Archive for the 'Research' Category


The importance of learning from enlightenment

Now before we begin I just want to make clear that I’m talking about Enlightenment in terms of the Age of Reason, not Spiritualism.

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”- Margaret Mead

I’ve often talked with friends and colleges about developing a critical mass of interesting, cultured , creative and socially active people into a group. For me this type of group is the crucible of ideas themselves

Try this taster video

Or a more in depth version: Steven Johnson on TED ‘Where good ideas come from’

As you might already know I spent a few years collaborating in the creative industry.  In my experience something strange seems to happen when groups reach a certain point in which they have to work within a world of other groups.

I’ve recently become involved in a variety of groups and clubs, all with different aims and ethos. There is however a downside, these groups imbue an odd territorial attitude towards eachother. Organisations and communities that would have mutual benefit, or would even benefit from an unusual perspective are fractured and if not willingly ignorant of eachother, they are openly hostile.

It seems odd to me in the great age of sharing and developing information together on a global scale that these attitudes prevail….that’s when I came across something curious

the JUNTO club (pronounced ‘who-n-toe’)

“In 1727, Benjamin Franklin formed the Junto, a mutual improvement society born of Franklin’s love of conversation, personal progress, philosophy, and civic involvement. The group originally had 12 members and was composed of workingmen–the tradesmen and artisans who did not have a place in more elite circles of society. The Junto was thus commonly referred to as the ‘Leather Apron Club.’- The Art of Manliness Blog

These were ordinary men, grouped together to share interesting ideas and practical outcomes.

The club would meet once a week to converse on topics relating to Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy. Each week one member had to produce a short essay and present it to the rest, then the discussion would begin.

Inquiry was the main focus and to ensure that the group stayed true to this aim, a president was elected to put a stop to anything that was not rooted in curiosity and an inquisitive attitude, infact small fines were payable by anyone who was deemed to being contentious for the sake of it. Essentially this group had a critical and self-reliant structure.

Most importantly the results from this group were not simply lofty academic ideals, but practical culturally and socially positive enterprise. Infact many of the attributes linked to Benjamin Franklin were actually a series of results from the Junto Club. After 30 years the Junto club split off into more specialist groups, one of the most famous being the American Philosophical Society. Read more about it here and here (scroll down to Junto Club)

So my question is, where is todays Junto club or Scottish enlightenment coffee house? is it even a physical space? do online forums work in the same way? do they have the same impact? are these even the right questions to ask?.

This is important to me, is it important to you?


psychology research Jung 1

So, I’ve kick started the new year with more time dedicated to research and as a result I have been digesting thoughts at a rate of knots

My current focus has been within psychology I have especially been taken by Carl Jung, I realise now just how important the distinction from Freud really is

I’ve started my journey with Jung: on the nature of the psyche. which is essentially two essays together. ‘On Psychic Energy’ and ‘On The Nature of Psyche’.

Now I want to stress that I have always cringed at the term energy, I’ve heard it used too many times in a new-age sense as if it carries some sort of mystical meaning (don’t get me wrong I understand that Jung became increasingly into mysticism as he reached the end of his life). Jung is careful to mention that energy can be used in a scientific and metaphorical sense and that the two can be confused. Energy is a fascinating concept, this book has helped me conceive the distinction between force and energy. These are fundamental terms in trying to understand how the physical and metaphysical may interact with eachother, a pertinent example of this is the distinction between mind (sentience) and brain (physical presence)…in other words what is the relationship between body and mind? how do they interrelate?

“the distinction between force and energy is a conceptual neccesity, energy is really a concept and as such does not exist objectively in the phenomina themselves, only in the specific data of experience”-C Jung

force then is the measurable physical manifestation of energy

However the distinction becomes difficult when you consider the concept that matter itself may simply be a representation of energy

“from the energetic standpoint, substance is nothing more than an expression or sign of an energetic system”-Jung

this relates to the workings of the brains processing because it is essentially electrical signals passing through a network, in other words a system of energy transfer.

” a qualitative concept is always a description of a thing, a substance; where as a quantitative concept deals with the relations of intensity and never with a substance or a (psychical) thing”- C Jung

I find this quote useful because we can talk about the transfer of energy from one neuron to another, but in a way we can also say that a thought has transformed from a previous thought into a new thought. (this is a huge generalisation, but I find it as an appropriate metaphor).

