Riding with the elephant

*Elephant is the name we are giving to what we often call “the subconscious ” and all the automatic system of the body and mind. In this case the subconscious of Nicolas… 

Nicolas: Hi Elephant! how have you been?

Elephant: A lot better to tell you the truth! less stressed and anxious… positive!

N: Great! so let’s talk about what we just did for this “so called” “experiment”.

Elephant: Sure…

N: So, What was the point of riding the bicycle while gathering data, and also doing different activities as we did for each ride?

E: I wanted to ride the bike…

N: So You tricked me into thinking all of this made sense because you just wanted to ride the bike?

E: I guess I did…. It makes me feel better… and maybe be better…

N: Silence…

E: Maybe it did made some sense…

N: Ok… Please try to explain…

E: The idea was to explore different ideas like cycling as a way of meditation, and in the process to think about how can you connect ideas like performance, focus, fun, the competitive impulse, and the perception of time.

N: Ok… So that sounds like too much at the same time… How did you design the experiment?

E: Well, I thought about the idea of thinking about different ways of riding a bike, of reasons to ride it. Then set some basic common rules to ride it, and some instructions for every riding mode. Each ride would be 31 minutes long, without warming up. The data from the bicycles computer would not be available during our ride. We would have to try to guess when he thought five minutes had passed. To do so, we would signal to the camera each time we thought that happened. Now let me talk about the riding modes we chose. The first mode would be riding without any other activity than pedaling. The second would be smiling during the whole ride. The third, riding with the goal of performing as best as possible. The fourth mode would be riding with the eyes closed.

N: Weird… I still don’t get it…

E: Well, the idea is also being able to analize the gathered information to try to make sense.

N: So what information are we talking about?

E: We will gather information for the heart beat with a heart sensor, a cadence sensor will be used for keeping track of the pedaling and performance, and also for the speed and distance, the speed and distance sensor from the bike trainer. We are also gong to use video and photography to capture our body and face expression trough the whole ride. Photography will be used to produce a time lapse sequence (taking a picture every 10 seconds) to create an average image of the expression in each ride. We can also use these frames to se how the expression is gradually changing.

N: A little confusing!

E: M, in deed… So, let me try to extend a little bit more about the use of video and photography. I actually thought we could use photography as a way of trying to read different gestures that could give us some clues about the state of mind, and also about the way the body changes the moving patterns according to the state o mind and the attitude towards cycling. I had this idea after looking and reading about the painting by Francis Bacon. He used photography as a visual reference to understand human behavior, feelings, nature, or condition… He realized it’s potential to capture by its mechanical means some apparent facts that the human eyes and mind most times choses to ignore or edit from the perception process.

N: Kind of the reason we chose one picture over another when we are captured with one eye closed and one opened.

E: Right…

Francis Bacon – Portrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle, 1966 – Self-Portrait

Ride#3 (Riding hard mode)

Ride#1 (Riding “normal mode”)

Ride#4 Riding the closed eyes

Ride#4 Riding and laughing mode.

N: So how was the ride?

E: Nico: As you are so smart and rational, please try to make sense out of all this data we put together!

Table chart of perceived time vs real time for each ride and performance.


N: Ok, I’ll do my best to make sense out the given information from your none sense experiment! I’m going to talk about performance, and also about the sense of time passing and also will try to relate this collected facts as best as I can. Then, we can talk about how could we make something useful out of this kind of experience.

It’s interesting to note that the differences in general where not big. They are very similar, more than you expected when you designed the experiment. The biggest differences might have been about your feeling about the activity and also regarding the perception of time.

According to the statistical analysis from the bike computer, our performance in terms of amount of distance, speed average did’t actually change that much through out the different sessions. The higher performance in those terms was the ride in “normal mode” .  Followed by the “riding hard mode”, the by the “closed eyed mode” and finally “laughing mode”.

In terms of heat rate average our performance was from higher heart rate to lower heart rat like this: “riding hard” 181 bpm, “closed eyes” 158 bpm, “laughing mode” 153 bpm, and normal 135 bpm.

In terms of the pedaling or cadence average from more to less:

“Normal ride mode” 72 rpm, “riding hard mode” 71 rpm , “closed eyed mode”  69 rpm and “laughing mode” 69 rpm tied at the same number.

In terms of your happiness index you felt happier during the “closed eyes mode”. Followed by the “Laughing mode” and then “riding hard” and finally “riding normally”.

