5```When Work and Leisure Become One

As the title suggests, one thing I want to talk about for this week is a strange mood or mind-state I found myself getting into. My research internship is very flexible: I just read, and sometimes meet people, and don’t even have to be sitting in front of my office desk every day. The topic of my research is what I had already planned to learn about before I met my advisor and created this research internship. So, I’d be reading materials for my internship at midnight just because I enjoy reading about it anyways. I have a project and a class outside the internship that are also very fun. On top of that, because I identify as a creator and aspire to make games and animations, even watching Toy Story 4 and going to model painting open night at the local game shop could count as “work” for me.

For the first time in my life, work and leisure perfectly blended into each other: you could say I was working all day every day, and you may as well say I was just chilling all the time. Every day felt incredibly long in the nicest way: I was present and content for all of the moments. What was even greater was that, because I felt so personally connected to the research topic, every intellectual insight I gained about the topic translated to something personal to learn about myself.   

Perhaps it is due to this new mode of life I have now, that I found myself, a huge coffee shop lover who never goes back to her place before 11pm, no longer able to withstand being outside past 7pm (this is a HUGE difference for me!!) I just wanted to read and paint in my crappy little room that has only plain white walls and no trash can. Maybe I no longer need to escape from anything in coffee shops and maybe I’m just really eager to create something of my own (both creatively and intellectually). Whatever this is, I’m enjoying the simple yet great life I am having at the moment.

Awe & Aesthetics, My Story

Artworks that inspire awe in me:
Kohei Nawa’s Foam
Louis Kahn’s architecture
All works by James Turrell 
All works by Olafur Eliasson
All works by Tomas Saraceno
Tokujin Yoshioka’s Rainbow Church
All works by Cai Guo-Qiang
All works by Christo & Jeanne-Claude

I officially started my summer research-internship-type-of-thing at UPenn’s Positive Psychology Center. I’m working with David Yaden, who does research on spiritual experiences and awe. My goal for the summer, is to investigate in visual elements (hopefully codify them) that are effective in inducing awe. 

I’ve been fascinated by the emotion of awe for a few years now. It started with my search for a mindset in which I wouldn’t need to care about competitions with others and could fully immerse myself in the joy of learning, after studying for years -- honestly, “growing up” is a better phrase -- in really competitive environments. Senior fall of high school, my close friend Cameron shared with me a few papers on awe, which absolutely struck me because I finally knew the exact thing I was looking for. It was awe! When a person feels small (in a nice way), connected with something larger, and peaceful. 

Pretty much since then, creating awe-inspiring experiences became a goal crucial to my identity. Whatever specific thing I end up creating in the future, be it fine art, game, some product, architecture, or something I’m not even aware of yet, I want it to inspire awe in its experiencer, who, after encountering my work, feels a little more calm and at peace, a little more aware of how vast the world is and how trivial a lot things that we direct our attention to are. 

So here I am in Philadelphia, reading books and papers in philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, Western and Eastern aesthetics, and art and architecture theory. I feel absolutely grateful for being able to immerse myself in such joy of learning!

I don’t want to turn this update into some type of research report, but I will share one really important thing I realized this week from reading Edmund Burke, Joseph Campbell, and a few other authors:

The Sublime (or, awe-inspiring) experiences are moments when, the profound unknown is revealed to us, and, safely lingering at the edge of the known, we feel uncompromisingly alive for once.

In case you’re interested, here are some important papers on awe:

- The foundational paper on awe, by Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt

- The nature of awe, by Michelle Shiota and Dacher Keltner

- The Overview Effect: Self-Transcendent Experience in Space Flight (of which David Yaden is the main author. My friend Cameron put this paper on his insta profile for a really long time. Imagine how excited I was when I stumbled upon David’s talk at a conference and realized HE wrote the paper my best friend and I had read years ago!)

On Being An Artist

A journal entry: 

“One thing I love about being a creator who's interested in both fine art and media art, both academics and art, is that there is practically nothing that I will do thinking it is a total waste of time.

“I need to have fun. I need to experience a lot. And I do want to understand human experiences better to create better. 

“I can also understand the more boring or monotonous times, because artists need certain boredom or blandness in their lives to set their mind free for beautiful things to be born.

“While technical skills are important, it is not about sitting in front of my sketchbook 24-7 drawing. I can take breaks, come back and find myself actually better at creating.

