Tag Archives: Psychology Today

Turning Thoughts Into Images: A New Era Of Art With Brain/Computer Interface

BCI Technology: How does a Brain-Computer Interface Work?

There are any number of skills you can learn, practice, and eventually master. I highly encourage everyone to do to this, whether it involves computer programming, cooking, crafts, or any other hobby. You may not always like or master them, but they’re still fun and rewarding to try.

For some skills, though, no amount of learning or practice will help you master them or even be competent. Some things just take talent. That’s why only a handful of human beings ever become Olympic athletes, professional quarterbacks, or brain surgeons. There’s nothing wrong with that. We need that kind of diverse skill set, as a species.

I consider myself to be good, if not above-average, at a number of skills. I’ve learned plenty over the years and there are some that I just have a knack for more than others. I like to think writing is one of them. However, there’s one particular skill that I just have absolutely zero talent for and it’s something that has bugged me for years.

That skill is drawing.

Please understand that this is somewhat personal for me. I’ve always had an artistic side, but for reasons I can’t quite grasp, I’ve never been able to draw worth a damn. I’ve taken art classes in school. I’ve tried practicing here and there. It just never works. I can barely draw stick figures, let alone an image of a typical person that doesn’t look like it was drawn by a five-year-old.

Some of that actually runs in my family. Quite a few relatives can attest that they can’t draw, either. At the same time, an unusually high number of relatives are good writers, poets, etc. We’re all great with words, for the most part. That’s a talent that seems to get passed down, but we just can’t turn those words into pictures.

For me, that’s kind of frustrating. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. For a time, I wanted to be a comic book writer, but I learned quickly that’s next to impossible when you can’t draw. There are also times when I wish I could draw well enough to describe a scene from a story. I just don’t have that talent or that skill.

As much as I enjoy writing, I don’t deny that humans are visual creatures. If I could incorporate images into my work, then I believe it’ll have a much greater impact. Sadly, I doubt I’ll ever have the necessary talent and skill to create those images.

However, it certain technological trends continue, I might not have to. A recent article in Psychology Today gave me hope that one day, I’ll be able to take some of these images I see in my head and make them real for others to see. It also leads me to believe that art, as we know it, is about to change in a big way.

Psychology Today: New Brain-Computer Interface Transforms Thoughts to Images

Achieving the next level of brain-computer interface (BCI) advancement, researchers at the University of Helsinki used artificial intelligence (AI) to create a system that uses signals from the brain to generate novel images of what the user is thinking and published the results earlier this month in Scientific Reports.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to use neural activity to adapt a generative computer model and produce new information matching a human operator’s intention,” wrote the Finnish team of researchers.

The brain-computer interface industry holds the promise of innovating future neuroprosthetic medical and health care treatments. Examples of BCI companies led by pioneering entrepreneurs include Bryan Johnson’s Kernel and Elon Musk’s Neuralink.

Studies to date on brain-computer interfaces have demonstrated the ability to execute mostly limited, pre-established actions such as two-dimensional cursor movement on a computer screen or typing a specific letter of the alphabet. The typical solution uses a computer system to interpret brain-signals linked with stimuli to model mental states.

Seeking to create a more flexible, adaptable system, the researchers created an artificial system that can imagine and output what a person is visualizing based on brain signals. The researchers report that their neuroadaptive generative modeling approach is “a new paradigm that may strongly impact experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience.”

Naturally, this technology is very new and nowhere near ready for commercial use. It’ll probably be a while before I could use it to create my own graphic novels of the books I’ve written and the sexy short stories I’ve told. That still won’t stop me from entertaining thoughts of incorporating images into my stories.

I doubt I’m the only one who feels that way, too. I know plenty of people like me who just do not have the talent or skill to draw anything more detailed than a stick figure. Those same people have images in their minds that they wish to share. If products like Neuralink, which the article directly references, become more mainstream, then this could be among its many uses.

With some refinement, it won’t just allow artistically challenged people like me to make competent drawings. It’ll allow people who never would’ve otherwise produced that art create something that they can share with the world.

Just take a moment to appreciate how many beautiful images exist only in the minds of people who never get an opportunity to share them. Maybe someone did have an idea for a piece of artwork that would’ve brought beauty, joy, and inspiration to the world, but they just didn’t have the skill, resources, or talent to make it tangible. How many masterpieces have we lost because of that limitation?

We can never know, but any loss of beautiful art is a tragic one. With a process like this, people who never even thought about having an artistic side could explore it. Moreover, they would be able to do it without messy art supplies, sketchbooks, or ink stains. They would just need a neural prosthesis and a computer.

Almost everyone has a computer, so we’re already halfway there. If ever a product came out that allowed us to develop this ability of turning thoughts into images, I would be among the first to try it. I would eagerly line up to take the plunge, if only to open the possibility that some of the images I see when I’m writing can become real one day. I hope I live long enough to see this. Our bodies and minds may ultimately fail us, but great art can last for multiple lifetimes.

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Why We Make (And Fail) New Years Resolutions

It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not talking about that time when people start making a list of all those who ruined their holiday and how they’ll get back at them. That time has already passed. It’s a new year. It’s 2017. That means we’ve all got a clean slate so to speak. We have a chance to shake off the burdens of 2016 and make 2017 better.

