‘Material Evidence. Syria. Ukraine’ comes to NYC

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Crimes against peace have become a central theme of the international photo exhibition that is now touring Germany. Scenes of misery and destruction in the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts were handpicked by a jury to show the true face of the war.

Photo exhibition “Material Evidence. Syria. Ukraine” in Berlin is based purely on the material submitted by war correspondents illustrating “the evolution of the countries undergoing civil conflicts.” It is organized in such a way that allows maximum visitor participation.

New Yorkers will have the opportunity to see this collection of photographs and multimedia displays in their city this year, starting September 21 through October 11 at ART Beam, Chelsea, 540 West 21st, New York 10011.  Admission is free.

The exhibition poster (it’s huge!) being displayed in the city’s train stations is attracting thousands of New Yorkers interested in learning more about the wars in Syria and Ukraine.

Besides unique photographs and multimedia displays, visitors have a chance to see some material evidence from the warzone. Gas masks, tire roadblocks and personal possessions of the victims are just some items found on display.

“This is a brilliant idea, to juxtapose photos and the materials that were present at the scene when the photograph was taken,” Irina Schiemann, Assistant Organiser of the exhibition told RT. “Such an approach allows the visitor maximum absorption of the true nature of conflict. Every visitor notes that.”

 

Arcade Fire – “Reflektor” Video Directed By Anton Corbijn

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Arcade Fire’s hotly anticipated “Reflektor” video, directed by Anton Corbijn, is finally here a few hours early and despite being a little jaded from the tornado of hype that’s gone on today, you may find it pretty damn incredible. The whole thing is so big, so weird, so overwhelmingly stylish, and beautiful, not to mention it’s all shot in that stark black and white that made Corbijn iconic. It’s the sort of thing that already tops every other music video this week by the two minute mark, and that’s not even the halfway point. Watch below.

Reflektor is out 10/29 via Merge.

This is the album cover, and Reflektor is a double album.

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Report From Arcade Fire’s Surprise Show At Montreal’s Salsathèque

Last night at Montreal’s Club Salsathèque, Arcade Fire performed songs from their upcoming double album Reflektor for a crowd of 200 people. The show was announced yesterday morning when a poster for “The Reflektors” appeared under the “Parties” section of Salsathèque’s website, saying the event would take place on 9/9 at 9PM and cost $9. Formal attire or a costume was required. Cameras and cell phones were strictly banned. I headed over to see what was going on.

Hopeful attendees had started lining up outside the venue around noon. The crowd contained a mixed bag of people in suits, dresses, and all kinds of crazy costumes, with others who didn’t get the memo about the dress code. Rumous circulated throughout the day of our outfits being “judged” before we could gain admission to the show. The bouncers periodically looked us over and gave warnings to people dressed inappropriately — no jeans, no tennis shoes, etc. — and this created a lot of anxiety among us. Some ran to H&M for a quick outfit tuneup, others called up significant others for suit pants deliveries. My favorite was this guy who had gone into the office in the morning, heard about the show, asked his boss for the rest of the day off, and scrounged together a “Mr. Reflektor” superhero outfit that he put on over his work clothes.

Things got more exciting when the band appeared in a black SUV at the end of the block and walked along the lineup to the club’s entrance. This happened twice — once around 5PM for soundcheck, and again around 7PM for the show. The first time, they showed up donning the oversized heads they had worn in the “Sprawl II” and “Reflektor” videos. Later, they came back in masks, white and red suits, and skull makeup.

In the end, no one was denied entry for his or her outfit, but there was a stylist for the event who handed out white jumpsuits to anyone who had underdressed for the occasion. Apparently, the costumes were required as part of a video shoot, although it was never clear what type of video. Later there would be a film crew recording the whole set.

