Why this project matters to me

There were two things that really pushed my buttons as a child: simple art/design/drawing (no real talent, but a love of any excuse to have a go); and pretty much anything technical. The technical route beckoned. In the 1980’s, and with a rapidly growing IT industry, this was an easy route to fall into. I can’t say I missed the creative or thought about it all that much for a few years.

A third thread has been in the background most of my life, a curiosity about how my mind works, and even more when it doesn’t work in a helpful way. Things like:

  • Why I feel different to how I imagine how others feel, based on how they act.
  • Fears that how I act might betray what I am thinking, or things I don’t even know I am thinking.
  • I have been curious about why people sometimes behave so badly towards each other (me included)
  • why we simply seem not to be the masters of ourselves that we tell ourselves we are
  • why things you want to do, like learning difficult skills, beating bad habits, or behaving better in some way, are so hard

Outside of that curiosity I have done very little. Like most, I just shrug and get on with the business of life. Only recently, perhaps triggered by my Dad’s worsening Alzheimers, have I become a bit more engaged with the specific ideas of how our minds work. There are significant branches of science devoted to the brain, biology, behaviour, mental health, cognitive whatever. Alongside this there is a great deal of popular science books, podcasts, online courses to bridge the gap between the science and those of us lay people who are curious enough to put in the hours. There are self-help books and courses that take some of the ideas about how our minds work and coach us into more helpful behaviours to help us combat our demons, be better people, become alpha specimens or whatever. Some of these are only loosely aligned to science, but in a way that just emphasise the point that we, as busy humans with our own missions in life, have an appetite to be better. We do not necessarily need to know the science for ourselves, we just need to know what makes us tick.

So my mission has become to take this viewpoint, as a human inside my own head, and occasionally inside an imaginary head, and try to link what we experience from the inside, to what science knows, or is trying to know, about the true workings of our brains.

 

If the human brain were so simple
That we could understand it,
We would be so simple
That we couldn’t. Emerson M. Pugh

first published by George Edgin Pugh, but attributed to his father, Emerson M. Pugh

 

We experience our own life, the outside world, and our inner self all from a single viewpoint: the rational self; me. When we make decisions, they feel rational and justified, and when we act it feels like an act of rational, voluntary agency, that is a perfect response to our situation, beliefs, and immediate events. Maybe they are. My explorations peek behind the curtain, to take a look at how some of the hardware and software of our brain is working and make connections and contrasts between what we experience, what happens between the inner ‘me’ and the world, and what actually happens in between.

About me

I had a great childhood. My family gave me love and good values, a respect for others, and generally provided what I needed. I was not hugely popular, but not without friends. I have enjoyed pretty good health my whole life. I endured mild Tourettes as a child (not diagnosed, but looking back I don’t think you could miss it), with some interesting twitches and noises. It is still there but not prominent. I was a little bit awkward and shy, and I can be ridiculously insecure sometimes, even in adulthood.

Knocking on the door of 50, I have had a career of pretty sensible, traditional jobs in IT for some medium to large companies, and more recently a smaller business. Often I have loved what I do. Sometimes I hated it.  I took the rough with the smooth because, as (at least then) the major breadwinner for the family, and with traditional family values and work ethic, that was the deal. The world moves on, and my incredible wife is the breadwinner. It seems that there are ever more ways for making a living, but also an increasing wealth, power and opportunity gap.

So a career in IT does not scratch that technical itch of my youth. The nuts and bolts of IT today is done by other technology, or remote IT workers managing colossal farms of technological raw power somewhere else, even more remote. IT is no longer the fun I had in the 80’s and 90’s pulling technology apart to fix it, or working out how to get software and hardware to work to achieve some end. IT is managing services, contracts, expectations, customers’ experiences. So one of the ways I have got back to my roots is learning to code, and specifically through creative coding (using software to make [often] visual, or other experiences – software as a medium for art). That allows me to scratch my other itch. Being able to draw is largely a practiced, technical skill, plus intuition, combined with a way of seeing the world in a way that you want to capture, interpret, represent. Creative coding is the same. Most of the time is spent working out how to achieve something, or living within the constraints of your medium, compromising, discovering something unexpected and pursuing it. Just like any other creative endeavour.

So my project, documented here, is the use of some of these creative coding learnings to create animations, or games to illustrate some of the very abstract ideas I am exploring about the mind, brain and behaviour.

I am not a scientist, I am not knowingly political, I have no self-help agenda, nor any wisdom to share. I just invite you to join my journey, and hopefully learn something helpful along the way.

I am white, heterosexual, male by sex and gender identity. I had a simple, undramatic upbringing in a nice town in the UK. I am the son of two great, loving parents,  who found joy in the simple things in life, and gave me and my sister some great values, and a sound start in life. I have a wonderful and amazingly supportive wife, two lovely teenage children, and two exquisite rabbits. I like simple things in life.