Tuesday, April 21, 2009

around the world on the back of a spider

A giant spider, created by the theatrical engineers of "La Machine".

I wonder what happens if we hook this thing up to a neuromorphic chip.

Friday, April 17, 2009


This animation is titled "Peripetics or The installation of an irreversible axis on a dynamic timeline" and was created by Zeitguised. A beautifully abstract expressive way to depict dynamic physical systems. Especially the breathing gestalt at the end of the movie is interesting to see. If together with our systems we can come to live in a harmonious symbiotic rhythm, we can truly come to feel one with them and surpass the alienation we feel in our current lifeworlds.

control your cosmos

The movie 'World Builder' by Bruce Branit truly shows a vision about how we could come to contruct our own world, therewith clearly reflecting the new title of this blog. I must say though that this is the typical future vision of human-computer interaction based on Cartesian conceptions of space mapped directly onto our bodily actions. It's the typical thinking that arises from people wanting to control their world, while I think it's much more beautiful if we learn to flow with the inherent unpredictability of it, so that it can guide us, help us transform, and become enlightened in the end, seeing that even if we do not feel in control, everything we do and choose to perceive is already an act of creation.

life inside a tumor

Medical animations never cease to be mind-bendingly stunning. Watch this a second time, and imagine what you see to be a posthuman city.

feminine control over nature

In a world that is still very much dictated by male dominance, it's nice to see a feminine version of this human value. I sort of like the feel of this, woman and nature becoming one, resulting in a transcendent transformation.

the alien within us

"If the individual cannot take the realness, aliveness, autonomy, and identity of himself and others for granted, then he has to become absorbed in contriving ways of trying to be real, of keeping himself or others alive, of preserving his identity, in efforts, as he will often put it, to prevent himself losing his self." R.D. Laing (1965), The Divided Self.

In a world where we finally realize that madness is just a convention, created by a society that itself can be characterized by lunacy, people will feel freed to morph their bodies according to their mental self-image. For your friday night transhumanist flavours, here's the Museum of the Mad, the Macabre, and the Marvelous, featuring some fictitious creatures blurring the boundaries between the fleshly and the mechanical:

"Sir Gustav von Cancertonus [...] has disassociated feelings towards humans and feels closer along side the crustacean family. He underwent an unorthodox procedure to correct his perceived shortcomings."

"The hoax [...]. A crude and tasteless look into the imagination of man, discovered in an Old Antique Shoppe where it was used as a conversation piece."

"Aerwig Mechanism. [...] An alkaline powered amalgamation of functioning pocket watch components, tar paper, and porcelain doll parts."

"Cupid papillon ansestrous. [...] The cupid fly was found in a small remote village stricken by disease. Some suggest flies laid eggs in the departed and genes were crossed resulting in a hybrid."

Before we have found an extra-terrestrial civilization, we will probably already have become the aliens we used to project outside of us.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

living inside your own cortex

Immersion is redefining its limits with JoAnn Kuchera-Morin's Allosphere, a spherical room in which people can experience a three-dimensional simulation showing for example the inside of an atom, or an fMRI brain scan. Now this could be the start of us becoming nano-engineers, manipulating our own brain cells from the inside out by having our physical actions mediated to the nanorealm by anthropomorphic nanobots. We are becoming creators of our entire cosmos, space only being one of the first obvious dimensions in which we lose our experiential confinement to a certain configuration that more or less randomly emerged through evolutionary processes.

I'm also thinking that it would be interesting to see what would happen in the visual cortex if we are linked in real time to a visualization of it in our environment, so we could launch ourselves into a self-induced experiential infinity like a 21st century version of the Droste effect.

mind reading robots

The simulation continues as we're getting closer to the moment in which we have fully copied ourselves into abstract beings such as Asimo, one of the main current-day brainchilds of the Japanese. It is now possible to link the robot's movements to our thought patterns, which requires our brainwaves to be milked and analysed so patterns can be detected that trigger specific responses.