Doors opened at 8:30PM and we made our way up a long staircase lined with lights, past a Salsa dancing school, and into the wonderfully disco’d out Salsathèque. The walls and ceiling were made of mirrors, there were blinking and colored lights everywhere, and an elevated light up dance floor looked exactly like the light up dance floors in every disco movie ever.

The band took the stage at 9PM wearing the costumes they had donned on the street. It was immediately clear that a few things were different about Arcade Fire. Gone was the second drum kit of their early years and the Suburbs tour. Instead, they had two additional percussionists playing a mixture of congas, timbales, wood blocks, bongos, and other instruments, adding much more rhythmic complexity and power to their sound throughout the set. There were no horn players present and Sarah Neufeld was the only devoted violinist; Owen Pallett was there, and switched between violin and keyboards. Otherwise, the band’s instrumentation consisted of guitars, drums, and synths/keys. In this way, Arcade Fire presented themselves not as barons of symphonic indie rock anthems, but as the tightest of house bands ready to provide a sweaty night of dancing tunes. That said, and as anyone should expect, their anthemic choruses still crept in between the beats.

The set was short and only contained songs from Reflektor.

Various loose threads relating to Arcade Fire’s forthcoming album Reflektor have been showing up online for a few weeks. Tonight, at 9PM, the band will release the first single/title track, as well as its Anton Corbijn-directed video (though the song already leaked online over the weekend). And now, we know what the album cover looks like, since, as Pitchfork points out, a listing for the album appeared on New Zealand iTunes. If that’s actually the cover, the image comes from an Auguest Rodin sculpture, which depicts the doomed Greek-myth couple of Orpheus and Eurydice. More intriguing, that New Zealand iTunes listing seems to imply that Reflektor could be a double album, which would be truly badass. Below, check out a new 30-second trailer for the album, which includes footage from a Haitian parade.

The Reflektors – Arcade Fire

Reflektor is out 10/29 on Merge. Also, the band played another secret show tonight at the Montreal salsa club Salsathèque, at 9PM, with a $9 cover charge.

Creative Intelligence – The Creativity Post

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CREATIVE INTELLIGENCE
By Greg Satell | Jan 30, 2013

Synopsis

Rethinking the creative process.

Albert Camus once said that “true art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist.”  Henry Ward Beecher similarly wrote that “Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.”

You don’t have to look far to find quotes like these, because art is something we consider intensely human. Art and the artist are so thoroughly intertwined that we can’t bear to think of one without the other.

For better or worse, we’re going to have to rethink this comfortable little notion.  Machine intelligence is advancing to the point where algorithms have begun to invade the world of culture and the aesthetic.  From recommendations to evaluation to the production of art itself, computers are becoming a force to be reckoned with in the creative realm.

The Search for Creative Assets

When you make a TV ad in Ukraine (as I have), you generally do it on a tight budget. You certainly don’t have the money to buy the rights to the latest hit by a big pop star or a vintage Beatles classic.  There are some local musicians who can create something for you, but thats a pretty involved effort and, to be frank, the quality isn’t worth it.

I found a good solution with DeWolfe Music, which is an online database that gives you access to thousands of songs from unknown composers and performers.  You can search by music genre, keyword (e.g. an artist that you’re trying to emulate) and tempo, quickly find what you need and license the music for a small fee.

Newer services, such as Pandora and Spotify, deploy a similar idea in order to build custom radio stations.  Rather than a human programming director choosing your music, you can just give the software some clues about what you might want to listen to and it designs a selection from a nearly infinite database to cater to your mood and preference.

This is all done through the use of complex mathematical techniques, such as Bayesian classifiers and Gaussian copulas, that recognize similarities between data sets.  So just like a sommelier might ask you what wine you typically like and offer you something similar,recommendation algorithms can do the same with music, films and even art.

Cultivating Creativity

Being able to search and find elements of art and culture is one thing, but can computers appreciate quality?

Mike McCready has shown that they can.  His company, Music X-Ray, offers a service where composers can upload their music to evaluate its hit potential and it has been shown, in many cases, to outperform professional music executives (reportedly predicting the success of Norah Jones when many industry experts were skeptical).

