Neurocultures Conference: Empowering the senses

The presentation is based on the observation that in the era of visual domination we are being less exposed to diverse sensual expierience, because we find visual communication almost entirely sufficient. In addition to that we tend to rely on visual information more than on data acquired thorugh the remaining senses. We have to note everything down on a piece of paper, copy it, scan it or take a photo. We are more likely to believe in something that is written than in what is heard.

8th Cracow Cognitive Conference: sensory intelligence

19-20 March I took part in the annual Cracow Cognitive Science Conference at the Jagiellonian University. This year it was the 8th edition with the leading theme: INTELLIGENCE. The event is aimed mostly at students and Ph.D. students/researchers in Cognitive Science but it may also be beneficial for students and specialists from related fields such as: psychology, neurobiology or linguistics. 

My presentation this year covered the topic of sensory intelligence and the practical consequences of forming this concept. The title of the presentation posed a question: Is there a sensory intelligence?  [Abstract PDF].  It was inspired by the study I carried out in the Institute of Philosophy/Faculty of Art of the University of Rzeszów to test meta-awereness of sensory reactions of the listeners who experience various timbres of sound. The differences in the sensibility to sound and the abillity to use sense-related vocabulary made me think of the need to address more than visual and auditory modalities in the process of teaching. The development of human sensory perception is mostly an unconciouss process which is perceived as natural and taken for granted by most individuals. Unless severely disabled, we rarely pay attention to intentional development of sensory sensitivity. In fact most of us don't care about our education in the field of sound or colour perception. Certain senses are usually developed by specific proffesional groups e.g. chiefs work on the development of taste, sound engineers exercise hearing etc. The rest of the population depends on the in-born abillities shaped by regular school education and occasional cultural experience (art, cinema, music).

What if we paid more attention to our sensory development? How would it affect our general intelligence levels?

The aim of my study is to raise questions about the role of multisensory stimuli in the development of human intelligence. The basic question which underlies this approach is whether the concept of sensory intelligence is necessary to talk about the development of human perceptive system or whether it is excessive. In most cases when we think about intelligence we think about processing information not acquiring data from the environment. We usually associate intelligence with the process of reasoning and acting towards solving problems. On the other hand, there would be no processing if it weren't for the highly specified mechinisms of gathering data.

Humans gather information about the outside world with sensory receptors such as (according to J.J. Gibson, 1966): photoreceptors, mechanoreceptors, thermoreceptors, chemoreceptrs and nociceptors. All of these receptors contribute information necessary for the formation of the overall sensory experience. The receptors cooperate which each other as the basic

I analyzed a number of examples of practices, used either by myself or encountered during research, which involve cross-modal representations to successfully enhance understanding of specific problems. I claim that the explanation of some phenomena may be successfully improved by translating the problem from the domain of one modality to the other (e.g. determining the level of similarity of the timbres of different sounds by using visual representations – spectrograms rather than just sound samples presentation). The study was inspired by the observation of the ineffectiveness of some educational models and the possibility of future improvement in this field. The observed problem concerns mainly the ineffective methodology of knowledge transfer based on single - modality addressing. I propose to rethink the way of looking at certain tasks so that they would be approached from a different perspective and their understanding would be more natural in terms of the variety of sensory predispositions of the individuals. I believe that there is a great chance that people once determined as mediocre or of limited predispositions may be encouraged to work on their self-development and achieve more when approached in the right way. This assumption goes way beyond the common belief that there are people who learn by sight or people who learn by listening. The research in this field might be of great help in adjusting teaching methods to certain problems or subjects and formulating theories on the role of sensory development in the general intelligence levels.


Conference presentation: Is There a Sensory Intelligence? (pdf)
Jean Ayres, Sensory Integration and the Child, (2005), first published: 1970s
Jean Ayres,
Southern California Integration Tests (1975)
Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (1989)

Art+Bits: Data Storytelling

While searching for media labs in Poland I came across Media Lab 
Katowice. Last year they launched an interesting project on art, design & technology called art+bits festival. This November the second edition took place. The event was based on workshop sessions, seminars and discussion panels alongside with concerts, performances and an exhibition.
After a glance at their interesting programme I decided on Data Storytelling workshop led by Studio NAND form Berlin. As I've always been invoved in many academic projects, I find it absolutely crucial to present data in an attractive way. Any data set on any topic can actually be interesting if given the appropriate way of presentation. We all know by now that visualization really matters.
During the workshop session we were divided into groups. Each group was supposed to come up with a story told with visual data (diagrams, charts etc.). My group started out with quite serious idea for an inquiry on synaesthetic bound between the sound of one's name and the colour it evokes in our mind. The project went thorugh many changes: from beeing pretty serious to being a dating site. Eventually we ended up with some pataphysics theory on the relevance of colours when it comes to characterizing personal qualities. Working on the idea that initially seemed serious but in the end evolved into a big joke on statistical thinking was trully fun. To some extent it was also very teaching. The result can be viewed here (pdf).

