The Best Show And Tell On Earth

Last week I joined a group from a hackerspace called Noisebridge to show some of my VR demos at an event proclaiming to be the best show and tell on earth. Read on, for some impressions about Maker Faire.

Will you be my friend?

Will you be my friend?

Maker Faire is a strange combo, many individual creative makers come together to show their stuff and connect with others but also some more established  businesses and companies are there with their pretty standers sale pitches.

I was there with a group of people from Noisebridge we had a VR booth with demos we created. Some of the group created a virtual Noisebridge with a 3d scanner and also a a 3d model you could switch between. I was showing my MindMoVR experience and also a demo with a leapmotion camera where you could use your own hands in VR and interact with actual objects. A pillow became a giant teddy bear and the HTC Vive controller became a buzzing butterfly you could catch.

There was also another group from the space showing this crazy contraption they made, a type of printer that was just holding a sharpie pen and moving it on a page to create a very unique style of drawings based on photos you could take at the booth.

Besides us there were hundreds if not thousands of other booths. Here are some trends I notices.

Robot mayham

Robot mayham

Robots – lots and lots of robots made from anything imaginable including cardboard. One of the biggest highlights was the giant MegaBot unavailing. This Robot is supposed to fight a Japanese Robot sometime soon.  The robot was swinging its giant arms and crashing into a car but the transfer of momentum was more of a pushing then punching.

Drones – there was a drone race track as well as a drone fighting. Mostly these sports seem to be about picking up the fallen drones and fixing them. But I guess letting out human aggression this way is pretty harmless unless these drones or robots actually get sentience.

Blinky

Blinky

Blinky – a whole room filled with blinky LED stuff.  Not much new for anyone who’d been to burning man, but still pretty.

Personalisation – on the more commercial front there was a little trend of personlising daily objects by using scanners and 3d printers. Print your own perfectly fitting shoes or glasses for instance.

Personalize your shoe

Personalize your shoe

Tools – laser cutters, 3d printers and lots of other tools that are the maker’s version of crack. There was even an automatic knitting machine.

Some nostalgia – among all this futuristic stuff there was also a bunch of steam engine machines and an old style photo booth with one of those box cameras and film!

Even for an “old cynic” like me there was enough novelty and interactivity to make the event worth it. And seeing strangers play with the stuff I made was pretty amazing. I’ll be showing MindMoVR at Figment interactive art festival on june 10th in Oakland. Come say hi.

The Feminist Viking?

24 hours after my first “Historical European Martial Art” class I found myself jogging in the forest and improvising an axe from two sticks and some vines. Read on for some thoughts about how playing with violence is good for the brain.
~Warning this post contains nudity~

That shield was sooo heavy!

That shield was sooo heavy!

The moment I entered the sports center I notice some statistical variations. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with so many men with long hair. Not surprisingly beards were also in fashion.

Improvised axe

Improvised axe

After completing some rigorous repeated exercises for the warm up, I was taken to the side with 2 other new people to get basic instruction. Most importantly we were taught how not to hurt any players including myself. “Keep the shield below chin level and never deflect a sword attack upwards,” I was told.  In western countries, when you play with real steal weapons safety needs to be taken seriously. With all these lawsuits and over protective governments, one death might be enough to make this fun activity illegal.

My instructor was impressed with my zeal yet recommended that I don’t rush into attacking. “Stay more defensive and wait,” he said. But where is the fun in that? My body has learnt the fear of getting punched in the head or kicked in the gut but is seemed to have not yet learnt the fear of rushing into pointy objects so all too many spares and swords kept encountering my body. It wasn’t very pleasant but didn’t leave any marks. It has been a long time since I enjoyed playing with violence so much. This is the only style I know of that practices fighting in a “group vs group setting”, side by side, protecting each other, becoming a larger organism. This brought about a very primal sense of belonging to a bigger group. All team sports might be a sublimation of this.

 

Let’s talk about brains for a bit

How many wins does your personal slot machine have?

How many wins does your personal slot machine have?

I would like you to imagine them as slot machines. Brains always predict the future and the future they predict is basically a type of statistical gamble choosing from these possible options, like the rotating wheel of a slot machine. Just as the 3 bars of a slot machine are categorized as either a win or a loss, each future the brain predicts probably comes with some type of ‘cost’ function labeling how good or bad that future is for us.

A newborn baby resembles a slot machine with only a few different images. Let’s say just the 777 and the cherry, no diamonds or bells or cash. As we grow our slot machine gets more and more images, by interacting with the environment. Every time the future we predict isn’t exactly what happens new images will be created to allow for better prediction. We also seem to copy many images from other slot machines around us. But will these new images turn into a win or a loss? At the very beginning that only depends on the context and timing from the environment. For instance an image followed by food will be categorized as a win while an image followed by an electric shock will be a loss. This is obviously an over simplifications but it’s a useful analogy. The more images the slot machine categorizes as wins the more likely it is to land on wins. The more good experiences we have the more likely we are to be ‘optimistic’ and predict a good future.

That’s why the notion of play is so important as I explained previously. Playing allows kids to experiment and increases the chances for categorizing things as wins. Not necessary wins over others, it doesn’t have to be a 0 sum game where if someone wins the other loses. It just has to be a good learning experience, where we are allowed to make mistakes and the brains predictions don’t have to narrow down too much.

The Feminist Battles.