As crazy as the idea sounds, you’ve probably recently listened to many songs identified by the service.  Every major label now uses some version of it and they’re not alone.  Movie studios employ a similar service, called Epagogix to tell them which scripts are likely to become box office hits.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Music scholar and composer David Cope has built algorithms which create music that has drawn critical acclaim.  In fact, even music experts can’t tell the difference.  When Cope’s computer generated music was played along with a Bach piece and another original composition, they couldn’t correctly identify which was which.

What is Creativity?

As impressive as all of this is, it creates a particularly thorny, visceral problem:  If creativity can be reduced to an algorithm, doesn’t it lose its soul?

While I admit, I find something troubling in all of this as well, after thinking it through I have come to believe that artificial intelligence actually has the potential to help us appreciate creativity even more, in much the same way as Richard Feynman explains how understanding the inner workings of a flower help him acknowledge its beauty.

Our brains, in many ways, are inferior to computers.  They transmit information at the relatively feeble rate of 200 mph, vs the speed of light for computer chips.  They get tired, need nourishment, age, forget things and don’t interface with other databases of information effectively.  Objectively speaking, they are slow, inefficient and prone to error.

Their saving grace is that they are a massively parallel complex network.  They are made up of 100 billion neurons and each one can connect to any other.  These interfaces, calledsynapses, optimize themselves as they strengthen and decay with use and link to the outside world through our five senses of sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell.

While computers have relatively few active pathways at work at any given time, we have millions, giving rise to infinite permutations of thoughts, feelings, bodily functions and sensory inputs.  Perhaps not surprisingly, these hierarchies get tangled, resulting instrange loops that manifest themselves in what we have come to know as original creativity.

As Douglas Hofstadter said, “In the end, we self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages are little miracles of self-reference.”

Rethinking the Creative Process

The creative process has always been cloaked in mystery and artistic types tend to be resistant to formality.  Nevertheless, professional individuals and organizations strive to develop an effective framework to enhance the productivity and quality of their work and creativity researchers have been able to identify some basic principles of creativity.

However, in light of the breakthroughs in machine creativity, I think that we need to revisit past thinking about creativity and identify three major processes:

Forming Intent: Every creative endeavor has its purpose.  Designers work on a brief that someone else creates while true artists form their own purpose, but in either case, the final result is, in essence, a solution to a particular problem.

For example, my purpose in creating ads was to sell a product, while Picasso’s purpose in creating cubism was to establish a fundamentally different way at looking at the world. In the final analysis, both are judged by the significance and the degree to which the original intent was fulfilled.

Searching the Domain:  As Howard Gardner explained in his highly regarded study,Creating Minds, great creativity requires a thorough knowledge of the domain.  Picasso’s cubism, for example, was inspired by his encounter with obscure African art.  The larger your database of experience, the greater your ability to create.

Computers obviously far outperform humans in this regard.  They have practically limitless memory and their vast computational power enables them to search incredibly quickly and accurately.

Tangling Hierarchies:  As I’ve written before, great breakthroughs come fromsynthesizing across domains, whether that be Picasso’s blending of European and African art or Rock and Roll’s unique fusion of various american music styles.  It is when two or more ideas collide in a meaningful way that people find inspiration and creative flow.

It is this last trick, that of emulating the strange loops in our mind, which computers have recently learned how to do, that has given rise to machine creativity.  David Cope, for example, found that his computer generated music was dull and lifeless until he injected an element of randomness into his algorithms.

Flying By Wire

Pilots don’t really fly planes anymore as much as they direct them.  These days, their controls and instruments don’t actually connect to the plane’s mechanism, but to computers which translate their intent into meaningful action.  In doing so, they make flying far safer and more efficient.

