Lucid dreaming as a creative catalyst

One of my favorite technological visionaries, Ray Kurzweil, practices lucid dreaming as a part of his creative process. He describes this process in at least one of his books, and also in this interview with the American Foundation for the Blind.
"Before I go to sleep I assign myself some problem and it can be any kind of problem. It can be a business challenge, a decision or some business issue. It could be a math problem. It can be how to design a particular invention or it could be a writing problem: how do I organize material to express a certain thought."
This first step effectively places the problem into his subconscious where it can then be worked on by his brain over-night.
"And then I go to sleep and then I will dream about it and if I wake up in the middle of the night I will find myself dreaming about something having to do, in a strange way, with this problem."
He notes that our internal "censors" let their guard down while we dream, and taking advantage of this is key to unlocking innovative ideas.
"And I'll come back to the problem I assign myself when I went to sleep and invariably I'll have really dramatic new insights into that problem. Very often a solution, new ways of thinking about it."
Lucid dreaming has long been known as a middle ground between the conscious and subconscious, and there are other uses for this state of being beyond creativity enhancement. I stumbled on a series of video interviews with Dr. Friedemann Schaub, a physician who pushes "The Fear & Anxiety Solution" through, among other things, a system called Time Line Therapy™.

  Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 9.44.58 AM Time Line

Schaub posits that we all have a life timeline on which there are both conscious and subconscious events. For many people who suffer with anxiety, grief, or anything else, they may have subconscious events on their timeline which they cannot access. They may not even know that these events exist, even though the events themselves are the cause of their emotional pain. The technique for dealing with these subconscious events involves a lucid state not unlike the one Kurzweil uses, except that instead of for creative gain, Time Line Therapy™ aims for therapeutic gain.

I did not test Time Line Therapy™. Instead, I tested Kurzweil's brand of lucidity. For a week I tried to visualize problems in my life (mostly work) immediately before bed.  I then attempted to access these thoughts in a lucid state just after waking in the morning.

Admittedly, my results were not great. There was one morning that I was convinced I had successfully performed the process; however, the other days it was very inconclusive. On that one successful morning I had visualized what a particular interface would look like the previous night, and in the morning I had a pretty clear idea of what direction I wanted to take in actually designing it.  The efficacy of the rest of the days' practice was fuzzy, as the subconscious usually is. A few times I was even guilty of forgetting to linger in my lucid wake-up state (this part is the real key - it's not easy to stay lucid but recognize that you need to stay lucid).

Something to keep in mind: Kurzweil has been practicing this technique for over 30 years, so he has quite a leg up on someone like me who started last week. I think that if you practiced this enough it would indeed become extremely powerful, and I plan on continuing the gentle bedtime brainstorming in the hopes that it will aid my creativity as much as it apparently has aided Kurzweil's.  That is, if I can beat my subconscious and remember to do so.

Kinetic challenge

The kinetic challenge was a project that asked us to keep an LED lit as long as possible by storing kinetic energy. I attempted to make my own gearing for a DC motor that would generate enough electricity to not only power an LED but charge several capacitors as well.

To prove the concept I started by using a 9V battery as the power source. This made it easy to test the capacitors and experiment with different components to maximize the discharge time.

I found this schematic on which suggested that a resistor in series before each capacitor would lengthen the amount of time it took for each capacitor to discharge.

I tried it out and it did improve my results, so my circuit essentially looked like the diagram, except for differing resistor values (220 Ω before each capacitor and 1 kΩ before the LED). The capacitors were 4,700 µF (4.7 mF), the largest capacitance I could find in the shop. The first photo is of the circuit without the resistors.

The last step was to create a gearing that would allow a crank to generate a sufficiently high, smooth voltage into the capacitors. I made a larger gear by hand that was meant to work with the gear that was permanently attached to the motor; however, the gear was far from perfect and I also ran into problems physically mounting the system.

In the end the system failed. I don't have a picture to illustrate this but the setup was not sufficient to power the LED, even by bypassing the capacitors. I learned that testing with ideal power sources can be both a blessing and a curse because it can cause you to overlook the fact that a large part of your system is not being sufficiently vetted for feasibility. On the other hand I now have a better grasp of how to control an electric source, which will undoubtedly come in handy in the solar challenge coming up next.

Logging and graphing an autonomic response

Originally I had wanted to measure my galvanic skin response (GSR) while watching television to see if there was a correlation between my hand-sweatiness and movie drama. For the data logging/graphing assignment, I opted instead for my finger temperature. I frequently have ice cold hands and I wanted to see if there was a correlation here as well, perhaps to the media I was consuming.

