Posts tagged “brain”

Creativity, Sex, & the Karate Kid

One of my favorite tools to inspire radical new thinking is a technique I call forced connections. It is, fundamentally, a cognitive math problem: x + y = ? (assuming, of course, that x and y are seemingly unrelated things). This concept, also described as combinatorial creativity, is amazing because human brains are wired for it. The brain experiences cognitive dissonance when you try to hold two or more dissimilar things in your mind at the same time. It wants to resolve that tension so it creates resolution in the form of a new idea. Understanding how ideas work helps us design tools that facilitate idea generation. The articles and talk below explore ideational procreation through the lenses of neuroscience, quantum theory, psychology, and anthropology.

Musical Creativity and the Brain [The Dana Foundation] – This article explores some big theoretical and empirical questions about creativity, namely what it is and how we do it. My researcher heart jumped for joy with the introduction of an operational definition of creativity that comfortably applies across a range of artistic and business contexts: a fundamental activity of human information processing. The researchers discuss the brain functioning behind creative problem solving and the processes that make up creative behavior. Not surprisingly, it is a study in polarities: creativity is deliberate and spontaneous, cognitive and emotional, improvisation and composition, productive and consumptive. One of the authors, Charles Limb is a surgeon who also studies creativity and talks about your brain on improv.

During any creative act, from language production to marketing techniques selling the latest iPhone, ideas or past experiences are combined in novel and significant ways via the interaction of such cognitive capacities. The creative cognition approach is the current model dominating the neuroscientific study of creative thinking. According to this approach, creativity is far from a magical event of unexpected random inspiration. Instead, it is a mental occurrence that results from the application of ordinary cognitive processes.

How the Mind Creates Ideas [Psychology Today] – I often use forced connections when facilitating brainstorming as a deliberate idea-generating activity with specific stimuli (i.e. research insights). Quantum theory offers a more expansive approach to thinking about ideas as unmanifested sub-atomic particles that represent endless possibilities and countless possible combinations. The key to harnessing your quantum creative potential is to harvest as many ideas as you can: observe, record, interact, react.

We are taught to be exclusionary thinkers, which means we exclude anything that is not immediately related to our subject. Creative geniuses do not think this way. They know that the sky is a billion different shades of blue. When they brainstorm for ideas, their first objective is to observe and record all thoughts and ideas as possibilities. They observe without judgment. This is why all their thoughts and ideas come into existence as possibilities. Creative geniuses also think inclusively which means they include everything no matter how unrelated or absurd. This is a basic requirement of creative thinking. Creative thinking requires the generation of associations and connections between two or more dissimilar subjects.

Matt Ridley: When ideas have sex [TED] – The notion of ideas having sex is not, in fact, a new idea and the fruits of idea coupling have been applied and studied in a variety of areas. Ridley brings to life this concept with a tour of human evolution that offers material culture as evidence of our inescapable need for cross-germination in the collective brain. If you are interested in such creative romancing you can also find some practical tools to set the metaphorical mood here.

What The Karate Kid Can Teach Us About Agile and UX [UIE] – While the selections above discuss the process of ideational procreation, this article illustrates the progeny of forced connections: Daniel-san + UX=Lessons in Agile Mastery. Gothelf suggests that ritual and repetition breed expertise in both the hard skills (i.e.rapid rendering) and soft skills (i.e. trust and transparency) necessary for collaborative cohesion. Mr. Miyagi would certainly approve of this evolution of “Wax on. Wax off.”

Daniel found this level of mastery in the final tournament where he anticipated his opponent’s moves and ultimately defeated him. An Agile team achieves this when they trust each other implicitly, react as a cohesive unit to change and manage that change as well as any conflict with little impact to productivity or quality of work.

