Other Performance Species
Going from Togetherness experiment conducted in the Theater Lab of Weizmann Institute of Sciences to the studies of Timothy D. Wilson and his colleagues on the preference of people for hurting themselves rather than staying alone and Just Think, this chapter will propose, in a dialogue art-science, a little toolkit of 5 exercises from improvisation and theater laboratories, that may bring social change.
In 2008, the last year of his PHD, Lior Noy, a computational neuroscientist, received an invitation from Prof. Uri Alon, a renowned physicist and molecular biologist. After 3 years of study the result was a mathematical model of the communitas phenomenon, of those co-creation moments defined by Amy E. Sheams when talking about Chicago's Second City' improvisers as a state “in which every individual action seems to be the right one and the group works with apparently perfect synchronicity." This togetherness experiment is about those rare, exceptional moments when the music is not only played, but rather plays the musicians, when the dance is not danced by the dancers, but rather dances the dancers.
How did they manage to get into the cold and intimidating neurosciences' laboratory environment, with its claustrophobic metal tubes of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), such a spontaneous and complex phenomenon as togetherness, with its evanescent physiological synchronization which is extremely hard to obtain even in more natural and more comfortable settings?
Because this type of experiment was considered too dangerous to be continued, it was one of the last of this kind, but nowadays it is a model for social psychologists seeking to break patterns of hostility in inter-group relations, particularly during the civil rights movements. 22 boys of eleven and twelve years old spend one week together in a building of the summer camp, working and playing together peacefully. Then they were split into two competing groups and moved into two separate buildings. The pairs of friends were deliberately split up.
Then the two groups were pitted against each other in competitions, which grew progressively bitter. After a week of competition, the boys in each group saw the others with resentment and hostility. The tension between the two new formed groups raised. Insults proliferated. Even former friends became enemies. On the top of all those conflicts, aggressive leaders emerged from each group.
Here is the story of the Love Lab. In 1970’s, the number of divorces exploded at a rate that have never been seen before. There was a huge problem with the kids involved, willy nilly, in this epidemic. That determined Dr. John Gottman to begin observing systematically couples in his first lab at the University of Illinois in the 1970s. Then in 1986 he set up, with his fellow psychologist Robert Levenson a Love Lab, at the University of Washington, visited since then, 30 years after its inception, by more than three thousand married couples. Thanks to this new `science of relationships` through groundbreaking mathematical models integrating nonlinear differential equations, they can reliably predict and chart the future course of a relationship. And more importantly, they are now able to provide data-driven suggestions for positively adjusting the course of a couple’s life together.”
I discovered Alison Gopnik some times ago through her book The Gardener and the Carpenter, and I must confess that I love her courage to change the mindframes our society is blocked in. I recommend this book to any people having or wanting to have kids, or not wanting to make kids but loving kids. Please, read Alison Gopnik. She says things like:
”Childhood seems to be designed to produce innovation and creativity. Gown-ups stick with the tried-and-true; four-years-olds have the luxury of looking for the weird and wonderful.” Or:
”Compared to adults children might be especially good at thinking about unlikely possibilities. [...] Children can teach us that if we really want to learn about the world, we need to open ourselves up to new possibilities.”
This an experiment who`s story was published in Science magazine in July 2014 having as title: JUST THINK. The challenges of the disengaged mind. It was conducted by Timothy D. Wilson and 7 of his colleagues from the Department of Psychology, University of Virginia and the Department of Psychology from Harvard University. In 11 studies, they have observed that most people do not enjoy “just thinking ”and clearly prefer having something else to do.
Participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.
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This Project is supported by the Goethe-Institut Bukarest, Colectiv A and Heritage Contact Zone.