Thought— 2 Min Read

Why Mind Models

by Case Greenfield, June 4th, 2021

Thought – 2 Min Read

Why Mind Models

by Case Greenfield

June 4th, 2021

Central theme of my art is ‘mind models, the realities that we create to shape ourselves’. Because mind models guide us in our life, personally, as a society and as a species. So, if you want to create an inspiring image of our future, actually what you do, is create a shared mind model.

Wasn’t it Julian Casablancas, singer of The Strokes, who called life a ‘nostalgia anticipation sandwch‘? We tend to live nostalgically in the past and anticipating to a better future. Living in the now seems to be very difficult for our brain (that’s why mindfulnes exercises were invented). The great thing about past and (especially) future is that we can modify it a bit or very much to our liking. That’s what I call a ‘mind model’.

Nobody can express better what a mind model is than Nobel laureate professor Daniel Kahneman. Here’s a nice quote from the documentary “Can’t get you out of my head” by Adam Curtis (BBC) about Kahneman’s ideas:

Kahneman came to believe, that what we think of as the self is really just a small part of something else hidden inside our brains – a much larger part of the brain that actually experiences the world outside. But that experience makes no sense – it is just an ongoing chaotic rush of biochemical data that flashes up and fades away. And what humans think of as their self is actually an accessory that tries to make sense of this chaotic mass of incoming data. But to do that, it has to simplify and turn that data into stories that are sometimes so simplified that they bare little relationship to the reality outside. It gives people the feeling that they are in control, but that is just a comforting illusion. (…)

This interpretation makes perfect sense to me (which in itself is a mind model, yes I know), if you assume that the brain is a survival organ that wants to make predictions from patterns in our environment, so that we can be ahead of possible threats around us … and survive another day.

The stories, then, are what I call ‘mind models’. The comforting illusion is what I mean by ‘living in our cosy rabbit hole’.

All this leaves me with the choice between two ways to go with my art (which maybe, with some creativity, can be combined into one).

  1. One is to express the many, many mind models that people make use of in my art. Eg. the many biases (and based on Kahneman latest book, the noise) in our ‘thinking’. The purpose of those artworks then is to make people aware of the mind model they use. My art project ‘Blank Slate‘ is the first example. Artworks of this project express the idea of many artists – and scientists, and, and – that we are ‘stand alone’ original and creative. This, of course, is a pleasant illusion: in reality we all build upon ideas of artists (and other people, eg. philosophers) before us. But, man, doesn’t it feel good, this though that we are the original genius who came up with this brilliant idea.
  2. The other choice has a bigger ambition: to use art to create an inspiring vision of our future, as we live in a time that is very confusing and often frustrating for many people. Let me explain below.

Because, Curtis continues:

(…) The implication of what Kahneman was saying was that you can never change people’s behaviour by appealing to them rationally. Human beings do live in a simplified dreamworld. And Kahneman says that there is nothing that you can do about that. So, the only solution is to keep them in that dream world and to make sure the dream world is safe and happy. The idea of appealing to them rationally and changing the world is pointless.

So, if we cannot appeal to people rationally, art – explicitly including, or maybe even, focused on the beholder’s share – is probably the most effective way to appeal to people, if you want to create an inspiring image of our future. Hence, my idea to create a shared mind model of a future for mankind with my art, merging the realities, that we create to shape ourselves, into a futuristic interpretation of reality in the age of artificial intelligence and other disruptive technology, hence accepting two totally new forms of limitation: (1) our growing realization of our very limited knowledge and understanding of ‘the world and (2) our non-heroic position in the evolutionary grand scheme of things.

Yes, I seriously believe that we are at a point in our collective development as a society and as a species, that is at least as profound as the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th Centuries – a dramatic shift of paradigm. Just like the Enlightenment shed-off important mind models of the Middle Ages, we are now shedding-off a number of the leading mind models of the past few hundred years. Such times are always individually confusing and full of risks for collective chaos. (And of course there always are many people involved in getting a paradigm shift rolling. But maybe one can say, that the Enlightenment owes a lot to the preliminary work of Nicholas Copernicus. Then, in the same way, the age of AI owes a lot to the work of Alan Turing.)

So, I suggest to bridge our realities of greatness and a rapidly dawning reality of our smallness, synthesizing the Humanities and the Sciences into a ‘Grand Unified Theory of Everything’, which will be far from correct or complete, but one that we can live with cozily (“warm grounding”), shedding off our confusion about … well, everything.

That’s why!

And yes, of course, I know I’m not the first one who discovered or is using this. (There is no blank slate.) At large scale, parties – both commercial and institutional – try to appeal to people, esp. on social media, based on these same insights with a variety of tools, from innocent nudges to straightforward lies. After all, life is a nostalgia anticipation sandwich.

All I’m saying is, let’s give it a try to use these insights for the good of humanity with art.