The workshop ended early because neighbors complained :(

The workshop ended early because neighbors complained :(

For whatever reasons, in most cultures being born with a vagina usually meant not being allowed to play with violence. Vikings are thought to be a type of exception. It’s hard to know exactly how many warriors had vaginas but the fact is that their stories and myths along with the artwork and burial sites indicate that it was part of their society. I too am a sort of exception of this age, one of the privileged few in these modern times who did get to play with violence in a safe and empowering setting and honestly it’s probably the main thing that has kept me relatively sane and functional.

It's just some skin!

It’s just some skin! Photo by SimplyWeb Photography

On the previous weekend I went to the F-Word, a feminist festival. I arrived early and volunteered to help with the setup including helping an amazonian blacksmith create an inspiring mobile metal workshop. However, not everything sat so well with me, especially at the party at night where I felt a strange sextual opression in the air. It was really hot and all I was wearing was a warm jumper. In festivals like Burning Man I wouldn’t have had to think twice about taking my shirt off and being topless, but here It felt like my boobs represented all these bigger issues. Feminism has always been a complex label for me and I don’t like labels in general. I do understand that in big battles soldiers have to fight under a banner that allows them to unite and not accidently kill each other on the battlefield. And this is how I view feminism. A banner needed in order to identify waring factors.  But when it comes to ideas about sex I often find myself standing on the minority side battling against most feminists for the freedom to do whatever I want with my vagina.

I think that for so many, sexuality has been tainted with pain and abuse that anything that has to do with sex might be categorized as a potential ‘loss’. I will do my best not to judge those that have been hurt but I won’t let their fear take away my freedom. All I can do is offer a different possibility, as given by my slot machine that was built by playing with violence, a glimpse at my brain that is able to predict ‘wins’ even under very extreme cases and a look at my very privileged vagina for which sex is just another simple fun activity, untainted by patriarchy or fear. Yes, I am very aware of my privileges but I would much rather share them instead of give them up and isn’t that what a healthy community should be about?

Fusion

I just got back from my first big ‘non burning-man’ festival and have some thoughts and stories to share. From the first moment I kept trying not to compare this festival to ‘Burning man’ and just see it as a thing of itself. But brains, they love comparing.

Workshop area, slack line, and capoeira in the background

Workshop area, slack line and capoeira in the background

The Set Up
The entry line into the festival was split into 2, those with cars and those on foot. I came on the festival bus so was lucky to enter after less than an hour of waiting. A friend in a car waiting 6 hours. Despite being told Id’s would be checked to confirm the ticket ownership that didn’t happen.
Despite lots of “no border” signs and “refugees welcome” banners, the festival had three layers of gates and guards. There was one border for entering from the outside world into the camping area, then another for entering from the camping area to the main festival area and then another for entering the area for families that had many circus tents and performances. Every time you left the main area you got this green token you had to give back when you entered. Obviously at some point I lost it and had to go to the entrance with an ID to get another one.
The camping area is ‘first come first conquer’, no real order and just groups of people taking up as much space for their friends that will arrive later. It was overly crowded by the second day and snoring strangers could be heard all around me.
A strange moment was passing through one of these check points which had only black security guards. This under privileged minority getting some amount of power over the privileged seemed to result in them taking their job much more seriously than the rest of the guards I encountered. It was a very strange scene, while they were making sure to be ‘in charge’ they were still there ones working, supposedly for our enjoyment.

The workshops 

My pyramid graffiti

My pyramid graffiti

This was probably the favorite part of the festival for me. The workshops were consolidated in two area’s so even without a schedule I could just pass by and was guaranteed something interesting was happening.
Dance, martial arts, sewing BDSM clothing, making jewelry, discussing utopias, graffiti were some of the things I attended. Some of the workshops did require extra money for the materials.
There were also many very high level circus, theater and dance performances.

The Art
I was impressed by the amount and quality of the art works. No it wasn’t burning man but it was damn good. Many of the art works had an interactive element which made them even more awesome. There were also random Telephone lines around the place which you could call and hopeful someone would answer. I tried communicating with some strangers this way but honestly I was never very good with phones.

The Germans

One of the strange things I wore... ended up taking it all off and dancing topless within 5 min.

One of the strange things I wore… ended up taking it all off and dancing topless within 5 min.

I was surprised at how German the festival was. Yes, it is in Germany but I was expecting a more international feeling. All the signs were in German and the vast majority of people were German and the largest drug consumption was by far alcohol. I was also disappointed at the almost total lack of nudity. I was the only one walking around topless and encountered only one nude guy. We talked briefly sharing our surprised at all these clothed people at a festival that is described as “clothing optional” especially since most of the time the weather was warm and sunny. The same goes for cool costumes. You could see them here and there but there idea of contributing to the festival with personal costumes hasn’t gotten hold. I was also surprised at the relative lack of queer/trans visibility.

The Food and Garbage Economy
Within the first day piles and piles of garbage were mounting everywhere. In order to combat this the festival provides everyone with a garbage bag and if you return a full bag with a part of your ticket you receive 10 euro’s. Many people were collecting bottles probably to recycle outside of the festival. I was walking around with my burner cup asking the food stales to use it. The food itself was vegetarian only and very cheap for around 3.5-5 euro’s you could get a great meal. I noticed that the fact that money was still involved in interactions with the food servers made us less friendly towards each other. Unlike burning man, this person was not volunteering their time for the community and thus attempting to connect to it, they were doing it so they could take the money they earned and go have fun somewhere else.