This is known as flying by wire and we don’t see anything threatening or strange about it. While at first it may seem to be a bit more disconcerting when computers start navigating the realm of abstract thought rather than the mechanics of aviation, it shouldn’t be, any more than driving a car should affect our feelings about walking.

So what makes us creative?  Our ability to form our own intent.  It is only through creating a purpose that is uniquely our own that we can fully embody the human spirit.

This post originally appeared at  DigitalTonto

Reposted by The Creativity Post

About Greg Satell:
Greg Satell is an internationally recognized authority on Digital Strategy and Innovation who has served in senior Strategy and Innovation roles for the Publicis Groupe, one of the world’s premier marketing services companies. In 2012, Innovation Excellence ranked Greg #6 on their annual list of the Top 40 Innovation Bloggers.  Previously, he was Co-CEO of KP Media and spent 15 years in Eastern Europe managing a variety of media businesses ranging from market leading web sites to history making news organizations to women’s and lifestyle focused media.

Find out more at http://www.digitaltonto.com/

Thought Walking – The Creativity Post

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Synopsis

Thought walking gives you different ways to focus on your problem and different ways to interpret what you’re focusing on.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the famous French philosopher, did his best thinking on trips he made alone and on foot, which he called thought walks. Similarly, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the brilliant German author, took a walk whenever he wanted to think and come up with new ideas. It was during his long hikes in the mountains of Berchtesgaden that Sigmund Freud worked out his imposing structure of the unconscious, preconscious and conscious that has been bound the twentieth-century psyche ever since. In fact he told his good friend Wilhelm Fliess, a Berlin doctor, that his book The Interpretation of Dreams was designed to have the effect of one of his hikes through a concealed pass in a dark forest until it opens out on a view of the plain. Taking a walk stimulated and refreshed their thinking.

Whenever you’re deeply involved with a problem, take a thought walk. You will find walking around your neighborhood, a shopping mall, a park, the woods, industrial complex and so on to be highly stimulating. Look for interesting objects, situations, or events that are interesting or that can be metaphorically compared with whatever project you happen to be working on. For example, suppose your problem is how to improve communications in your company. You take a walk and notice potholes in the road. How are “potholes” like your corporate communication problem? For one thing, if potholes are not repaired, they get bigger and more dangerous. Usually road crews are assigned to repair the potholes. Similarly, unless something is done to improve corporate communications, it’s likely to deteriorate even further. An idea with a similar relation to “road crews” is to assign someone in the organization to fill the role of “communications coach.” The role would entail educating, encouraging, and supporting communication skills in all employees. And just as road crews are rotated, you can rotate the assignment every six months.

A thought walk is one of my favorite techniques to stimulate creativity. A while back while aimlessly walking around my neighborhood a noticed a U.S. Postal truck delivering mail. The road was in poor shape and had many large potholes that the truck had to avoid. The postal truck and poor condition of the road inspired an idea.

The postal service has thousands of trucks that travel on fixed routes and transport mail to every nook and corner of the country. Fitting the trucks with smart sensors the trucks can collect important data on weather, communications, infrastructure and several other systems that determine the development and safety of the country.

The data gathered by these truck-mounted sensors would establish a baseline map of ordinary conditions, making it significantly easier to spot a problem or anomaly. Such a system could aid in homeland security by rapidly detecting chemical agents, radiological materials and, eventually, biological attacks; it could also assess road quality, catalog potholes and provide early warning of unsafe road conditions like black ice.

A system like this could also detect gaps in cell-tower coverage, weak radio and television signals and sources of radio frequency interference. This data could help provide uninterrupted communication services and promote more efficient use of broadcasting. I have a colleague working with the post office now to develop and implement this idea. This is a valuable resource that can make the postal service profitable.

Sometimes while walking I will simply list objects or experiences that I find interesting. When I return, I draw a picture of the object or experience and list all of its characteristics. Then I list all the associations I can think of between each characteristic and a problem. I ask questions such as:

How is this like my problem?
What if my problem were a…?
What are the similarities?
This….is like the solution to my problem because…?
How is …like an idea that might solve my problem?
What metaphors can I make between….and my problem?

