Podcast

49 - Where brain science meets art, uncovering overlooked intelligences ft. Adam Haar Horowitz

January 4, 2021

Today on the podcast, Adam Haar Horowitz, an interstitial imp existing in between neuroscience, human-computer interaction, and experiential art. Currently a Ph.D. student at MIT, Adam comes from work in brain research studying Mindfulness and Mind-Wandering. Adam’s work has been shown at Cannes, SXSW, the MFA, Transmediale, and more.

His current projects include dystopian emotion spas, wearable electronics that actuate awe, applied brain science to make fairer prison policy, and dream control and capture in the liminal space between wakefulness and sleep.

Pinar Guvenc  

Hello everyone and welcome to What's Wrong With: The podcast. Today we're delighted to be speaking with Adam Haar Horowitz . Adam is an interstitial and existing in between neuroscience, human computer interaction and experiential art. Currently a PhD student at MIT, Adam comes from work in brain research studying mindfulness and mind wandering. Adam's work has been shown at Khan SXSW, the MFA transmedial, and more. His current projects include dystopian emotions, spas, wearable electronics, which actuate awe, applied brain science to make fair prison policy and dream control and capturing the liminal space between wakefulness and sleep.


Adam, welcome. 


Adam Haar Horowitz     

Thank you very much Pinar.


Pinar Guvenc  

So please do tell us about yourself and the work that you do at MIT.


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Sure, um, I am a student in between neuroscience, an engineering and art, which is a bit of a mess. But it's been useful for me if you want to understand and approach and influence experience, I think you do well to combine some of the quote unquote, objective brain imaging pieces, some of the more interventionist human computer interaction pieces, and then some of the more exploratory central phenomenological sides of the artistic experience. And so yeah, I, I work in between those three, and I'm really interested in overlooked intelligences at the moment, I'm interested in the intelligence of the body, I'm interested in what we mean by the unconscious or subconscious. And we're interested in kind of the, the ontologies and epistemologies that make us maybe not ask so many questions about those kinds of quieter thinking. And that's, that's, that's kind of where I live right now. And my main focus is actually dream incubation, which is kind of sounds like kind of the inception thing, but in smaller, more junky ways. And then the other project I'm focused on is a project which actuates Freestone, which is the shivers down your spine, when the most important meaningful moment in a speech comes or the best piece of your song comes up and you get a shake or shivers, and we're activating it through the body as opposed to through some kind of semantic experience. But I can tell you more if you're curious. But yeah, that's, that's, that's where I live. 


Pinar Guvenc  

Oh, my God. I mean, I guess that's what you're you have to live like you have to be in the intersection in order to be able to approach any of those issues. I mean, if we solely look at the brain, it is a combination of neuroscience and art, I guess we there's so much we don't know about the brain and what you said in terms of like overlooked intelligence. I think that's super fascinating. And I want to want you to sort of go into it a little bit more depth than that. So there are, I mean, there's so much intelligence and technologies out there, right. And there are a lot of claims for many of them for being for our betterment. And usually I think that betterment comes around like efficiency, time management, like how can we be better versions of ourselves, but it's kind of also ignoring so much of the rest of us. And which I don't know if it's like, mental well being things that happened to the subconscious. And there's a reason why I guess, like in medicine, when we have something going on, I mean, like a common answer is always like, Oh, it's stress, but like, like, Why does that happen? Then? Like there's it's more like symptom treatment, rather than, you know, exploring in depth. So that's where you stand. So how? Well what will you say? I guess, like, first of all, in terms of the current, I guess, like, digital technologies you see out there, and what are they overlooking? And what are the potentials of going in in more deep?


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Yeah, I think that's an important question. There's a concept in a quote I like this idea that in gazing down at atoms, we become atomized in our souls this idea that there's a hammer and nail relationship. If you have a hammer, everything's a nail, but an extended more cybernetic one. If you are the hammer and you are the nail. If you're using tools to define yourself, the narrowness which, with which you define yourself becomes the narrowness with which you can imagine the tool and I think there's a sort of sinister feedback loop there. My sense is that a lot of wearable electronics today do something like they read a study where when you show 100 people, a bunch of sounds from an affective library that are rated as very positive, joyous, and you get some kind of EEG signature, which happens when those sounds are played. And it happens more than when some kind of negative effect sounds are played. And somebody reads that paper and says, That must mean that this is an EEG signature of happiness. Um, but there's a big difference between something being necessary and something being sufficient, between something being a part and something being a chorus. And so the next step that usually happens is somebody then takes some kind of EEG and puts it on a bunch of people says to them, you're happy, and you're not looking for that signature. And so there's this funny step where something is, at first, a correlate, and then it becomes a definition. And then it becomes a sort of cybernetic kind of self awareness. Where do I not have or do I have this specific signature? And there's all kinds of problems either on the imaging or the averaging side that you can talk about. But even if there weren't those problems, the notion of the limits of a tool becoming the limits of a self, I think, is a scary one. And so I read an article, for instance, in the Boston Globe, recently, where they're putting EEGs and a bunch of kids in, in school to tell them if they're paying attention, or if they're stressed or not as if they were diagnostics. And there's this quote from this kicker, he says, Yeah, I put the EEG on. And it told me, I was really stressed. And I didn't think I was stressed. But it turns out, I'm actually a really stressed person. Which is an insane thing to say. But it's not insane if a scientist comes from MIT with a big flashy machine, and it's got a lot of blinking lights, and it tells you what you are. Who are you to speak against this authority figure with the white coat? Yeah. And so I think that, for me, if I am worried about the world of wearables, I'm worried about how little people understand their deficits, and how quickly their deficits can become our deficits.


Pinar Guvenc  

Or also our perceived deficits, right? Like as we...