*Nota bene: The forced connection as metaphoric literary trope is not necessarily novel. In fact, some might convincingly argue that it is overplayed for its linkbaiting ability to seduce readers with catchy headlines. Personally, I am a sucker for such headlines and I have yet to grow tired of this tactic because I liken it to creative calisthenics. Reading and writing such pieces forces the brain to contemplate a familiar topic through a new lens. It requires the brain to constantly make new connections and it nurtures our divergent thinking capabilities. If you are looking for such exercise, try some of these: What Jay-Z Can Teach Us About The Future Of Education,What Downton Abbey Can Teach Us About the Future of Energy, What Nature Can Teach Us About Design, and What Visual Designers Can Learn From Biggie Smalls.

 

Stories behind the themes: Biological

Welcome to the fourth installment of an unfolding bibliography of secondary research that fueled our generation of themes for the Omni project. This time around we are focusing on the blurring biological boundaries between technology and our everyday lives (and bodies). We have seen a number of articles and other tidbits that hint at how far technology has advanced towards human behavior, brain function, and biomechanics. We also see quite a bit that suggests how far humans are leaning towards (and on) technology as inspiration, mediation, medication, and meme.

Is It Time To Welcome Our New Computer Overlords? [TheAtlantic.com] – The human codes of nuance and meaning in language are not yet cracked – they cannot yet be simulated.

Elsewhere, Ferrucci has been more circumspect about Watson’s level of “understanding.” In an interview with IBM’s own magazine ForwardView, he said, “For a computer, there is no connection from words to human experience and human cognition. The words are just symbols to the computer. How does it know what they really mean?” In other words, for all of the impressive NLP programming that has gone into Watson, the computer is unable to penetrate the semantics of language, or comprehend how meanings of words are shot through with allusions to human culture and the experience of daily life.

How much is a life worth in pixels? [SocialMediaCollective] – An effort to quantify the value of a human life (or in this case death) as measured by screen space allocated to reporting it on the webpages of various news sites. Not the most rigorous metric, but certainly a clever approach to valuing human presence in the virtual world.

Frustrated by this, I decided to get a more objective assessment of the coverage by counting the number of pixels different news websites were assigning to the story of the massacre. I know web designers put a lot of work into every single pixel on the screen, especially of high-traffic websites. Visitor’s attention is scarce and every pixel counts. So I took screenshots of¬† the front pages of some of the major news websites and calculated the amount of screen real state assigned to the story of the massacre.

The Cyborg in Us All [NYT.com] – Tracing the steps we are taking towards a totally hands-free interaction with technology where brains will send messages directly to devices. One less interaction to sit between man and machine.

Now it was my turn. Mukerjee removed the headset and moistened the tips of its electrodes with contact-lens fluid, then arranged the EEG device on top of my hair. The electrodes poked into my scalp like wet fingers. I held the iPhone in front of me and beamed a blast of willpower at it. “Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs,” I shouted inside my mind. The phone picked George Bush.

PUMPED UP KICKS|DUBSTEP [YouTube] – Here we see technology influencing body – this guy dances like what you are watching is a video effect; in the way that the audio IS an audio effect – loops, run backwards, etc. very digital. But the video is real – this is his way of moving his body, but the aesthetic is entirely defined by something created elsewhere as technology. Yes, we had The Robot in the 70s, but this is different – that was a human dancing like a machine, this is a human dancing like an effect – something that doesn’t exist except as the manipulation of data.

You are a robot [TheTechnium] РKK deconstructs dancing like a robot and highlights the myriad ways the human body can be molded to perform like a techno-being.  

Everywhere we look in pop culture today, some of the coolest expressions are created by humans imitating machines. Exhibit A would be the surging popularity of popping, tutting, and dub step dancing. You’ve seen these dancers on YouTube: the best of them look exactly like robots dancing, with the mechanical stutter of today’s crude robots trying to move like humans. Except the imitators robotically dance better than any robot could — so far.

A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design [worrydream.com] – Bret Victor has his finger (pun certainly intended) on the pulse of our future interactions with technology. The rant focuses on our bodies, namely our hands and fingers, and their place of privilege between humans and technology (I feel a Michelangelo Sistine Chapel reference coming on). If, as they say, all things are created twice (first in the mind and then in reality) then Victor has me wondering if technology has already infiltrated our minds and influenced the pursuit of Pictures Under Glass as opposed to, say, envisioning an experience rich with tactility and manual manipulation.

