Workshop: Thinking with the Dancing Brain: Embodying Neuroscience

Workshop: Thinking with the Dancing Brain: Embodying Neuroscience, Rima Faber and Sandra Minton

Neurological exploration of the brain is a current internal research frontier. Rima Faber and Sandra Minton co-authored a recently published book, Thinking with the Dancing Brain: Embodying Neuroscience. Each chapter in the book addresses thought processes in dance by: describing the processes, explaining the brain networks involved, providing connections to academic classroom pedagogy, applying the information to movement and dance, and guiding the reader through movement explorations and improvisations pertinent to each process. The proposed workshop would follow this format from prime selected portions of the book. 

This experiential workshop highlights discoveries about and the embodiment of thought process used in dance in relation to brain function. It links the dancing brain to practice, pedagogy, 21st Century Skills, and provide movement explorations in applications to learning dance. The practical nature of this presentation provides explorations teachers can use to develop thinking skills in their students.

The presentation benefits the field of dance and education by showing that the brain functions discovered through neuroscience research are closely aligned with dance education practices. The connection between dance and neuroscience provides a fresh look at common dance curricula. It places dance education on a level playing field with the other arts and academic areas that are normally included in schools across America. Dance exercises the brain, meets the National Core Arts Standards for Dance, and teaches 21st Century Skills. All of these connections provide advocacy tools for dance educators and for the inclusion of dance in schools. 

Little research has been pursued based on the neurology of the artistic processes of dance (creating, performing, responding, and connecting), but a great amount has been learned about how the brain is wired and functions in relation to many thought processes. The workshop and book present a practical approach that focusses on the embodiment of neuroscience discoveries applied to the thought processes used in dance. Learning dance necessitates using mental abilities in observation, analysis, pattern recognition, memory, and transference/transformation of ideas and knowledge while choreographing relies on imagination, pattern formation and problem solving as well as generating emotional content. The neurology for these thought processes are embodied in movement.

Panel: Towards the Interbody: Embodiment and Interface

Patricia Pisters, Perfecting the Self in Digital Media Culture: Neurofeedback and Embodied Self-Knowledge

Neurofeedback is used in closed-loop settings, where subjects learn to control the activation of specific brain regions when presented with a measure of that regions activation (Cavazza et. al. 2015) Neurofeedback is used increasingly in the development of Brain-Computer-Interfaces and sometimes make use of virtual agents to provide realistic visual feedback in order to enhance mental behavioral and emotional control. This paper will investigate how the experimental settings of neurofeedback systems, where a mind reflects back on itself in order to learn, correct, perfect or control, can be extrapolated to a larger and complex media context. Several fields governed by similar looping patterns. A first cultural feedback loop system that can be recognized as such is related to CCTV systems and other surveillance mechanisms (including drones, facial recognition software and other ‘nonconscious cognitive agents’); these systems and devices actually have turned the world into a closed feedback loop circuit, which includes the embodied brain of the human subject. Besides this collective political level, there is another level of looping that operates on our individual consciousness: the camera switch mode of our cell phones have encouraged the cult of the selfie, making us all reflect back on ourselves in a narcissistic tradition of self-reflection and perfect self-presentation. Thirdly, filmmakers have turned their camera’s increasingly inward, filming by and large from ‘inside out’, showing us the world of their protagonists in all their fantasmatic and regularly even psychopathological dimensions. It is this third level of brain reflexivity in contemporary digital cinema that I will focus on in this presentation. In this context I will refer to two particular cinematographic cases of ‘neurofeedback looping’ and ‘avatars’ (Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, 2010; and Simon Pummel’s Brand New U, 2015) that are telling of the kind of problems of embodied (self)knowledge we are facing today.

Vicente Raja and Paco Calvo, Augmented Reality: An Ecological Blend

Augmented Reality (AR) makes reference to the real-time perception of an environmental setting that has been enhanced by means of computer-generated virtual components. The design of current AR devices is based on the real-time superimposition and alignment of a symbolic virtual layer with the real environment. This way of augmenting reality rests upon the representational-cum-computational principles of cognitivism: cognition and perception are to be accounted for in information-processing terms.
Unfortunately, designing AR devices along representational/computational lines results, we contend, in cognitive overload. AR users are faced with the problem of having to connect two pools of data as they deal with disparate sources of information, the symbolic and the environmental—in some devices, problems of attention and headaches have already been reported. It seems that current AR devices serve to augment, not reality, but rather cognitive demands. This is more pressing once we consider that some users’ cognitive skills may not be fully developed or are somewhat diminished (e.g, infants and Alzheimer’s patients).

Our thesis is that we may be able to bypass these problems by endorsing, when designing AR devices, the principles of ecological psychology, and not those of cognitivism. The main tenet of ecological psychology is that information does not need to be processed cognitively, since it is rich enough and already specifies opportunities for behavioral interaction in the form of perceived affordances. Information only needs to be detected. In this way, ecological augmented reality (E-AR) devices could contribute to enriching environmental information by providing novel specifications and by generating new affordances or by highlighting those already present. Crucially, the type of information to be exploited by E-AR is in the blend of the virtual layer with the environment itself. This is how augmented reality becomes E-AR. We review some sensory substitution devices for the sake of illustration.