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Yeah, absolutely. So it's perceived deficits, but they're also if we're, if we're in the mental space, you will have a very hard time drawing a line between perceived deficit and real one. If you think about any, any field I'm thinking about, for instance, creative self efficacy, how creative I think I am, is deterministic of my performance on creativity tasks, if some tool tells me I'm a dolt, and I'm sure it's how I'm going to do worse next time around. And so I think that there's this difference between a tool which you need to know yourself versus something which opens a window and then trusts you with that window. And so right, there's this there's this quote by Dorothea Lange, a photographer, and when she says, a camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. The point being, you look through the lens, and you say, Wow, look at the light. Wow, look at the shadow, wow look at the form. And then you take it away. And once you've been using the camera for a little while, you say, Wow, look at the light, the shadow the form. You weren't noticing anything before until you framed it, and then you carry the frame with you whether or not you have the camera. And I think that thing, wearable technology can be that and is not that right now at all. Now it's optimization, efficiency and scale, as opposed to some kind of personalization introspection. Yeah, yeah, that seems like a significant difference to me.


Pinar Guvenc  

And you actually touched upon something that I didn't think of much before. Like, once you also I mean, I didn't think of the bias or even like the placebo effect that you were like talking about, you know, like, you're given something and you know, that's gonna, like, measure my whatever. And then suddenly, you're like, oh, you're starting to believe in that device just because you're wearing it and some maybe cool brand came up with it. So who am I to like judge this product? Or, you know, as you said, like a test or a tool tells me I'm that I have, like, I'm creative, I have great convincing skills or whatever. So that like confidence boost maybe helps me you know, and I actually become that or maybe it demoralizes me to the point where I was actually going to be maybe really good at it and I no longer so. How does How can such a study be done to get around that? Because it's so hard to get around the bias, especially when it's so like personal and customer Right, like everybody could like, see a pro something. And it's like, some may see a wearable tech and be like very skeptical about it. And some can already be like, this is the thing that's gonna change everything you know. So perceptions are already so different. How do you bring technology and do real exploration without like being confronted by all these, like biases or whatever?


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Yeah, I mean, I think I am in sort of the privileged position of not having a start up and not having to sell anyone my shit, which is nice. Yeah, sorry, if I can't curse. Um, and so I think that respect and humility and heterogeneity of approach is something which is manageable, when, um, I you know, have a scholarship and a stipend? Yeah. And I think that that becomes a lot less true when you're trying to scale up a device. And so I think that people should expect when they're reading about what their Fitbit does, or doesn't do and tracking their sleep for him. Yeah. Or when they are when they're getting a smile tracker, which tells them how happy they are, how happy they're not, which is a real thing? Um, I think they should have a sense of the motivations behind the studies that are supposedly objective evaluations of that thing. And, and, and I think to, yeah, your point, I think you don't get around it. But you can maybe bring a couple different angles to at least chop it up. So in my work, specifically, if I'm talking about dream work, yeah, I make it really clear to folks that their dream is their dream, in the sense that I can reliably incubate a certain topic, I feel pretty confident that if I take in 100 people, the majority of them will have a dream about a fork, if I want them to have a dream about a fork, I have no idea what a fork will become. And that's, I think, an interesting difference, it will for some people become a fork in the hand of the Queen of England. And for some people, the fork will be an earring. And for some people, the fork will be a catapult. I don't know what it's going to become. And so I think there's a kind of handing off of agency, which is interesting and important and kind of in the relationship between the developer and the subject or customer. And then there's, I think, a humility about the difference between mechanism and mind, where we say, I can give you some kind of insight about, for instance, when you're in a specific sleep stage, I know that in that sleep stage, you're more likely to have a certain kind of dream than another kind. But I can't tell you who you are, what you're going to become. And I think there's a real difference in saying, I can track dreams versus I can track changes in the body that tend to correlate with a certain kind of mind state. And then you're going to be there exploring it. I think, like this kind of handoff of autonomy is really important. And then I think the other one for me is that everything we do, certainly in my lab, and in just about all the labs I've encountered around MIT doing HCI human computer interaction, they're doing something extremely old, in apolished, Polish newer way. If I'm doing dream incubation, then the Cree and the Danessa, and the Esclepian dream temples, then I'm going back to ancient Egypt, then I'm going to just this like vast, totally complicated peripheral literature, which is Yeah, unscientific, in a sense. But also, if something has survived for 1000s of years as a tradition, it's a pretty serious kind of science if you're talking about making meaningful human experiences. Um, so I yeah, I don't have a great answer except to this idea of handing off autonomy to your user subject. Having a real humility about the difference between mechanism in mind and then having a humility, about this notion of newness. I think that techno optimism doesn't work so well, if you're not enamored of the new and it would be really wonderful if techno optimism didn't work so well. So I think I'm interested in making sure people know that I'm somebody doing something which has been done for 1000s of years, and this is kind of a cheap, easy way to get into a state of mind that people use to work really hard to get into. And that makes it pretty heavy. And that means I don't really know where we're going. And that means I should really trust you with your mind. Yeah, I don't know. 