It is here that I would like to take a quick step back

I may have an outsiders perspective on Psychology, but my inquiring and inquisitive nature forces me to question.  I can’t help but have the impression from reading books on this subject that alot of the time psychology finds phenomena that can’t currently be explained through the scientific method and then attributes it with a name. I find myself reading and re-reading at points in which these unknown entities are being discussed in relation to eachother. I can understand the question of where psychology is Science or an Art-form originates from. Jung seems keenly aware of this balancing act in his writing. Is this a typical impression of the layman? or is there something fundamental in the structure of academic text in psychology?. I’m going to keep reading and try to work this out. I’m excited to move onto the next essay, which is on the Psyche itself.

In my next post I will discuss another impression I’ve had from my interest in Psychology.

Why are Ancient Greek myths and theater linked with Psychoanalysis and characteristics of the mind?

I will end this post with one more quote, I think it describes why it is important to keep chasing the phenomena of the mind, even if there is no means to full describe the qualitative concept of thought.

” Certainly it is necessary for Science to know how things are ‘in themselves’ but even science can not escape the psychological conditions of knowledge and psychology must be particularly alive to these conditions”-C Jung


Id machine: exhibition concept

I began making a model to describe the concept I want for my exhibition, I wanted to alter the sense of space for the viewer. I want the participant to sense that something isn’t quite right as soon as they have entered the space.

The desired effect is to create and eerie sense of perspective when entering the exhibition, this is known as forced perspective.

Forced perspective in architecture

“In architecture, a structure can be made to seem larger, taller, farther away or otherwise by adjusting the scale of objects in relation to the spectator, increasing or decreasing perceived depth.For example, when forced perspective is used to make an object appear farther away, the following method can be used: By constantly decreasing the scale of objects from expectancy and convention toward the farthest point from the spectator, an illusion is created that the scale of said objects is decreasing due to their distant location. In contrast, the opposite technique was sometimes used in classical garden designs and other “follies” to shorten the perceived distances of points of interest along a path.”
I can apply techniques like The Kellison Sticks method in order to produce correct mathematical proportions.
There is a strong history of forced perspective in film making, one of the most notable examples can be found in Hitchcock’s work ‘Vertigo’, here the dolly/zoom technique produces acts as an unsettling metaphor for ‘Scotties’ fear.

Hitchcock's 'Vertigo'

this technique is used in film making “…to suggest that a character is undergoing a realization that causes him or her to reassess everything he or she had previously believed”.
It’s this unreal situation that I want the participant to take part in, I want an odd sensation that things aren’t what they seem to permeate the whole experience, to act as a signifier that you are entering a world with different rules. I want to also refer to other metaphors for entering a surreal space, for example the concept of entering ‘deeper down the rabbit hole’ in Alice in Wonderland
I also want the placement of the frames in my exhibition to reflect the nature of sound itself,  as if the frames were markers for the ripple effect from the waves of sound being produced.

Sound Waves and their Sources 1933

I want to do my up most to ensure that the experience is as immersive as possible. It has always been my intention to produce a cognitive and emotional response within my participants in the same way cinema does with it’s viewer, will I be able to achieve this?….I think so

Id Machine: space tests

Testing the funnel shape concept for exhibition installation. creating a funnel shape toward the gramophone will focus attention and ensuring that the space is some what compact will allow the horn to dominate the space

I am inspired by Anish Kapoor’s use of space and perspective, his careful direction of space informs how the viewer uses and understands their environment. The experience has a level of engagement and immersion that I wish to explore in my own use of space.


Id Machine: Conversation Dynamics and Artificial Intelligence

'Gramophone Man' - Jeffrey Richter

As I have stated in my learning agreement. I consider my project Id Machine to continue past BA (Hons) evaluation. My intention is to use Id Machine as a research project, although my ambitions are far stretching, I have in mind and in planning, practical solutions to reach them.

The direction my research will take after my EMP critique is toward the content of audio input. As my project stands it is the qualities of the voice I’m using as my attributes. For now it is frequency that the system uses as data to judge by. The next step then, is to attribute more detail to analysis of the audio input data stream. With a firmer grasp of the characteristics of the recordings made, a more engaging and dynamic ‘conversation’ is possible

I understand that there is a long history in the direction of  conversation between man and machine and I will continue to reflect on the outcomes and impacts that have prevailed through this line of discourse further and later.

Watson robot on Jeopardy

Chat bots are designed for this very purpose (conversation), in most cases such as Eliza,  the ‘conversation’ is directed to persuade the participant that they are conversing with another human being, this is usually done through complex systems including decision trees and language processing techniques such as the use of keywords and referencing e.t.c. The success of this belief that a machine can fully converse like a man is considered as a milestone in artificial intelligence since the proposal of the Turing test in the article “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” (1950) and since then, it has been a subject of great focus for computer scientists, philosophers and many others alike.

It is important to note the creator of Eliza used the project to some extent to debunk the test and to showcase the artifice of an attempted project.

