The Exchange: Into It. Over It. and Dr. Micah Edelson talk false memories and finished products.

The Arts and Sciences used to share much of the same intellectual space. Only recently have they diverged to the degree that they seem diametrically opposed. The Exchange is our attempt to rekindle some of the dialogue that occurred between the two fields.

In this installment, we’ve brought together Dr. Micah Edelson and Into It. Over It.

Dr. Micah Edelson is a Senior Researcher in the Center for Neuroeconomics at the University of Zurich. His research focuses on how individuals function and make decisions in social and professional environments. Dr. Edelson employs multiple tools and approaches from Neuroscience, Psychology, Economics, Political Science, and Computer Science to create new experimental approaches that examine questions related to social influence, memory, misinformation and decisions that affect others. You can follow him on LinkedIn. Published papers include:

Personal memory: Is it personal, is it memory? Memory Studies (2016)

Following the crowd: brain substrates of long-term memory conformity
Science (2011)

Brain Substrates of Recovery from Misleading Influence
The Journal of Neuroscience (2014)

Into It. Over It. is the indie rock solo project of the Chicago, Illinois-based musician Evan Thomas Weiss. He has been making music under that moniker since the 2009 album 52 Weeks. Other albums include Proper (2011) which featured the single “Midnight: Carroll Street” and Intersections (2013) which featured “The Shaking of Leaves”. His latest album Figure (Third Crown Records) dropped last year. You can follow him on Twitter.

Into It. Over It. aka Evan Weiss (CREDIT: Evan Weiss)

Into it. Over It.: I have a theory regarding the lightning storm during game 7 of the 2016 World Series and about how that launched us into an alternate timeline. It is also a famous example of the Mandela Effect. Is the Mandela Effect a real thing? What are some explanations for the phenomenon?

Dr. Micah Edelson: In general, false memories are a real phenomenon, which has been demonstrated in many controlled experiments. The key thing to keep in mind is that mnemonic representation are not actually akin to a static snapshot of a past moment in time as we tend to think, but have a degree of flexibility and can be rewritten.

This can happen to a single individual and be triggered or reinforced by the social environment. For example, if I hear new false information that makes me vividly imagine a previous event differently, I can create a representation of that information and later confuse the original and new representations or even rewrite the old memory in a process called reconsolidation. Since repeated exposures or retrieval can strengthen a memory representation, the more the false information is prevalent in my social environment the more it can influence me, especially if I didn’t have a strong memory representation of the original event and the new information makes semantic sense (e.g. Looney Tunes vs. Looney Toons).

Why we have a malleable memory system is a very good question and is not fully resolved. One leading theory is that the memory system’s objective is actually not primarily to remember the past at all. If you think about it, there is no evolutionary (survival) advantage to remembering the past, unless it helps you better perform in the future. However, the event that happened will never re-occur exactly as it had, there will always be some new elements. Thus, if the role of the memory system is not primarily to remember the past as it happened but instead to allow us to use segments of these true past events to plan and simulate future actions in response to similar (but not identical) circumstances, it would actually benefit from being flexible and able to modify its representations based on new information.

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Dr. Micah Edelson (CREDIT: Micah Edelson)

Dr. Micah Edelson: My question is related to knowing when “good is good enough”. In science and art, it is common that we work on projects for long periods, and things can always be improved further (e.g. run another replication study or robustness check, rewrite the lyrics again etc.). How do you know when you arrive at a point where staying will lead to diminishing returns to a degree that it is time to move on to the next challenge?

Into it. Over It.: What a great question and one that points to the suggestion that art should not as often be surgically dismantled / perfected to the same extent that science should be.

To me, science is about discovery but also about finding a definitive answer. Artwork may be more akin to that of the hypothesis. What COULD be rather than what SHOULD be or what “is”. 

So what is art without opinion and subjectivity? In my opinion, in regards to art, there are two primary schools of thought and both have their place. There is no right answer in regards to how anyone perceives or digests an artistic body of work so the balance for me is finding a happy place between the quality of a performance and (tasteful) chaos. Capturing a moment or a feeling in real time. I’m always dipping my toe in both of these philosophies. Sometimes 50/50. Sometimes 70/30. And it can vary from piece to piece. Even instrument to instrument.

A mentor of mine by the name of John Vanderslice once referenced comparing what is beautiful about art to what is beautiful about living. The imperfections and coloring outside the lines ala that of a good meal, a beautiful view, sexual intimacy. Accepting both the “good” AND the “bad”. Realizing that it’s not possible to have one without the other and, generally speaking, how it’s the blurry lines and imperfections that make these moments memorable, beautiful, sincere, genuine and so on. 

That said, there is a level of preparedness, skill acquisition and calculation involved in art that allow one to be able to evolve, grow, stay in tune, sound good and develop a project. Therein is the tangled wires that lead to the aforementioned question and finding that balance. 

To more distinctly unravel your question, personally I tend to set limits for myself. I can confidently and generally say that there are about 3-10 takes of a rehearsed performance before the returns become diminishing. Uninspired. Where an artist will begin to start going through the motions rather than inserting character or pieces of themselves into what they are making. If one is caught up in the idea that something COULD/SHOULD be better rather than the real time execution of making something better then that can create a never-ending feedback loop. A möbius strip of unending trials that can ultimately stifle workflow. Creation inspires creation. It’s a muscle like anything else. If the road is blocked then nothing is moving. Nothing is getting exercised. To me that is a signal to move on.

Personally — I work quickly and I work often. Usually on multiple projects at once. This keeps my brain moving. Keeps my ideas flowing. Keeps me from hitting roadblocks or feeling unproductive. Maybe where I was missing an idea for one project, I can stumble on that idea in another. A lack of productivity can be the death of an artist. Even if the productivity is not reserved or meant for anyone or anything. During the writing process of my last record we wrote thirty songs to ultimately land on twelve. Had we become stuck on one idea or one moment for too long we would still be working on that record now. 

Something I have also recently begun exploring more deeply is handing off projects to others once I get to a point where I am no longer developing good ideas on my own. It can be a great benefit to collect perspective and additional insight from a secondary party. Generally speaking artists can become so in the weeds with their own vision that they can no longer see the forest for the trees. Beginning to recognize that in oneself is a skill in and of itself. 

In summation, my best advice would be for artists to strike inspiration while they have it but then not be afraid to move on. Those ideas can remain on a back burner waiting for new inspiration which may come days, weeks, even years later. It’s nothing to fear — But if creation doesn’t keep moving then the engine stops.

IMAGE CREDIT: Arturo Pardavila III

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