Pinar Guvenc  

I think there's, like so much interesting stuff there where, you know, well, first of all, I guess anything, any subject we approach, each individual will come in with their own experiences and biases, clearly. Yeah, but what you do that is different than what's happening out there. Out there, there's already like, it's not a brief it's a prepared marketing, you know, advertising engine that is geared to be profitable, scale and all of that. And so the messaging they come with is not like, What is happiness to you, it's, I'll show you if you're happy, right? So that is even like a total that's, and you know, then you're kind of like, Well, okay, if this is monitoring my happiness, oh, I wasn't happy today. I'm happy today, or I'm smiling now. So I feel slightly happy. But maybe if you were to just imagine, in your view, how what happiness looks like, that would actually make you feel happy in the moment. Right. And so that what you said in terms of like, handing over like autonomy, I think that is something that is not done, especially like in the commercial sense, right, like, so. And I guess, it's hard for a product to do a salesy pitch, and say, like, let's see, like, whatever this product is for you, you know, the explore what it means to you, they have to come in with a marketing message. And that's sort of already becomes not only bias, but I don't want to say I don't know if maybe at some points manipulative, but yeah, when, like, they, they come in with an agenda where in your case, you're like, Okay, dream of this. And so that is more, I want to say more honest research, because we all you know, like, we also think about, like how we perceived on the outside, if we do some tests, while we're like fully conscious, maybe we'll say something, we don't really mean, we tend to lie in surveys, or we have a certain opinion of ourselves that, you know, may not be true. So all tests out there, you know, also, we don't know how reliable they are. But when you're dealing with subconscious, it's almost like you would know better than this would How do you like, Is it that? Does that make it a more honest research about a subject? Number one is my question. Like, if you go to people and you're let's say you're doing a survey, you ask questions about, I don't know, what do you think of the current president? And then people give answers, and then you're in the subconscious, you're saying dream of our current president, and how they dream might be a more honest response, is what I'm assuming. So do you think this exploration could lead to more honest, I guess, like, data collection? But what does that mean, in terms of privacy? Are people willing to be wanting to share their real selves? I guess?


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Great. Yeah, I think there's a lot there to the first point about telling people that they're happy versus asking them and that sort of feedback cycle. Just one one quick point, I think is that the the most reliable effect in pharmacology is the placebo effect. It's, um, it's not an SSRI. It's not an anti anxiety medication. It's belief. That's right, the most powerful thing we can do to ourselves and it lasts for a long time. And it's hard to root out and you can absolutely use it to your advantage. There's some really nice research from Carol Dweck and Ellen Langer, which is kind of in pop psychology now called the the growth and fixed mindset literature, which is basically this idea that if, in early education, you give somebody the idea that when something is difficult, it's because you need to work harder and grow into it. As opposed to giving you the idea that when something is difficult, it's kind of fixed, it's always going to be hard for them, and they should probably try something else. Um, those two differentiators - and they were thinking about it with many applications, but one of them was for instance, like mathematics, and how young girls and boys are treated differently in the classroom. This is always going to be hard for you. Maybe you're an English student, and try harder, you're great at this, come on. The rippling effects of those across years are hugely powerful. And so I would absolutely take seriously the effects if somebody's telling you you're happy or not happy, I would take it seriously as a tool. And I would say, take it seriously as a threat. Um, and I think that that doesn't at all mean, it shouldn't be explored. But I think it does mean that because there's this weird for me a sort of weird sense that, that we look for advice and self concept, mostly from outside of ourselves as opposed to from within, I think, how whether whether I'm beautiful, or whether I'm smart, or etc, whether I'll succeed. Um, I think that there has been some sense of overlooking the quiet kinds of influence these technologies that we form our self image with my facebook profile, my Instagram posts that are on that feedback loop, I make it, it makes me I make it, it makes me and so I think it's just a big reminder of the power of belief there. And that's so many of these tools are, are basically tools for believing in a certain limited aspect and scope of your personality. And, yes, so that that's just to the, to the to the first piece on belief, and then the piece on honesty, I think, is really interesting. Um, we obviously have a lot of trouble telling when people are being honest, our our political polling doesn't work very well. I, I think the Dreamspace one of its main uses therapeutically, is that it's an extremely hard space to hold back you're thinking so there's a, I think we talked about called metacognitive capacity, which is the degree to which you can monitor your own thoughts. Um, so think about this, you're in a brainstorming session. And there's this kind of focal idea in the middle, but then there are these pretty weird peripheral ones. And then way out there, there's one which is like, maybe kind of offensive and pretty strange, and I don't think I should say it. And the kind of interesting thing is those, that internal monologue, um, isn't just something you say to other people, you don't stop yourself from speaking, literally, you stop yourself before you speak. And so you follow those rings outward. And times in terms of self censorship, there are these whole layers of meaning that you don't look at, because you don't even let them come into the full view of attention, because you have this amazing ability to self censor. And that's because your job while you're awake, is to focus on the most obvious solutions for the fastest, most efficient problem solving. So if you think about this, in terms of something very simple, like, like, if I'm making, if I'm making a cup, I'm, I'm pretty damn sure I'm gonna make a circular cup. I don't particularly know why, um, it'd be really fine for my cup to be square. I'm not gonna do it, though. And it's gonna be really hard for me to think of it. And so there's this, there's a sense in which while I'm awake, my job is to solve problems incredibly efficiently. I can't go through the world, like wondering whether my table is going to be soft or hard. I've seen a wooden table before, most recent association wood, it's hard, I can put stuff on top of it, I don't have to ask any questions, my socks, they go this way, my feet, they go forward. That's how my mind works. When you're asleep. There's interestingly not a neutralizing effect of that close association. There's a full reversal, where it's easier for your brain to make long distance associations than it is for it to make short distance associations. So this, this notion of how we associate and how we pattern map, which is how we build our model of the world, which is how we understand it and project understanding onto it. That totally reverses when you're asleep. And that's why your dreams are absolutely strange, but totally unsurprising.


Pinar Guvenc  

Why does it reverse it? Is it trying to explore the most efficient and correct path for your awake self?


Yeah, so I think I think the Why is always a weird question when we're talking about the mind and experience because you can document from evolutionary psychology perspective. But then you have to make a lot of leaps in terms of, for instance, our similarity to animal models, which like I don't like to make and you can talk about it from what it does for you, but that's not a why that's a that's a why it would suck if it didn't do the thing, which is which is different as a question, but, um, so I'll say just before entering in my way that people don't know why we sleep to start with the study was a funny question. Like, it does kill you not to sleep. But that's not why we sleep. Um, I don't know. Why is...why is a funny question. Um, but, um, the answer that I like best is from My professor is Bob stick gold and has a book coming out on this actually called greens dream, which is specifically about this notion that when we're asleep, our job is to take our world model and expand it. I've absorbed some information. I've met you Pinar, and I have another friend with the same name. And so even though I'm not thinking of it right now, my job is to think of the two of you sitting at a table together having dinner, I wake up, I think, hmm, actually, that association from my childhood memory, which I didn't pull up during the day, is a useful one. And I'm going to catalog it. Also think of 1000 other associations, which are useless to me. So I think basically, for me, during the day, I'm gathering information, I'm solving like practical short distance, essential problems at night. I'm exploring and I'm experiencing and I'm expanding, it's a completely different mind. And a different kind of model making. 


