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On the Same Wavelength - The Brain Hits the Museum

posted Mar 19, 2013, 9:55 AM by Ellen Pearlman   [ updated Mar 21, 2013, 6:01 PM by Ellen Pearlman ]


Brain Awareness Week button

I visited the American Museum of Natural History as part of Brain Awareness Week put on BrainNY. A bunch of neuroscientists were conducting experiments at the Sackler Education Center inviting people to a 5-minute investigation of “what it means to be on the same wave length with another person,” otherwise known as “I feel your vibration,” or “we so are connected,” or a host of similar corny pick up lines. But joking aside, what does something like this really mean?

The experiments were intriguing, fun and developed out of the work of performance artist Marina Abramovic’s new project called “Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze,” that grew out of her one woman show, and marathon eye gazing event at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010, “The Artist Is Present.” She is working with Dr. Suzanne Dikker a neuroscience researcher at NYU, and others to investigate these ideas..


Dr. Suzanne Dikker fitting an Emotiv Cap on a volunteer subject

 At the museum, Dr. Dikker was fitting volunteers with an Emotiv Cap and had stacks of them ready for use.


Multiple Emotives ready for use

Once the cap is put on with its sixteen finger-like sensors, each sensor has to be calibrated with an individuals specific brain patterns. These patterns monitor different brain waves in different locations.


Calibrating Brain

The dots on the image of the head illustration above mean various things. The green dots are active, the red dots are not yet working correctly  the black dots have not yet given in their readings and the yellow dots seem in process, or not getting strong enough readings.The corresponding waves for each node are seen on the right

Dr. Dikker was joined by Dr. Flux, a rather flamboyant but nonetheless authentic neuroscientist, as there were a lot of volunteers present who wanted to get their brainwaves read.


Dr. Flux, volunteer, and neuroscience student Datia Tsvetkova

Dr. Flux worked with a brother/sister volunteer duo who spent some of their time bickering. In this first picture you can see their brainwaves are far apart on the black and white display. It shows two heads merging in and out of each other. The entire program was written using Open Frameworks.


Brother and sister stare at one another, two brains apart

Eventually they stopped squabbling and came to realize a remarkable degree of mutuality. At this point the heads formed a single brain showing their brainwaves were in sync.


Brother and sister brain merges

The researchers admit they don’t know why someone merges or synchs with someone else. The people who did the best on the test the day I was there were either siblings like those pictured above (even if they were squabbling) or long married couples. 


Dr. Suzanne Dikker and Marina Abramovic synching up 2011. Garage Center for Contemporary Culture. Copyright Marina Abramovic. Photo by Maxim Lubimov.

In 2011 Dr. Dikker and Abramovic used the technology to explore their own reactions to one another with enhanced visualizations, developed in collaboration with Matthias Oostrik.