The music
The main area of the festival wasn’t so big and massive sound systems were bleeding into each other causing a massive amount of chaotic mess in most areas. I was impressed with myself when my ears actually recognized some funktion one speakers at one of the main electronic music stages. As I got closer my eyes recognized them too. As for music there was a very large variety, which were the idea of “fusion” is supposed to stem for. There were even robots playing music and classical piano concerts. One again I realized how little of my brain actually finds music (without dancing) recharging. Trying to just listen to music a little voice in my head went “This information is not relevant for survival”.

In Conclusion
I did have a great time, mostly because I learnt a lot and made a new friend in one of the workshops but for the future I’ll probably save my money for Burning Man.

Mayhem @Berghain

The Berghain started out as a gay club in Berlin in 2004. Today it’s incredibly famous for its subculture as well as techno music . Here is my take after a weekend adventure in Berlin.

Preparations, black pants and practicing a bored ennoyed look

Preparations, black pants and practicing a bored ennoyed look

The Berghain is not a club people come to have fun in, it is a place of worship with strict entry rules. The general idea is to maintain its unique environment by keeping mainstream tourists away. If you want to get in you have to look like someone who has already been there. Dressing in black and looking unhappy is a good start. I came with a friend, a regular known to the guards so there wasn’t any problems. We still came sunday morning to avoid the que. I got stamped and returned in the evening, when the ‘returners’ line was ‘just’ 20 min. She was there for over 22 hours straight. If you get through the door prepare to be searched and pat down, a sticker will be put on your cell phone camera. Put the money on the counter, do not attempt to hand it to the worker. Why? Don’t ask why, like any other religion this is about power, you are the low level worshiper they are the druids.
The club is situated in an industrial maze of a building spread over 3 floors. The top floor, called panorama is relatively mild if you take out the little cubicles were people sometimes have sex in. There actually isn’t that much sex going on, but it does happen.
The bottom most floor where you enter has some chill spaces including an out door space with a statue of a giant penis.
On the mid level, you will find the actual Berghain. The Berghain doesn’t play music, it plays techno war drums. People there do not dance, they put on their war face and go to battle, stomping and elbowing their fists beating the air. Hour after hour in a sweaty frenzy they will release their anger in a strange sublimation ceremony. Be it anger at patriarchy, frustration with social norms or just personal hardship, the clubbers will battle their way until monday morning. For those who last until the end I was told there is a type of catharsis, an addictive release. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t connect to this for more than a few minutes at a time. Due to my martial arts training I release anger in short sprouts against opponents or a punching bag. With out the feeling of impact my anger goes no where.

The Bathrooms
Like many other clubs the bathroom is also a type of kitchen were people go to consume. If your looking for nourishment I was told you should find the most Italian looking guy standing in or near the bathroom and ask.
For those of you that actually need to pee and can’t use the urinals there is a bathroom with out a door on the second floor that has almost no line. If you are shy bring a friend to stand in front of it or ask someone around otherwise you might have to wait for half an hour or longer.

German Efficiency
I lost the tiny wallet I brought with me that had 50 euros and this mettle numbered card to the gardiova, where my coat and cell phone were hanging. I was dreading trying to get them back but they had an amazing efficient procedure. Fill in forms, describe your stuff, be able to provide proof that it’s yours, for instance be able to unlock the phone. Then go through the lines of hanging coats one by one with a worker. Luckley my friend remembered the general vicinity the coat was taken to so after a few min of going through black leather jackets,(some one say needle in a hay stack?) I found it. Just as I did, someone returned my metal card saying they found it on the floor. The wallet with 50 euro wasn’t with it. This was still nice as it saved me paying 10 euro for the lost card.

Safety
Early on I took off my shirt and was dancing topless. This was a non issue even though only a small minority of women were doing the same. Despite the overwhelming crowded environment people stayed civil and there were no aggressive pushers or potential sexual predators to be weary of. The only harassment came from a friend of a friend, who decided it was ok to slap my butt while dancing. He was quickly corrected by me going berserk on him, although as a friend of a friend I didn’t break his nose. It ended with lots of apologises on his side and gifted ice cream. I hope he will never do that again. There was also a strange scene in the bar in Panorama. There was a ridiculously hot women who I literally gave my place in line to so I could start a conversation with. The female bartender brought over some ice and told this women she would like to put some ice in her cleavage. We all laughed, then the male bartender just stuck a straw in the womans cleavage which was totally inappropriate. She got comped free chasers but was still irritated. Maybe she went down to the Berghain to stump her rage out at idiot men who have 0 ability to take other people’s perspective and act on their first impulse.

Psychedelic Science

I just came back from ICPR, The interdisciplinary conference on psychedelic research, where I presented my work, a theoretical model based on the predictive processing framework and current Neuroscience data that explains the psychedelic phenomenon. It was really well received and many people asked to have access to the slides and manuscript for the paper me and my supervisor are writing so here they are:

PowerPoint

Manuscript

I’m all for sharing data so use it as you wish but please give us credit for this work.

And here is an ameture vid taken of the lecture itself.

 

I’ll end with a few anthropological experiences and very interesting data I learned in other lectures so read on if you are interested:

20160604_130825

Lunch time

In the last conference I went to I was the only one that sat on the grass and ate lunch, getting stared at by all the other participants siting at the tables. This conference was a lot more laid back. Lots of us took our Lunch to sit on the edge of the canal. Many deep, personal and meaningful conversations were going on all around and I made some very interesting friendships I hope will last.

The biggest surprise to my was how much Ayahuasca research was going on and what a big part of the conference that was, most likely because in many countries it is still legal and used by many as a religious and healing ritual.

