Mind Field: a piece at the vurv group show

In collaboration with James Hill O’Brien I’ve put up an interactive piece with video controlled by a ‘neural field’ simulation. From around 1992 through 2001 I used a computational math framework called coupled map lattices in the statistical mechanics community where it was studied. I identified ways to use it for image similarity (unsupervised learning) and recognizing 3D objects from different views, and identified the chaotic maps at each site with an emerging idea called ‘balanced networks’. This was, and remains, an unusual approach to neural network modeling which assumes that a lot of the action in neural computing happens at the level of local field potentials, a localized version of what is observed in EEG signals. In the early 20th century the Gestalt psychologists, given the fascination with newly discovered electromagnetic fields and light, had a different view of mind that was informed by visual experience. They were scattered by the rise of fascism and WWII, and behaviorism and computational ideas came to the fore in the understanding of mind.

In the art piece here, spatial patterns are formed when you increase the coupling; in turn these influence which regions of state space are visited more frequently, which might be considered an analog of attention. In this piece, when a fragment of the poem is finished, the next most active subspace triggers another fragment to be overlaid.

Apart from work in computer vision, machine learning and neuroscience, I was motivated to understand the experience of art and the creation of art using these concepts.

When I encountered the work of Paul Valery, an early 20th century poet fascinated with mind and the interior experience of art, I did a piece incorporating neural fields and some ideas about the perception of poetic rhythms for a conference called “Einstein meets Magritte”. Francesco Varela also spoke at this conference, and was an early promoter of using the recurrent field concept for neural modeling, as well as one of the originators of the term autopoesis. Along with Valery, the philosophers of art and culture bridging the Gestaltists and arts were inspirational to what I envisioned as a revival of symbolist art practice with modern complex systems theory.

Dynamic Symbolism, Chaos, and Perception

Since then I used the formalism to generate music for the ending of an opera, a modern day Faust reworking based on the interactions of quantum physicists, especially the life of Wolfgang Pauli and his relationship with Jung. Together, Paul, Jung, and Marie Louise von Franz pursued a framework in which mind and matter might be understood on similar terms.
It was presented at Vortex as part of the Fusebox 2014 festival.

For Fear the Glass May Shatter

The text by James is inspiring and very meta, alluding in some sense to the concerns of these pioneers to look for mind at very deep levels; this is at odds with the contemporary embodied cognition movement, which holds Varela up as a kind of saintly figure, but I think they can be reconciled. We are mind bound with body, fields which construct space and time within to match that without.

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