Such such a fun mindset, though, like, the fact that we skip that, you know, in our, like, awake selves... 


Adam Haar Horowitz   

It's crazy. 


Pinar Guvenc  

And then we're on our like, oh, like, seems like most of the cool stuff that the brain does. I don't say most, you know, it is for survival in dm, like, on our day to day is being efficient. But, like, the fun is like when we, when it's on card like I I'm mostly like fasting, you know, like, we see so many dreams. And in the more very morning, we remember it and then like, and then we totally forget about it. And like I and I not to forget, I would tell a friend or tell my husband, you know, like I thought about this. And then next day, even though I said it verbally out loud, I still would forget it. And then I'm like, why is it has to be so secretive? You know, like all this exploration or interesting other scenarios, we think about life? Why does it happen?


So I think this is an also maybe a totally common, but maybe a misuse of the word forget, in the sense that you've learned a lot about physics. And you've learned a lot about what happens when you bounce a ball on the ground. But when you drop the ball, you're not pulling up a model of all the memories of a ball having bounced of different types and colors on different floors that you've ever had and saying, This is what I expect to happen. Instead, you're just not surprised when the ball bounces in the way that it should. But the fact that you are surprised when a ball bounces in a way that it shouldn't, shows that at all times, you're projecting an understanding onto the world, it's an unconscious understanding until it needs to be updated. So this is what people talk about when they talk about model updating an expectation. The dream I don't think is forgotten. The dream is quiet and cautious until it doesn't need to be anymore in the sense in the sense that your emotional associations are tied to your dream content and REM. And when you wake up the next day, after having had some conversation with somebody at night, and you wake up the next day feeling differently about them when you make eye contact with them. That's you remembering your dream, It's not you remembering the explicit content of the dream, because the content of the dream isn't the point. It's how it feels and how that feeling changes you. In the same way, that I think the content of a classroom isn't really the point. So it changes you and it changes your world model. And even though you might not remember the instance of learning, you're a different person when you walk out and see the world in a new way. So I think it's about carrying those experience as projections. And it's not necessarily forgetting so much as these things are not meant to be consciously recalled, until they are either failing and need updating. Or they're just so much fun that you want to step back into that particular model of exploration.


So to like an analogy, or maybe like the process, let's say the brain on a sleeping mode is exploring, researching, like looking into all these like different models, and then generates actionable insights for your awake self, and then acts and behaves based on those insights from its research from sleep?


Yeah, I think that's I think that i think that i think that's a totally fair analogy. And I think one thing which I'm really kind of excited about is there's a sense that the eye The dream is dismissed as a concept and especially as a research object. It is dismissed because it's to Freudian in it's dismissed because it's too fluffy. It's dismissed because it freaks people out. Um,


Yeah I was going to ask about that.


I think that there's this notion that people have that what we need to do to change behavior and better the world is to, for instance, let's enact more policies, so people act more fairly. Um, my sense is that what you need to change to change the world has changed people's world model. And that, if you think, for instance, I was, I'll say two things, which might seem sort of disjointed. Um, there's a concept of the landscape of fear, which I like a lot, which is this notion that, for instance, when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park, there's this effect of the rivers eventually starting to bend. And people say, How do wolves make a river bend. And it's because when you introduce wolves, elk have more babies, because they're afraid of predation. But they move more, which means they graze less, which means willows grow taller, which means beavers have shelter and food, which means the rivers start to bend. But the interesting thing is that the effect of the psychological concept of a predator possibility has more ecological effects than the actual direct killing by the predator. So there's a sense in which the model of the world makes the world as much as these kind of direct effects. There's this other thing, I was reading, which I think is the same thing, which is about street level bureaucrats. So it's talking about police officers, Grant approvers loan officers. And it's this notion that because we have so much policy, and it's so draconian, it's so difficult to sift through, we're left with a system where at the high level, we make a bunch of rules, but then at the street level, people will actually interact with folks, what you're left to is actually basically people's discretion when they interact with people. So we think it's this notion of organizational model, but had to hand and head to head and foot in the ground and doing the work. It's actually world model that drives the change and drives the interaction. And so I've been thinking more and more about the dream as an idea of my internal world, I see it, I explore it, there's things I don't want to see, maybe I have some kind of bias, which I don't want to see, I will see that thing in my dreams, suppressed thought returns in dreams. The Freudian sense, it returns in dreams, you can show it experimentally, if you try to tell people to forget certain words from a list. Those are the words that come back in that dream, what we push down bubbles up. And so as a way to explore your world model, if you think that your world model is what builds your world, I think dreams are incredibly useful. The fact that they've been overlooked, I think basically points to this idea that a lot of us don't want to see how we see ourselves and don't want to see how we see the world. And what dreams do is they put them in full immersive color. Sound smell. You can't look away. Um, so yeah, I think we ignore them to our peril. And it's a sort of sad thing that introspection is ridiculed and unscientific. 


