Conversations About Creativity
One interview is with a friend and fellow Alamedan, Jeff Raz:
Interesting Interview in Seed
In Seed Magazine, David Byrne and Daniel Levitin have an interesting conversation about music and neuroscience.
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Why Do We Still Feel Suspense With Repeat Viewings?
Now we're talking. This is the kind of analysis I want see more of.
David Bordwell breaks down some previous non-neuro-based theories, and then gets into the true meat of the problem. He looks at how the brain processes information, to explain an artistic phenomenon we experience. In this case, Bordwell explores why we can see a suspenseful movie a second time, and still experience suspense.
I'll add one thing to the article: the concept of conditioning. Learning in the brain doesn't work like an on-off switch. It takes repetition for something to stick, for us to become conditioned to a stimulus, and to begin to expect it. So when we watch a film a second time, we're only slightly conditioned to the stimulus (the film), and so we can still be surprised. If you watch it a tenth time, or a twentieth, you're probably not going to feel very much suspense.
The very best works of art manage, somehow, to defeat the conditioning phenomenon. Great art gives you something surprising even after the twentieth viewing. That's very hard to do, which is why greatness is so rare.
Thoughts on using computers to create art.
Heroes Relationships Graphed
Third, what you can't systematically predict based on the past is The Next Big Thing. Audiences eventually get bored with what they liked in the past, but you can't tell when. And what you definitely can't tell from your database is what they'll start liking in the future.
"Elegance is the simplicity found on the far side of complexity." (click on the pdf link here)
Laughter and cheering trigger mirror neurons.
Christopher Hitchens wonders why men are funnier than women.
A metaphor explaining how cognitive bias works.
A Heroes Physics Question: Why Isn't Gravity Polarized?
I wanted to expand on Mark's comments about Masi Oka's character on Heroes. Not so much about the performance or the plot, but the physics of it. (Spoilers ahead).
When Hiro gets sent back to the present just as he's about to kiss Charlie, it threw me for a loop. It seemed like such a cheap plot device: don't let Hiro fix everything just by going back in time. It bothered me. I kept pondering it.
Hiro describes his power as the ability to "bend time and space". That got me thinking about The Elegant Universe, a PBS series about string theory (watchable online). Einstein's theory of general relativity describes gravity as essentially being a bending/warping of space and time.
Einstein spent his last years trying to find a way to combine two of the fundamental forces of the universe, gravity and electromagnetism, under one unified theory. He did not succeed.
Gravity and electromagnetism may have some common underlying structure, but scientists are not sure how. For one thing, electromagnetism is way, way, way stronger than gravity. That may surprise some people, but think of it this way: if gravity had the same strength as magnetism, you'd need a magnet at least the size of the earth to lift a paper clip off the ground. Instead, all you need is a magnet the size of a dime.
So here's where Hiro's inability to control his power surprises me. To Hiro, time and space behave not like gravity, but like a magnet. It seems polarized somehow. You can take two magnets, use one to move the other, to push it one direction, or pull it in another. But if you want to take the north side of one magnet, and push it against the north side of another magnet, the magnets will push back. The more you try to push two poles of the same kind together, the stronger it repels you in the other direction.
So when Hiro tries to kiss Charlie, he is trying to change some thing that doesn't want to be changed, like two north poles being pushed together. The more he tries to push those things together, the stronger he gets repelled back to where he came from.
Here's the physics question that arises from this: if gravity and electromagnetism can be unified, why doesn't gravity have the same behavior as electromagnetism, namely, polarization. Magnets have north and south poles; atomic particles have positive and negative charges. Yet gravity does not seem to have any sort of polarity. There's no opposite of gravity: in our universe, gravity only seems to pull, never push. Why not?
Perhaps gravity is polarized, but we've never noticed. If Einstein could have figured out a way to combine gravity with magnetism, he would have died a happy man. Hiro accidentally discovers just such a way, but to him, it's a bitter disappointment. Truth and knowledge are not always happy concepts.