“machines are made to behave in wondrous ways, often sufficient to dazzle even the most experienced observer. But once a particular program is unmasked, once its inner workings are explained … its magic crumbles away; it stands revealed as a mere collection of procedures … The observer says to himself “I could have written that”. With that thought he moves the program in question from the shelf marked “intelligent”, to that reserved for curios”-Joseph Weizenbaum

I am acutely aware that my own project is bound to suffer from the same sense of falsehood, but my intent is not to fool an engaged viewer with false characteristics of a human speaker/conversationalist. But to immerse a participant into an engaging scenario in order (to some extent) for them to suspend their disbelief and to produce thoughtful and emotional interaction in a similar way to the suspension of disbelief in cinema and other narrative productions.

I will produce a machine…a system that will be imbued with elements of personality. Not one that intends to directly copy a person in human to human interaction.

anthropomorphisation in film

Storytelling has long used inhuman symbols and through processes such as anthropomorphization… these characters have caused audiences to empathize and related to them. Id Machine will have some very simple qualities of human conversation, but it is not the inherent qualities that are of interest…it is the action, reaction and projection of those that interact with it. I will direct the scenario in a similar way to that of a theater production.

What is unique about my project, is the fact that the content is entirely user generated. All input and output is audio recorded during the interaction. This work is also generative. The more participants interact with it, the broader the scheme of content. When this becomes the case each interaction becomes close to unique.

Onto practical applications. The first step is in matching audio input to models of simple conversational elements. for example I may be able to make an educated assumption of the participants age and gender by mapping the audio input against a model such as this

Pitch change through aging (Male and Female)

I could then include this assumption as metadata applied to the audio recording itself. Of course I will need more accurate models and equipment to get to this level.

I could also generate a model of  conversational elements, for example a model of a question, this could be determined through analysis of pitch inclination (see proposed model below).

Potential input matching model example for 'question' inclination

I may then be able to apply this method to more abstract concepts for example a model of intent, perhaps I can determine aggressive input by creating a model through a combination of vocal phrasing and volume analysis in order to create an assumption that if the input is loud and short in delivery that these properties represent aggressive intent in the content.

Potential input matching model example for 'question' inclination

Once I am able to determine these elements of conversation, fully and with accurate definition. I can produce greater ‘intelligence’ in my system by providing broader and more focused decision making elements against my stream of data.

The next major step is in determining aspects of conversation dynamics, the process of conversation is an integral part of socialising, this in turn is part of an integral desire to communicate. The way in which we communicate is incredible complex

“We are the only creatures on earth (as far as we know) that can remember the past as discrete events, then connect those events with present conditions. Then, on the basis of those connections, we can consciously decide what to do, and project possible present actions into the future consequences of those actions. Thus, unlike other animals that react to stimuli as they occur, humans live not only in the present, but in the past and the future. It is this ability to remember the past, relate it to the present, and project into the future that is a special province of humans”- ‘Taking ADvantage: Social basis of human behavior‘- Richadr F Taflinger

this will be a major topic of research later in my project. For now I will deal with assumptions backed by research. This research will inform my direction of the intended scenario. for example behavior during the act of turn taking during a conversation

“Turn-taking dynamics. In a given conversation, only one person (the speaker) speaks at any given time before another (different) participant (a listener of the same group) is entitled to speak. Within a single conversation, several non-overlapping sub-conversations can nucleate”-Massimo Mastrangeli, Martin Schmidt and Lucas Lacasa (2010)

This element will play heavily during the experience of my installation. Instantly a power dynamic is created simply through the act of speaking and listening. The act of turn taking will produce interesting sociological and psychology information.

“Joining/leaving force balance. Participants in a specific conversation remain in the conversation as long as they feel actively involved in it up to their preferred degree; otherwise, they start to wish to leave the conversation. We model this lively behavior by assigning a degree of happiness to each participant of the conversation. Happiness hereby stands for e.g. attention span, patience, assertiveness, self-esteem, and more: it is the index of the willingness of a participant to remain in a given conversation”-Massimo Mastrangeli, Martin Schmidt and Lucas Lacasa (2010)

This is of great concern for my project, participation in ‘conversation’ is key for all other information gathering and the overall quality of content. I will need to think further of ways to derive information of intent from a user.  It will be difficult for me to accurately measure a participants will in a live scenario so I must think around this problem.

Rorschach tests

Ideally the the scenario I’m looking to create is a kind of Rorschach test in which the interpretation and response of the participant is a point of interest and study. What’s more this particular interaction means that the participant is both providing information and interpreting information that others have provided. The interaction becomes a dynamic psychological environment

To do this propely I need to have greater control and direction for the audio output, I need to understand how conversation works and what other parameters I can use as data to process deeper in order to engage the participant further and provoke conversation.


