Wednesday 28 October 2009

My keynote at EVA London '09

The Interface Behind the Face

(published in proceedings)

Most of us at this meeting are users – sometimes heavy users – of electronic and digital technology. We use it to present information to people in particular ways and forms in order to achieve a variety of purposes: to inform, communicate, engage, excite, challenge, influence, educate, entertain, and more. In what we do, we naturally tend to focus on technological concerns, seeking out faster hardware, brighter projectors, smarter interfaces, new combinations of media, and so on. In this talk I want to look at a rather neglected component of the whole process, something we take for granted simply because of our intimate familiarity with it: the human brain. I will describe how the new science of neuroplasticity is teaching us that the brain can no longer be regarded as a fixed, closed, passive receiver of information from the senses – a mere processor for the information that is controlling our body through a kind of one-way communication. We are now seeing the recognition of growing scientific evidence that the brain is in fact almost nakedly open to external influences, and is capable of rapid and radical change by remodelling itself through learning and interaction with the environment. And what should concern us most is the peculiar vulnerability of our brain to the influence of electronic media.

The digital revolution is changing the nature of our perceptual processes, and this in turn is changing our conscious experience of the physical world, inducing changes in cognition on a scale that is still unknown. As inhabitants of the modern city we are in constant interaction, both active and passive, with digital technology. Even at home, we are surrounded by the sight and sound of screens and digital interfaces: DVD player, computer, television, cell phone, cooker, clock. But the majority of scientists investigating cognition still refer to the ‘real world’ as a constant, an axiom, unchanged through time, ignoring the fact that the present-day real world, saturated by the latest technologies, differs fundamentally from that of even a decade ago.

These facts concern all of us in different ways, but from my own perspective I want to ask: how does all this affect the artist? This new understanding of cognitive processes is warning us that experiencing art, and especially electronic or technology-enabled art, may be far from being an innocently entertaining or aesthetically pleasing experience extending for a limited period of time. The disturbing evidence of neuroplasticity raises the possibility that experiencing particular forms of art may itself affect and mark our cognition – perhaps with irreversible and unknown changes. But the news is not all bad; the dramatic shift in neuroscience also brings with it a fascinating opportunity to explore and analyse the effects of electronic media through scientifically informed art, which could give rise to an entirely new art form: neuroplastic art. It may be possible to structure art works according to this new scientific evidence, to fuse scientific knowledge with imagination to exploit the nature of electronic media to create platforms for experiences that have never existed before – and perhaps even to reshape our altered brains in benign and desirable ways.

full paper: Fugue and Variations on some Themes in Art and Science

Thursday 22 October 2009

UCLA Study: The Internet Is Altering Our Brains

"Adults with little Internet experience show changes in their brain activity after just one week online, a new study finds."

(now - science is taking it seriously; we hope)

in Fox, Wired and all over the place,2933,568576,00.html

(Well, I would rather look at the blog by the UCLA scientist who leads the research, and provides more critical viewpoint. )

Sunday 21 June 2009

Subtle Technologies 2009, Toronto

Subtle Technologies 2009, Toronto

I’ve just got back after three intense days and evenings at the twelfth Subtle Technologies Festival, a place where Art and Science truly meet. This year, Subtle Technologies offered a feast of inspirational takes on the theme of networks, all presented in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. I don’t want to single out any particular item, because I think the most valuable experience was the synergy that flowed from so many sources: the balanced choice of speakers from various backgrounds, the quality of the work presented, the lively discussions during the sessions, and the performances, social events and informal chats.

It was my first time at the festival, though I've followed it for many years. Its distinct profile, and its uncompromising focus on fundamental issues at the intersection of art, science and technology, have been a source of inspiration and encouragement for me throughout all that time, and I was a bit nervous to be the first speaker at the Symposium. However, my presentation outlining my concept for neuroplastic arts received a warm and encouraging response from my colleagues and the audience, and the feedback will certainly influence my future explorations. I am very happy to have met the Torontonian ‘neuroplasticians’, who I hadn't known about before, and I hope to stay in touch with them, as well as with the other interesting people that I met.

Jim Ruxton, Programming Director of the Festival and me during my presentation

Monday 11 May 2009

Computing the Cost

the SUN interview March 2009

Nicholas Carr — author of last July’s Atlantic cover story, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” — believes the distracted nature of Web surfing is reducing our capacity for deep contemplation and reflection. He began developing his theory when he realized that, after years of online information gathering, he had trouble reading a book or a magazine. As he puts it, “I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. . . . I’m not thinking the way I used to think.”
((full article ))

((haven't read Carr's books, but now I think I will - at lest the latest one, although I have lots of problems with McLuhan's understanding media ))

Friday 24 April 2009

Baroness Greenfield Asks Disturbing Questions?

Guardian, 20 April 2009

Science Weekly: Amazing plastic brains

((You can listen to a brief chat with Norman Doidge talking about the brain plasticity, but unfortunately, for some reasons – the full interview with Baroness Susan Greenfield is unavailable.

For those interested to learn more about what, presumably, Baroness Greenfield talked about in her interview, you might look in her most recent book. We can be pretty sure that all-mighty gaming and media industry are not happy with raising these questions, although she asks just for an open debate on unexplored phenomena ))