Thought walking where you force connections between your problem and interesting observations is incredibly productive. A designer friend of mine and another designer were thought walking together in New York City. They were discussing new product ideas when they stopped by the site for Daniel Libeskind’s Freedom Tower in New York City. The spire of the building is planned to be 1,776 feet high – 1776 was the year when the United States Declaration of Independence was drafted. They were intrigued by the idea of using invisible information to generate visible forms that have meaning.

When they returned to their office, they mulled over possible ideas of using invisible information to create visible forms. Leafing through catalogs they came across ads for sweaters with computer generated space invader designs. Combining the sweater with the freedom tower inspired their idea. They came up with they call voice knitting where an audio input (a song or a voice) is computer translated into a simple visual form to give a sweater or other piece of clothing its own unique style and vocal fingerprint of the owner.

Thought walks give you different aspects to focus on and different ways to interpret what you are focusing on. An engineer was contracted to find ways to safely and efficiently remove ice from power lines during ice storms. He was blocked. He took a break and went for a walk. He visited a store that had several different varieties of honey for sale in a variety of different containers. The store advertised the honey with a cutout of a large bear holding a jar of honey. He bought a jar and returned to his office.

While simultaneously thinking about honey, bears and his power line problem he came up with a humorous absurd solution to his problem. The solution was to put a honey pot on top of each power pole. This would attract bears and the bears would climb the poles to get the honey. Their climbing would cause the poles to sway and the ice would Avibrate@ off the wires. This silly idea got him to thinking about the principle of “vibration,” which inspired the solution. The solution the power company implemented was to bring in helicopters to hover over the iced power lines. Their hovering vibrated the ice off the power lines.

………………………….

Michael Michalko is the author of the highly acclaimed Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques; Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius; ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck and Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work.

Art and Neuroscience: a State of the Union – The Creativity Post

By Noah Hutton
Noah is a film director based in New York City. His first feature film, Crude Independence, was an official selection of the 2009 SXSW Film Festival and won Best Documentary Feature at the 2009 Oxford Film Festival. In 2010, he began filming a 10-year documentary about The Blue Brain Project, and in 2011 he directed a series of 30 short films for Scientific American, and served as a judge for the 2011 and 2012 Brain Art Competitions. His 2012 concert film King for Two Days, which premiered at the 2012 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, is a portrait of jazz drummer Dave King (The Bad Plus). Noah graduated from Wesleyan University, where he studied art history and neuroscience.

Synopsis
Neuroscience is providing a new language for questions of art and mind.

Chances are you’ve come across a neuro-something, sometime recently. Indeed, there’s neuroscience, the study of the brain using the tools of modern science, but then there’s an ever-growing constellation of its young, interdisciplinary offspring: neuroeconomics, neurogastrology, neurotheology, and even the pseudoscience-meets-beverage Neuro™, among others. The relative merit of each is up for debate (see a recent column by Steven Poole in The Guardian for a particularly critical stance towards these neuro-constructs, and another take-down by Alva Noë in The New York Times).

What I’m concerned with here, and will be in future posts on this site, is one of the more prominent members of this interdisciplinary offspring: neuroaesthetics, the conversation between brain science and the arts. The field is undoubtedly young and still finding its legs, leaving it vulnerable to criticism from the Steven Pooles and Alva Noës of the world, who see wishy-washy, romanticized bridge-building in such a pursuit. I disagree. I believe one should not confuse infancy with naïveté– that neuroscience is indeed giving us a new language through which we can ask new questions about art, its effects on the observer, its genesis in the creative mind, and its possible explanatory power in dealing with murky subjects like consciousness, subjective experience, and memory.