There’s a reason that our fingertips have some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body. This is how we experience the world close-up. This is how our tools talk to us. The sense of touch is essential to everything that humans have called “work” for millions of years.

Biomimicry’s Greatest Hits [FastCompany.com] – We continue to see blurring of the boundaries between humans and technology in this presentation which offers examples of how nature has inspired and informed some memorable technological advances.

The idea of taking inspiration from nature may be gaining traction in many industries today, but the natural world has always been a powerful inspiration for designers and inventors. Here are some of the most important objects that take their cue from the world around us.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • With New Technologies, Do Blind People Lose More Than They Gain? [NYTimes.com] – The modern history of blind people is in many ways a history of reading, with the scope of the disability — the extent to which you are viewed as ignorant or civilized, helpless or independent — determined largely by your ability to access the printed word. For 150 years, Braille books were designed to function as much as possible like print books. But now the computer has essentially done away with the limits of form, because information, once it has been digitized, can be conveyed through sound or touch. For sighted people, the transition from print to digital text has been relatively subtle, but for many blind people the shift to computerized speech is an unwelcome and uncharted experiment. In grappling with what has been lost, several federation members recited to me various takes on the classic expression Scripta manent, verba volant: What is written remains, what is spoken vanishes into air.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • PETA (hopefully tongue-in-cheek) attempts to rebrand fish as "Sea Kittens" – Sorta reductio ad absurdum re: my latest interactions column, Poets, Priests, and Politicians
  • Rug company Nanimarquina brings global warming to your living room – "If there is an iconic image that represents the natural devastation of global warming, it is the lone polar bear stuck on a melting ice flow. Now eco rug company Nanimarquina has teamed up with NEL artists to create a beautiful ‘Global Warming Rug’ – complete with stranded polar bear floating in the middle of the sea – to represent the most pressing issue of our time. Rugs have been traditionally used throughout the ages to tell stories and communicate messages, and we think this is a lovely, poignant new take on a time-honored tradition." What effect does it have when an issue like global warming gets iconified and aestheticized like this? Does it drive home the seriousness of the situation, or make it more palatable?
  • Asch conformity experiments – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Asch asked people about similarity of height between several lines. Confederates answered incorrectly and this influenced the subject themselves to support this incorrect answer.
  • Confirmation bias: the tendency to seek out information that supports what we already believe – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) The 2-4-6 problem presented subjects with 3 numbers. Subjects were told that the triple conforms to a particular rule. They were asked to discover the rule by generating their own triples, where the experimenter would indicate whether or not the triple conformed to the rule. While the actual rule was simply “any ascending sequence”, the subjects often proposed rules that were far more complex. Subjects seemed to test only “positive” examples—triples the subjects believed would conform to their rule and confirm their hypothesis. What they did not do was attempt to challenge or falsify their hypotheses by testing triples that they believed would not conform to their rule.
  • Overcoming Bias – Blog by Eliezer Yudkowsky and others about (overcoming) biases in perception, decisions, etc.
  • Hindsight bias: when people who know the answer vastly overestimate its predictability or obviousness, – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky)
    Sometimes called the I-knew-it-all-along effect.
    "…A third experimental group was told the outcome and also explicitly instructed to avoid hindsight bias, which made no difference."
  • Planning fallacy – the tendency to underestimate task-completion times – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Asking people what they did last time turns out to be more accurate than what they either hope for or expect to happen this time
  • Cognitive Biases in the Assessment of Risk – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Another example of extensional neglect is scope insensitivity, which you will find in the Global Catastrophic Risks book. Another version of the same thing is where people would only pay slightly more to save all the wetlands in Oregon than to save one protected wetland in Oregon, or people would pay the same amount to save two thousand, twenty thousand, or two hundred thousand oil-stroked birds from perishing in ponds. What is going on there is when you say, “How much would you donate to save 20,000 birds from perishing in oil ponds,” they will visualize one bird trapped, struggling to get free. That creates some level of emotional arousal, then the actual quantity gets thrown right out the window.