Yeah. And you know, I mean, we've seen the damage even like you, there's a lot of like books around this on like parenting to like you not addressing your own emotional or family traumas actually reflect on to how you're raising your own child, right? So you're not recovering from that experience, aware or not aware, actually has impact on how you raise your own child, even if that's not the way you want to raise that child. Right. So like, clearly, there is a lot of benefit of emotional analysis of yourself, which we not only are not educated enough in it, but also we don't have the time for it now, like so many things work against us where it seems like the dream space, where it's so free, and you're not shy about saying something or admitting something or exploring further even seems like an amazing space to do that exploration and analysis. And maybe the insight or the action for your daily life would could result in the recovery of it. If you live 20 different scenarios in your dream and see how that might, those might pan out and you're kind of like, oh, but I don't want to be like that. Like that's your insight in the end, like maybe that affects your day to day or even helps you recover from some things that you don't even or think you don't remember, as you said,


And I think there are the practicalities, certainly in terms of therapeutic insight. For instance, I'm working on a PTSD study right now and working with nightmare content with with folks which is useful. But in a in a simpler sense. I think that, seeing that you are many people, and in the sense that when, for instance, you enter stage one sleep, it doesn't matter who you are, you're going to be a flexible, divergent thinker, that there will be moments where you have what people call a loss of ego boundaries, where it's very easy for you first person to inhabit the body of another person inhabit an animal inhabit an object to switch perspectives. I think this notion that you are variably more or less emotional, more or less creative. The fact that everybody every night is delusional, that everybody every morning is amnesic. I think there are some, some, some real links to be drawn between people and those they dismiss as peripheral. Whether those people are dismissed because they're insane, or counterculture. I think that the Dreamspace is a really fertile space to show yourself that there's some breakthrough in breakdown. 


Yeah. Like catharsis.


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Yeah, absolutely. And so I think that there are definitely those kind of more practical insights, that therapeutic pieces, certainly. But I think there's this other piece, which is just like, you're dirtier and more non dual than you think you are, and things are muddled up in there. You're not as simple as you think you are, and you give yourself you should give yourself more credit than putting on an eg and determining you're happy, you're not happy, you should give yourself more credit than thinking you should be optimized in the way that the 10,000 other customers with this device should be optimized, and that there's a notion of optimization at all. And that utopia is outside. And it's in California, and it's hot, and it's full of gold, as opposed to it's it's innervated. And it's intervention, and it's confusing, and it's all mixed up. Yeah, I think brains are kind of yet like, like, like, I think they're productive modeling.


Pinar Guvenc  

For sure. But so Okay, let's talk about more like the logistics of it. So in such a free space, where there's no boundaries, you're basically 100 different things that you can't even imagine about yourself. How do you incubate the dream? Like, how are you going to how do you make sure I dream about a fork? That's already, like fascinating to me. Walk me through it.


Adam Haar Horowitz   

So it's...no, it's so easy. I do the same thing that my mother did to me when I was a child, which is I wait for people call it the hinterland, the border land, the marshy space, the liminal, the semi lucid. I'm waiting for the period where the chemicals which start a dream are already spreading through your brain. The neurophysiology of REM sleep is beginning. But where you're not so deep into sleep, that you have something called thalamic gating, where your hearing gets cut off. And so it's this funny moment, where people are one foot in the dream and one foot out, and where they can still hear, but where they're not processing things in the same way they would when they're awake. And you just whisper to them. And that's it. And so we made a device, which tracks and looks for that period of time. And then as a recording, audio and speaker device, and it gives you different parameters. And you say, I think I want to go this deep this many times for this many minutes. And it tracks, speaks, listens. And that's it.


Pinar Guvenc  

Wow, then how unhealthy it is to fall asleep, like in front of TV, like you're so like, worked out, like you're working at night? Like you're then you know, the last thing you saw was, I don't know, like, we're in architecture studio building sketch that you're doing...


Of course, I mean, so. So I think one of the great things about this kind of work. I'm just plugging in my charger one sec.


Sure.


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Um, um, I think one of the great things about this kind of work is this idea that you bring up a lot of questions about privacy and autonomy. You should already be asking yourself, I think you should be asking yourself about the red notification button. Buttons buttons on your cell phone, I think you should be asking yourself about how many highway ads you drive by. And then how many you remember by the end of the drive and where they go? Because it's not like you didn't see them. I think we should be asking yourself, like, why do we think it's acceptable for as much advertising program is, is put into, like the artwork of movies and television? I think all of these are really relevant questions about privacy and autonomy. But for some reason, we accept them during the day. If the same thing happens to you at night, though, if people start whispering advertisements to you at night, suddenly people get all up in arms, and they say, hey, like, my environment has some influence over me. And I don't have complete control or even consciousness of how it's changing the way that I think and behave. Which is true while you're awake. During the night, maybe because it's a new idea, maybe because people feel more vulnerable. People are like, luckily, I think asking those questions about privacy. And, and, and so I think that how unhealthy it is to fall in front of the asleep in front of the TV. Um, I think really depends on how unhealthy you think it is to stay awake in front of the TV. And and like, yeah, definitely, those things I expect would slip into your dreams. But also, like, your dreams come from your memories, and your memories come from your daily experience. And you should form your daily experience in a way that makes you feel like you're in control of what you're thinking. I have a lot of trouble watching TV shows and not having them completely change how I feel for the day. 


Pinar Guvenc  

For sure, yeah


Adam Haar Horowitz   

And I don't know if I should feel some kind of way about that. But I think that I would if I was having bad dreams about them. Because I'm not really that different than notion of bad thoughts and bad dreams. There's a real, really nice literature, which is about the continuum between daytime mind wandering the moments during the day when when when you're not in control of the stream of your thought, where you wander to a place or an association, and the doorway into dreaming, where you wander when you're in bed just falling asleep, and then the content of dreams, and then the emotion the next day. And then the content of your mind wandering and current concerns. These are the these are a total continuum. And I think that there's Yeah, like, yeah, I really, I don't know. And and like, I think that that that seems sort of hand wavy, but just to give you a specific sense of it. Um, sleep, for instance, is not something that only happens when you're unconscious or in bed. Um, when you have an attentional lapse during the day.