Let’s talk about how we perceived the passing of time. It’s a very tricky aspect of this experience. We are focusing on the moment we thought the 30 minutes where over. You thought it was over at 32.4 during the “closed eyes mode”. At 28.1 during the “riding hard mode”. At 25.35 during the “laughing mode”, and at 23.1 when riding in the “normal mode”. I’m having a little bit of a confusion trying to interprete this numbers. What could be behind the feeling of time passing faster than it actually did according to the timer? Is it that we where more focused in the activity? is it that we felt less tired during the activity? is it that we were more distracted on other things instead of the activity? Instead of making facts about this, which makes very little sense, let’s raise questions. The most inaccurate perception of time was during the normal mode. Time seemed slower by 7 minutes. Was it because the experience was boring? A hint in this direction is the given instruction of “just riding the bike”. Also if we consider the performance, we had the best score. We could ask a question here: do we feel like time passes slower when doing hard tasks? Let’s have a look at riding while we laughed. We felt that we had completed the 30 minutes when only 25.35 had passed.  Was this because we felt bored? maybe not… In terms of performance we had the worst performance. So what was the reason? was it because we felt tired, or because the task of smiling for half an hour was hard or boring? Let’s now think about the results from the “riding hard mode”. We thought time was 2 minutes slower than it was. It was fairly close to reality. Was it slower because the task was hard? was it because hard tasks make the sense of time seem slower? If we compare this result with the “riding normal mode” it’s interesting to note the big difference in time perception against performance achievement. The performance difference wasn’t as large as the time perception. The question that is raised is if being focused on the goal of performing well, having that motivation, made us feel that time passed by a little bit quicker, but slower to reality because of the physical effort we were being aware of and submitted to?

E: Ok! Interesting thoughts! It still seems hard to make incontrovertible facts out of all of this. All I can say is I really enjoyed the experiment because it made me feel better about myself, allowed me to release a lot of stress and tension, to create a space for awareness and meditation, and I enjoyed watching the visualization of the different ride modes. It kind o takes me back to those moments and makes me see some expressions and details that give clues about how the ride was, in a different and maybe complimentary way to the collected data from all the sensors we used. So Nico, how do you imagine this to be used in a practical and positive way in the future?

N: Mmm… I think it could be turned into a tool to analize your body expression, your moving patterns through time, so the system can give you advice about your emotional and physical tate, according to the current expressions and patterns, comparing them to the “normal” ones.  I imagine the system giving advice like, “you should ride longer: because you will feel better, taking into account all the stress you have been feeling, and all the time you have been still at the office” Or maybe: “it seems like riding today should be shorter than 30 minutes: it looks like your tired at a physical level, and need more sleeping than riding to achieve a better index of happiness and well being… I imagine using different technologies like CLM tracking to track the facial expressions, so we can have a sense of how the rider is feeling both, at a physical level, and also from an emotional point of view. When the brain activity sensors will be more accurate and the truly accurate ones are accesible, they could also tell reveal important information about our responses to riding, and how should we ride to make the most out of each particular session in order to feel better from a mental and physical point of view.  There is already an existing device that is an important step into that direction. The purpose seems to be a little different, but information from our body is being used to help us improve the quality of life and in particular, of the cycling activity It is call Mind Rider. Other posible technologies to explore are the virtual reality technologies. They can also offer an interesting potential as a way to make the riding experience a happier one, and also a more productive one from a training point of view. Steps have to be taken from the current bike simulator approaches, that in general try to make take rider feel like he is riding in a road ( virtually anywhere he choses to in the world). I can imagine the bike to be used for playing games or also a a vehicle to meditate or follow interesting therapeutical ideas as the smiling therapy we tried in this experiment. Another idea that came to my mind about the possible use of this exercise we did in particular, is how we can really visualize how the position of the body changes  through time. This can be analyzed carefully to find patterns and tendencies that are linked to factors as the seek of better performance, distraction, fatigue, relax, etc… We could eventually use technologies like the ones used by the Kinect to do so. Having a frontal point of view and a lateral point of view would make it clear how are we going closer or farther to the optimum position for the best possible performance.

E: Cool! I had no clue about those things and possibilities! so it would be like having an Elephant trainer I guess!

N: Mmmm kind of, but an Elephant trainer that also makes us understand ourselves in a wider way through the observation and monitoring of he signs and hints lefts by the elephant.













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