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
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.

http://mindriderdata.com/       

https://www.wired.com/2015/01/mindrider-manhattan-bike-map/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drawing: uncertain measure

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Talking with Daniela, we realized we had a common interest, drawing. We both loved drawing, but we had a very different approach to it.  She likes to look at people and to make quick sketches of what they are doing. Her process is fast and intuitive. The results give you the feeling of the speed of life and also information about what the people were doing. In my case, I have been interested for some time in the idea of creating drawings in a very repetitive way, following simple instructions and rules of play. In these kind of drawings control of the final result is given to chance, or specifically to the collection of results taken form a die that is rolled many times.

The skills required to do each kind of drawings (Daniela’s and Nico’s) are different, but they also have similarities. We both need to have a very intense focus on the activity and also a great control of the tool we are using and our body, that is behind it.  We thought about how to reveal aspects of that drawing process using different means. We thought that i would be interesting to use the Kinnect to reveal the way we moved while drawing. We played with the code and finally came up with an interesting way of visualizing the movement and seeing also the movement through time.

The collected information actually became a drawing!  Some kind of futurist work of art, that reminded us also about works like Duchamp’s nude descending a staircase.  In this video you can see the Kinnect capture of our movement and also the video capturing at the same time our drawing process.  The sync is not perfect, but you can still understand whats going on. The Kinnect  video is interesting because it shows the complexity of how hour body moves, even doing something “as simple” as sitting down and drawing. This is off course just a fast an inaccurate experiment. But it can definitely could be done with more time, a careful setting and with and improved code to visualize things better.

We also came to an interesting common interest which is the work by Francis Bacon. He used to work in a very interesting way. He explored the limits between rationality, automatic thinking, intuition and randomness. He explored how the gestures that produce marks on paintings come from all this concepts, and how they all work together to try to create a balanced results (which he also believed to be impossible to achieve)

Something that could be very interesting would be taking different data like the brain activity, the pulse, the temperature from the different parts of the brain. Also comparing the initial state of this variables, and the final when the artwork it completed.

Data: “the text unconscious” in the computer and digital life

I followed different examples from the class syllabus to download my Gmail account data. I couldn’t figure out how to make it useful in a practical-technical statistical way, but I had a look at it and thought about the potential of what is stored in there. I felt about myself as the eastern Germany agent from the movie “The life of others”. But instead of looking and listening at someone else’s actions: spying on myself. It was at the same time a fascinating, funny and scary thing to do.

The process of downloading all the digital files from Gmail made me think about all what is currently being discussed in the public sphere about data privacy and all the dangers and dark things associated to it. We are coming to a point of having some kind of involuntary automatic diary, that kind of “remembers” more about our life’s than we actually do. It keeps track of data that is irrelevant for us, but is very useful for Google, Facebook, Amazon and/or other powerful companies that are controlling today’s markets in many ways and in an increasing rate. I was kind of scary to think about the computer creating a different narrative and version about ones life. One problem is to get the data, the next one is how to read it and make sense out of it. This is a reason that could lead machines to make wrong assumptions about us. For instance, if we do our sister the favor of buying some women ski clothes, and we buy a bunch of things related to that, the amazon algorithm could assume that we really love ski and that we may have some gender identification with female gender. But this could of course be naïve to think. They could, and most likely, already know who is my sister, her ski plans and also her birthday, etc.

So this is kind of an interesting mirror to look at your self. It can provide new ways of looking at yourself that you didn’t pay to much attention before, (at least in my case). A financial image of your self, and linked to that, your consuming habits, your eating habits and preferences, your traveling frequency and locations, your way of spending your free time. Also how much social life you have in both, a digital way and also in real face to face physical mode (pre-internet fashion). Another thing you can learn about yourself is about the ideas you allow to interact with your mind, trough inputs as music,  information sources as books, literature, online courses, articles, blogs, magazines, podcasts, museums and galleries visits, among others.

Another interesting thing lies in the ad and spam message area. We begin to carry with us tons of useless information that was originated in different points when signed up to something or made a purchase, or just because our information was given to strangers somehow. This spam could end up distracting our minds and interfering with our goals. When looking at it, we can at some points make connections with our shopping habits and also that reminds us about what are we interested in or where at some point in the past. In my case I was pretty much interested in researching about digital photography, so now I receive tons of emails regarding that field of knowledge. That information used to be more useful before, but now I almost never think about that. So it passed from useful to almost garbage.

Interesting examples of an information exchange are the books we read, the movies, videos and music we watch and listen to.  A connection is set with the AI algorithms in a two-way mode. It learns from us, and we also learn from them. It creates a feeling similar to having a talk with a friend that recommends us certain things, according to something he know we like. He also knows what we don’t, so the conversation keeps going forward. I like to see it this way and not always in the “apocalyptic” tone we sometimes people talking about AI, in the line of the Homo Deus.

