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    My Life as a Severed Head
    At this moment in the Internet's history I am one of many, I would suspect, who often prefers to receive the world on demand, to leave touch with my immediate surroundings in order to surf the information of my choosing. This is a very particular and unique kind of information acquisition, it's accelerated and intentional. I've asked several friends in the cognitive sciences what to call this variety of mental processing, it's not intellectual perse, not rational necessarily, cerebral? These synonyms all have connotations that disqualify them as adequate terminology, so instead I'll call it "severed head." This particular state of being is characterized by the feeling that your body is trailing behind your head at all times, only to be felt when some mentally stimulating idea triggers a release of adrenaline. A fine feeling indeed.

    Coop Himmelblau's Soul Flipper

    This way of absorbing the world is very different from the world experienced by the body as a whole. And being a severed head myself, I often prefer Google search results to more physical sources of information. Recent experiences, however, have re-covered my appreciation for the latter.

    Hana Van Der Kolk and I are like a lesson in fate. The strangeness of her recognizing me from the internet, unwittingly becoming my neighbor, finding out that not only are we both daughters of Dutch psychologists, but in the most remarkable twist of fate, it turns out an uncle of mine helped Hana's parents immigrate to America. So when Hana asked me to be in her next performance the answer of course had to be yes (and my solo would be nothing less than an incessant repetition of this positive affirmation).

    It was notoriously hard to describe Hana's choreographic style to inquisitive friends. A blend of minimalist dance and performance art? With long pauses and pop songs? I think she said it best by calling it a mix tape, and I called it a collage, a blend of performance techniques. At it's core though, it was the performance of an altered state, and getting there required a perception of "the whole body at once," a task comparable to listening for the sound of one hand clapping.

    After assigning us mental scores, Hana began to choreograph clichéd group activities, painfully simple solos, and duets that begged to be narrativized. The whole process was particularly interesting because Hana was in the position to direct us while reminding us not to plan or think.

    This was a bit of a struggle, every clarification was like dancing around the mind's tendency to take information and smother it with intellectual constructions. It began to seem like the whole thing was an empirical study of how this strange clump of matter and chemistry that we identify as the human body might communicate complex sentiments without interference from "higher" brain functioning.

    By the time the performance rolled around, I was eager to check this hypothesis with an audience. It was nerve racking, and slightly ironic, to present the work to a group of people harboring the very analytical agenda we were trying to debunk. It should also probably be noted that in addition to being told throughout my life that I "think too much," I'm not a seasoned performer, so the whole experience was like being in a foreign country with a bare minimum of vocab words at my disposal. It demanded complete dedication to those few words to facilitate this still unfamiliar relationship between body and mind.

    The performance ended, and the only thing I knew for sure was that the audience had been audibly shifty in their chairs.

    I soon learned though, that without any kind of character motivation or explicit direction, the performance not only hit certain narrative cues, but exceeded them. People were raving about transference, friends who I would never have expected to enjoy such a performance were trailing behind Hana to congratulate her, and on the third night I shed the most perfectly timed, completely uncalculated tear. It appeared that the intimacy Hana set out to cultivate was oozing from our unconditioned bodies with supernatural clarity.

    I've often vouched for the internet as a unique channel for achieving intimacy, and a superior instrument for streaming thoughts without physical interference. But Hana's method was a reminder of the body's refined capacity to transmit and receive hi-fidelity information. I have never experienced a performance so devoid of intellectual burdens, so painfully simple and yet gut-wrenchingly complex.

    Getting back to my life as usual has been like filing back into an anatomical hierarchy whereby my body is once again second in command. And as I sit here, a collection of limbs obediently stationed in front of a computer monitor, I'm imagining a sc-fi future in which the body is obsolete. In my mind, however, it's a mere perception that's been left behind, making way for a popular view of the body as an instrument of communication well worth being tuned.

    pre-performance rehearsal, more photos of the performance here

    Mon, Jan 25, 2010  Permanent link

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    Olena     Fri, Jan 29, 2010  Permanent link
    I really love that you describe it as being a "floating head";
    I think we are/becoming that in more than one way, certainly.
    Spot on.
    Morningstar     Sun, Jan 31, 2010  Permanent link
    Thanks Megan, beautiful and intimate reflection.
    Manuel Dahm     Mon, Feb 1, 2010  Permanent link
    Hey there,

    I very much appreciated your words, thank you.

    It reminded me very much of a year in university when we media design students made a project together with the university of dance in Frankfurt.

    The geeks and the body gods. It was so odd to feel this incredible different energy from the 2 groups. Luckily we had a great and experienced teacher who had structured the class very well. We had dance workshops with them! The geeks had to dance as well, all of them. No pressure needed, it was pure curiosity. And after a couple of hours, we were a mass of entangled bodies, communicating without words, using the primal language that we all speak, but during the course of our lives learn to forget.
    We have to unforget.