“This is the freedom of being an artist. Or choosing to be a creator, in general. I have no limitations, and everything, even "obstacles," I know is good for me in the long run as a human being, as an artist.

“The essence of the job of an artist, is to make things that could've been boring and known, new, unknown, and intriguing. As I become better and better at that, my life can only become more and more interesting, at least internally.

“Artist is not a career, then. It is a mindset for approaching life.” 

Religion, Myth, Beliefs

I found out on my first day of internship that there is a summer course at UPenn called: 

Gurus, Prophets, and Aliens: Understanding New Religious Movements.

I emailed the professor right away and got his permission to sit in the class for the rest of the summer session. (Thank god he actually read emails, there were only three weeks left..)

Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about, inspired by the course:

“We nowadays often consider religion to be backward, representative of a more primitive past of human history, but religion has never left us. We now read scientific texts as religious scripts. We take whatever that’s associated with science as truth, for granted.

“What I’m saying is not abandoning science and going solely into religion, but being aware of our current relationship with science. Is there too much blind trust that we are putting into anything associated with “science?” We should always take a step back and look at what we tend to take as “truth” for granted, what its framework is, what influence we are subjecting ourselves to, and just simply be aware of our own belief system.

“Our mind has the tendency to find things to believe in, to hold on to some belief system to get through our lives. And I’m fascinated by the power of belief in this way.

“Many of the self-help semi-religious movements that appear to be miraculous are simply helping people believe, and engage in a way so that the practitioners’ brains do the job to heal themselves.

“Is it the most dangerous thing to believe in Truth and fervently search for that elusive, perhaps non-existent Truth?

“Do you become freer or less free after studying the mechanisms of religions and seeing religions as a mere container of hope that human mind creates? (because you’re no longer capable of subjecting yourself to any of those religions anymore) ”

(Here’s a paper on “why most published research findings are false” that my professor assigned for the History of Contemporary Science course I took last year.)

The Shed

Two things. 

1. I watched the musical Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, and was really impressed by the visual and auditory effects of the whole show. Animations were projected onto the entire backdrop and the projected particles moved in sync with music, for example. 

When I said every day of the week I experienced positively, I was kind of lying, because I felt terrible after watching this musical.

I was reminded once again that, while I am deeply ambitious about creating art that is groundbreaking and pioneering in some way, I cannot even commit myself to any skill in the first place.

It seems to me quite a common problem among elite school students: we can imagine ourselves in so many places doing so many different things that the idea of making a choice (major, first job, etc.) becomes unbearably terrifying, and then we don’t really make a choice: we choose something that’s relatively neutral and grants us the most flexibility to change our path in the future.  

At least that is the case for me. I am already taking a whole gap year to explore things I’ve always been curious about, and I still find myself unwilling to settle down with a few specific skills to actually be an expert in. I am afraid of missing out on learning the “more important” or “more relevant” things.

Take game production as an example. I want to learn every aspect to game design and am confident that I can do decently well in everything. However, I cannot imagine only doing the art, only doing the technology, or only overseeing other people doing the art or technology. When I think about really honing my skill in 3D modeling (as an example, again), I start wondering “what if my time will be better spent learning about something else that is more relevant?” 

Not to mention that game production is only one of the many things I want to do with my life. How, then, can I ever be a great artist if I do not have the patience or determination to dive deep into a few specific things?

Well, that was a whole thought process I engage with every once in a while and it never gets resolved. If you have insights related to this, please let me know.

2. The art at the Shed was really impressive. I am only posting a few works here, but please go to the Shed when you can! The Shed does open call, and the range of art being exhibited there is stunning. It contrasted greatly with what I saw in Chelsea the day before: stagnant self-repeating art (limited to only paintings, basically) that held itself too seriously. 

Interesting Reads from the Week

Three Things That Are Quite Random

Someone I met today told me there’s an academic conference about BTS (yes, the KPOP group) next year, and they’re accepting applications for panels, papers, and such. Well, if you’re interested, or know a friend that’s interested, here’s the application (???) document.

Also, I found out that there is World Science Fiction Convention every year. This year it will be in Dublin from August 15 to August 19. If you’re interested, check it out. Looks really cool.

Finally, here’s a summer reading list that consists of books no one has checked out for decades, apparently. You might find something cool in there.

I know there was a LOT of text in this week’s update. Thank you for somehow making it here.