One of the most interesting finding it this research was that Harmine, a substance in Ayahuasca, seems to induce neurogenesis, creating more neurons in the brain. This can have massive implication for many degenerative diseases.

got gifted this beautiful coloring book by the artist!

got gifted this beautiful coloring book by the artist!

The down side of focusing on this research is the massive use of the word ‘spirituality’ which I am highly allergic to, due to my religious upbringing and very skeptical thought panels. The conference had two panels running at the same time, neuroscience vs spirituality. The spiritual panel got the bigger room and a much bigger audience. I seemed to be the only one concerned with this. When I asked about the scientists thought’s on this in the neuroscience panels I wasn’t taken seriously and got the answer “Well we are reductionists so we are ok with the small room”.

Partially to combat this ‘spiritual’ take over, and mostly because I found it amusing, I walked around with my rubber hand showing people how easy it is to trick their brain into thinking a rubber hand is a part of them. Explaining the brain is a predictive machine that just correlates sensory inputs and that these feeling of ‘oneness’ happen when you mess around with these predictive abilities and the brain stopes being able to differentiate between the self-organism and the environment. For me these explanations don’t reduce the ‘magic’ of psychedelics they increase them, but I always loved seeing behind the scenes of how magic tricks work.

This is not to say that we can’t learn from traditional rituals but we should sift through the data carefully. And just to show that I’m not totally closed minded here is a great story from the Ayahuasca tradition.  A person comes to a shaman asking for advice.
‘I have two wolves inside of me. One is kind and loving and the other is full of hate and anger. Which one will take control? ‘ He asked.
The  shaman think for a moment and answers, ‘The one that is fed more’.

I love this story because this really is the essence of what we are, feedback loops. And the best thing we can do is put our self in a loving and nourishing environment and practice the things we want to get better at.

Finally, in lectures regarding MDMA therapy I was pleased to hear that some of the methods I’ve been using to deal with my shit are being used in therapy. For instance, drawing brain maps and using objects and music to anchor good memories to, so they can be easily retrieved by looking, touching the object or listening to the music.

 

 

 

Floating in the void

For ages now I’ve been itching to try a sensory deprivation tanל. This Easter I finally got the chance and it was an experience very hard to put into word. That doesn’t mean I won’t try, read on for more.

Just before closing the tank and turning off the light.

Just before closing the tank and turning off the light.

Sensory deprivation tanks have been around since the 50’s, a body temperature salt water bath that is enclosed in a totally dark booth with sound isolation. Why would someone want to try such a thing? Well these tanks were first used in experimentation trying to test the hypothesis that if all senses were cut off the brain would go to sleep. Long story short, people do not fall asleep in isolation tanks but their brain does have stronger slow theta waves seen normally right before sleeping, in meditation states and in children.     People also reported many different altered states of consciousness, hallucinations and claim that after the tank their senses were hyper strong and clear.

 

My experience

Getting into a laying down position in the tank wasn’t as easy as I imagined, every little movement would cause me body to rotate and move. It felt like I was in space. When I found a good position and turned off the lights it felt like slowly falling into an endless abyss. Everywhere around me there was nothing.

After a few minutes I began ‘seeing’ some purple color and shapes but that too went away and I had to remind myself to blink because I forgot if my eyes were open or closed. The most phantom feeling was in my feet. Occasionally I ‘felt’ my feet were touching the ground and had to wiggle my toes to make sure that they weren’t. After a few more minutes I began hearing the hum of electric machinery and at some point I was wondering about a ruckus someone with high heels was making, stomping around, but then realised it was my own heart beat. Usually when I meditate a thousand thoughts will pop up, mostly worrying about the future, school, finances and relationships. This time there were almost no verbal thoughts. My brain was very much awake and mostly silent. When I sent a query looking for the usual ‘stream’ the only thing that came back was: “All is good now, the future will come when it does”

My whole life I’ve experienced some oversensitivity to sensory stimulus, mainly in the soma sensory (touch) system. I hated wearing socks as a kid, everything would constantly itch me and drive me crazy. In kindergarten I was obsessed with sifting the sand in the sand box so I could run my hands through it without feeling all of these annoying bits and pieces. Whenever I would try to meditate in my martial arts training my senses would start ‘screaming’ and become overly irritated. I was hoping that this deprivation tank will help answer which part of my brain is causing the trouble.

Sensory deprivation tanks do not cut off your sensory input but they ‘feed’ the sensory receptors with information that has very little variance. In general, variance and change is exactly what your brain models. For those of you who have been following my posts, you should know by now that the brain is a hierarchical system with each layer explaining away and turning off the information from lower layers. Only the information that hasn’t been predicted progresses up the brain hierarchy in the form of ‘prediction errors’. So, once a stimulus stops changing our predictive mechanism easily explains it away and there is no information to communicate to higher brain areas. This will happen even with eyesight. Your eyes constantly make tiny micro movements to change the inputs of information. Without these movements, if you keep your eyes still you will go blind after a few moments, you can try this yourself.

My theory was the if the over sensitivity in my brain was due to increases top down prediction versus bottom up information, putting me in an isolation tank wouldn’t help and these prediction would enforce themselves on my perception anyway, perhaps even more so. But if my over sensitivity was due to increased precision of bottom up prediction errors steaming from my lower sensory areas than an isolation tank will decrease my symptoms. My top down predictions in these lower brain areas would finally be able to catch up and predict the over simplified sensory stimulus.

After a marvelous peaceful hour in the tank I have very little doubt that the second theory is much more likely.  I would postulate that ‘normally’ these overly precise prediction errors drive sensory input to higher areas in my brain than most people leading to a bunch of interesting symptoms and compensatory mechanisms.