Pinar Guvenc  

Oh, sure, yeah,


Adam Haar Horowitz   

There's a good chance that you're having something called a micro sleep, which is where a very specific part of your brain goes to sleep, not all of your brain has to go to sleep, and then you lose attention. In the same sense that when you work very hard on something specific during the day, for instance, you work on a lot of math, at night, you're going to have the most high amplitude recovery sleep in that part of your brain. There's a communication b-directionally between sleep and wake, sleep enters the day, wake enters the night, that's true for dreams. And it continued with mind wandering, the borders between the two are really dissolving. And I think that, because of that, you get to ask some nice kinds of questions are about what I'm putting in my head when how it's changing me and yeah, if I should care or not.


Pinar Guvenc  

So interesting. Well, where do you see, I don't want to say ideal, but like, what would be an amazing I guess, research to see that is growing more in the intersection of I guess, like our sleeping selves, how it affects our awake selves or like about dreaming? Like, I guess, like what would be your dream about the dream, incubation? 


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Right. Um, I'm having a lot of trouble thinking about how to scale any kind of technology that we're working on. And so I'm right now. This is this week. It'll probably be different next week. Right now, I've been reading Stuart Brand and I've been reading Andre Beton and I've been thinking about this marriage of the dream and reality and this idea of staying hungry and staying foolish. I think that right now I'm thinking about big cheap games that are actually ways to get you to know yourself. As kind of a play that breeds philosophy and this idea that instead of handing you a device which you need to pay for it, or maybe can get addicted to, in which you think wow, like this person had to study a lot to make it and so they must know something about me bla bla, like scratch all that. I've been thinking about right now just just recipe books and instruction art. And so what I'm making now is what I'm calling a cookbook, which I'm really excited about. And I'm calling it a cookbook, because I think there's a really humble approach to saying, this is a recipe, you're probably going to mess with it, it's going to be different in your kitchen than mine, I hope it becomes a tradition, here are the ingredients so that you can mess with them. And it takes this... 


Pinar Guvenc  

I like that. 


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Thank you, it takes this thing which is cohesive, it says, a flan. I don't know how to make a flan. It says you do know how to make a flan, you know what sugar is, you know what eggs are, you just put them together. And so I think the job for good neuroscience, good sleep neuroscience, Dream neuroscience, I used to study meditation, good whatever, is to take periods, break it down into mechanisms and then hand them back to you not say we've completed the picture, we've told you everything. But say this is what you want to play with. If you want to play with this, if you want to play with meditation, maybe play with your sleep cycle, maybe play with the soundscape. Maybe play with your breath rate, your heart rate, if you want to play with dreams, I don't know, you could try beta blockers, you could smoke a bunch of weed and drink certain tea. You could play with some specific things. And so it what I'm doing now is basically writing a mix of instruction art. And, and and and then these more mechanism based explanations of the experience which will rise out of it. And I think that that, to me is a kind of answer for how to scale things up. One because it's, I think, easier to believe in books these days than anything else. I want to be as distant from the internet as I can be. And two because I think it's pretty easy to put a PDF online. But I think it's really hard for me.


Pinar Guvenc  

Well, sorry to interrupt, but I love it because it doesn't lose what you originally said about autonomy. I think that's Yeah, that's like the most important thing behind it like you give your...you share your knowledge and share in a way like saying okay, this may affect you like this, but I don't know you're you like that sort of like no, like marketing message. No brainwashing, like all of that. I think it makes it very genuine product.


Adam Haar Horowitz   

I would hope so. Yeah. And I think there's there's notion, which I'm wrestling with, and maybe I'll get over. But I feel like there's not a way to make, for instance, large scale hardware, which does some kind of physiological monitoring and feedback without giving people a really limited sense of who they are and a really inflated sense of who you are. And I think both of those are doing an injustice to the kind of understanding of the human and, and and I think that you don't need to engage in either that deflation or inflation if you're handing off recipes to people. And um, yeah, I guess I guess I think that Well, yeah, I guess we'll see. We'll Yeah, well, yeah, yeah. Okay.


Pinar Guvenc  

So I have before we get your advice to anyone who's trying to push boundaries or Explorer, unexplored territories, I have three quick questions that I want to fire away, which are either like I'm selfishly interested in or I have a certain hypothesis, and I want to see what you think about it. Well, number one, and the quickest one, I guess, what did you thought...What did you think about the movie Inception?


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Um, is great. We actually had Jonah Nolan, one of the Nolan brothers come and visit our lab recently and, and speak in our class. And I, I think, that many people think the job of scientists and technologists is contemporary and I think that the job of scientific technologists is totally framing the past and framing the future. I think it's really doing the same thing that Inception does. It's it's not saying, here's this device, it can change your dreams. You should buy it. It's saying, there's a part of you. You don't quite know how to speak to and there is a language that it's speaks, and I just want you to be curious about it. And think about a world where it did speak a little louder, and you did listen a little better. And it says it says, when you set your alarm for 8am, and you wake up at 7:59am, who woke you up? Was it you? You weren't there. And if you were awake, and I told you to shut your eyes for eight hours, and tell me what it was one minute before the eight hour time limit, would you be able to do it? Absolutely not. So who is? And where are they in your head? And how do you talk to them? And how do they know what 8am is? How do they have a concept of time? Who told them? Like it? I think it's it's question posing and future framing in the same way that Inception does, um, we made it we made a tiny sci fi movie also called Cocoon, about...tiny....about the world where our, our technologies were used more broadly. Yeah, it's more dystopian than utopian dream. But yeah, and so I loved it. I think it's great. I was not allowed to use the word inception in my papers, though. I was told that pretty explicitly by my advisors,


Pinar Guvenc  

But I think it's so interesting. Like, we talked about how, you know, technology coming out there, and it's trying to scale where they how they positioned in the movie was like, it was a high end service. You know, it was like a very luxury product, like, they had no interest in scaling. It became like, it was even like, you know, service for political agendas, or personal, rich people, or whatever it is. But I think that approach was really interesting. So that's why I was curious. Yeah, um, second question I have, totally unrelated. But this is a hypothesis I have. And I want to see what you think about it and shoot deja vu. 