I purchased a GE MA100GG232C thermistor (data sheet) for this purpose, with a range of 32-122ºF. I couldn't get accurate readings at first so I calibrated it through a system of my own devising, using data points for ice water (< 32ºF), internal body temperature (98.6ºF), and boiling water (> 122ºF). The collected data for my middle finger is displayed below, with error of ±0.36ºF.

Data points of note include:

  • 7:22 PM - Shark Tank (Uncle Zip's Beef Jerky)
  • 7:33 PM - Shark Tank (Hill Billy clothing)
  • 7:52 PM - Shark Tank (The Broccoli Wad money clip)
  • 8:04 PM - Winter Olympics (Snowboarding, Men's Halfpipe)
  • 8:40 PM - Winter Olympics (Figure skating, team short program)
  • 8:51 PM - Ate two Saltine crackers

The data suggests that, though my finger temperature continued to drop throughout the night, watching The Broccoli Wad on Shark Tank may have slowed the decline. Ambiguous conclusions can be drawn about the Olympics portion of my viewing, but it seems clear that the beginning of the figure skating caused a noticeable increase in temperature. Additionally, I thought that eating something would increase the temperature, but it actually decreased it quite a bit.

Wireframing an app: Time Out!

Time Out! is a proposed app that helps you get away from your mobile device. Most apps want a large serving of your personal time.  In contrast, not only does Time Out! not want your time, it wants to prevent your other apps from over-indulging as well.

Usage case 1: Peace and quiet
It's Saturday. You want some peace and quiet after a hectic week but your social media notifications will not cease. Open the app, adjust the settings to desired stringency, and press Time Out! You will now be unable to open any apps besides those specifically allowed through the Settings screen until the timer runs out.

Usage case 2: Workday focus
It's Monday. You have a ton of work to catch up on but, again, your social media notifications will not cease. Open the app, adjust the settings to desired stringency, and press Time Out! You will now be unable to open any apps besides those specifically allowed through the Settings screen until the timer runs out.

There are really only 3 activities needed for basic implementation.  I haven't given them official names yet but they can be seen below. Additionally, I created a chart to keep track of the activity flow. Even though it is still quite simple, it's nice to see the relationships in clear terms.

An important theme of Time Out! is simplicity, and that's what I'm aiming for in the design of the activities. Keeping the settings compartmentalized within the official Settings menu, only having an "on" button, and keeping most of the app's inner workings invisible to the user just adds to this theme. The app will also include an optional, persistent notification which will keep the countdown accessible even while you use other allowed apps.

I have done a bit of programming so far: most of the design elements for the initial activity are in place, the persistent notification is working (though with one slight issue), and the countdown timer is counting.

Next up:

  • Killing/blocking other apps from launching
  • Coding the logic which alters the main activity on button-press
  • Creating an Android-style Settings activity

Why connect computers with the rest of you?

Computers allow us to analyze, track, and capture all sorts of things. Using them to explore some of the aspects of our being over which we ourselves have limited or no control will undoubtedly produce profound conclusions about how we function and may cause drastic changes in how we go about our daily lives.

That we are finally starting to be able to access parts of ourselves so ingrained that we barely notice their existence is the most interesting thing to me about connecting sensors and devices as an extension of ourselves. We can use computers as faithful detectors of signs too minute or slow for us to detect on our own.

I hope to apply technology to my own self in the hopes that I can pick up patterns that would otherwise be invisible, and to use those patterns to better myself and others in any way possible.

My relationship with my phone

I have two relationships with my devices.  The first is as a technological aficionado, in which I serve as a patron and critical analyst. The second is as an end user, in which I depend on the device in my daily life.

I am not one of those people who literally can't be separated from their phone, but I will admit having "information pangs" when I find myself without it. The information I could miss is mostly unimportant.  And the time frame of being without it is very short.  But the feelings of dependency are real and show the big part of my existence my phone occupies.

I got my first smartphone, an iPhone 4, in early 2011, followed by an iPhone 5 in late 2012. The tail end of a device's technological supremacy always starts to feel like a bottleneck in terms of speed as well as usefulness.  I am at that point with my iPhone 5 after only a little more than a year later. I can feel that the device is heavily mediating my interactions rather than facilitating them, even though just a year earlier I felt more empowered than hindered. It strains me to channel my human senses back and forth through a thin aluminum brick.

Getting used to a level of speed or information density makes it hard to go backward.  This is why we need new, innovative ways to process and keep track of all the data we have conditioned ourselves to accept and produce. My iPhone 5 is but an awkward transitional design paradigm that will lead to something better, and hopefully, something more conducive to handling our human senses.