It’s that very sentiment that leads many to make New Years Resolutions. I’m definitely among that crowd. For most of my adult life, especially in recent years, I’ve tried to make New Years Resolutions that will help me improve myself, my life, and all those around me.

I know it sounds cheesy. Some might not even think it’s very sexy. I think it’s an important part of being an adult, finding ways to improve yourself. Isn’t improvement supposed to be sexy? Isn’t that why women get breast implants and why men smother themselves in aftershave? Call it whatever you want. Improvement on any level should be sexy.

I know I’m not alone in making these resolutions. Around this time of year, I notice a significant uptick in crowd sizes at the gym I go to. In fact, there have been some instances where the gym is so crowded on the first week of the new year that it’s hard to get a good workout in.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, as may be the case), those crowds tend to taper off. Usually by mid-February, the crowds are almost back to normal. I think that says a lot about New Years Resolutions and how hard they are to fulfill.

I think we’re all guilty of it at some point in our lives. We make a promise to ourselves to do better or be better in some capacity. Then, for reasons that aren’t always our fault, we fail. It’s sad. It’s frustrating. It can be downright demoralizing. Unless you’re rich enough to pay someone to meet your goals for you, it’s downright inevitable.

Why is this though? Why is it that so many people fail at New Years Resolutions? Well, some of that goes back to the “caveman logic” I’ve cited many times before on this blog. In some respects, our own evolutionary biology is working against.

This isn’t just a case of our brains being wired primarily for survival and reproduction. This is more a product of our brains favoring certainty over uncertainty. Back in the caveman days, not knowing where we would get our next meal, when we would hump our mate, or whether there was a hungry bear around the corner caused a lot of stress. We needed to feel stress so that we’d do something about it. That’s just the laws of nature.

Once again, the problem with our brains is that it still hasn’t gotten the memo that this is 2017. We’re not living in caves anymore. Our wiring still confuses the uncertainty surrounding our whole weight-loss resolution with the uncertainty that comes with not knowing whether a bear will steal the meat we gathered from our last hunt.

Being so crude and blunt, reorienting our brain is like trying to cut glass with a hammer. Technically, it is possible. It’s just not very precise. Our brains are wired to avoid the distress that comes with uncertainty. That’s why it’ll fight you tooth and nail when you try to change something in your life.

I know this because I certainly had to fight it when I pursued some of my resolutions. As I documented before, my efforts to get in shape did not happen overnight. I had to slowly work my way into a healthier mindset. It took time. It took patience. It took a whole lot of frustration as well, but I did it.

In some respects, I was lucky. I had some strong motivating factors behind that resolution, namely recent health issues that some close relatives endured. That, along with getting older, helped provide incentives that my brain just couldn’t work around. Those incentives have served me well, so much so that not exercising causes me distress.

This has been the key to a lot of my resolutions. It’s not so much that I make bold promises. It’s how I go about it. I try to work my new resolutions into a system of sorts. I’ve always been a very regimented person by nature. So when I want to do something, I try to fit it into a schedule or a system that I can live by. If possible, I try to make it as flexible as possible.

A lack of flexibility in setting a goal or a system is usually the first step towards failing. I don’t like to fail. That’s why flexibility is so important. Some of that actually comes from my parents, who made it a point to make everyone flexible to deal with the daily chaos of our lives. It worked when I was a kid. It works even better as an adult.

Now I’m not saying I’m an expert in helping you achieve your New Years Resolution. I’m as qualified to be a self-help guru as I am to be starting quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. However, I’m not one of those late night infomercial scam-artists who will charge you a hundred bucks just to tell you what you want to hear. I prefer to keep things simple and practical.

I know my experiences with New Years Resolutions won’t work for everyone. My situation is wholly unique and it probably won’t work for everybody. I can definitely relate to those seeking a career in publishing or wanting to explore the world of superhero comics. I can’t exactly relate to those whose resolutions involve buying the perfect Ferrari or not getting mauled by a hungry cheetah.

So in the interest of not overplaying my hand or making light of the fact that I’m still an aspiring erotica/romance writer who has yet to accomplish many of his goals, I’ll try to keep my New Years advice simple and concise. It goes like this:

  • Take a moment to analyze your routine/system, how you go about your day, and how well it’s working at the moment
  • Highlight specific areas of that routine/system that has room for improvement and identify those areas as “blanks” that you can reorganize
  • Assess how flexible you are in your current routine/system and, wherever possible, try to improve that flexibility to the greatest extent possible
  • Set small, concise goals at first within the “blanks” and try to work it into your system
  • Do not try to pursue more goals than you can count on one hand at the same time
  • Be realistic and be willing to fail
  • Above all else, learn from your failures

There, that is Jack Fisher’s unofficial guide to pursuing your New Years Resolution. It’s simple. It’s free. You don’t need a guru charging you by the hour. You just need commitment, motivation, and a willingness to try, fail, and learn from those failures. In the long run, the successes will emerge in places you don’t expect.

Also, in keeping with my admission that I am as much an expert as I am a rocket scientist, I’ll cite another more comprehensive list from the fine folks at Psychology Today. The people on this site are likely more qualified than me to assess the intricacies of self-improvement. Their article “Why New Years Resolutions Fail” offers more in depth advice that I’m not qualified to give.

Whatever advice you choose to follow, I strongly encourage everyone to pursue a New Years Resolution. We should all strive to improve as best we can with what little time we have in this world. Why not start now?

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