Why slow motion seems majestic

There is much to be said about the memorability of slow motion footage in movies. While perhaps the most extreme recent example was the invention of “bullet time” in Matrix, and recently we have seen it taken to the extremes in Inception, the overcranking (shooting at higher framerate to later play it back at regular 24 fps) was the hallmark of cinematography ever since it was invented in 1904 by Austrian priest and physcist August Musger.

There is little doubt that slow motion footage for some reason does make the action seem more pronounced, more memorable, more impressive, and often more majestic.  Even though some cinematographers of note did tackle the reasons why slow motion has this certain effect, so far I have not found a convincing explanation in this field.

A possible insight into why slow motion might have this effect comes from the research on how people react under extreme stress: in combat, in sports, or in situations where one’s life is threatened. There exists a number of reactions that can happen to people in such situations. Alongside tunnel vision, selective deafness, there also is a perception of events occuring in slow motion. Most likely it is a result of the sudden flush of hormones like epinephrine, and the attempts of our brains to encode as much of what is happening as possible for future reference. Usually it is accompanied by the feeling of vividness, and awareness of being alive (this is also why such states of mind can become addictive, and life can seem pretty bland afterwards),  sometimes referred to as “hyper-reality”.

The important part is that the real slow motion effect in our brain is only an illusion, and the result of physiological processes of hastened memory creation. It does not grant the subject powers of Neo to dodge bullets, it only increases the awareness of occuring events. The reaction time remains as it is, even though the employed actions might be more efficient, than they would be in “normal time”.

However, it is highly probable, that our brain, when confronted with slow motion footage, takes it as a signal of something memorable happening, and tries to employ its standard procedure in such cases – trying to remember as much as it can, because it is an important, potentially life-threatening event. Due to the fact, that there is no hormonal rush, the effect is subsided, but it seems to have an impact nevertheless. How foolish of our brain to think so! And yet, we fall for the same trick again, and again. And slow-motion does work, even if used in excess.

Therefore, next time you see the slow motion footage employed to accentuate certain aspects of the action, or use this effect yourself, be aware that it works, because it references the state of mind that is already available to the viewer, and mimics what happens when our brains do firecely try to create a memorable event.

If readers are interested in further exploration of this topic, I suggest the book “On Combat” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, which has a great compilation of physiological effects that accompany events.

Maintenance can be creative work as well

Up until recently I had not realized this simple truth: things do decay, and to maintain their functionality one has to expend energy, sacrifice time and put an actual effort into it. I think this is one of these fundamental truths that can be applied in general to life, universe and everything. If left unattended, the entropy will take its course, and the things will die.

Maintenance is one of this kind of jobs which when performed properly is invisible. Like a good matchmove or a good cut. Maintenance allows the action (life) to move forwards smoothly and without glitches. As such, in accordance to the old adage “out of sight, out of mind”, it is often under-appreciated and ignored until an accident happens.

Indeed, it is not as flashy as any “creative” work, and its results are never direct. But come to think of it, hardly any creative work can be done when tools are not prepared, not working correctly, or broken. Of course, overcoming such problems can be a creative endeavor in itself, but the satisfaction is usually left only for the person dealing with the problem, and will most likely be lost on the recipients of the work that was done, possibly hindering the results. The work might of course bear some signs of the problem in question, making it perhaps unique in its own way, and it is the sign of true mastery to turn problems into creative opportunities. But even in such cases the newly developed process needs to be streamlined and maintained.

I have always seen maintenance as dull job that needs to be done. Backups, cleanups, servicing – they all ate away the time that could have been used for “the proper work” or leisure. I did not appreciate that such jobs also do require creativity, if only to solve the annoyances of software glitches, hardware incompatibilities and such. Thinking about the safest and optimal workflow or proper hardware configuration is a job in itself, a job that requires knowledge, research, time, and also some economic sense. It is also a very important art of differentiating the wants (everybody wants the best tools available) from the actual needs (the productivity gains from faster computers tend to flatten out beyond certain point). This kind of fine-tuning, and deep analysis is what can be very rewarding, especially if you come up with some clever way to solve a complicated problem.