    The class was a blast and I believe everyone was really happy with the process and results. I still like a little offspring I did back in the day with a dancer, reverse engineering dance to sound:

    Anyway, it has gotten to me as well in the last years, after 10 years of interactive work, computer work, word work that my body has been maltreated in all of this.

    I used to love sports, skateboarding, hockey, basketball, soccer, judo, windsurfing, snowboarding, you name it...but I had forgotten about my body, started to smoke from all the stress and gotten some nice luxurious fat around my belly. But it came back to me by starting wave surfing some years ago, unknown body sensations. Then I started yoga. Then I stopped smoking and eating meat. And so many things happened from there. I believe that our body sometimes can tell us more about our soul, heart and mind then our mind itself. If you listen closely, there is some real wisdom in your body, and it can connect you with things you wouldnt find easily otherwise.

    And when you wake up to the real possibilities it offers, you can start to really talk with it.
    Its a precious asset, your mind and soul and heart reside in it. Yet our science and cyber age completely forgets about this. Its all rational these days. Maybe that's why so many things are going in a strange direction, faster and faster, with this world.

    A mind without an awake and healthy body cannot be connected with others truly and not with the earth we live in and the creatures that live with us.
    meganmay     Tue, Feb 9, 2010  Permanent link
    As it happens, when asked to think about the future, people tend to lean forward :)
    rene     Tue, Feb 9, 2010  Permanent link
    One of the most interesting dynamic exchanges between body and mind is the interplay between hand gestures and verbal articulation whereby the hands not only serve as emphasis and punctuation but also energize and interact with the thought process itself.

    I find this a particularly interesting under-exposed art form because of the body's unconscious spontaneity which is perfectly synchronized with the thoughts taking shape in the moment..

    Obviously there is a great deal of additional body language going on in human encounters, but in many instances the gestural communication aspires to the level of artistry.

    According to Wikipedia, "Research has suggested that between 60 and 70 percent of all meaning is derived from nonverbal behavior."

    Manuel Dahm     Sun, Feb 21, 2010  Permanent link
    Rene, thanks for this inspiration. I noticed how, whilst dancing, surfing, longboarding or especially snowboarding my motion becomes much more integrated when I direct myself with my hands, sort of making them the conductor to my movements. Obviously I shall try that with talking as well...curious!
    Xarene     Thu, Feb 25, 2010  Permanent link
    Before reading your post, I added this link from NYT to my post—follow up on Rene's comment on non-verbal communication, in particular, touch.

    I like how you took us through a few body-out-of-body experiences.
    meganmay     Sun, Feb 28, 2010  Permanent link
    Just read the NYT post, thanks Xarene. Here's another little mind-body finding:

    Recent studies in neurology and neuropsychology on mental imagery have further questioned the "mind as serial computer" theory, arguing instead that human mental imagery is both visually and motorically embodied (see motor imagery). For example, several studies provided evidence that people are slower at rotating line drawings of objects such as hands in directions incompatible with the joints of the human body (Parsons 1987; 2003), and that patients with painful injured arms are slower at mentally rotating line drawings of the hand from the side of the injured arm (Schwoebel et al. 2001).

    from Mental Images on Wiki

    Olena     Thu, Feb 17, 2011  Permanent link
    Megan, this is directed to your new post, Our Primordial Future, but you've disabled comments?

    Anyway, I enjoyed that, and it made me think of a particular conversation in a book I'm currently reading — especially the last bit when you ask if "it" will look more like us, or we like it? You might be interested. The book is Science is Culture, and the conversation is between Jill Tarter & Will Wright; Wright mentions our genetic similarity to a fruit fly, "We share so much with a fruit fly it's ridiculous" and they compare it to our relationship with our future "purely designed entities": "So they'll recognize us as their progenitors, but we won't recognize them as our descendants", like the way fruit flies don't recognize us.

    I think I'm going to transcribe a few talks or excerpts from these talks onto the OS when I'm done reading. There's some really great stuff being said.
    meganmay     Thu, Feb 17, 2011  Permanent link
    Wow, it's been so long since I posted I didn't realize you had to check a box to make comments happen. The fruit fly analogy is amazing. I've often wondered when will we actually know when this ultra-intelligent AI has arrived?, and clearly, insofar as we're capable of defining intelligence, it already kind of is. It is strange to think that in the process of trying to understand ourselves we're creating something beyond ourselves, which ultimately understand us better than we ever will...that is if it stays as interested in us as we are in the fruitfly....then again, how do we know how much the fruitfly knows about any case, looking forward to reading some excerpts on the OS :)

    Olena     Fri, Feb 18, 2011  Permanent link
    Funny; what you said made me wonder how it might be if those beings start to talk to us, about us. It would be like prophecy, like being visited by aliens or like those New Age meditators who claim to embody otherworldly beings while in their trance. Would anyone believe you if an AI gave you all the answers?
         Fri, Feb 18, 2011  Permanent link
    Reminds me of this: