Dali in moving pictures

Here is a short animation film, a product of an odd collaboration between Salvador Dali and Walt Disney in 1945… The film was not finished until 2003, and contains a mix of traditional animation and computer animation.

While I mostly like it, I must say I have an uneasy feeling about this film. First of all, painting as a medium has a point of being static so that movement, tension and resolution are all suggested within the seemingly unmoving pictorial space. And this is what creates the uncanny feeling, what produces the viewer’s response and an aesthetic effect. So for me more is lost than gained by animating Dali’s paintings. Secondly, I don’t think that a typically Disney-like face of the female character and classic Disney-style movement and dance animation work well with Dali’s aesthetics… It makes you wonder whether the end result was even close to what was originally intended by Dali and Disney. To me it looked more like looking at Dali’s paintings through the Disney-saturated goggles, rather than an actual collaboration. That said, still, I found it impossible to take my eyes off the screen for the whole duration of the short, and there were some very dreamlike moments, viscerally echoing the subjective experience of both dreaming and perceiving Dali’s paintings.

Still, I find that Dali’s experiments with the moving pictures media, such as in the collaboration with Luis Bunuel – Un chien andalou – are much truer to the surrealist project of free-associating, unearthing the unconscious imagery as well as taking the manifest content of dreaming as a primary source of inspiration. In this film the medium is, in my opinion, used more sensibly, utilizing its full potential, and, importantly, with a great deal of humor, which is largely absent in the Disney collaboration.

Here’s Un chien andalou




Dream Workshop in Kira Cafe (Second Life)

First of all, this blog is not dead!

I know it is bad taste writing blog posts excusing oneself for not blogging, but I guess it’s ok to do it once in a while. Moving to another country (US) can be seen as a great excuse, right?

I blogged before about Kira, a virtual institute in Second Life, that hosts a number of fascinating workshops. This year I was invited to co-host the Dream Workshop with Maxine Walden (thank you, Maxine!) which takes place every Tuesday at 1 pm SLT (second life time, equivalent to Pacific Time, if not sure, check this website for time zones).

We will be talking about a number of dream and sleep related phenomena, the participants expressed great enthusiasm and interest in talking about sleep paralysis, hypnagogic hallucinations, lucid dreaming, nightmares and other stuff. More topics are likely to arise as the seminar progresses and takes more shape. Anyone can attend, it is free, one only has to create an avatar in Second Life (which is quite easy) and acquaint himself with the basics of Second Life (which is also fairly uncomplicated). Personally I am very excited about this opportunity and I’m sure that the workshop will become a stimulating forum for exchanging ideas and views.

Here’s the info about how to get there. For those who already are familiar with Second Life, here’s the slurl (SL location-based URL) of the Kira Cafe where the seminar will take place: http://slurl.com/secondlife/BaikUn/226/96/251

For more info please visit the wiki for the Workshop. I have just set it up a couple of days ago, so there is not much material there yet, but as the workshop progresses more and more stuff will be added, including upcoming topics and perhaps some transcripts and other useful links. http://dreamworkshop.wikispaces.com/.

Hope to see you there!

Fox Monacular

Near Death experiences and REM sleep

In the news these days: CNN quotes Dr. Nelson, who claims that near death experiences can be explained through mechanisms of REM sleep. The story features a woman who had recently experienced a near death episode, and then a short interview with Dr. Kevin Nelson, a neurologist from Louisville, Kentucky.

In 2007 Dr. Nelson published an interesting paper in the prestigious journal Neurology titled “Out-of-body experience and arousal”. He found that people who have experienced near death also had a tendency for other state dissociations such as out-of-body experiences, as well as other REM intrusions, most notably, sleep paralysis.  

I find it fascinating that REM sleep mechanisms seem to be interwoven and present to varying degrees in all other brain states, even outside of sleep. However, if we equate all dream-like activity with REM, it is inevitable that we will find it everywhere. After all, REM state is not all that different from waking state, and phenomenologically, we can think of numerous examples of dream-like experiences in waking life, ranging from intense hypnagogic hallucinations to more subtle forms of day-dreaming, fantasizing and deja vu.

Near-death experiences are an integral part of many cultural beliefs about soul, afterlife and transitional spaces. Dreaming too is a vast repository of beliefs and practices. In fact, I wonder if such a sharp separation between dreaming and waking, between ‘normal’ and ‘altered’ states of consciousness is not a product of Cartesian dualism enhanced by radical materialism of our machinic age… ?

Finally, just because we can describe the function of our visual system it does not follow that we can understand what we see. Similarly, by describing mechanisms of dreaming or near death experiences we don’t necessarily come closer to understanding its real causes.

Eleanor Rosch: Psychology of Dreams at UC Berkeley webcasts

UC Berkeley is one of the leading universities promoting open education accessible to all. Each semester on their webcast page there are more and more classes available as audio or video recordings.

This Fall you can follow a Psychology of Dreams class taught by Eleanor Rosch. Among earlier courses, you can find audio recordings of Buddhist Psychology course taught in Fall 2008.

Don’t miss it!

A night of sleep as a microcosm of samsara

Among many wonderful podcast series from Upaya, there is a 7-part series of talks by Alan Wallace, a Buddhist teacher, translator and practicioner who works on drawing Wester and Eastern thought on understanding the mind closer together. There are many wonderful things about his talks, and I am not going to get into them, it is much more interesting and exciting to listen to the podcasts firsthand. However, one of the things that he said I found so interesting, I just have to share it.

When talking about the meditation practice of Shamatha, Alan Wallace stated that the goal of such practice is to experience the subtle level of consciousness, a ‘substrate consciousness’ from all mental stuff originates and into which it essentially returns. Every one of us experiences this ‘substrate consciousness’ when in deep sleep, in dreamless state, there is no identity, no imagery, virtually nothing, as if our ‘self’ is dissolved into something more basic. Similarly at the moment of death, according to Buddhist thought, we experience this subtle essential state of consciousness. In a metaphorical way, we die every time we enter deep sleep. And then… from that subtle consciousness, from that non-discursive state – dream arises! A whole world, a whole new and compelling identity (it is new if you are not lucid dreaming, of course) is ‘born’, and with it a whole range of emotions, feelings, sensations and so on. As the first REM cycle is over, we ‘die’ again, return to the deep sleep. And then another dream arises, and with it a whole new world, which probably has nothing to do with the previous dream world, and is only marginally related to the world of our waking life. And then we die again… During the course of an ordinary night, we go through this process 5 times on average, and when we finally wake up, we probably remember only bits and pieces of only the last dream of the night, and probably nothing from the dreams early in the course of the night.

We are thus in the state of amnesia in relation to the ‘other’ dream identities. Just like during the global process of birth, death and rebirth, the samsara, we don’t remember anything from our past lives. However, in dreaming, some kind of identity,  some kind of reactivity, emotion and so on is maintained. Waking life events, both external and mental, influence our dream content, and dreams too influence our waking lives. Most of the time we are not aware of that. Just like karmic seeds from the past lives get carried over to this one.

I thought it was a great analogy, which can teach us a lot about our mind and about the necessity of awareness and mindfulness, whether we believe in reincarnation or not.

You can access many of writings of Alan Wallace here. He is an engaging, lucid writer, well versed in both Buddhist and Western traditions.

Ockham’s Razor – a reductionist trap?

Just this weekend at the barbecue with friends a late night conversation brought up a notion of Ockham’s Razor, a principle which, in my opinion is too easily and too readily accepted in out society. My conversational opponent invoked the principle of parsimony in defense of behaviorism as a theory that best explains human behavior, with which I, of course, passionately disagreed.

The Ockham’s Razor, named after a mediaeval Franciscan William of Ockham, who apparently was its most fervent early defender, can be summarized as: “entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily” or, popularly applied, “when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.” (from Wikipedia).

But why? Is the world really like this? Much of Western society has readily embraced the principle that other things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually correct, but how does one really measure this ‘other things being equal’?  It seems to me that this principle responds very well to the ideology of positivism and radical materialism, and is an extension of the hegemonic thought rather than a method for inquiry.

In the Journal for Scientific Exploration, Dieter Gernert has a compelling paper “Ockham’s Razor and its improper use” (you can read full pdf here), arguing that this metholological principle can in fact hinder selection of competing theories positing the ‘simplest’ one as the most convenient and familiar to current thought, thus actually promoting existing prejudice and misunderstanding.  When introducing a new theory to explain a phenomenon, it is only natural that more explanation and more background will be needed in order to elucidate its points in face of domininant ideology.

The method of simplicity can actually hinder scientific and philosophical discovery. This is especially true when it comes to more ‘unconventional’ or non-mainstream lines of research, such as psi phenomena or anything related to the subjective experiences. In mainstream neuroscience, the brain explains all: consciousness, perception, behaviour… , the materialist viewpoint disregards anything ‘supernatural’, arguing that even things we do not understand, one day surely we will be able to describe in purely physical terms…

We only see what our method of inquiry permits us to see. I personally prefer to see the world and the ten thousand things in this world as a complex, rather than simple, web of interrelated processes and entities, and the knowledge about them should come from different domains, which sometimes requires some leaps of faith or elaborate mental acrobatics.

But then again, sometimes, I am sure, when you dream of a banana, it represents… just that – a banana.

Article: Bipolar disorder as an autopoietic response to schizophrenia

Medical Hypotheses is one of my favorite academic journals. It is one of the few places in today’s scientific world where one can publish his/her own thoughts on a given topic without backing up every word with references to recent empirical findings and where one can express subjective opinion. This is a great rarity in pubmed-driven academia, and I have read a great number of interesting articles in this journal. Not surprisingly, while many exciting insights are published there, some articles are really unexpected, controversial and weird. My personal favorites are articles by Harinder Jaseja, who insists in a number of papers that meditation predisposes to epilepsy, and holds his ground despite rebuttals from a number of other scientists.

Another article that caught my attention is a recent paper by Sue Llewellyn entitled: “Is ‘bipolar disorder’ the brain’s autopoietic response to schizophrenia?” My pubmed notifications are set to deliver updates about anything related to ‘autopoiesis’ so this article landed in my inbox. I was intrigued, and had to reread the article a number of times in an attempt to make sense of it. I am not sure if I can…

So here goes: the author borrowes the term ‘autopoiesis’ coined by Maturana and Varela in their Autopoiesis and Cognition: the realization of the living (1980), which can be defined as a process by which a living system organizes itself and exists in a state of structural coupling with its environment. In a nutshell, an autopoietic system is self-creating (thus auto-poiesis), it is a closed system that is thermodynamically open to interact with its environment. It can also take on a number of perturbations and will attempt to restore its essential identity, so there is a homeostatic function to a process of autopoiesis.

Here’s an exerpt from the abstract of this article:

The mind/brain is a self-producing, self-organizing system. Autopoiesis applies to such systems. Neuromodulation accomplishes self-organization in the mind/brain. If schizophrenia is a state in-between waking and dreaming, characterized by aminergic/cholinergic interpenetration and dopaminergic imbalance then bipolar ‘disorder’ could be a modulatory response. This autopoietic reaction may take the form of either aminergic hyperactivity aimed at producing a purer waking state, (precipitating mania in the waking state), or cholinergic hyperactivity aimed at producing a purer dreaming state, (producing depression in the waking state), or both, resulting in rapid cycling bipolar disorder. Thus bipolar activity may be an autopoietic response aimed at restoring differentiation to the in-between state of schizophrenia.

Further the author explains in considerable detail similarities and differences in neurophysiology of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, pointing out that the two seem to be on the opposite ends of the same continuum. I personally agree with the idea that psychiatric disorders perhaps should not be seen as fixed states but rather as dynamic interactive and complex conditions situated along some continuum and not existing in their own niche, and I think that recognizing this non-fixed, changing and complex nature of mental states will greatly help us understand psychic processes and consciousness itself.

However, it seems to me that in this case the term autopoiesis is used synonymously to homeostasis or compensation mechanism. The author argues that if brain in an autopoietic system (yeah… so?), and if schizophrenia is a disorder where mind/brain is ‘trapped’ between waking and dreaming (well… I’m not sure of that at all!), then bipolar disorder is a brain’s: “attempt to restore order – the mind/brain’s autopoietic reaction” (…. what?….). So bipolars are… overcompensating schizophrenics?

Now let’s consider that a schizophrenic person – as a whole – is also an autopoietic system. And his/her mind is also an autopoietic system. Despite, or perhaps with a little help of, delusions and hallucinations this person as an entity is perfectly able to bring forth a world (to borrow Varela’s own words), which is, really the ultimate goal, if you wish, of autopoiesis. Whether this person fits well in a society (which is also an autopoietic system) is another question. Sometimes yes, sometimes no, but he is a part of that system nonetheless. Now, it seems to me that it is the society, as a system, that attempts to regulate and normalize the schizophrenic element. For the schizophrenic person the world is not necessarily incoherent and senseless. Through his autopoiesis, he is able to function in structural coupling with the world. His autopoiesis is actualized. That’s it.

A bipolar person is also an autopoietic system… so is a ‘healthy’ person. Autopoiesis is not a mechanism to ‘normalize’ a system, autopoiesis is a way by which this system functions. Healthy or not, it has its own subjectivity, it creates and sustains itself.

To finish this rant, I’ll evoke Maturana and Varela. They write: “everything said is said by an observer” in relation to the definition of a system and its characteristics. In the case of the present article, an observer decides that a schizophrenic system by means of autopoiesis as some king of a compensatory mechanism becomes bipolar. In my world, this does not make sense. But I am just an observer myself, of course.

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