The collection of our data somehow could be very useful as stated in class, for us to be more aware of our habits, behaviors, that in the end determine who we are, the activities we do and the way we live our lives. There are many possible examples that are revealing of my current activities like my Google files, including the history of visited locations, schedules, browser history, emails, among others. I also can have a look at my musical taste in the recent times by looking at the Itunes 25th most listened to songs. That could be useful for trying to understanding what’s on my mind or maybe what I think I need to listen too for feeling in a particular mood, etc. The way we want to see it also plays an important roll here. We can see it in a positive way or as a frightening one. We could soon (if this is not already done) program an Algorithm to analyze us according to all this inputs. It could then advice us in general, but also specific ways to correct those wrong behaviors or vices, so we can feel better in the long run with our lives. AI could also tell us things and advices that would be very uncomfortable things for an analyst or close friend or family member to say to us. It’s up to us how to use magnificent tool, that off course is like the knife, useful and potentially dangerous at the same time.

Illusions future, present and past…

When I think about the word illusions, many different ideas come to my mind. It implies a false idea about real facts. Somehow the first association I have is the idea of future fantasy seen as something positive, what we also call day dreaming. The image of a magic trick performed by a magician also comes into my mind. Also the idea of visual illusions such as the projected images on a television screen or film theater, or the visual illusions we can often see in works of art and graphic design pieces. Or if you like you can also refer to it as a distorted idea or interpretation of reality. It’s difficult to talk about illusion because we then run into problems like defining reality and also how we perceive it, and then make an interpretation of what we experience through our senses. We finally “make sense” of all that information, giving way to what we agree on calling consciousness. But in the process we edit reality leaving most part of it out of the picture. We just can’t handle the infinite amount of information that the universe is producing and storing.

It’s tricky to call speak about reality and facts, as we all produce judgments about the same facts, according to our individual points of view. Also based on our previous experiences. It seems that trough repetition our minds are self trained to translate or label new experiences according to very similar past events. That may be the reason we often ignore changes in our usual environments. We see a general illusion that is being built continuously by our mind. We have to reprogram our minds to make them look again at those facts to see if there is a difference between the current state of facts, and the reality we are taking for granted.

As human beings, we are raised with the consciousness of time. One of our first material presents given by our parents is often a wristwatch. The clock or watch imply the concept of past, present and future. These are taken as facts. I myself have doubts about the nature of time, as we understand it. Linked to that idea of time is the idea of death. How much time left do we have? There are many other questions and problems that arise from the ideas of time and death. We are bothered daily about this idea of the future at different aspects and levels of our existence. We have to decide based on our past experiences, on our current possibilities, but also in our imaginary and uncertain future scenarios. It feels like our brains walk with three feet. One stepping into the past, other into the present and the third one into the future.

Lets think about future. We make our present and near-past decisions in order to get closer to a future we imagine, that is an illusion that keeps changing all the time and assuming different “shapes” and “colors”. This future makes us feel different things. It can make us feel anxious, happy, sad, horrified or indifferent. Those feelings can also change, according on the aspects we think about in our possible future scenarios. We can also have mixed feelings about those fictional scenarios we make with our imagination. I suspect that imagination is given by experience and an ability to predict fact based on observations of past events and the present state of things and context.

Now lets try to think about the present. It’s all we have now. (Unfamiliar electronic soft music and sirens coming from the street) A nice computer with a word processor and some ideas flowing and mysteriously flowing between my brain, nerves, hands, fingers, computer circuits, light emissions, back to my mind, and in the future into the eyes of the reader. But we also have an image about our “current” personality, place of living, different attributes, health status, professional status, beliefs, financial status, gender, love and sexuality status, mental health, mood, goals, etc… We sometimes forget to “look at the mirror” and put all those facts into question. That’s why we often are surprised by the judgment others make about us. They don’t carry those illusions we have been creating and carrying with us. We change continuously. We seem to have an instinct of survival that makes us built a stable personality and some facts and rules to follow with our behavior. We also create habits, routines and rituals. That instinct might have to do with the fear of change, failure and uncertainty. We tend to create a self defense mechanism from change. Are we going to be happy with our new changed version? Will Nico.12345 be better than Nico.1234? I certainly hope so!

We also think about the past. We have the need of building a ground for our construction of reality. We try to make sense of past actions and to understand the consequences of those actions (made by others and us) that affected our distant and also close environment. We then built some kind of script or self biography that kinds of explain how we got to the current point. We make different and changing judgments about the past. We can read our past depending of our present attitude, mood, experience and way of thinking. My mother has a very wisdom popular saying she always uses: “it’s very easy being smart when thinking about taking decisions about past events” There can be many examples about this distorted way of thinking about the past. For instance, we can idealize past time like our school days. We often think about them as some of our happiest times. But we forget about the frustrations and hard things we had to deal with back then. We forget about being anxious about not making our own decisions, about not being able to buy alcohol, or drive, or not being successful with picking up girls, or being sad and uncomfortable with our teenage bodies, etc.

