Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘emotion’

05 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Sentics: Emotional Healing Through Music and Touch

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A sensory antidote to addiction and depression, or what artificial intelligence has to do with poetry.

In the late 1960s, as advances in neuroscience technology were making the brain knowable in entirely new ways and illuminating it as an input device, Austrian-born scientist and inventor Manfred Clynes became interested in its capacities as an output device. He began experimenting with the basic expressive time forms of the central nervous system, which he called “sentic forms,” and argued they were universal — something he proved by deriving sounds from people’s emotional expressions through touch and gesture, then playing these sounds to people of different cultures, who were able to correctly identify the original emotions the sounds were expressed.

Based on these findings, Clynes developed an application in which subjects used touch to express a sequence of emotions — neutrality, anger, hate, grief, love, sexual desire, joy, and reverence — through finger pressure. The 25-minute sequences, called sentic cycles, were based on a precise mathematical formula and resulted in subjects reporting calmness, energy, an alleviation of depression, and even a loosening of the grip of tobacco and alcohol addictions. Clynes used his research as evidence that that it was possible to counter a negative emotional state by inducing a rather rapid shift into a positive one, particularly showing that music was most powerful mechanism for inducing love, joy, and reverence.

How remarkable it would be if one could experience and express the spectrum of emotions embodied in music originating from oneself—without the crutch of a composer’s intercession, without being driven by the composer; and to do so moreover whenever we wish, not when circumstance may call them forth. This, indeed, has become possible through the development of sentic cycles.” ~ Manfred Clynes

In 1972, Clynes began distilling his theory into a book that took him four years to write. In 1976, he published Sentics: The Touch of the Emotions, in which he outlined his findings of emotional perception and response at the intersection of music, art and mathematics. (Also featured are a number of Clynes’ poems, some of which artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky quoted in his seminal 1986 book, The Society of Mind.) Blending clinical research, theory and philosophy, the book laid the foundations of the sentics field, insights from which have since seeped into everything from psychotherapy to addiction rehabilitation to education.

Changes in respiration and heart rate during a sentic cycle. Respiration accelerates during anger and hate. During grief the respiration has a gasping character with rest periods at the expiratory end of the cycle. Respiration slows during love, and speeds up markedly for sex. (Inspiration is downward in the figure.) During reverence there is a marked slowing down of respiration with resting phases at the inspiratory phases of the cycle (paralleling those

Perhaps the most important application and effect of sentic cycles lies in their ability to influence the urges and driving forces of the personality. The sense of calmness and satisfaction of being, as such, or the sensation of being emotionally drained, which occasionally replaces this, noticeably alters the dynamics of drives. One may observe the replacement of the neurotic anxious drive— the rigid drive toward self-imposed goals—by a creative drive coupled with joy in its exercise. This displacement of a drive whose satisfaction lies in a distant goal (which cannot be achieved in the present) by a creative drive whose exercise provides a continuous flow satisfaction coupled with joy) is a remarkable aspect of sentic cycles. It appears that needs for smoking and perhaps even drugs may be seriously altered through the use of sentic cycles.” ~ Manfred Clynes

A big thanks to reader Jeff Beddow for flagging Sentics in his comment on this recent piece about 7 essential books on music, emotion and the brain.

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17 SEPTEMBER, 2010

The Talking Tree: Vegetation Does Social Media

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Facebooking flora, or what biometric feedback has to do with broadening empathy.

We walk by trees all the time, rarely recognizing them as living beings rather than static objects. But that’s what they are — complex, delicate organisms that respond to their environment, from the weather to pollution to noise level, in ways too subtle for us to notice. If they could speak, what would they say? To find out, Dutch science magazine EOS decided to equip a 100-year-old tree in Brussels with a variety of sensors and devices. The Talking Tree was born. The tree has its own wifi station, sending data from all the different devices to custom software that then analyzes it to extract how the tree feels, eventually translating those feelings into words to be shared across the social web.

Between the ozone meter, light meter, weatherstation, fine dust meter, webcam and microphone, the tree was given a kind of technology-assisted eloquence that allowed it to “comment” on its living circumstances through constant biometric feedback translated into human language. The Talking Tree then shares these sentiments on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. A Flickr stream documents its immediate environment regularly and a SoundCloud set captures its auditory surroundings. (Which reminded us of Diego Stocco’s bonsai symphony.)

Lots of trees in big cities have a hard time due to the pollution. But when you’re walking past a tree that’s sick you don’t always see that there is anything
wrong with it or how he’s experiencing his environment. So, naturally, we got the idea to let the tree talk about how he’s experiencing all this.” ~ Ramin Afshar

The Talking Tree is part of EOS‘s Low Impact Month initiative, rallying for carbon-minimalist living in the month of November. But, more importantly, beneath the cheeky concept of social-media-savvy flora lies a profound provocation of how we relate to other beings, broadening our scope of empathy to encompass complex, sentient species beyond our own.

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03 DECEMBER, 2009

We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion

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Four years and 12 million feelings later, a book that lives up to its grand expectations.

In 2005, visionary artist-storyteller Jonathan Harris (whom we’ve already established we love) embarked upon an ambitious experimental journey into human emotion. The project, titled We Feel Fine, soon became an icon of interactive storytelling and data visualization. The premise was simple: Every few minutes, an algorithm would scrobble the world’s newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling,” and harvest human emotion by recording the full sentence and context in which the phrase occurs, identifying the polarity (happy, sad, depressed, etc. ) of the specific “feeling” expressed. Because the blogosphere is lined with metadata, it was possible to extract rich information about the posts and their authors, from age and gender to geolocation and local weather conditions, adding a new layer of meaning to the feelings.

The result was a database of millions of human feelings, growing by about 20,000 per day.

This week, Harris and co-author Sep Kamvar release We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion, a remarkable book exploring the 12 million human emotions recorded since 2005 through brilliantly curated words and images that make this massive repository of found sentiment incredibly personal yet incredibly relatable. From despair to exhilaration, from the public to the intimate, it captures the passions and dreams of which human existence is woven through candid vignettes, intelligent infographics and scientific observations.

With its unique software-driven model, We Feel Fine is a revelation of emotion through a prism of rational data that only makes the emotional crux deeper and more compelling. It’s the rich symphony to PostSecret‘s scattered and sporadic soundbites, transcending mere voyeurism to offer a complex, layered context that spans sociology, psychology and digital anthropology.

From sentiments about cities to approval ratings of celebrities to the effects of gender and age on emotion, We Feel Fine picks at the fabric of feeling and thought from all sides and angles to reveal a complex portrait of human essence.

You can peek inside the book online and even download many of the pages as PDF’s.

For more about the challenges of translating a web narrative onto a print medium, how the idea for the book first came up, and what’s next for Jonathan, check out our exclusive Q&A with him for Wired UK. And grab a copy of We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion — for yourself, or as one of the smartest holiday gifts out there.

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