Bridging art, science, and education

What does it mean to lose oneself in someone else? How is it possible that the mere physical presence of another human can make us believe we can conquer the world, or, conversely, make us feel lonely and incapable? Does human interaction mediated by technological interfaces affect communicative success? The Mutual Wave Projects are art projects and neuroscience experiments that embody the elusive notion of ‘being on the same wavelength’ with another person through brainwave synchronization. With this series of interactive neurofeedback installations, we explore the interface of performance art and neuroscience in an effort to understand the brain basis of human social interaction.

The experiments are executed outside of traditional laboratory settings, such as schools and museums. In this conversation, we will specifically focus on the Mutual Wave Machine, where two visitors are enclosed by an intimate capsule and immersed in an audiovisual environment that responds and reflects their shared brain activity, allowing them to directly experience and manipulate their internal efforts to approach or distance themselves from each other. During the experience, greater brainwave synchronization is reflected in greater vividness and more coherent and recognizable audiovisual patterns, while lack of synchronization strays towards dark audio-visual chaos: a faint ringing in the ears and static in the retinas.

The Mutual Wave Machine aim to engage audience members not only by providing an immersive aesthetic experience, but also by involving them directly in the scientific process: The audience participates as viewers and experimental subjects at once. We believe that such first-hand experience with the scientific process helps the public better understand and reflect on science as it is presented to them in popular media.

The collaborative work of Suzanne Dikker (Utrecht University and New York University) and Matthias Oostrik’s lies at the intersection of neuroscience and art. Their research and interactive brain installations explore human relationships, to the self and the other, and the limitations of technological interfaces to capture and embody these relationships.