Of course this stimulus-action model of behavior suffers from a lack of direct embodied mediation in that there is a semantic interpretative layer in between the thought patterns and their effects on the robot. I think it would be nice if we could have a directly mapped embodiment of humans to robots or other technological devices, so our brains directly update our internal body map through interaction, and we can come to feel like the technology is a direct extension of their bodies, or even that it is our body itself. I even think that having a highly adaptive and evolved body map can even lead to a direct way of feeling empathy for robots, and robots feeling empathy for us, because we can literally feel what it is like being the other. That to me is the vision for future technology design, rather than becoming slaves of the simulation.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

how to get rid of the hidden killer in ourselves

"Man is an enigma to himself"
- Carl Gustav Jung (1958), The Undiscovered Self.

In the astounding movie on top of this post, mentalist Darren Brown has an unsuspecting bar visitor participate in a first person zombie shooter arcade game. Brown then plays Wizard of Oz with the gamer in that he sends flashes of light out of the device that bring the gamer into a catatonic trance for a few minutes, just enough to bring him into another room that looks just like the virtual one he had just been in. The participant wakes up with an airgun in his hand in a room full of people dressed like zombies. What happens is shocking. In a pandemonial panic the protagonist starts screaming and running around shooting the zombies, and the realization that he is actually killing people seems to bring him into an even more extreme state of terror. He has just discovered the hidden murderer in himself, and before figuring out how to solve the situation, he blindly accepts this short-sighted role. To me, this is the story of humanity up to now.

People can be highly manipulated by their environments and lack a consistent internalized fundament to guide them in every situation. Because people's inner selves are largely undefined and people are insecure of them, they can easily forget about them and be absorbed by behavioral patterns that are biologically or socially ingrained into them. It often seems more like these patterns evolve through us as mostly blind individuals, instead of us completely mastering ourselves.

This also seems to be happening with the digital mediaspace we have created; it is running out of control but dramatically changing our lives mostly outside of our own awareness. Our digital technologies are mostly alien to us, but because they provide us shortcuts to pleasurable states of being, we accept them into our lives in the conviction that it is good. This is an illusion though, just another trick of the selfish brain, which becomes apparent in cases like the one mentioned above, where the boundary between projected and real fear blurs. Our technologies create temporary lifeworlds for us that often seem innocent and neutral, for they are often only the means to fulfill a purpose in the 'real' world. But they never were neutral; the way we act in digital realms influence the way we act in what we perceive as reality. A projected action can easily become a real one, since we have already adopted it mentally, activating the same neural patterns that would have been activated had we really performed the action.

Where virtual, computational environments seem distinct to us, we must realize that this is not so. The dichotomy between 'real' and 'virtual' is merely constructed by us, to make our lives manageable without having to expand our sense of self. We must realize that there is no such thing as virtual; all is just data we simultaneously perceive and act upon, and that we can derive happiness out of by creatively organizing that data so that we transform our lifeworlds into ones that we feel more at home in, and that we can more easily incorporate in our sense of self. There is no such thing as a simulated world, for it relates as much as the 'real' world does to the optimization of our experiential patterns towards ones in which we are happy.

Along the same line, it is not very useful to wonder if we are living in a real or a simulated universe. If we discover that we are in a simulation, and find a way to live outside of it, nothing really changes. Still, we will be conscious, creative patterns that act upon experiential data, but only this data will transgress its borders and we will need to learn to incorporate it into our sense of self in order to become one with it. Trying to figure out whether or not we already live in a simulated world then, is an act stemming from an inacceptance of the current experiential lifeworld, an act of seeking happiness in something outside of what we already have, in the silent hope that there is more. More than that, if there appears to be more, this is a mere creation of ourselves, not a discovery. It will be the result of the search, that we already created with the creation of the search itself. The universe is not outside of us; we have created our own universe by means of our own loops of action and reflection in which we continuously shape it.

