” . . . Our first one, which we just called ‘Silk’, had an entomologist talking about the evolution of spiders and spider silk along with a choreographer and two dancers demonstrating and explaining dance moves on hanging silks . . . “
‘I saw it with my own eyes!’ We tend to believe what we see with our eyes is real and accurate. What we often do not realize is that our eyes register only a reflection of the outside world. To reconstruct reality from this reflection we have to rely on inferences and assumptions. It is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle without any knowledge about the whole picture. Our brain does this without our conscious awareness. In a split second it organizes and interprets incoming visual information to form a stable and meaningful image of the world around us. The brain does not analyze all the incoming information in detail, though. Only the most relevant or interesting part is permitted through the ‘gateway to consciousness’. The rest of the information you are not aware of. For example, when you concentrate on your television set you will not see the painting hanging above it on the wall. Every individual also has internal neural factors, such as memory, that influence the brain’s interpretation of information. For example, when you have experienced something before, it is hard to see things ‘differently’ on a second encounter. The information registered by your eyes intermingles with a blueprint of the previous encounter you have stored in your memory. Your image of the outside world thus is a mixture of incoming visual information and internal neural factors. Therefore, it is a personal experience unique to you. ‘You look with your eyes, but you see with your brain!’ Short explanation of the video: Our video explains the basics of how the brain analyzes visual information. You see a man (‘the observer’) watching a movie-clip on his laptop. The visual information presented on his laptop is registered by his eyes and translated into neural signals that enter his brain. Through dance we portray what happens inside the observer’s brain. The leading dancer in the video, who can be recognized by the brain depicted on his clothing, represents the observer’s internal neural factors, such as his goals and experiences. The dancers with an information-icon depicted on their clothing (‘the i-dancers’) represent the incoming visual information. In the observer’s brain the visual information is organized and features that belong together are grouped (the leading dancer puts the i-dancers in the correct positions). Then, one piece of the visual information is selected for detailed neural analysis (in the foreground the leading dancer examines one of the i-dancers). The neural processing of the other information is suppressed (the other i-dancers make slower movements in the background). When the observer is interrupted by a phone call the neural analysis of the visual information dies out (all dancers fall on the ground). After the phone call the observer looks at his laptop again. He now remembers the movie-clip on his laptop. The organization of the visual information inside his brain is more efficient than before (the leading dancer groups the i-dancers fast and deliberately). Also, the visual information has become predictable (the leading dancer knows the choreography of the i-dancers). For detailed neural processing the observer’s brain easily selects the same piece of visual information as before (the leading dancer guides his favorite i-dancer to the foreground again), which now interacts with the internally stored blueprint (the leading dancer and the favorite i-dancer dance together). ‘The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.’ Henri-Louis Bergson 1859-1941. French philosopher and Literature Nobel Prize winner in 1927 see http://www.maartjedejong.com/Pictures/dance/dancephotos.htm for a visual explanation, news and extras about this video. ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ Finalists Announced – ScienceNOW.
from the "Morphology" website at http://users.design.ucla.edu/~mflux/morphology/details.htm. "The work here is known as "computer based model building", and the analogy here is multicellular biology. It's just like making a map on the ground, letting twigs and rocks represent landmarks, paths, and places of interests. Here I'm allowing equally crude forms and behaviors represent highly complex things, such as the laws of physics, chemistry, and systems of biology."
An article from SEED Magazine, “Getting Past the Pie Chart,” took me back to some of the most interesting ideas we talked about in the first ARTStem seminar in August of 2009, which revolved around the art of visualizing information or data. That’s not a new kind of activity, of course, but digital tools offer a lot of new kinds of experimenting with how to visually communicate information. And on the flip side, modern science and new technologies for data collection are producing data sets so huge and deep that they defy (or at least threaten to) traditional modes of representation.
To my mind, this is where everything comes together–this is where the shared project of the humanities, the arts, and the sciences reveals itself. At root, we’re all working at the very complicated interstices of knowledge discovery, organization, and representation/communication. This is one of the junctions where I think all art and design practices can play a powerful role in facilitating public understanding of, and civic dialogue about, complicated issues involving global scales, big numbers, and levels of interconnection and interdependence that are near impossible to wrap our heads around.
If you’ve never looked at it before, check out this IBM project called ManyEyes. It’s geared toward the ‘democratization of visualization’ and provides tools to creatively visualize and map data sets, ostensibly to render meaningful important information that, in the absence of effective representation, never travels that last, most difficult path from being raw information to becoming human knowledge. There’s also some pretty cool links there. For example, this at VisualComplexity.com. In particular, this blog entry on different ways of “visualizing music and sound” captured my interest. Here’s a video of a music visualization of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
How excellent would it be to have an ARTStem project that somehow combined students in the sciences (or social sciences, for that matter) collecting data of different sorts on topics of importance (researching, surveying, fieldwork, etc.), learning to manipulate and mine for meaning with digital applications, thinking critically about modes of representation, and perhaps even communicating with more dramatic, performative strategies, too?
Something of this ilk has actually been done in recent years by the Winston-Salem Light Project (led by UNCSA D&P’s Norman Coates), come to think of it, which has done some awesome light projections, including some with real pedagogical content. Check that out this year if you have a chance.