Id machine: character and movement

While working on the mechanism of Id Machine, a classmate of mine Elliot Trent mentioned that the combination of motion and shape reminded him of Pixar‘s mascot – Luxo Jr.

The similarities had not struck me before, but thinking about it and rewatching Luxo J.r. I can see how the form suggests intention and focus (the coned head and light) and how easy it is to anthropromorphise the object with it’s very clear series of joints. The Luxo lamp is a visualy dynamic, mechanical object, as an audience we expect that we know how it works and what it’s capabilities and limitations are without conscious critical analysis. We ‘get it’ in terms of physicality without trying. What Pixar applied ontop of this was a sense of character and narrative in order to engage the viewer. It’s interesting to think how and why we suspend our disbelief of certain characters, this suspension of disbelief is something I need to fully suceed in my project. Although my project involves new media practise, I respect the power of traditional storytelling and narrative devices…in then end, they cause audiences to connect with artwork on a deeper level…perhaps I can learn a thing or two from these anthropomorphic creatures

As my search continued I came across an animatronic version of the Luxo character, there is something genuinely satisfying about watching the inanimate animate. How can I imbue my work with this level of charisma? can I find a way of expressing the Id in action, will manipulating the way Id machine moves act as a strong enough example…or will I need a subtle mixture of elements working off of one another?

Continuing my research I came across an entire field of work that could inform my project ‘Autonomatronics‘ is a more sophisticated version of Disney’s Aduio-animatronics. Basically robotic systems used to entertain in theme parks but these machines now interact with stimuli in their environment, rather than simply working off of a preset routine. This is a progression of the ‘Imagineering‘ campaign started by Disney in 1952.

Here you can see the basic principle of audience interaction taking place. This is surely Disney’s thoughts on the future of animated interaction and entertainment. This is a route I could take, or a way to compliment my Scientific and Theoretical work, or simply a movement I should be aware of with my practice. I need to think carefully if i were to deal with such large organisations…but anyway, one last thought on Pixar’s Luxo Jr…

In terms of symbolism there’s suggestion that Luxo Jr was designed as a metaphor for Pixar’s situation and relationship with Disney. But more importantly I think Pixar wants to get across the attitude of the desire to take on bigger things, of course in terms of branding this image…this persona has stuck, it would be ignorant to assume this was not intentional. I’m sure I could delve deeper in terms of the psychological relationship between the two animated luxo lamps. but I think I’ll save that for another time, for now I will step back and take some inspiration from a pioneering organisation of my time. Will Id machine become an icon of my work…of my ethos?…we’ll have to see


Id machine: Kinetic Mechanics sketch

Sketching some initial ideas that came out of a talk with Liam in terms of how the physical mechanisms will work

Through this process I highlighted some key questions to be resolved. Importantly a question I hadn’t considered properly before, What are the characteristics of the movement I want?…it’s not just about how I want the kinetic elements to move, but in what way should they move? How can I imbue this object with character?, how can I suggest life like intention the way that social robotic projects like Kismet do?. For my project, there are two elements to the mechanics

  1. Structural, actual factually practicalities of how to make it work, does it need to pivot here, can I move it in this way e.t.c.
  2. The qualities of the action/reaction scenario. In other words how will the narrative be played out, how will I show actions such as interest/dis interest?, in what way will the movement suggest the social intentions of the object? what is the emotional objective being presented in this form of Proto-conversation? What is it that I can do practically, that will allow the viewer to anthropomorphize this object and suspend their disbelief in order to take part in the scenario presented to them?

I have begun to answer this second question with my previous intention for this object, that is to represent one of the elements that make up the human psyche, the Id.

“The Id is a reservoir of need-gratification impulses such as primitive instinctual drives of sexuality, aggression, and hunger”-link

I want the object to well….be cheeky, to purposely be a little abrasive and difficult to get on with. The irrational childish and cartoon like nature of the Id informs how I want this object to behave, this behavior will largely be reflected in movement. I want the object to play with the participant, to seemingly get bored and lose focus, to interrupt…to suddenly burst into a reaction only to drift off afterward. The point of this personality (if you will) is to suggest intention, more importantly playful intention as a behavioral characteristic. This is designed to provoke a sense of curiosity and a more playful response in the participant, this in turn will lead the person to spend more time with Id Machine and to a degree a form of emotional bonding will be enacted.

The Id is a provocative, primal and evocative element to the make up of a personality and acts as a powerful driving force in terms of structural narrative devises, this connection between psychology and narrative is an area I will explore further in the future with more research. The Id is a complex element of the subconscious and I will need to spend alot of time to understand it’s inner workings and consequences.

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