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Hmm. 


Pinar Guvenc  

I think there are things that we've dreamt of before, like in this scenario, that we explore it in our heads, and suddenly we come across it in life. And we thought we think we saw it before. And I think we saw it in our dreams. Like, that's my, not theory, hypothesis.


Adam Haar Horowitz   

I think it's a great theory. I think it's a great theory. Yeah. Let's see, what am I think of deja vu? I mean, I guess I think that they are incomplete memories. Um, let's see. I don't know if I have anything useful to add. But I will say that there's some really nice research from a guy named Susumu Tonegawa, he's a Nobel Prize Laureate, who researches the N gram, which is this idea that memory has a physical seat, my memory of this conversation has a cluster of neurons, and I need to find it. And one of the interesting things that he's able to show is that when you make a memory, you don't just make one path to that memory, you make multiple paths to that memory. Those paths can disintegrate, essentially, it can become unmyelinated, or unused. And so I often think of deja vu, as I've traveled down one of multiple paths to a memory. But it's just not quite a myelinated one. And so something strikes something else, and I get halfway, I don't quite get there. And so I get this feeling of familiarity. I think that there's a nice tie into the dream world. Because there's, there's something called a feeling of rightness. And there's a actually a part of your brain. Often it's not a part of your brain that does a thing, it's the brain, it's networks, but there's a part of your brain, which seems to underlie feeling of rightness. And if you've ever been in a lucid dream, where you wake up, that's the same piece, you're in it. It feels a lot like deja vu where you're like, something feels familiar, and wrong. And then, and then that feeling for me, is what triggers a reality check where I look at my hands or I try to read some text and it doesn't quite work. And I say this is a dream. But it always comes from the same feeling as deja vu, you might think that's happening. Because we have a lot of the semantic networks that we have while we're awake, but we don't have access to the hippocampus while we're in REM. And so it might be the same sort of, I have the meaning, but I don't have the path to the memory. And that's why a lucid dream feels like a deja vu when a deja vu feels like a deja vu that is a totally off the cuff. I have no idea but there's just some thoughts I think.


Pinar Guvenc  

No I love though that just makes me think more. I don't you know, mine obviously didn't take that much like in depth thinking or research to it. I was just like, oh, maybe. And I guess one quick question. I mean, I guess this is a very long question, but let's try to find a quick answer to it. So obviously like if you read a Yuval Harare, and he talks about, I think in the book of 21 lessons from 20st century. He, like talks a lot about like how biometric data, and that, you know, coupled with, I guess, big data or AI and all of that could be to very much our detriment, right. So I feel like what's interesting there though, so biometric data, I mean it, it reads stuff through hormones through your like, you know, body temperature, reflexes or whatever. But then I think it is still very detached from Dreamspace. So one question I have, do you think, um, dream, I don't want to say a weapon. But dream can be something. dreams can be an area, that sort of, let's say we're forced to wear like, biometric bracelets in the future and or we have chips, whatever, like that scenario happening? Do you think dreams would be a safe space? Or are only safe spaces at that point?


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Yeah. I mean, I think dreams are absolutely a haven. You could write a really simple prison escape handbook by writing a lucid dreaming book. The notion that we are unfettered entirely in sleep has, I think, a lot of Yeah, attractive truth. Um, the other thing, though, I think, is that dreams can totally be a prison, they're a prison, if you have repetitive nightmares, they're a prison if you return to the same place every night, they're are prison if you have a lucid dream every night and you wake up extremely tired, which people do. I think that they have a capacity to be both because they are a world. And then I but I do, I do really think I think that people are wary of studying dreams for the same reason, they were wary of LSD research that was ongoing in the psychological sciences. Um, I think these are things that blow up your worldview. And which, if you take them seriously, make everything while you're awake, make a little bit less sense in a productive way. Um, I think that, for me, the way I think of it is you have kind of a certain amount of feeling of rightness and sense making to go around. And you can either spread it out across 24 hours, or you can concentrate it and say the thing that makes the most sense, is the eight hours when I'm at work, and I'm being productive. And then afterwards, I kind of waste my time, and I feed myself until I can produce more things the next day. Or you can say that, like maybe that notion of optimization is one that was handed to me and not one that I handed to myself, and maybe it's really productive for me to go ride a bunch of chipmunks like over the Atlantic Ocean at night, like maybe that's really important, in the same way that maybe poetry is really, really important. Um, and, yeah, I think that dreams, in that sense can be a weapon, because they'll make anybody into a divergent, creative counterculture thinker. Because that's what they're designed to do biologically. And I think they are in the same sense, because they are so real, and immersive and personal. They also absolutely have the capacity to be a prison and to be weaponized.


Pinar Guvenc  

Hmm. So interesting. And I could see how, especially like systems, that, you know, would not like that research, you know, like, there's like, because in systems there's like a mind, like mind numbing approach, right? Like, these are the rules. These are regulations, we follow this, this, like, allows for society to thrive and whatever. And so there is there's this book, and you know, I'm a, I'm a mother of a two year old. So I read a lot about these things. And there's a book by Alfie Kohn and he talks about raising rebels, and he says, like how children need to sort of have this like reflective, reflective, rebelliousness, and not just accept everything. But, you know, the systems don't like that. Right, which is why there's often promotion almost on disciplining your children. Like all these rules, like, or punishments or incentives and, you know, praising and all of that. Whereas like, he's against all of that, and he talks about like, no, like, you should raise rebels because they should question things and but you know, in a respectful way, so like it makes me think that have that of you know, people if they take the dream seriously and explore all these other things, in their dreams instead of what we see in our day to day. It is kind of rebelliousness, right? Like towards like what is like presented to us. So 