Back to the real world

The lights faded in slowly yet still caught me by surprise. I climbed out of the tank and gravity immediately hit me. I wobbled around trying to get my ‘land’ legs back. In the shower, rinsing off the salt, the stream felt like a thousand little needles hitting my skin and I jumped up startled. I took my time in the waiting room, drinking some tea and trying to prepare myself for the outside world. The ‘noise’ came back again once I hit the streets.There was a sense of ‘self pity’, but instead of giving in to that I tried to top down ‘instruct’ this brain: “Try to get to those previous quiet states now that you know they exist.  I don’t know how plastic this brain is but I do believe that exposing it to this quiet state might allow it learn how to reach this state even in noisier environments.

When people ask me why I do all the strange things that I do I usually answer “because I can’t just sit down and stare at the wall in peace”. This experience has taught me that maybe I can. The wall just has to be total darkness and I have to be floating in a bath of salt water.

Finally, this has made me realize the possible benefits both in research and in therapeutic mechanisms floating can have and I will definitely be back for more. Next time I just have to remember to take out all the salt out of my ears because that’s driving me crazy now.

 

 

 

Coalitions

Lack of sleep and too much small talk influenced me to exit a Saturday brunch party and sit on the sidewalk in San-Francisco, hiding away from the rain that has been drenching the city for a few days.  Barley a minute passed before a homeless woman who looked around my age stood before me. She was holding a piece of cardboard in one hand and a fast-food soda drink in the other.  

“Can I sit?” She asked

“Sure,” I said, making space for her to lay down her cardboard and sit down.

She looked at me intensely for a moment.

“You’re cute that’s why you’re defensive,” she said.

I looked back at her and smiled. “They always want things from the cute ones don’t they?”

She nodded.

“They only want money from me. I inherited 8 million dollars and they took it all from me…” She began falling into her barley cohesive psychotic loop.

I wished her well, excused myself and went back into the building

A Bayesian account of ‘hysteria’ http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/brain/135/11/3495.full.pdf

A Bayesian account of ‘hysteria’
http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/brain/135/11/3495.full.pdf


Human’s are strange creatures, our brains do their best to model incoming sensory information and predict the future. Repeated patterns bind together and turn into priors, into expectations, into ‘meme’s trying to spread their recorded pattern and influence perception with their prediction. Sometimes these memes become too strong and force themselves onto any incoming signal. This can lead to depression, OCD, ‘hysteria’ and even psychosis.  This past year I have been researching this subject with a very practical goal in mind. ‘How can we get opposing memes to get along with each other? How can we create a coalition in the brain that can overcome past traumatic events that lead to over active priors?”  This very intense first weekend in SF has triggered many of these memes and some of them want to be released from this brain and out into the world.

Superheroes

On Friday I went to a unique superhero themed house party.  It began with short science lectures. Then there talks about consent and responsible usage of substances as well as the organizers offering support and suggesting a ‘safe word’ to any who might need it. This was an amazing attempt to create a safe environment. The party was spread across a three story house with many surprises throughout: a sauna,  a hidden tiny room under the stairs with images of eyes stuck on to the walls, some LED art, cuddle spaces and a VR experience, were some of the things I encountered.

Most people were conversing, cuddling, slowly migrating from one room to another to see what recharges they could find.

A messy combination of gene environment interaction shaped the brain that I belong to into something that doesn’t enjoy many of the default things most humans seem to enjoy.  Socializing is boring and tedious, cuddling is too passive. This brain needs massive amounts of novelty and activity to keep these memes busy processing information, otherwise they begin to over process the same signal and the ‘meme’s begin to fight amongst themselves. “We know this,” they will scream with burning sensations beginning to take over.

 

What will recharge you?

That’s the first question I learnt to ask. Allow your brain to create a ‘positive’ prediction of something that enough memes can participate in.

For my brain one of the defaults is movement. A massive part of your brain is devoted to predict and create movement. As long as there is enough space to allow these memes to do what they do, move the body, feel the body, expand their learnt patterns, there is enough of a ‘positive’ coalition.


At this party for instance, almost no one was dancing so the whole dance floor was free for me to start rolling/ crawling/ dancing.

Then a strange thing happened, one person sat down and began watching me, and then another and another.

Another strange quirk of fate probably due to growing up in a religious environment that was perceived as a danger, mostly allows my brain to shut down the weak incoming social signals. There are very few ‘memes’ that model what others think of me and even fewer that care.

“Do I need something from them?”

“Can they hurt me in anyway?”

“Do they want to take away my autonomy and agency, enslave me to their needs and inforce their memes into me?”

My brain does not look for social approval, love, or attention from outside sources, only for physical safety and freedom. ‘Will they let me do what I want to do?’

sketch

Some sketches drawn at the party when I got bored.

If this safety is judged not to exist my brain will enter ‘self- preservation mode’. Many memes have been specialized for just this occasion, Retreat if possible. If not, ‘maintain’ high borders, expect nothing good from anyone, show no vulnerability, activate language center to provide loads of information to overstimulate opponents, maintain physical distance if needed. If this does not result in actual physical altercation which many of these memes actually enjoy. If there is just this constant stress of an unsafe environment this will quickly wake up what I have come to call ‘the opposition’,  memes that early on in life came up with what might have been a brilliant survival tactic back then to help the brain lower anxiety. “Destruction“ as a means to maintain some level of structural integrity.  “We want to destroy everything and die” they will scream.

