Conducting consciousness

I have been interested in communication for many years. Not written stuff but oral speech and accompanying non-verbal communication. How is it that we manage a link, a synchrony, a shared perception between two minds.

A recent blog posting in the Scientific American has some interesting things to say about movies, similar to what has been said about stage magic. There are ways to affect the audience and are skilled practitioners of these arts. Here is the link to Maria Konninova’s posting, The Innate Irresistibility of Film.

Of course we start out with a perceptual slight of hand. The movie is discrete frames but we see it as a continuous. This is because the frames per second is close to the natural ‘frames’ of consciousness which is also discrete. Konninova also mentions the control of blinks, eye movements and event breaks.

… researchers are finally beginning to understand what it is that makes the present-day film experience so binding on a profound level - and why it’s often difficult for older movies to keep up. It seems that filmmakers have over the years perfected the way to best capture - and keep - viewers’ attention. Through trial, error, and instinct, Hollywood has figured out how best to cater to the natural dynamic of our attention and how to capitalize on our naïve assumptions about the continuity of space, time, and action.

… blink synchronicity: if we see someone blink, we’ll likely blink right along with him. Film editor Walter Murch noticed that very thing when he was editing Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. When Gene Hackman blinked, there went Murch’s eyes—and that’s precisely where he wanted to place the film cut. Cut at the blinks, and more likely than not, the viewers will perceive the action as continuous. The cut itself will go unnoticed. … People who view the same film tend to synchronize their blinks – and that synchronization reflects the editing of the story. …

When people watch a movie, their eyes tend to follow similar patterns. Even if a scene has no actors, it remains likely that gaze focus will follow the same trajectory between different viewers. And it’s not just the gaze: each viewer’s brain may actually be reacting in similar fashion as well.

In one study, individuals watched the first 30 minutes of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly while their brains were scanned by fMRI. Researchers found that 45% of neocortical activity—including areas implicated in vision, hearing, emotion, language, and multisensory integration—was quite similar for each viewer. That’s almost half the activity of that part of our brain that coordinates our higher cognitive functions. Impressive indeed.

… When people viewed The Red Balloon in a scanner and then divided the film into events, cuts that coincided with significant changes in action predictably activated dorsal frontal and medial temporal areas of the brain—associated with attentional control and motion processing, respectively—in a similar fashion for each viewer.

In the same way that we could learn much about attention from magicians, we could learn much about consciousness from movie editors. Back to the subject of communication, we can also learn from ordinary conversations. It seems that people who are busy talking seem to get on the same wave length. They synchronize their movements and posture, they get a rhythm going in the speech, their mimic each other’s face expressions, they blink together. Hey, they are coordinating their consciousness.


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