Of course, there is no way to absolutely avoid real accidents, and to foresee everything. The loss of HDCAM SR factory during recent events in Japan is perhaps something that very few people were really prepared for. But proper studio maintenance would give you at least some time window to prepare plan B for archiving and delivery.

This kind of philosophy can be applied to any aspect of life. By working I provide means for my family to exist and grow. Even if most of my current salary goes towards maintaining what already exists, hardly allowing for investments, there is a certain satisfaction of providing the base so that the others can employ their energy in a better way.

Similarly in relationships, after the obvious novelty wears off, maintenance is often under-appreciated, and can lead to perception of boredom. We need to remember, that our brains are hardwired for novelty, and we get the most dopamine and endorphine rush from new challenges and new “stuff” (this is perhaps why shopping works for many people as a mood raiser). Tweaking and fine-tuning is usually tedious. It is hard to appreciate the things that you do have, when there are so many things that you could have had, if you only worked harder, more or in another job.

And yet, taking time to maintaining what you have is essential for not loosing it, whatever “it” may be. Since this is the case, I might as well take time to enjoy it :)

Have a good day.

Human heuristics

Some argue, that we should live our lifes in a rational way, calmly and dispassionately analyzing pros and cons of each situation. While perhaps this is a noble ideal, it is also impossible to attain, and even those people who advocate such way of life are subject to a few quirks and limitations of our minds and brains.

Here are a few important examples that each of us should remember:

  1. It is very hard, if not impossible, to separate our thinking about things into risk and benefit. The general rule of thumb that we employ is that when we consider something to be beneficial, we tend to undervalue the risks associated with it, either ignoring them, diminishing or rationalizing, and vice versa. If a thing can be both beneficial and risky (like nuclear energy for example), it proves to be a hard issue for us to swallow, and analyze.  Perhaps many emotions are the result of this conflict that we consciously or unconsciously perceive.
  2. We have a bias for novelty. New things are inherently more interesting than the old, common, and known ones. In this day and age this imperfection is really starting to become a hindrance, and getting caught in the endless cycle of news is so easy with our smartphones, tablets, RSS readers and such. Heck, I often can’t even finish reading one book not thinking about all others that stand on the shelves around.
  3. Also, a similar variation of previous bias is the one for uncommonality – if a thing is rare, it catches our attention much quicker, than if it is common. Media are a good example on the manifestation of this rule. In connection to our inability of assessing risks and understanding big numbers, it proves a real challenge to obtain a view on reality that is… well… as close to “real” as possible.
  4. We have a bias for finding patterns, even if there are none. Which is totally understandable, but it makes our lifes more difficult if we want to actually know what is true, and what isn’t. It’s even worse when we are looking for an invisible agent in places, where there doesn’t have to be one. It might be fun (or scary), it makes a great story (and we are suckers for good stories, I tell you), but it “ain’t exactly real”, as one famous singer put it.
  5. Confirmation bias plays well into the bias for searching patterns. Once we think up of a possible pattern, it is easier and more “natural” to look for the evidences proving our idea, than to come up with those that disprove it. Reading a balanced article can actually increase our bias, instead of reducing it. It takes a lot of courage to think about possibility of myself being wrong.
  6. Anchoring. Our brain focuses on the first thing that comes to its attention, and uses it for future reasoning, even if the thing has nothing to do with the problem at hand. It is a great feature helping us to process complex problems, and to arrive at conclusions in some sort of sensible time, but in a distracting environment, such conclusions can be totally unwarranted. And we fall for anchoring each and every time – there is no way to defend from it, even if we try to compensate for it! Beware of marketers that ask you seemingly innocen questions at the beginning of your conversation, especially any numbers. It is a trap. Run like hell! :)

What’s good about it all is that we slowly start to understand the role that emotions play in our decision making, and shaping our view of the world. They are crucial, cannot, and should not be eliminated – they are what makes us going through life. But at the same time, it is vital to be aware of one’s weak and blind spots. Because we all do have them in abundance.