Other illusions we create for ourselves

We also tell ourselves things that are neither true nor false. Things like “it’s going to be fine” or “I’m totally screwed”. We live in with the hope of living for many years as something almost certain. Even the countries have the policy of pension assuming most people will die after they are 65 year old.

Illusions: Future, present, past.

 

When I think about the word illusions, many different ideas come to my mind. It implies a false idea about real facts. Somehow the first association I have is the idea of future fantasy seen as something positive, what we also call day dreaming. The image of a magic trick performed by a magician also comes into my mind. Also the idea of visual illusions such as the projected images on a television screen or film theater, or the visual illusions we can often see in works of art and graphic design pieces. Or if you like you can also refer to it as a distorted idea or interpretation of reality. It’s difficult to talk about illusion because we then run into problems like defining reality and also how we perceive it, and then make an interpretation of what we experience through our senses. We finally “make sense” of all that information, giving way to what we agree on calling consciousness. But in the process we edit reality leaving most part of it out of the picture. We just can’t handle the infinite amount of information that the universe is producing and storing.

 

It’s tricky to call speak about reality and facts, as we all produce judgments about the same facts, according to our individual points of view. Also based on our previous experiences. It seems that trough repetition our minds are self trained to translate or label new experiences according to very similar past events. That may be the reason we often ignore changes in our usual environments. We see a general illusion that is being built continuously by our mind. We have to reprogram our minds to make them look again at those facts to see if there is a difference between the current state of facts, and the reality we are taking for granted.

 

As human beings, we are raised with the consciousness of time. One of our first material presents given by our parents is often a wristwatch. The clock or watch imply the concept of past, present and future. These are taken as facts. I myself have doubts about the nature of time, as we understand it. Linked to that idea of time is the idea of death. How much time left do we have? There are many other questions and problems that arise from the ideas of time and death. We are bothered daily about this idea of the future at different aspects and levels of our existence. We have to decide based on our past experiences, on our current possibilities, but also in our imaginary and uncertain future scenarios. It feels like our brains walk with three feet. One stepping into the past, other into the present and the third one into the future.

 

Lets think about future. We make our present and near-past decisions in order to get closer to a future we imagine, that is an illusion that keeps changing all the time and assuming different “shapes” and “colors”. This future makes us feel different things. It can make us feel anxious, happy, sad, horrified or indifferent. Those feelings can also change, according on the aspects we think about in our possible future scenarios. We can also have mixed feelings about those fictional scenarios we make with our imagination. I suspect that imagination is given by experience and an ability to predict fact based on observations of past events and the present state of things and context.

 

Now lets try to think about the present. It’s all we have now. (Unfamiliar electronic soft music and sirens coming from the street) A nice computer with a word processor and some ideas flowing and mysteriously flowing between my brain, nerves, hands, fingers, computer circuits, light emissions, back to my mind, and in the future into the eyes of the reader. But we also have an image about our “current” personality, place of living, different attributes, health status, professional status, beliefs, financial status, gender, love and sexuality status, mental health, mood, goals, etc… We sometimes forget to “look at the mirror” and put all those facts into question. That’s why we often are surprised by the judgment others make about us. They don’t carry those illusions we have been creating and carrying with us. We change continuously. We seem to have an instinct of survival that makes us built a stable personality and some facts and rules to follow with our behavior. We also create habits, routines and rituals. That instinct might have to do with the fear of change, failure and uncertainty. We tend to create a self defense mechanism from change. Are we going to be happy with our new changed version? Will Nico.12345 be better than Nico.1234? I certainly hope so!

 

We also think about the past. We have the need of building a ground for our construction of reality. We try to make sense of past actions and to understand the consequences of those actions (made by others and us) that affected our distant and also close environment. We then built some kind of script or self biography that kinds of explain how we got to the current point. We make different and changing judgments about the past. We can read our past depending of our present attitude, mood, experience and way of thinking. My mother has a very wisdom popular saying she always uses: “it’s very easy being smart when thinking about taking decisions about past events” There can be many examples about this distorted way of thinking about the past. For instance, we can idealize past time like our school days. We often think about them as some of our happiest times. But we forget about the frustrations and hard things we had to deal with back then. We forget about being anxious about not making our own decisions, about not being able to buy alcohol, or drive, or not being successful with picking up girls, or being sad and uncomfortable with our teenage bodies, etc.

Other illusions we create for ourselves

We also tell ourselves things that are neither true nor false. Things like “it’s going to be fine” or “I’m totally screwed”. We live in with the hope of living for many years as something almost certain. Even the countries have the policy of pension assuming most people will die after they are 65 year old. We can also name the promises offered by some doctrines and religions such as heaven, eternal life, reincarnation, resuscitation or eternal punishments or hell. We create many illusions for ourselves; some are positive and some negative. The list can be infinite!

We create many illusions for ourselves; some are positive and some negative. The list can be very vast and complex.This human nature of inhabiting present, future and past at the same time is linked to our culture and DNA. It’s something we have to be more aware of and we also need to be able to learn to cope with.