Adnan Marquez Borbon, Perceptual learning and the emergence of performer-instrument interactions with digital music systems

The relationship between human and computers within the area of HCI has shifted from being represented by cognitive, information-processing approaches to more recent situated and embodied perspectives. This matter has analogously developed within interactive digital musical system research.

However, the nature of this interaction, while commonly drawing upon J.J. Gibson’s theory of affordance for analysis, often fails to characterize the emergent relationship between performer and musical system. This has led to regard affordances as mere design features, as well as taking for granted the skillful contributions of the performer. Interactions in this manner are represented as static.

In this paper, I present the findings of a long-term phenomenological research study describing the evolving nature of performer-instrument interactions. I resort to E.J. Gibson’s perceptual learning approach to frame the experiences of performers, both individually and socially, as they learned to play a new digital musical instrument, the Pulley Synth. I argue that the nature of such interactions is grounded on learning and that the changing perception of the system contributes to the process of enskilment. In this view, more than being an acquisition of conceptual knowledge of the instrument’s operation, learning suggests a holistic behavioral change towards the system in which musical and sonic possibilities of the entire performer-instrument-environment ecology are explored and enacted.

I conclude that perceptual learning is significant within the context of HCI and musical technology, given that current design and performance practices with interactive digital music systems remain influenced by established musical practices (for example, Classical music). If one of the aims of this domain is the development of new musical interactions and practices, the ability to overcome the influence of musical traditions and to perceive new sonic possibilities must be considered in both the design and instrumental learning processes.

Shannon Cuykendall and Thecla Schiphorst, Untying the Knot of Dance Movement Expertise: An Enactive Approach

Many cognitive scientists are turning to dance experts to explore the relationship between bodily knowledge and perception. Dancers have a unique skill set that integrates physical and expressive abilities, making them intriguing participants in studies that examine how the action observation network, action prediction, learning, memory, and aesthetic preferences are related to one’s physical experiences. While findings from these studies suggest that dance experts perceive movement differently than novices; the definitions of what constitutes a “dance expert” are far ranging, making it challenging to compare results across studies.

We discuss the variety of dance experts that are recruited for scientific studies in movement perception and draw upon research in dance education to form a richer definition of dance expertise. One possible way to parameterize expertise in dance is by role (e.g. performer, teacher) and style (e.g. ballet, hip-hop). However, the challenge in differentiating expertise by style or role is that many many dancers have trained in multiple styles of dance and commonly have overlapping roles–thus creating a knot of expertise.

To untie this knot, we propose an enactive approach. Rather than label dancers as experts or novices based on an arbitrary requirement of the number of years a dancer has trained in a particular style or role, we suggest that broader categories of expertise will emerge from the data that go beyond both style and role. We predict four main types of expertise: Virtuosic, Expressive, Kinematic and Expressive expertise. Through combining methodologies such as psychometric measurement, eye tracking, brain imaging, phenomenological and analytical accounts of movement we can develop a more complete understanding of how expertise relates to the ways in which dance experts observe, learn, and articulate movement. This research can both inform the study of movement perception and help define gaps in dance education.

Panel: Experimental Collective Experience

Xin Wei Sha, Textural articulation and rhythm as non-anthropocentric approaches to individuation

Attending to rhythm can help get a grip on collective experience without resorting to a-priori homunculi selves or anthropocentric objects. Rhythm is not sense data — it is not perceived but apperceived. Rhythm arises from body encountering a variation in matter – movement. Taking the converse, we can generalize beyond fleshy human bodies and physical matter to more extended entities. Then rhythm becomes an instrument for non-anthropocentrically examining enaction, gesture, materiality, retrospection and anticipation.

But how can we understand dynamic, change, rhythm without resorting to abstracting procedures without resorting to “time” and “clocks” as a priori abstractions? Does rhythm, even if irregular, require some notion of repetition and rigorous methods for detecting repetition in situ? What concepts of rhythm can afford insights into complex bio-social phenomena at multiple scales, insights that are rigorous and yet do not reduce the phenomena too much? These raise in turn profound and methodologically significant questions about repetition, difference and identity.

To qualify: (1) Temporality means the sense of dynamic or variation of state. (2) Sense is not attached to a pre-given subject. (3) Articulation means not representation but material-semiotically shaping, a mode of ontogenesis (vs. morphogenesis). (4) time-based media means all kinds of distributions of light, sound, matter that vary in concert with contingent activity as well as design.

I will present installation-performance experiments from 10 years of work that simultaneously constitute non-reductive experiments in temporality and non-anthropocentric, ethico-aesthetic spaces of play. These range from movement studies and time-conditioning installations to studies of vegetal experience in philosophy and dance.

