Elsewhere is a video based project I created in 2020. Elsewhere investigates presence, thought, memory, and alternative methods of human connection. Images drawn from past memories regularly replace an image of the current. Sounds generated using data from voices heard in the same memories are overlaid on top of a sound representing the regular happenings of the brain. The appearances of sounds and images were carefully distributed to investigate how thoughts might be generated. While creating Elsewhere, I drew inspiration from neuroscience, physics, mathematical modeling, and whimsy.
In neuroscience, one theory depicting a modern understanding of human cognition is called the Penrose–Hameroff model. It states that mysterious human thought processes might be occurring during quantum events in the brain. The theory uses modern neuroscience and principles from quantum computing.
Tiny proteins called microtubules exist in the brain’s neuron cells. The theory states that when the microtubules fold pockets form inside of them. For a brief period of time, between 10 and 500 milliseconds, these pockets may exist in spacetime, meaning they are both in the brain but elsewhere concurrently. Scientists believe that we have not been able to catch this event because it is hidden behind other processes we do know of happening at the same time as the event.
Scientists are able to say very little about spacetime. It cannot yet be monitored. It is not easily described. For the parts of the brain that may be elsewhere on occasion as part of our thought process, there is little that can be said to describe the process definitely. Much of what can be said is that disappearances into spacetime are neither deterministic or stochastic. The pockets, if they exist, would form and then resolve themselves near instantaneously.
The artist worked under the assumption that if the Penrose–Hameroff model holds tiny parts of our bodies can be described as located elsewhere multiple times a second. If thoughts occur in pockets of your body that are located elsewhere, somewhere in spacetime, we cannot say where they went, or what happened there. We can say that in the process of thinking, we started with one set of thoughts and ended up with another. If we made detours along the way, we often may not notice, and if we do, who is to say that they did not help us get to where we wanted.
If our thoughts end up in spacetime, and spacetime is defined by time and place, perhaps they went to times and places relevant to our pasts. If so, the artist dreams that the pockets travel to the past, to times and places where our bodies cannot go. Then, the pockets would briefly meet with those from dear memories that we cannot currently meet.
A photo of the Stillwater River, representing the artist’s current location and thoughts, is the main image. Starting zoomed in, the photo represents the initial beginnings of an idea. As time progresses, the idea in the current grows larger in size as the image grows larger. Once the image is large enough, the image scrolls and the viewer sees how the initial image fits into the larger picture. The artist uses this to represent how after formulating and nurturing an idea it fits into the rest of one’s worldview. The current trend of thoughts is the clearest by the end of a thinking session just like the main image is the clearest after watching the video.
The Stillwater River photo is interspersed with images representing memories from the artist’s past. These images were carefully selected from the artist’s personal and family archives to represent fond memories with cherished people. They occur briefly, for one sixtieth of a second, which is slightly longer than the 10 milliseconds within which a single spacetime pocket might exist in a microtubule. The pockets would exist for at most 500 milliseconds. Every 500 milliseconds, one of the memory images appears. While that is the longest a spacetime event might occur, it is still very short. The pacing is very regular, or deterministic, which we know that spacetime events are not. Not all of the images are high quality as even dear memories become hazy over time.
The sounds in the piece come from synthesized instruments. The choice of synthesized instruments represents the relationship of the Penrose–Hameroff model to quantum computing. The synthesized bass is a more traditional sound to model the known happenings that might mask spacetime events in the brain. A 40Hz pitch was chosen because there is a monitorable 40Hz neural oscillation that is important to cognition.
The tiny synthesized clarinet beeps, each 10 milliseconds long, were chosen because they reminded the artist of artificial computer related sounds like a dial-up modem. The sound is additionally appropriate because the brain can be viewed like a network just like the internet. The pitches for the synthesized beeps were derived from the frequencies in the voices of some of her family, some of the people the collection of fond memories are shared with. It was important to have multiple pitches to represent the fact that it is theorized that multiple spacetime events happen at once in multiple microtubules. While the artist only used 3 to illustrate the point, theoretically there could be at least as many streams of pitches used as there are microtubules in a brain. The timing of the synthesized beeps was modeled using a statistical model typically used to model arrivals - a poisson process. According to theory, the arrival of spacetime events in the brain cannot accurately be modeled by this either, as it is stochastic.
Pooled resources were important to the creation of Elsewhere. Cognition takes a collection of neurons. The artist turned to help from family and friends to use cameras, photos, and a font.
Works Referenced & Useful Sources
- Hagan, Hameroff, Tuszyński. Quantum computation in brain microtubules: Decoherence and biological feasibility.
- Hameroff S. The “conscious pilot”-dendritic synchrony moves through the brain to mediate consciousness.
- Law, Averill M. Simulation Modeling and Analysis. Fourth ed.
Code used to generate elsewhere soundtrack.