    [I am not sure that's the reason why; I think there could be other explanations for the flawed mental model that leads to those responses]

  • Conjunction fallacy – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) A logical fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that specific conditions are more probable than a single general one. Example: Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

    Which is more probable?

    1. Linda is a bank teller.
    2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

    85% of those asked chose option 2 [2]. However, mathematically, the probability of two events occurring together (in "conjunction") will always be less than or equal to the probability of either one occurring alone.

This Is Your Brain On Hype

I’m so fed up with market research gimmicks that claim to produce an objective provable truth about what’s in someone’s mind. It really runs counter to notions of empathy, listening, and understanding that I feel so passionately about.

It was with some pleasure, therefore, to see the typically exuberant Wired run a story explaining that while lie detecting may be on the horizon,

My journey through the land of functional neuroimaging has helped me to understand how spectacularly meaningless these images are likely to be.

Most neuromarketers are using these scans as a way of sprinkling glitter over their products, so that customers will be persuaded that the pictures are giving them a deeper understanding of their mind. In fact, imaging technologies are still in their infancy. And while overenthusiastic practitioners may try to leapfrog over the science, real progress, which will take decades, will be made by patient and methodical researchers, not by entrepreneurs looking to make a buck.

Mental Models

Last weekend we took in a cheesy exhibit about Da Vinci. I was struck by this image.
da-vinci-and-the-brain.gif
Da Vinci is suggesting a physical connection between the eyes and the brain; that the eyes are almost external-facing brain organs. I don’t know anatomy (beyond what’s on the outside) so I don’t know if this is accurate, presumably it was based on some dissection work. But the representation suggestions a mental model of how things work up there; the windows to the soul are linked right into the house of the soul.

Most of us have come across the hipster-geek phrenology heads at one point or another.
phrenologicalchart.jpg
phrenology.gif

Interesting to consider this image, then.
brainvessels.jpg
which connotes a scientific accuracy, tied to machines, computers, technology and of course, objectivity. How will these images be interpreted in 300 years? Will they be just as quaint and amusing as the other ones seem to us?

This page takes a thorough and scholarly approach about the history of representations of mental mapping, plus they have some more cool pictures!

Crack This!

Fast Company looks at marketing/research/culture proto-guru Clotaire Rapaille and observes “the conversation reinforces what I’d come to suspect: Rapaille is 25% substance and 75% shtick.”

It’s a good piece especially because it challenges the validity/myth/efficacy of a powerful and popular media figure er um I mean consultant. For those of us who aren’t clients, all we see is that 75%, and frankly, that shtick has made my skin crawl for a long time. I really like that simple analysis because it reminds me that one can be an intolerable asshole and still have something valid to say. In fact, for some people, your message carries more weight if you are intolerable when you deliver it. That’s not to my taste, but I guess it works for him.

Rapaille subscribes to the triune brain theory, which describes three distinct brains: the cortex, limbic, and reptilian. Beneath the cortex, the seat of logic and reason, is the limbic, which houses emotions. Camouflaged underneath those is Rapaille’s baby–the reptilian–the layer wired by our biological primal needs like sex, reproduction, and survival.

And gee, only yesterday the Simpsons (in an old-timey episode) had a character describing his reaction as going from “sanguine to bilious.” Humours, triune brain, whatever!

More, well, like a friend, a really really good friend

Much of user research hinges on unpacking words that mean one thing to one party and something different to another. Now we bring science into the picture, using MRI.

The research team found that while the same words were being used to describe people and products, different regions of the brain were activated when subjects were talking about one or the other. The fMRI scans detected that there was a greater neural response in the medial prefrontal cortex regions of the brain when applying the adjectives to people. But when focusing on brands, like Wal-Mart, Starbucks or Ben & Jerry’s, the left inferior prefrontal cortex was activated, an area of the brain known to be involved in object processing.

In other words, you can call it love, but fundamentally, we process the emotion differently depending on the object.

[via MIT Advertising Blog]

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