The short film Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks draws parallels between the development of a child’s brain and neurons and the recent development of the internet and its networks. It shows how humans have been historically fascinated with comparing our brains to real life systems of our time like clocks, steam engines, machines and more. Understanding the human brain, mimicking its structures, and imagining its form in relation to everyday systems have been at the core of creating some of the most important concepts and advancements in human history. The idea of networks, for instance, that arises from neural models, not only rules the internet but is also used in modelling and understanding numerous phenomena and situations.
Brain Power: From Neurons to Networks by Tiffany Shlain
In Labocine’s network view, form and content converge where a scientific neural model is used to visually present a group of interconnected science films. The network view has the name of the issue, which is the main entity of this neural model, located at the center and connected to all the different films concerned with the issue. When hovering your mouse over any one of these different films, existing connections that are slightly hidden start to become clearer linking a film to a set of associated keywords. Similarly, when you hover your mouse over the keywords, their links to different films start to elucidate as well. However, the experience does not end here, the network allows you to rearrange and experiment with the different nodes by moving them around and pulling on them in a visually and intellectually stimulating process to create a unique yet transient version of the network.
Graph theory and network theory are concepts in discrete mathematics that are well-rooted in various fields. Network theory is mostly associated with social media networks, but it also has an important presence in the analysis of human disease networks in medicine and in the creation of narrative networks to understand major events in politics. Graph theory studies the behavior and properties of graphs, where a graph is defined as a structure with nodes or points connected by edges that link these different nodes together. Network theory is considered a subsection of graph theory where edges and nodes are assigned names or identities to be analyzed and studied.
Networks and mind-maps lay out a more intuitive and visual presentation of concepts and their attributes which is why networks are often used to model complex social and scientific concepts. Unlike lists and queues, networks more closely embody one of the characteristic ways our brains organize and interrelate ideas and events: simultaneously and infinitely in connection to each other. Furthermore, networks give us more insight by expanding equally and simultaneously in all directions and dimensions rather than expanding disproportionately in one direction (vertically or horizontally) in the way lists and queues do. This networked presentation may not always insert information explicitly, but it will always create a visually prompting environment with a greater allowance for sophisticated thinking.
This nuance can be seen in Labocine’s film networks where even though films viewed separately in their own pages are given keywords like “science fiction” and “documentary”, the network view adds another layer to this information where the act of relating films to keywords and relating keywords to films are two distinct yet connected experiences. In other words, pulling on a keyword to see its links to different films in the issue and pulling on a film to see its links to different keywords in the network and thinking of these two experiences synchronously is a very revealing intellectual and cinematic experience.
Another feature that is extracted from this kind of visual and interactive representation, is the ability to create an alloy of films that becomes its own cinematic piece. This piece fuses the worlds of the different films so that we start thinking of this new world in relation to external concepts and ideas rather than thinking of the individual worlds of the films in relation to external concepts and ideas and then in relation to each other.
Interacting with this view is also a more customizable, entropic and liberating experience in comparison to interacting with a group of films that are queued either in a deliberate or a non-deliberate order that affects users’ experiences and choices. This customizability is not only particular to the user, it is also particular to the moment; when you drag one of the nodes, be it a film or a keyword, in any chosen direction, a ripple effect is created affecting all the moving parts of the network and giving rise to a very specific yet momentary version of the network that is perhaps not very easily replicable.
Even though this view is based on a neural model and is to a certain degree an externalization of the way our own brains process information, because it is not a very common style of presenting films, it can still appear as a foreign entity, which pushes us to spend more time and thought exploring it and its constituents. Ultimately, the viewer of these films who is also the user of this interface is given more power and control. This amplifies the unpredictably in the way the user interacts with, processes, and creates links between different objects in the network.
About the author
Lujain is an undergraduate student studying computer engineering at New York University Abu Dhabi who is particularly invested in engineering applications in the world of biotechnology and biomedicine. She is also interested in exploring science and technology in film as well as the cultural and political significance of cinema.