However for me, the most interesting part of the festival was the Speculative Design panel. The session consisted of three speakers presenting their ideas for the future-oriented design: Superflux, Simone Rebaudengo (whom I adore) and PanGenerator. Most of the ideas were examples of critical design which operates on the possible scenarios of the rapid development of technology and its influence on the society. Some scenarios were more probable, some less but altogether they presented the reverted perspective we rarely think of. That is - what might be the consequences of the misuse of technology or the use without social planning and taking into consideration the human psyche.

Sadly the meeting I was expecting most didn't take place. Lev Manovich (who's a guru in my field) couldn't come. That's actually the second time I wanted to meet the guy but eventually didn't. A month earlier I went to Nina wersja beta festival in Warsaw where Manovich was one of the panelists and didin't get in, because all the  passes had been given out. I'm gonna meet him anyways one day...

Altogether art+bits was a really nice experience, I liked the people, the space, the organization and the atmosphere. Sometimes it seems obvious to us that festivals should be nice, but from the very perspective of working for one I can tell it's not so easy to create "an experience" rather than "an event".
Surely I'll come next year.

Klasyczne dzieła sztuki nowych mediów, red. Piotr Zawojski (2015)

OFAFA 2015: Sound design for animated film

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure to conduct two days workshops on sound design for animated film. The workshops were part of OFAFA festival and had an open formula. I'd like to make a short summary of those two interesting days full of lectures, common discussions and great classics of Polish animation.
Firstly I have to thank all the participants for being really attentive, curious and open-minded. I admire the athmospere we created together and hope to see you all proceed with your interests and professional careers. Secondly big thanks to Kawiarnia Stopklatka for hosting the event and waking me up every morning with a great cup of coffee.

Due to space limitations the workshops were mostly based on presentations and discussions on specific sound design solutions and techniques. On Thursday's rainy morning we dealt with a great amount of psychoacoustics knowledge, followed by the history of the XXth century music and its influence on sound design. Here you can find the presentations (panel I and panel II - so far in Polish only). To follow the examples [P...] look here
Friday didn't go exactly as scheduled but I think to the benefit of everybody - it changed into a knowledge and opinion sharing forum of Q&A. Firstly I tried to answer four basic questions of every sound design novice: Which DAW to choose? How to record? How to listen? Where to find sound libraries? In the second part we watched two versions of Paweł Prewencki's short animated film - one with the original sound (based mostly on music with a marginal role of sound effects and ambients), the other with my experimental soundtrack based on sound effects, Foley effects and ambients. The idea was to show how adequate sound effects can enrich an animated film and let the objects and the supporting charaters become more interesting and significant by providing them with their own sounds. The discussion on this topic was so intense and fruitful that there was no time left for the last panel that had been planned. Therefore I summarized it online if anyone's still interested into what I was going to present.

Most topics covered during the workshops will be the subject of the MOOC I am working on with the support of the University of Rzeszów. I'll post the link as soon as it's ready. You're welcome to participate.

The additional topic that came up during the discussions was music and sound licensing, author's rights etc. I am no expert in this field, I just know the basics useful to me. However, this made me think that there is a great need "on the market" for this kind of knowledge. I'll think of posting here a short guide to this topic in the near future.

To conclude - here's a nice photo from the workshops. Rainy autumn morning, great coffee and great audience. I wish for all my students to be alike:)
Credits for the photoes go to Daria Godyń - thanks a lot for your help:)

Stereotyped childhood: dialogue and character creation in the classic Polish cartoons

I had known what the Italians were like before I even got to know any Italian. I had known they were talkative, emotional and noisy. I had had this idea planted in my head since forever and I could swear they were like that having never met any of them nor having ever seen a real one on TV. Where from then? Where does a child of six get the idea of the people she's never seen?
CARTOONS. Stereotypes repeated over and over again in the cartoons we watch as children create very strong images of certain people and events that are hard to change in our further life. 

This thought was an inspiration of my presentation during the 7th Cracow's Cognitive Sciences Conference that took place at the Jagiellonian University 24-25 April 2015. My intention was to analyze why do we have to teach our children stereotypes from the very early stages of their lives and why at the same time stereotypes are the best way to create a witty, funny and successful dialogue in an animated film.

