Thought Cube

June 12, 2021

The Concept

Reality warps and distorts itself based on internal mental states. Especially in the midst of strong emotions, even something as objective as basic perceptual inputs (sight / sound / smells: the closest approximation to reality without any abstraction from previous associations or narratives) can be warped. There lies an infinite number of subjective experiences that can be permutated atop one common, “objective” reality.

In short, intentions and emotions are a very powerful filter on experiences.

Usually, these filters take place subconsciously. In psychology, this phenomenon is called “priming“. For example, people who are en route to getting a haircut tend to notice others’ hairstyles more. When people are already upset, every little thing feels like a frustration. How much of mental resiliency is dependent on the surrounding environment? Can we increase openness of learning and absorption by becoming more aware of how we feel in the moment?

I wanted to create an art piece that makes more obvious the link between internal states of mind and the external world. The cube —that changes based on mental state— represents how much the perception of physical reality warps based on more liminal thoughts and emotions. These changes are made much more obvious by shortening the feedback cycle and adding visual cues. In the same way, the world can act as a more lucid mirror to what’s happening within.

The Process

I started out by sketching out an initial concept design, as well as the pipeline of how my brainwave data could be streamed in real-time from my EEG / neurotech device to the LED lights.

I bought some wooden sticks, cut 12 of them into equal lengths, and then super-glued them together to complete the frame of the cube.

When I finished, I reinforced the corners with more glue and let the cube dry overnight.

After woodworking the cube itself, I attached the LED lights to line the edges.

The color change is controlled by wiring the Arduino Uno to the lights and programmed using their IDE. The live data is being streamed via OSC to Max / MSP as the receiver, which provides a threshold to the resulting signal and routed via serial port back to the Arduino program.

After finishing the hardware, I played around with the lighting and mechanics of color interpolation (changing the gradient so colors flow seamlessly from one color to the next).

Final Result

Future Development

In the tweet that I originally published when finishing the product, I was excited to see so much interest in the product and requests for productization: from those with autism as a better way to communicate to the world, therapists who would use this in sessions with their patients, and those generally interested in ambient home IoT devices.

Generally, I am very interested in building consumer-focused mental health applications: especially those around education and awareness of emotions. I’m currently working with a sound therapist in Japan on potentially using this concept in an interactive installation: for example, people could hold these cubes during her sessions, resulting in a collective blue glow as participants get deeper in a relaxed state.