2022: On being ready to change my mind

Newsletter on 1 January 2022

What is something big you've changed your mind about recently? Recently, I noticed I don't have a satisfying answer to this question. That troubles me as it suggests a lack of fresh thinking.

This persuaded me to read Julia Galef's book The Scout Mindset, which reminded me how liberating it is to feel free to change your mind. She contrasts the scout, who maps out a territory, with the soldier, who defends that territory.

The feeling that we have something to lose if we notice and share a mistake in our thinking leads us into the trap of motivated reasoning where we only let ourselves notice parts of the world that support our beliefs. This topic I explored in my 2017 work Post-Truth and Beauty. The key is to stake our identity on the persuit of what is right, rather than what we currently think is right. It's neatly summarised in the title of Paul Graham's essay Keep Your Identity Small.

Post-Truth and Beauty, interactive light and sound installation by Tim Murray-Browne and Aphra Shemza, exhibited at Old Truman Brewery in 2017. Photo: Tim Murray-Browne

Post-Truth and Beauty, London, 2017

Fittingly, I finished the book on New Year's Eve, when there is an energy of fresh starts.

My art emerges from a web of ideas and concepts - philosophical, technological, anthropological, ideological. When I share a work, it's often a struggle to find a single coherent strand through these concepts, a story simple enough to be communicated cleanly without losing the essence of the work. It's a powerful process to go through. The narratives that emerge often shape what comes next. And I don't always get it right. I've rewritten the description of Post-Truth and Beauty so many times and I'm still not sure about it. Should I lead with political polarisation? Or the unknowable nature of the universe?

In 2021 I spent many weeks writing about the inevitable dynamics of power that arise when we interact with technology. I'm still exploring the right format to share these ideas. It might be a book, or a series of essays, or perhaps it's just fuel for me to make more artworks.

So far, the main strand I have shared is how the power of the non-verbal, embodied mind is often squeezed out of our interactions with technology. This underlies explorations into interacting with AI through dance. On the basis of this idea, I published two peer-reviewed papers (in Applied Science and the NIME conference) and received funding from Creative Scotland to conduct research, I shared new artworks (Sonified Body, Self-Absorbed Face Dance) and gave a talk at Present Futures festival.

Public outputs like these are the basis of my work having an impact. And arguing for an idea in a paper pushes you to really understand it. But it comes with the risk of planting your flag in a territory that you now feel the need to defend instead of continuing the exploration with an open mind.

So my starting point for 2022 is to be ready to let go of all these ideas and narratives that apparently define my work. I want to remember they are hypotheses, guide-ropes to explore the unknown, a map to build upon rather than a territory to defend. I'm not looking for correctness - just more ways of seeing the world.

London, 1 Jan 2022