To begin, I will try try to identify a few lines of inquiry into the current dialogue between art and neuroscience, and to describe the angle of each line’s approach to that relationship. It’s most likely an incomplete outline, so please chime in with any additions you can think of in the comments section. This outline was the basis of my talking points at “This is Your Brain on Art,” a panel I sat on recently at 3rd Ward in Brooklyn, NY (here’s a video of the event), and originally appeared in text form, before the event, over at my website The Beautiful Brain.

Here are three approaches:

1. Art —-> Brain. The perception of art by the brain.

This is the approach that studies what happens to art when it enters the brain. How do our brains reconstruct, assess, and fasten judgement to works of art? This includes not only bottom-up flows (sensory input moving higher and higher, up into the cortex), but also top-down flows (expectations influencing the viewing or listening process; jogged memories coloring our incoming perceptions).

These flows of external aesthetic features translated into internal neural activity are what the vast majority of current neuroaesthetics research is concerned with, and indeed what most books concerning art and the brain investigate. Here we’re interested in perception and analysis of these basic features of an artwork: how we see color, detect motion, hear sound, recognize faces, feel rhythm, and what the peculiarities of each perceptual system tell us about the way the brain stitches these properties together.

Then, at the next level, we can begin to untangle emotional and executive areas of the brain and their involvement in making and viewing art. Art’s effects can be correlated with the production of fear via heightened activity in the amygdala, pleasure in the nucleus accumbens, mystery/problem solving in the prefrontal cortex, disgust in the insula– all operating purely as correlations of subjective experience to distinct brain-states. Also surely involved at these higher levels is our empathetic connection to the work, be it a character in a film, or a melody in a song, and the top-down control that empathy has over the ongoing perception of the work at hand.

This approach can focus on any artform as it enters the brain, such as:

Visual art. How the brain sees paintings and sculptures, from color and luminance to faces and perspective. There is a boatload of work going on here, with big names like Livingstone, Zeki, and Ramachandran. Here is a review of some visual neuroaesthetics work by those heavyweight researchers, and a podcast with Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist and painter who is interested in the relationship between science and art.

Music. This line of study moves from perception of sound by mechanical sensors in our cochlea to its processing in the auditory cortex, and the rich tapestry of emotion that music can provoke within us. This is Your Brain on Music is a popular book in this field by neuroscientist and musician Dan Levitin. Examples of this kind of work abound; elsewhere, I’ve posted about Charles Limb, who studies the brains of improvising jazz musicians, yielding some interesting initial results.

Literature. Though there’s some interesting work being done here, it’s perhaps the haziest of the artistic disciplines to approach with the tools of present- day neuroscience. Most real science being done that involves the literary arts concerns very elemental stages of reading– one word, one sentence– and their neural correlates, as seen through a fMRI scanner. Here’s a NY Times article about some of this recent fMRI work on the neuroscience of the written word. Another strain of this inquiry involves literature in the context of Darwinian evolution– here’s an overview from Beautiful Brain contributor Ben Ehrlich about the “Literary Darwinists.”

Dance. This line of inquiry concerns the perception of movement, and perhaps most importantly for the neuroscientific angle, the alleged mirror neuron system. The Rubin Museum’s Brainwave series featured choreographer Mark Morris and neuroscientist Bevil Conway in discussion about the relationship between dance and the brain. Cognitive neuroscientist Mark Changizi has a theory about the relationship between dance, music, and the brain, that’s worth looking into: Changizi believes music has been culturally selected over time to sound like human movement.

Theater & Film. Theater and film have a special relationship with the brain (see next section for some thoughts on this). Both must necessarily be studied in the broadest of terms– for unlike visual art or music, both are truly multisensory experiences and thus harder to study at the level of isolated perceptual systems. There have been some inroads made, especially along the “neurocinematics” avenue (there’s a good review of the field by the Neurocritic).