Interestingly I’ve noticed that when deciding if this is a safe space or not my brain seems to model not only my safety but the safety of others. I don’t think this comes from altruistic reasons just practical ones. “If others don’t feel safe, they might know something that I don’t”.

If on the other hand the environment is judged as safe then the meme “Can we play together?” will appear. And this is what happened at the party. I began playing and improvising with the small crowd until another person joined the dance. He was not a professional dancer but we explored possibilities together and at least for part of the dance entered a shared state, a mutual growth function were we both wanted the same thing. Then my brain began picking up signals, was he trying to impress me? Was he trying to lead the dance to a more sexual place? This might have been my over sensitive priors but what came out was a little improvised “Macho” dancing, my body movement becoming extremely dominate and ‘male’ like. The crowd burst out laughing and clapping and that ended the dance.

I’ve wrote a more about safe space, expectation and improvisation in the post about burning man called  “adventure mode”.  The basic idea is to create an environment of plenty and that has to start with ‘radicle self-reliance’. It is this coalition’s opinion that only when you (mostly) do not need others for your happiness, only when there is a coalition that is able to look inwards and self-recharge can there begin to be a group coalition that looks out for each other without creating co-dependent situations.

The last few months I've been creating a gratitude wall. a little art piece or something I collected that reflect something I'm grateful for

The last few months I’ve been creating a gratitude wall. a little art piece or something I collected that reflect something I’m grateful for

The last few days I’ve been asking people here what recharges them? I was surprised that most answers were about outside goals: a lot of ‘making the world a better place’ in different forms. From my perspective that has to do with spreading your memes ‘outwards’ instead of developing them inwards and this is likely to lead to even bigger conflict and neediness from the outside world to accept your contribution.

So how about being egotistical for a second (or a lifetime), filling your cup before you fill others?

Here is a partial list of the recharges I have come up with throughout my lifetime that require no other human and are legal J (in no specific order):

Dancing, sketching, making strange art, looking at the mirror, hot showers, learning new things about the brain I belong to, Climbing, punching my punching bag, creating and participating in my own behavioral experiment (even if they don’t teach me anything), reading, writing, reading what I write. masturbating, eating novel (tasty) food, watching bad superhero tv shows and imagining my own scripts that would make them way better, staring and noisy patterns and allowing my brain to impose shapes and figures on them, eating chocolate, being topless, creating my gratitude wall, searching for more self-recharges 😉

“It wasn’t a “battle” it was just life”, A dying atheist wrote in her last message to her loved ones. The brain I belong to has managed to build a coalition strong enough to try to imprint this meme. Life might have many battles in it, both internal and external, much of my life has been spent fighting them. Now, it would seem, it’s time to start building coalitions. Both within my own brain and among others I wish to share my life with.

 

We Are Whatever This Is

This is a story of reality surpassing a dream. This is a story of four unique individuals coming together for a weekend to create their little rational hippy heaven, a place of fluidity, of abundance, of caring and sharing. This is a story about the magic of being poly. This is also a story which involves my boobs getting in trouble with the police yet again. Read on

Very rarely will I write about something so private, yet something in this experience deserves to be exposed to the world.  I am not writing this ‘to make the world a better place’, I have no doubt most people will probably think this story is perverted.  I’m writing this for the sake of the story itself. I hope I do it justice.

The Characters

Kat, Van, me and Shlomo, in no particular order

Around an hour after I met Kat for the first time we were in the middle of an amazing threesome with a guy I had a special relationship with. He noticed her on OKC and thought we would be a good match. We were. Kat has this intimacy super power, she makes even slightly autistic people like me feel safe and cared for. She’s usually quiet but has an exquisite sense of humor. She’s extremely bright and we have lots of shared intellectual interests, and yes, she’s beyond amazing in bed. I can get lost in her smile and her eyes for hours at a time.

A few weeks later Kat introduced me to Van, her poly partner who she lives with. Van’s brain has one of the largest data sets I’ve ever encountered. He always has some neat fact or almost unbelievable story to make reality a little less mundane. He seems free from any hints of possessiveness towards Kat. He’s a psychonaut like me and also makes really creative and interesting visual art work. He also loves cooking. Yes, we had a threesome too but both of them also offered me so much more than sex. I got a ton of support when my grandmother died last month. They also introduced me to their poly friends in a Halloween party and for the first time in my life I felt like I could almost belong to a community.

The fourth person to add to this unique mix is Shlomo who came to visit me from SF. I could probably write a book about the past year I’ve had with him and what he means to me. He’s the first partner I’ve had that not only accepts me the way I am, but actually enjoys all of my strangeness. He was poly before I met him and he’s the one who patiently taught me what intimacy is. His ‘rational hippy’ outlook along with his super plastic brain has made me reevaluate and change some of the basic axioms in my life.

None of us like these primary/secondary definition that can be found in the poly world instead I’ve begun to use the term, lifelong connection.

 

The Intro

Shlomo and Kat connecting, in reality they were way more beautiful but you try drawing moving people.

Shlomo and Kat connecting, in reality they were way more beautiful but you try drawing moving people.

The shared weekend started with some amount of awkwardness. We had dinner in a restaurant and chatted. Kat and Shlomo’s shyness was floating around in the air while the two men had an almost immediate connection. They were sharing stories, knowledge, hobbies and also past heartache. They were becoming friends and bonding. I realized how lacking male friendship is in the world, how competing for sex and love keeps them isolated from each other. One of the most amazing moments of the whole weekend was the two men exchanging recipes and talking about making sauerkraut while me and Kat were making out on the couch. “What car do you have?” Kat asked me trying to reverse the gender roles even further.

