language, this would be defunct. I explored some ideas for how we could record these future dead languages, to house in future museums.

Below is a work I encountered in an exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery, curated to explore a post-language society (here conceived as a post-apocalyptic eventuality). The work below explores communication through a personal visual language, which are curious, but I’m unsure if they truly communicate (though perhaps they are recognisable to a native spanish speaker!) – it’s intriguing to see here again colourful, somewhat organic forms appearing.

Returning to my idea… The thought that these languages would be shared, which previously have been intimate and private between two people, is intriguing but one which made me feel unsure I could in good conscience ask people to share with me openly. This is interesting in itself, that I would hesitate to do so. That making open and shareable something entirely private is similar to this notion of sharing our inner most thoughts with others via telepathy. It is certainly an uneasy future being imagined.

What then could be more private than our own sense of self, our inner eye. What might it mean for our perceptions of self, if we can be fully aware of how others perceive us, and view ourselves through their eyes? Would this exacerbate or destroy the current situation of ‘selfie culture’ – whereby we feel pressured to curate our online image to the extent that our bodies, our lives appear perfectly manicured (whether doctored through photoshop or filters or not), and the comparison of ourselves to the online image of others is damaging to our mental health. The obsession with picturing ourselves in any and all situations can be seen as narcissistic and superficial, but it reveals our humanity too. Our desire to understand ourselves, to fit in and be understood by others. To mark our place in the world, and confirm yes I do exist. But this conflict between our inner world and how we appear externally is hard to process – and body dysmorphia and eating disorders are on the rise.

Experiment with a selfie feedback loop using the webcam on my computer and my phone

I very rarely take selfies of myself. My profile picture for several years on Facebook has me in sunglasses that obscure much of my face. This is not out of a particular desire to be unknown, or undocumented. I admittedly do see flaws in my appearance, and suffer that horror when you accidentally have the camera facing the wrong way when you turn it on on your phone. So I never spontaneously feel the urge to do so – to take a selfie feels contrived for me, though I understand it can be different for others! I was interested then to explore this possibility, of the complete knowledge of my appearance to others, and engage in a process that exposed me more than I would usually be comfortable. To invade my own privacy.

To do so, I recorded my appearance in a typical evening at home with my fiance. By attaching a head-mounted GoPro to him, I hoped to approximate his point of view and gain this notion of the self-image through someone else’s eyes. Below, I edited together only those moments when I was in frame. It provides a disjointed account of the time spent making dinner, and the conversation appears surreal.

The camera angle feels like I am floating above myself – as though in an outer-body-experience – which I suppose this is! It is disorienting how it jerks around according to his head movements.

Future Self-Portrait

It is uncomfortable seeing so much of myself in a video, to see less than flattering angles and lighting. Much like the confusion when hearing your voice on a recording (how it never sounds quite as you hear it in your own head), it seemed strange to see my idiosyncrasies – mannerisms and facial expressions – played out in front of me. I feel vulnerable in particular when seeing how my eyes remain closed sometimes when talking – something I am unaware of doing in the moment. Also – I seem so short! In all I think this was a successful experiment.

Unit 2: 3D – Data Visualisation (pt 2)

I was interested to explore in greater depth the notion of ‘infinite scroll’ (something I touched on in my previous post on this project). I began exploring ways I could bring this to life, first in representations of infinity in physical form. I first explored mobius strips, which are like a 3D infinity symbol. I found in constructing them though that rather than create that figure of eight form (though that could be seen from some angles) I had more of a twisted loop. I think if I had shortened the length of my paper I may have gotten this effect more distinctly.

It was interesting to run the days of the week with their related screentime along both sides of the paper that I then formed into a mobius strip – meaning that now the sequence is neverending (it runs from Sunday back into Monday again). This had been explored by M. C. Escher, where he made it seem ants would be walking on this structure indefinitely (below).

But I was interested to explore more of the motion inherent in this scrolling on screens (particularly in social media). That the scrolling would be going on ad infinitum was interesting to explore. I therefore experimented with producing a perpetual motion machine. Generally however, this is considered to be an impossibility (at least in terms of the laws of physics on earth), since there is no way to ensure the perfect conservation of energy to maintain the motion indefinitely, without loss to heat etc. One of the more famous instances of a proof that such a machine would be impossible, is that of Leonardo Da Vinci. I sought to emulate his design to test this for myself.

Various designs for perpetual motion machines in Da Vinci’s notebooks
Here see the spinning motion achieved from the wheel when no weights are added
Spinning with internal weights (per Da Vinci design)
Spinning with external weights shows a longer spin time
Final external weights experiment before completing construction

I liked that the turning motion of the wheel simulated a physical scrolling motion (relating to the cylindrical object that the scrolling motion on a digital screen is named after). The final object I produced still retained the internal segment holes that were created as part of my experimentation with the Da Vinci design – I felt that the story of my experimentation was an important part of it, demonstrating a scientific process in improving the length of motion, and also the impossibility of it being infinite/perpetual.

Survival Strategies: Research (pt 1)

This week we took a trip to the Eden Project in Cornwall. Our brief was to research different survival strategies whilst we were there.

The mission statement of the Eden Project is:

To connect us with each other and the living world, exploring how we can work towards a better future.

In doing so, they hope to combat ‘plant blindness’, which means that we do not realise the myriad ways in which our modern lives are inextricably linked with the natural world around us. From the food that we eat, to the clothes we wear, the medicines we survive by and materials we construct with, we neglect to consider how even most man-made products have in some way been produced using natural resources.

Their primary message is that of interconnectedness between us and the natural world (see below). The very way in which we survive at a total level is because of our place within a whole – we rely on the support of other lifeforms/systems. This interconnection/support system is the ultimate survival strategy which I wanted to explore further.