2. Art Brain. The parallels between art and the brain.

This is the approach that lines up art and the brain next to one another and examines the similarities between the processes of our mind and the artwork that those minds create. It’s here where I think the conversation around cinema and theater really takes off. In particular, film, in its aesthetic and sensory richness (and optimal viewing space, in my opinion: a darkened theater) gets the closest, as an artform, to the sensory and emotional unity of human consciousness, and maybe more specifically, human dreaming, as housed in the activity of the brain.

Some further thoughts on these parallels, specific to film.

A film is a constructed subjective experience, very much like one’s own consciousness. The filmmaker goes out, collects footage, and edits it together, constructing a unique consciousness that can be presented in a two-hour window. The construction of a film includes editing (mirroring our own selective and sometimes modified memories), framing (where we look, how we hear, what came before), rhythm (day and night, patterns of movement, a beating heart).

A film has a scope, be it of a historical event, a range of emotion in a specific moment, a day in a person’s life, and so on, that is achieved both by what is seen and heard in the film, and also by what is not seen and heard. The power of suggestion, of the unsaid, can bear tremendous weight in a film. This mirrors the tip-of-the-iceberg consciousness we all experience, with the vast scope of our unconscious experience resting just beneath that surface. In this way, film not only parallels our conscious, edited experience, but also the non-conscious, suggested experience, which can color much of the way we see the world.

3. Art <—- Brain. The brain, as seen through the lens of art.

This is an approach that feels less common, but one that I think has potential on the level of pure theory. This is the approach that believes art to be a valuable lens through which to observe and understand subjective, first-person consciousness in the brain. In other words, it's interesting to study the brain during an artistic experience, but once we've lined up all subjective experience to constellations of firing neurons and distinct chemical washes, and we understand the general architecture of the brain, maybe we actually need to look at the art itself as an unparalleled mirror of the internal neural architecture that forms subjective experience. For if we've understood the architecture in purely neuroscientific terms, maybe in order to break new ground on understanding what goes on inside those rooms, how first-person consciousness takes flight from the connections and flows of activity among neurons in the brain, we'll need to look more closely at how different modes and styles of art are true reflections of the neural landscapes they emerged from. John Onian's concept of "Neuroarthistory” is the closest current approach to this line of thinking that I’m aware of (here’s an interview I taped with Mr. Onians).

This third approach is related to #2 above, but here you’re really stitching together everything from #1 and #2 to make strides in understanding the highest functions of the mind through the art it makes and sees. You’re not treating the art as a passive artifact that only comes to life once it’s ingested by the nervous system, which you then set about studying. In this third approach, you’re treating the art as a sort of living record with a unique perspective on the nervous system from which it emerged. For one such attempt at this type of approach, here’s an essay I wrote over at The Beautiful Brain about abstract art and its roots in hierarchical neural architectures.

If you’re still skeptical about this whole dialogue between the arts and brain sciences, maybe you will agree with the aforementioned critique of neuroaesthetics by Alva Noë. Here is my response to Noë’s essay, in defense of neuroscience and neuroaesthetics. Please chime in with your views in the comments section below.

Tags: art, arts, brain, neuroscience, philosophy, science

Produce First, Sharpen Second: What Dylan’s Vomit Teaches Us About The Creative Process

The Creativity Post

Synopsis

Good ideas and work arise from one’s ability to recognize good, mediocre or bad things. Some recent research gives us a strategy to accomplish this.

For Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone” began as a long piece of vomit, at least that’s what he told two reporters back in 1965. As the story goes, Dylan, who was at the tail end of a grueling tour that took his pre-electric act across the United States and into Europe, decided to quit music and move to a small cabin in upstate New York to rethink his creative direction. He was sick of answering the same questions over and over again. He was sick of singing the same song over and over again. He wanted to liberate his mind.