Firstly we have to concentrate for a while on the meaning of the word stereotype and the role of it in the social praxis. Basically stereotype is a way of thinking and creating mental concepts of objects, situations and processes. It's based on our own or somebody else's experience either shared or transferred upon us by the means of language or visual communication. Streotype is the simplification of reality based on general or the most obvious characteristics of something. Sometimes also the most extreme. We mainly construct the stereotypes by saying: She is like this, they are like that. For example: The Spanish are noisy, the Polish always complain.  Why then do we need stereotypes if they don't give us a detailed and verified view of the world ?
It's the matter of the economy of perception and our natural laziness in gathering and processing information. We don't need all the information there is but just the sufficient amount. In cognitive sciences it's called the model of the cognitive miser. Once we've gathered enough data to formulate an opinion or understand something on the basic level we usually (if not motivated by educational or scientific reasons) give up on getting to know more. Thanks to this mechanism we don't suffer from data overload and easily develop strategies of getting by in the world whose complexity is beyond the possibility of being fully understood.

Let's look at an excellent example - My Uncle by Jacques Tati (1958). In the first few minutes of the movie we meet the main character and observe his daily routine. We easily figure out he's quite unusual, totally unpractical and clumsy and to some extent really weird. In the following scenes he is challenged with taking care of his nephew, starting a new job and attending social events in his sister's and her husband's fancy modern house. After a short presentation in the beginning of the film we can be pretty sure that he is not gonna make it successfully to the end. He's a stereotype of an outsider that in no way fits into the reality and is bound to fail. The film, though, is a comedy.

Here we are confronted with the most important role of the stereotypes - creating a comic effect. Stereotypes are a non-stop source of humour and the inspiration of most jokes. They make us laugh either directly by pointing out the most extreme and outrageous dimensions of a situation or indirectly by offering a totally reversed image than the one we were expecting to see. While searching for a theoretical background of the sense of humour I came across this definition; something is funny to us when it develops in a way we were not expecting it to. In this sense we naturally laugh over the reversed stereotypes.

The above reflections lead us to the main question of my inquiry: What's the role of the stereotypes in the animated film? In the first place they enable the creation of a simplified representation of objects rather than a detailed and complex one (technical reason). Secondly they enable faster and easier recogntion of the objects by comparing them to the known ones and placing them within the known context (perceptive reason). In the third place they may result in comic effects.

There is a substantial difference in the stereotipization of the dialogues and character creation in the animated films for young and for adult audiences. The cartoons for children use stereotypes in a direct way. As Andrzej Kossakowski states: A child likes grotesque and accepts deformation only up to a certain level. In order not to cross the border we can simplify the object by emphisizing its general characteritics (…). Appealing to the child’s knowledge about the shape, the colour, the movement or the subjective experience (…) guarantees success
It brings us back to the first example - the figure of a typical Italian. Let's just verify it on two examples: Pampalini łowca zwierząt and Porwanie Baltazara Gąbki. Both of them exploit the common image of the character of the Italian background that is emotional, talkative and slightly hot - headed (Pampalini the hunter and Bartolini the chef). 

On the other hand let's look at the adult animations. In this case the stereotypes are usually used to create a comic effect. The most significant example I can come up wih regarding Polish animated film is Julian Antoniszczak's professor from the film Kilka praktycznych sposobów na przedłużenie sobie życia (1974). We have a figure of a typical old - fashioned intelectual whose professional tone is dramatically confronted with the absurdity of his argument. Other example is the narrator of Jak działa jamniczek?. A pseudo-scientific explanation given by the voice of an old mentally handicaped men creates a grotesque effect: at the same time comic and horrifying.  

For more stereotypes I encouarage you to look for a brilliant Polish cartoon series: Przygody Kapitana Klipera which exploits all the possible stereotypic ideas we may have about different nations of the world.
On the contrary - for those looking for a unique idea of a cartoon - take a look at Kochajmy straszydła. It's an ingenious series with unusual characters and a plot that for children may just seem interesting but for the adults is a witty social critique of the time.

Andrzej Kossakowski, Polski film animowany 1945-74, (1977)
Pampalini łowca zwierząt, prod. Studio Filmów Rysunkowych, (1975-80)
Porwanie Baltazara Gąbki, prod. Studio Filmów Rysunkwych, (1969-70)
Przygody Kapitana Klipera, prod. Studio Filmów Rysunkowych, (1986-90)
Kochajmy straszydła, prod. Studio Miniatur Filmowych, (1970)
Kilka praktycznych sposobów na przedłużenie sobie życia, dir. Julian Antoniszczak, (1974)
Jak działa jamniczek?, dir. Julian Antoniszczak (1971)