Turkey Day Links
Happy Holidays. Have some links with your stuffing:
A series of articles on emotional truth.
This doesn't have anything to do with aesthetics or neuroscience, but I just wanted to write the words Cretaceous Normal Synchron.
The brain is a freakishly efficient computer.
Developments in the understanding of short-term and long-term memories.
A grammar of morality? Marc D. Hauser has written a book on how our moral intuitions work and why they evolved.
How Do You Look is an art exhibit exploring eye-hand coordination. There's a interesting comparison between an artist and a surgeon.
What's the Mechanism, Kenneth?
The attempt to define art/beauty/taste/aesthetics goes at least as far as Plato and Aristotle in ancient Greece, and continues to this day. The definition remains elusive.
There's no one theory that causes a large group of people to say, "That's it!" More often, you'll hear people give up, and declare art to be an undefinable mystery.
Malcolm Gladwell writes about this problem in a recent New Yorker essay. He puts the problem into two camps: the David Hume camp (the subjective cannot be defined) and the Lord Kames camp (there must be some sort of logic behind taste):
"Beauty is no quality in things themselves," the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote. "It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty." Hume might as well have said that nobody knows anything.
Instinctively, I fall into the Kames camp. There is too much consistency in the way humans appreciate art for there not to be some sort of algorithm at work behind that consistency.
I must admit, however, that I've tried to read several of the more famous works in the history of aesthetics, and every time, I read about three or four pages, and stop. Something just tells me that the approach is wrong, and to read further is just a waste of time.
I think the reason I give up on those theories is that I kinda have a vague vision of what the features of a valid aesthetic theory should look like. When a writer starts going off on abstract tangents that aren't addressing any of those features, I tend to roll my eyes, and move on.
Here's an attempt to capture those features. In my mind, a valid aesthetic theory should be:
Those are the things I'm looking for. My main purpose for this blog is to record any progress I find in these areas, and to muse about what they mean toward the ultimate goal: a viable theory of aesthetics.
Another intro to neuroesthetics.
Malcolm Gladwell follows some people who are measuring what makes hit songs and movies.
Aesthetics Link Dump
Aesthetics around the world wide web:
How did language evolve? Babel's Dawn is a blog devoted to that topic. Plus, if you have an hour to spend learning about this issue, Martin Sereno presents an interesting lecture on his theory about how it all happened.
An interview with neuroscientist Nancy Andreason on the nature of creativity.
Clusters of greatness: Why are all the great composers German?
How does the brain process music?
Neuroarthistory? I didn't know you could mix Greek and Anglo-Saxon words like that.
A New Yorker intro to neuroeconomics.
The psychological basis behind team sports loyalties.
David Foster Wallace describes Roger Federer as an aesthetic/religious experience.
Defending the Star-Spangled Banner
Blender has come out with their list of 50 worst things to happen to music. #3 on their list is the Star-Spangled Banner:
Here's an idea: Let's have the theme song for the world's biggest and most diverse democracy be: 1) boring; 2) violently militaristic; and 3) next to impossible to sing.
Not only that, but it has a lousy beat, and you can't dance to it.
But, there's this: I love the fact that our National Anthem, unlike most other national songs, is not a statement about our homeland, but a question.
The question is basically this: Are we still here?
Oh, say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
I don't think you can do a better job of encapulating why America is great--why America wins--better than those two lines. These are the three pillars of a great nation:
With all three traits, you get progress; take just one away, and you get stagnation or regression.
We can do worse than to remind ourselves that our nation is a question mark, not an exclamation point. Yes, the song has many faults, as does America itself. But our flawed packaging is redeemed by the small, solid piece of greatness wrapped within.
Welcome to the Aesthetics Blog!
This is a blog about aesthetics, or, the science of art.
Art is still one of the great unsolved mysteries of human behavior. Why do we like what we like? What makes a work of art good or bad? What are we doing when we create or absorb a work of art?
These are some of the questions I'll be asking and attempting to answer on this blog.
A Blog Exploring the Science of Arts
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.