Freedom

I’m not very good with chit chat and a lot of words, I mostly have to be doing stuff, moving around and being very physically active. But instead of getting swallowed by this group I realized I had the freedom to do anything I wanted. This was a safe space; I could detach from the rest and go into my own world, dance, draw or just head out and separate, go to my own adventures. Upon returning I was happily accepted and stories were shared.  When you are only two people you can either be together or apart, in this group the options grew to 7 different social configurations I could find myself in. This resulted in a type of extra stability, a lot more freedom and less stress when making decisions about daily activities. I knew I could go to a movement class without Shlomo feeling left out or bored. He found it easy to decline my offer to join the class and instead do what he knew would be more recharging for him probably also because Van and Kat didn’t view us as a couple that had to be stuck together. Whatever each of us could give to the social structures was happily accepted and whenever anyone needed time alone they just took it. Van later told me that he didn’t have to put up any sort of façade, which is what we all felt. It definitely helped that Van’s alone recharging time is cooking! He provided us with delicious meals throughout the weekend.

Healing

The past year all of us have been through ‘polyagony’ as Kat calls it, this special case of relationship pain that can only happen in poly situations. Both Van and Shlomo’s other relationships were difficult and ended in breakups. Both me and Kat shared this feeling of seeing a loved one hurt and not being able to do much to help him. Both me and Kat felt hurt and angry at the ‘other women’ who we only wanted the best for, someone we considered a friend who hadn’t seen us in the same way. These new connections forming between all of us, these honest and open communications, were a breath of fresh air for all of us.
The most healing moment for me was when I was trying to sketch one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnesses. Shlomo and Kat were standing, gently touching and kissing, looking into each other’s eyes. I felt so privileged to be able to witness their connection forming. Suddenly a twinge of past fear popped into my brain. I had seen Shlomo like this before and I had seen how he was hurt by this other woman he fell in love with. Then this overwhelming sense of relief rushed through me. Kat would not hurt Shlomo, she would not want him to be something that he isn’t. His heart was in good hands and so was mine. It was even a bigger privilege to be able to share this thought with them as it appeared and to communicate it with Van later on.

Sex

I’m guessing this is the reason most of you are reading this blog.  Well this is more or less what happened. On the second night together I was making out with Kat and feeling all this tension from the guys not knowing what to do. So I just broke it by flat out asking “so what are the rules?” Kat communicated her safe sex rule, I told everyone I’m the only one who takes off my underwear and finally things could get interesting.
After trying to make out all four of us on the couch we decided to move to the bedroom where the best porn movie I have ever seen took place and you aren’t going to get the details. All I’m going to say is that all of us were maximizing group pleasure, being there for each other in the most intimate ways.  At one point we were all tired out, on the verge of falling asleep when I had to open my big mouth and ask “Wait, nobody actually had an orgasm right?” A bunch of no’s followed and then a rekindling of activity until each of us exploded.
Since I don’t really regard my privacy I don’t mind telling you about my orgasm. Three sets of hands, mouths and beautiful bodies focused for a while just on me. In any other situation I can imagine that would have freaked me out, but here there was no pressure for me to come or to perform. I could just let go and see what happens. Then, somewhere deep in my brain a key turned and a draw opened, it was called release. I was told it ended with my eyes rolling back in their sockets looking like a scene from the exorcist.
“You know what they say, it takes a village,” Shlomo said when I had quieted down, cracking everybody up. For me his joke holds more than a grain of truth as I’m pretty sure that speaking from an evolutionary point of view, group sex was a big part of our ancestors life, just like bonobo monkeys. I’m also pretty sure that what I experienced is just the tip of the iceberg.

Police

So on our last night Van was showing us some of his bondage skills, tying up Kat. Then I tried to improvise with the rest of the rope, tying myself to Kat, then tying Shlomo to Kat. We were all having a good laugh with some sexy moments when suddenly the police came knocking. Van and Kat had just moved in to their apartment and there were no curtains in the living room and one of the neighbors must have been spying on us from the building across the court yard and called the police. I was about to blow a valve.  Here I was in the ‘liberal’ Netherlands, in a private apartment being told to put my clothing on because some religious freaks didn’t like what they saw. I’ll admit I don’t know it was religious freaks but statistics is on my side as the neighborhood is a very Muslim one. I introduced myself as an ex police women from Israel and wanted to know what law we were breaking. The policeman seemed amused by the whole situation and admitted we weren’t breaking any law and mumbled something about the neighbors complaining and kids being able to watch. “Then how about you tell those neighbors to put curtains on and take care of their kids?” I growled. My militant attitude wasn’t really helping the rest of the group who were just trying to get this situation over with and not pick a fight. The policewoman was on an especially annoying power trip, fully immersed in the role the patriarchic heteronormative organization had made for her. Shlomo was the only one without a Dutch ID so she was grilling him. “Is he your boyfriend?” she asked me. “Well,” I shrugged and rolled my eyes at her, “We are whatever this is.”
When these criminals posing as police left (they did not ask permission to enter the house and had no probable cause to do so), we all cuddled each other and told enough jokes until everyone was feeling better again. But the truth is it hurts to know that something so beautiful and innocent and healthy is regarded by mainstream society as warped, deviant, dangerous or sick.

Just the beginning

For me this weekend was a glimpse into what I have always dreamed of but never actually got a taste of. A tribe of unique individuals, staying away from co-dependency but coming together to explore together and learn from each other, to provide a safety net from the harsh outside world. Yes, the taste was delicious and nourishing and left all of us hoping for more.