This is why “Like a Rolling Stone” began as a twenty-page ramble. It was, as Dylan described it, a regurgitation of dissatisfactions and curiosities. What came next was Dylan’s true talent. Like a wood sculpture, he whittled at his rough draft. He cherry picked the good parts and threw away the bad parts. He began to dissect his words to try and understand what his message was. Eventually, Dylan headed to the studio with a clearer vision, and today, “Like a Rolling Stone” stands as one of the very best.

What’s interesting is how Dylan approached the writing process. The song started as a splattering of ideas. Dylan wasn’t even trying to write a song; initially, he didn’t care about verses or choruses. He compared the writing process to vomiting because he was trying to bring an idea that infected his thinking from the inside to the outside of his body.

His strategy isn’t unique. In fact, it resembles the approach of many other artists throughout history. For example, in the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review, the Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate John Steinbeck gave this piece of advice about writing: “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.” As the saying goes, perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

This principle doesn’t just show itself in art. Economies, too, succeed and fail by continuous innovation and wealth followed by unvaried ideas and bankruptcies. The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter popularized the term creative destruction to describe the simultaneous accumulation and annihilation of wealth under capitalism. As Schumpeter saw it, for every successful entrepreneur dozens of failures followed. But this was a good thing; capitalism was to be understood as an evolutionary process where good ideas prevailed over bad ones.

With these thoughts in mind, consider a study released this month conducted by Simone Ritter of the Radboud University in the Netherlands with help from Rick B. van Baaren and Ap Dijksterhuis. For the first experiment, the scientists recruited 112 university students and gave them two minutes to come up with creative ideas to solve relatively harmless problems (e.g., improving the experience of waiting in line at a supermarket). Next, the subjects were divided into two groups: the first went straight to work, while the second performed an unrelated task for two minutes to distract their conscious mind.

The first thing the psychologists found wasn’t too eye opening. Both groups – conscious and distracted – created the same amount of ideas. But the second finding was slightly more intriguing. Here’s Jonah Lehrer describing the results:

After writing down as many ideas as they could think of, both groups were asked to choose which of their ideas were the most creative. Although there was no difference in idea generation, giving the unconscious a few minutes now proved to be a big advantage, as those who had been distracted were much better at identifying their best ideas. (An independent panel of experts scored all of the ideas.) While those in the conscious condition only picked their most innovative concepts about 20 percent of the time — they confused their genius with their mediocrity — those who had been distracted located their best ideas about 55 percent of the time. In other words, they were twice as good at figuring out which concepts deserved more attention.

When it comes to writing an essay for college, pitching a business plan or creating a work of art we are hard wired to believe that our output is above average. As a result, we are blind to what needs improvement. It’s not just that we can’t see any holes and errors; we don’t think they exist. What’s interesting about Ritter’s findings is that they give us a strategy to overcome our overconfidence. The lesson from her research is that in order to recognize our imperfections we must step back and be dilettantes. In other words, get distracted and don’t marry the first draft.

And this brings me back to Dylan’s vomit and Steinbeck’s advice. The reason we should “never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down” is because we initially don’t know which of our ideas are worthwhile. It’s only after we get everything down that we are able to recognize what works from what doesn’t. This is the lesson from Ritter’s research: we need to give the unconscious mind time to mull it over so it can convince the conscious mind to make adjustments. Or, as Nietzsche said in All Too Human: “the imagination of the good artist or thinker produces continuously good, mediocre or bad things, but his judgment, trained and sharpened to a fine point, rejects, selects, connects…. All great artists and thinkers are great workers, indefatigable not only in inventing, but also in rejecting, sifting, transforming, ordering.”

By Sam McNerney

About Sam McNerney
I was born in Evanston, Illinois, but grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I went to school at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, graduating with a degree in philosophy. After studying too much Descartes and Nietzsche I realized that my passion is reading and writing about cognitive psychology. Now I spend my time exploring the world of brain science by interviewing professors and researchers and writing about popular ideas in psychology, neuroscience and philosophy to the general audience.

Find out more at http://sammcnerney.com/