Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lucid Dreaming

Picked up a couple of books which are proving to be a rather interesting read - "Flow" and "Creativity", both by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (that was not a typographical error!), on the recommendation of Ronald, our very own archijournalist. Csikszentmihalyi was the former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. (Interesting that he's the father of one of the associate professors of the MIT Media Labs as well.)

"Flow" documents the state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity, and that in essence leads to pleasure, typified by "an exhilirating feeling of transcendence" over one's sense of time and one's emotional problems.

That is to say, the level of pleasurability of any activity is directly variable with how much "flow" one attains, and the theory goes that this flow can actually be controlled, by "setting ourselves challenges - tasks that are neither too difficult nor too simple for our abilities".

Now, if this already sounds like a self-help book to you ("How to Lose a Guy/Girl in Ten Days", "How to be in Touch with your Inner Self", "Feng Shui by Lillian Too" - is there even a "Feng Shui by Lillian Wan"? - or the ilk), it probably is. However, much in the book is referenced to - and derived from - two decades of psychological research, and in reading it, the book does suggest ways of tuning yourself into that state of concentration and consciousness. Translate all that into something that motivates, and you get a bestseller.

And then some...

I'm barely done with the first, but the second, "Creativity", which bases itself on the Flow Theory, is starting to get interesting as well. While the first book dealt with maintaining optimal levels of satisfaction in whatever activity, thus becoming productive at it, the second deals with channeling that productivity into transcendence - i.e., being innovative. With it, more theories on the psychology of discovery and invention come into the picture.

On another note, this is also worth a catch - "A Scanner Darkly", based on the compelling (if grammatically-ambiguous) 1977 novel of the same name by Philip K Dick. Bad choice of a pen-name notwithstanding, Dick has written books which have been translated into some of the most avant garde films ever - 1984's "Blade Runner" which needs little introduction, and 2002's "Minority Report". ("Total Recall" fell somewhere in between, but wasn't quite as tasteful.)

Anyhow, even if not for the existentialist blabber, the animation technique for 'Scanner' is equally compelling:

It's a technique called "interpolated rotoscoping" (more details in the link above), which lends it a rather lucid quality (to me at least), reminiscent of A-ha's 1984 music video for "Take on Me" (more laboriously produced), and more recently, Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" in 2001:

And I've realised that in order to make an existentialist film, one would need the following things, in order of priority: cutting-edge animation software, Ethan Hawke, Wynona Rider and Robert Downey Jr.

As for the books, I'll post something slightly more useful when I'm through (and through) with them...