Adam Haar Horowitz   

I think that's fair. And I think that there is a conceptually interesting, I think, probably nobody knows if it's causally interesting, but it conceptually interesting link between a lot of those medications, which we give to overmedicated children to discipline them, and the impact they have on REM and dreams, and the way that they make them literally disappear. And so I think there's a really interesting kind of control and complicity is tied to this dreamlessness which is, which is which is interesting, and in and of itself. And I think that there's Yeah, yeah, I don't know I this is a longer conversation, I think but I'm sure there's, there's there's a sense in which there's this notion which that the dream has been co opted, at least in the US, we're like this idea of the American Dream and the suburban dream, this idea that a dream could be homogeneous, and that people all want the same thing. And that to get everybody to a place where they can be in their dream. And we need to have a certain amount of income etc. As opposed to this idea that dreams aren't really nice, most of the time, they don't make that much sense most of the time, you don't like really need a lot of money to have like feet for ears, which is like one of my dreams, and it doesn't cost a lot. You don't need a fence for it. And so I think that there's a sense in which the concept of the dream in and of itself can be used productively, to complicate the concept of utopia and the way that the dream has been co opted, I think, to give people this idea that they all want the same thing, which Milan Kondur writes really nicely about this idea that that that's what makes totalitarianism and capitalism possible. totalitarianism is convincing everyone that they have the same dream. Um, so yeah, I'm really interested in that kind of productive use of the dream to complicate it's, it's it's more broad concept. Yeah, I think that's cool.


Pinar Guvenc  

All right. Well, thank you so much for answering those. So with my final question, and I guess I have so much longer conversation today. So to anyone who is doing research in a field that definitely seems like they're, I mean, all fields, I guess, there's so many things to discover. But, you know, in a field that is, especially like, sometimes maybe overlooked, or is people are afraid of, they either are trying to do research, exploring that field or make progress in an industry that is very conservative push boundaries, any of these hardships. Right? What would be your advice to these people? 


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Well, gosh, yeah, um, yeah, I think that, um, I think many of these questions are just sort of off the cuff and maybe I should have thought about. Um, there's, there's a really nice kind of humility in the brain sciences, I think, because there's a sense that everybody is a participant witness or a participant observer in experiments. They are a first person trying to get a third person view on a first person who has a view of themselves in a third person objective process. Like, I'm trying to experiment on you, but there's a me and there's a you and you know, that I'm there trying to experiment on you. It is it's an absolute mess. And so, in my mind, it's not really science. In my mind, it's kind of just empathy, just organized empathy, like you put your empathy in a spreadsheet, get some tools to think about another person, they think about you. And so I guess that makes a really useful change where you don't take yourself as seriously. And you take the person sitting across from you who's supposed to be a cell in a spreadsheet much more seriously. If you think that this kind of epistemology is necessarily interactive, it's necessarily environmental. It's necessarily contextual. And I think that kind of humility gives you a real weapon against people who tell you that's not it's not how it's done. And I think that for me, I'm really interested in this concept of levels of analysis where where physicists once dismissed chemists because they're at a higher level of analysis where the study of the brain dismissed the study of the mind because it's at a higher level of conceptual analysis higher in the sense of emergence and networks. And I think that to be a really good question asker, you have to be a really good traveler among levels of analysis. And I'm using this level of analysis from David Marr who writes really nicely about this. But the idea that questions need to be asked on multiple levels. And if somebody's telling you that they shouldn't be, it's probably because they're defending their tenure. And their niche. And like, I just, I don't know, I was told by a professor when I was starting this, that I that I was taking too many mushrooms if I thought that this was science. I'm really what's what he said to me. And I said, that's really aggressive, and probably a good sign for me


Pinar Guvenc  

To go ahead and explore, 


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Yeah to like, get out there. And I don't know, um, what do I Yeah, um,


Pinar Guvenc  

so take people's advice with a grain of salt? I guess I was like, one of advices?


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Um, I, I mean, I mean, to be frank, I think that just nobody knows what they're talking about. And I think people especially don't know what they're talking about, if they're talking about the brain, and anybody who's a good neuroscientist will admit that. And that means that you just have free leave to do something as long as you're doing it ethically, you pose any question you want to, for people in the brain sciences, I think that is advice that can scale. And I think that for people who are interested in these kinds of questions, and are not in an academic setting, I think the cool thing to understand is that as an experiencer, you know, much more about your brain than any neuroscientist ever will. And that's a really legitimate kind of knowledge production about the brain. Introspection has brought us so much that there there is, and I don't say this to dismiss the field that I'm in. But my professor Rebecca Saxe, said this in her class, last semester, um, it's extremely hard to find any piece of information from neurosciences, biomedical engineering, that tells us more about ourselves than introspection and psychology already did. We're basically just restating things in terms of mechanism. And I think that, yeah, you just have to be really careful when somebody is trying to sell you something so that you buy their tool, whether they're selling you an fMRI, or whether they're selling you a brain scan of yourself as a kind of self understanding. I yeah, I think I have no advice for people except that everyone's shooting in the dark.


Pinar Guvenc  

But I love that it's so honest, that actually like you know, it's it's sort of goes back to what he originally said of like autonomy like this is what I know. But you know, your own brain the best so like, keep at it, you know, so I love that and thank you so much for this you know, I think this could have been a hell of a conversation such an interesting topic topics that you're working on. Please keep us posted on all you know, new updates the research that you're doing, and we look forward to staying in touch. 


Adam Haar Horowitz   

Thanks, Pinar, thanks very much for your time.


Pinar Guvenc  

That is this week's episode of What's Wrong With: The Podcast. Make sure to visit our website podcast thought was wrong with dot XYZ and subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify or Google podcasts so you never miss an episode. You can now also watch our podcasts on YouTube. You can find a link in the description below. If you found value in this show. We would appreciate if you could rate us and leave a review or you can simply tell your friends about us. For more details on our guests. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter. Don't forget to join us next week for another episode. Thank you



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