Then if we realize that nothing is outside of us, we come to realize that we are already everything. We are not distinct from anything we perceive as outside of us unless we choose to perceive it as outside of us. The illusion our social brain imbues us with is that we are people inside a physical body, who identify with a certain group of people and objects but not with others. This alienness to others creates an unconscious aversion to them that, in critical moments where resources like time are scarce, will result in actions like that man in the experiment aforementioned, who attempts to murder what he perceives as zombies.

As long as we identify with our own bodies, we will maintain a fear of death, which in the end is the cause of all suffering and misery. When we see that also the body is a mere concept constructed by us, we can mentally let go of it, and it is only then that we can live fully, and have the energy that is already within us guide our actions instead of illusory concepts we at some point have pasted onto our existence, as a patch to make a seemingly inherently hard life more liveable and pleasurable. When we lose our fear of dying we transcend a life in between pleasure and pain, reward and punishment, good and bad, but we see that everything is the way it should be already, and we can be invulnerably happy at every moment, only acting from a love and compassion towards everything, without first making the comparison as to whether some perceived entity or concept is similar enough to us.

We then can even come to see that there is no difference between life and death, but that this also is a constructed dichotomy stemming from a narrow self-identification with the body concept. When somebody dies, be it you or somebody else, what really dies is the concept you have of that person. The body just remains part of life in that it will get transformed into other organisms. As long as we try to condense ourselves into a concept, yes, we will inexorably remain an enigma to ourselves. But if we throw away all concepts as necessities for a good life, and act based on the creativity that stems from pure being, we know everything that there is to know already and we will act out of compassion instead of confusion and anxiety.

Friday, April 10, 2009

controlling flies and our embodied mind

We can come to understand human behavior much better if we look at seemingly simpler organisms and their hardwiring. The video in this post shows how a fly can be 'tricked' into 'thinking' that it flies with a different speed than it does, by dynamically modifying its perceptual environment. In a sense, a fly is behaviorally not much more than a bunch of light sensors wired in a particular configuration to a few muscles. A fly does not know its speed; its flying behavior has just emerged through evolution from its rooting into a perceptual environment so that it can maximize its own chance of survival and in a sense, happiness, within this environment.

Concepts like speed and space are just constructions of the human mind in order to create explicit predictive models of the world so that they can actively explore different ways to happiness, gradually becoming more independent of wild nature. The technological environments we create for ourselves are still mostly reflections on our Newtonian conception of a three dimensional space that we occupy, with the mind being distinct from it, creating models of this physical space. Our cities, our houses, our gadgets, our interfaces and even the microchips we build are in a not so far-fetched way direct translations of the pure Cartesian grid. Think of it the next time you're sitting in a public bathroom where all walls are paved with these white square tiles, and it becomes obvious how you are treated by your world; an object, a linear, mechanistic machine, needing to be controlled rationally.

In a world where everything becomes highly dynamic, sensitive, and instantly adapting, a new embodied intelligence will arise where the increasing uselessness of static concepts like space and linear time, and rationalism in general, will intuitively become clear to us, but we realize how we are directly and holistically coupled to our environment, our cosmos. Fundamentally, we are not much more than this fly, blindly reacting to the patterns our universes present us with based on our neural hardwiring. The difference is that obviously we have thousands of times as much neurons, and we can perceive our internal structures and consciously steer their growth. We are never static entities, but always molding ourselves on our paths in life. Our plasticity, or even liquidity and ethereality, is very much a new cultural realization that makes us see that we never were what we thought we were.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

an extraordinary hexapod

Definitely one of the most organically moving robots I have taken notice of is this "A-Pod" hexapod walking, dancing and sodacan-handling machine. As far as I understand it the robot is still remotely controlled, and does not develop these motions by learning from interacting with its environment itself, but nevertheless it is an inspiring vision for the quality of movement we might expect from our future devices. May we be able to use our bodily skills meaningfully again in interaction with our technological friends, instead of rattling on qwertyboards for the entire day. I do hope that designers soon start to get involved in these kinds of projects, so something more creative and purposeful comes out than the next direct emulation of a human or other already existing animal.