Beyond binary

An activity packed weekend is making me reconsider the title I gave Nijmegen, as the most suburban boring town. Read on to hear about a queer festival,  psi-trance party, and sex and relationship meetup that all happened this weekend.

Beyond binary bathroms

Beyond binary bathroms

I’ve finally started to makes some interesting connections and through them I got invited to these three events. The queer festival, called beyond binary was an all-day event with lectures and workshops organized by a transgender group. I tried choosing the more activity related workshops to avoid the language barrier since I was the only one of the hundred or so people that didn’t speak any Dutch. So I went to a fake ‘Tantra’ class, I say fake because it had nothing to do with Tantra but was still amusing. We took turns in a four hand tickle/massage with lots of strange toys and fabrics, while we were sprayed by water, and strange smells and food shoved into our mouth.

A Bondage show

A Bondage show

Next I tried a queer tango, were we took turns switching leader and follower. I know some of you really like tango, but for the life of me I don’t see the point in dancing something that resembles a military march more than anything else. There are too many rules and regulations for me! You can only move about the room in one direction, can’t over pass people, and try not to twirl or have too much fun, were the instructions we got.

20151010_201836I also joined a Polyamorous group discussion, and discovered I wasn’t the only poly person in town, there were at least 5 other people in my age group that were all part of a poly family. And finally I joined a bondage workshop and learnt how to tie some cool knots!

All in all it was really well organized and a lot of fun. And they also had many information based lectures for instance on transsexual health issues.

That same night I dragged myself to an old factory at the edge of town to a really big party that was actually quite good. The sound system was decent and the lighting and art were really cool.

cupofteaThen somehow, and really don’t ask me how, the next morning I dragged myself to a sex and relationship, meetup group that included the most amazing vegan brunch for 5 euros. I think I was the only new comer in that small group of maybe 10 people. After eating and chatting one of the women read a beautiful piece about how hard it is to be honest and open when you like someone and that was an opening for a very intimate honest talk about everything, from insecurities, inability to give/receive compliments, social norms, gender issues, raising children, shaving body hair and the brain (yes that latter was mostly me spreading my brain memes). It was an extremely healthy discussion, the type of which should be held in schools and social groups everywhere… and it’s going to happen again every second Sunday of the month (8th of nov is next) so if you are around you should join: check out their website or Facebook.

So basically come visit me in Nijmegen it’s not all that boring (sometimes).

 

Pre Burn

Burning man might be a week long social experiment/festival for some, but for other’s it’s a year-long hobby that increasingly takes over their life as the burn gets closer. Hanging out in San Francisco I got to meet some of the people who invest their time and money to create the magic that is Black Rock city.  Read on

Where dreams are built

Where dreams are built

The first time I walked into Nimby (not in my back yard), a massive warehouse in Oakland, the cynical bastard in me went to sleep for a few hours. It was at the back stage where dreams were being set up, like some scenes in Niel Gaiman’s Sandman. All around me people were working on projects that they chose to work on, investing their time and money on something that had no practical use. “We just like building stuff,” most people would tell me when I asked why they were doing this.

Even Dr. Brainlove can't escape bureaucracy of licencing and a license plate.

Even Dr. Brainlove can’t escape bureaucracy of licencing and a license plate.

I joined a group called Phage which exists for around 10 years trying to ‘infect the playa with science’, their art car called Dr. Brainlove models brain activity by using 400 meters of LED’s on a massive steel framework that can be climbed on.

After running around taking pictures and poking my nose around I asked to help and was put to work painting. I was delighted by the large percentage of women that were involved, many of them leading the project.

Build parties

Build parties

Nimby might be where all the heavy duty work took place, but cutting of the LEDs, soldering and the programing mostly happened at the crazy house of two amazing technical artists (check out their web site called sustainable magic and their workshops and events). I have always used the technique of calling something a party + ordering pizza and beers to get people to build my garden, paint my walls, help me move to a new apartment. These people have taken it one step further with their ‘build parties’.  I practiced being a Chinese factory worker for a few hours of cutting LEDs. My main contribution was probably finding a way to reduce the labor for that specific task by sliding the LEDs then cutting them just once instead of cutting them on both sides.

Chinese factory worker, just with music, friends and as many breaks as I want.

Chinese factory worker, just with music, friends and as many breaks as I want.

I also joined the sustainable magic crew in a last minute attempt to save the day by using their laser cutter to create thousands of plastic pieces that will hold in place the material used to defuse the LEDs light. The warehouse they work in was another small version of Nimby with amazing art created for burning man in previous years.

Another project I helped out with a little, mostly by giving massages, although I got to grind some of the rust away with this massive machine without killing myself, was the Tree of missed connections. A bunch of friends working in their back yard creating a LED-lit climbable tree, yes people like to climb on thing at burning man!

The Tree of missed connections

The Tree of missed connections

Both these projects were funded using crowd funding and let’s admit it, would probably not have come into being if the day jobs of a lot of the participants and their friends wasn’t the booming high tech industry in the area. This doesn’t lessen their accomplishment by one bit but shows that the freedom to create comes at a price that most people probably can’t afford.

Some amazing art from last year!

Some amazing art from last year!

These people and thousands of others creating the art for burning man will be working right up to the burn (and after). They will reach the playa even more exhausted than most but at least for some the added value of creating something together as a group is enough to keep them going and send them raving into the night… well, some chemical assistance might help as well.

See you on playa!