Elizaveta Solomonova, Embodied dreaming and improvisation in public and private places: contribution of neurophenomenology and art practice to subjectivity research

he ubiquity of technology is serving the increasing demands not only for information and connectivity, but also for externalization and abstraction of certain subjective facilities, such as personal memory and interpersonal activities. The use of media technology is overwhelmingly representational and modular. Recent approaches to study of brain dynamics and lived experience, however, show that the brain is a plastic and dynamic organ, always changing in response to the organism’s life, therefore challenging the determinate, representational and modular view of the mind.
The importance of focusing on nuanced methodologies for collecting and shaping subjective experience is slowly being recognized as a cornerstone not only for fundamental sciences and philosophy, but also for applied disciplines, such as architecture, urban planning, sociology and technologies of performance. Recent neurophenomenological research on lived experience draws on insights from phenomenology of embodiment, brain dynamics and nuanced first-person reports of experience to elucidate the sense-making process of subjectivity. Studies of varieties of experiences, including contemplative experience and dream practices, suggest that individual experience is organically coupled with physical and social spaces and is mediated by playful intersubjective, performative actions.

In this presentation I will discuss some of the strategies of employing neurophenomenological and media methodologies to inform investigation of not only private but also shared collective experiences. The embodied, enactive and intersubjective dimensions of lived experience can manifest themselves through a lens of a performative, process-based framework. I will present examples from collaborative projects, informed by phenomenology, neuroscience, and augmented media installations. Spontaneous mental activity, in form of private experience, or an utterance, or gesture in shared space, can be seen as improvisational play, thus illuminating creative interpersonal dimensions and the associative nature of subjectivity. Such research facilitates de-centering of subjectivity and emphasizes the shared, intersubjective and temporal qualities of experience.

Adrian Freed and John MacCallum, Sounds from the Electrified Human Body: Reconfigurations of Embodied and Encultured Knowledge from the development of Electrosomatophones

Until the twentieth century, fundamental discoveries of electricity were experienced and articulated by integrating the living and dead flesh of human and other animal bodies into electrical circuits. Examples of this include Watson’s flying boy capacitors, Galvani’s frog motors, Franklin’s batteries, Volta’s pile, Pages’ inductors, Meucci’s telephone and Gray’s musical telegraph. Public demonstrations of electrified bodies were largely abandoned in the early 1900’s as electrical engineering professionalized, power levels increased, electrocutions terrified, and doctors prohibited.

The production of electrosomatophones, musical instruments that incorporate electricity in human bodies for sound production, was not slowed by the establishment of this taboo against direct human contact with the “electrical fire”, but the taboo did induce a significant change in practice: a shift away from direct current flows through bodies to electrical field modulations of the body–as typified by the Theremin of 1920 and musical instrument “apps” that use the touch screens of today’s mobile telephones. Visceral experience of electricity is attenuated by this move to very low currents and electric field interactions. The resulting mystification profoundly reconfigured and conditioned embodied and encultured knowledge of electricity.

These changes will be critically examined by surveying the practice and discourse of the last 300 years of electrosomatophone development including the Denis d’or of Václav Prokop Diviš in 1748, Gray’s devices of the late 1800’s, Theremin in the early 1900’s, Eremeeff, Trautwein, Lertes, Heller in the 1930’s, Le Caine in the 1950’s, Michel Waisvisz and Don Buchla in the 1960’s, Salvatori Martirano and the Circuit Benders in the 1970’s, and Smule Inc. in this decade.

Samuel Veissière, Phenomenality, Narrativity, Tulpamancy; Experience Without Subjects?

I this paper, I examine what the phenomenology of sentient imaginary companions conjured through “thoughtform” meditative practice can teach us about the collective mediation of personhood and experience – “culture” for shorts. I go on to ask whether it is ontologically and ethically honest to hang on to the notion of “the Self”. Can we really speak of experience without subjects?

In fleshing out these questions, I outline a basic cultural neurophenomenology of sociality—the tendency for humans to form cooperative groups and experience shared ways of representing, enacting, and embodying experience. I introduce the notion of interphenomenality to describe the sensory, “what it feels like” aspects of lived experience for humans who come to develop similar ways of feeling and narrativizing their selves. I argue that most of what counts as personhood for humans is shaped, induced, and automatized in ontogeny through selective processes of joint attention that are best described as hypnotic, and discuss my ethnographic and neurophenomenological study of the emerging culture of tulpamancy as a case in point to theorize these mechanisms. Tulpas (a term borrowed from Tibetan Buddhism) are sentient imaginary companions conjured through “thoughtform” meditative practice. Tulpamancy, I offer, presents a fascinating case-study to shed light on fundamentally human cultural-phenomenal mechanisms through which transient, hypnotic, asymmetrically collective, but somatically grounded experiences of personhood invariably arise—and can be altered! In the end, I return to basic onto-epistemic and ethical questions about what counts as a person, and how personhood is knowable. Are we ready to abandon our commitment to the givenness of first-personal experience as a minimal requirement for sentience and consciousness?