July 2021

The Interactions Group and Reed Berkowitz: The Wonder Machine and Guided Apophenia

Blend&Bleed: On Transreality and Pervasive Play

“The Wonder Machine,” a game that generates wonderment, derives from themes that overlap art and science. In this compacted, systematized form of conversation, each agent speaks in turn, expressing their current state of curiosity by beginning with the phrase “I wonder…” From this rhythmic expression of wonder and doubt, a web of connected intuitions emerges.

Moving from playful experiments in collective thought to the possible manipulation of large groups through gaming techniques, game designer Reed Berkowitz presented the workshop “Building Your Own Conspiracy Theory.” Conspiracy theories are a dangerous phenomenon with profound impacts on our modern world, but at their heart, they are simple fictions. One of the best ways to understand something is to build it. In the workshop, we looked at some famous, mindfully created conspiracy theories and legends. Where do conspiracy theories come from and how do they work? Why do they have such a hold on us? The participants then collaborated to create their own conspiracy theory using apophenia, correlation, attention bias, collaborative storytelling, and other techniques. Sometimes one must be sneaky and ridiculous and trick people for educational purposes!

The Interactions Group is a transdisciplinary “thought band” of roughly twenty artists, scientists, and philosophers who together explore the weird and wonderful folds in the dimensions of all possible collective thought. Developing playful experiments that distribute thinking across many people and embrace emergence at the level of the collective mind, the Interactions Group probes experiences of what new hybrid forms of thought may be generated by studying and intervening in multi-individual thinking networks, and collective human algorithms. The Interactions Group is a nomadic autonomous group affiliated with the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Amsterdam, where it began, and Center Leo Apostle, Free University, Brussels.

Present contributors include: Orion Maxted (artist fellow 2019–20), Renske Vroomans (evolutionary biologist), Izabelė Jonušaitė (cognitive scientist, philosopher, and PhD researcher), Esmee Geerken (artist fellow 2020–21), Enrico Sandro Collizzi (evolutionary biologist), Sára Iványi (poet and visual artist), Mirko Lazović (visual artist), and Andrew Wass (choreographer). The Interactions Group is supported by the Institute for Advanced Studies, University of Amsterdam.

Reed Berkowitz is a media professional with over twenty-five years of experience designing, writing, and researching award-winning interactive experiences for some of the best entertainment companies and brands in the world, including Universal Studios, Paramount, Cartoon Network, Peanuts, Sanrio (Hello Kitty), and many more. He has helped create augmented-reality apps and games, immersive theater experiences, websites, movies, educational video games, and more. His recent analysis of QAnon and related conspiracy theories has been featured on NPR, The New Yorker Radio Hour, Al Jazeera, and other media outlets.

Preview image: The Interactions Group, The Wonder Machine, 2021. Photomontage.

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