In January, February and March 2017, through talks, performances, film screenings, a reading group*, Brainstorms**, an exhibition of student works and a conference-festival at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Studium Generale Rietveld Academie & Rietveld Uncut*** are collaborating on an extensive, artistic research trajectory.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR BRAIN?
ART & LIFE IN TIMES OF COGNITIVE AUTOMATION
Studium Generale Rietveld Academie & Rietveld Uncut will dive into current concepts and fantasies of and about the brain.
The brain is not ahistorical, fixed, or atemporal. (…) the brain is always situated in a body and self, and thus in social relations, in family, community, in culture and the economy, in the local and the global, in history. (From Victoria Pitts-Taylor’s NeuroCultures Manifesto, 2012)
Culture and brain form complex systems of influence, control and resistance. The present brain seems to have been invaded by technology: machines increasingly perform the previously human tasks of language, memory, and imagination, with our learning processes taken up by automated and algorithmic procedures. What are the philosophical, social and political implications of this cognitive automation for our brains and bodies? What is happening to our subjectivity, identity and free will? What about the artist’s brain?
Keywords: AI, algorithmic cultures, bio-politics, body, brainstorm, cognitive capitalism, machine, memory, mind, mindreading, neurocentrism, neurocultures, neuro-power, noo-politics, neuro-emancipation, neuro-plasticity, neurol engineering neuro-markelting, neuro-aesthetics, attention economy, brain hacking, bushwhacking, datamining, blockchain, deep storage, designer brains, bio genomics, cognitive automation, free will, neohuman, Google Brain, machine intelligence, theory of mind, collective head, general intellect, deep mind, embodied mind, ‘embrained’ body, self…
Talks, readings, presentations, performances, screenings: Tomas Adolfs, Tarja Szaraniec, Stephan Schleim, Patricia Pisters, Victoria Pitts-Taylor, Antonia Majaca, Fiona Kearney, Marcos Lutyens, Franco Berardi Bifo, Tony D. Sampson, Bassam el Baroni, Michele Rizzo, Amelia Groom, Yuk Hui, Flora Lysen, Lancel/Maat, Erik Rietveld, Janneke van Leeuwen, Tanne van Bree, Warren Neidich, André Lepecki, Melanie Bühler, Hannah Barton, Jennifer Chan, Paul Feigelfeld, Daniel Keller, Elizabeth Orr, Özgür Kar, Timotheus Vermeulen, John C. Welchman, Daniel Pinchbeck, Florencia Portocarrero, Lars Bang Larsen, Patricia Clough, Mette Edvardsen, Leon Hilton, and Anne Juren.
Open Call Rietveld Uncut: In collaboration with Studium Generale and parallel to the conference-festival in March, Rietveld Uncut will present an exhibition and performance program at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. If you are interested in participating with a project, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org before January 14. Mention your name, department and vakjaar. Do not send in a proposal yet; your mail will be replied with additional information about practicalities, the procedure and an application form that you have to return before January 18.
Open Call PLASTIC: A reading group focused on brains, bodies and plasticities. Writer and theorist Amelia Groom hosts PLASTIC, a reading group for Studium Generale held in the Rietveld library after each Wednesday lecture program. With texts by Judith Butler, Paul B. Preciado, Jean-Luc Nancy, Catherine Malabou, Janani Balasubramanian and others, the reading group will be focused on ‘brains, bodies and plasticities’. PLASTIC is open to all Rietveld students – to sign up and receive the reading material please email email@example.com
Open Call BRAINSTORMS: Learning more about the topics of the Studium Generale program by discussing them afterwards and relating them to practice. Three groups of 10-15 students will be hosted and moderated by participants of the Sandberg’s Critical Studies Department from 16:00-17:00 on 5 Wednesday afternoons. (January 18; February 1, 15; March 1, 15) BA and MA Rietveld students can sign up and commit to a series of Brainstorm gatherings. Hosts: François Girard-Meunier/Callum Copley, Stefanie Rau/Aidan Wall, Ioanna Girakidi. To sign up please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Rietveld Uncut is an annual joint presentation by the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. Within the Rietveld the process of making, from concept to work, is an important element throughout the whole study. This process often stays invisible to the outside world; Rietveld Uncut aims to shed a light on this unique, dynamic and experimental part of the academy and reveals this process to the public. Departments and individual students contribute to Rietveld
Studium Generale Rietveld Academie is a rambling theory program that addresses students and faculty across all departments and disciplines at the academy, as well as the general public. It wants to understand how art and design are entangled with other domains (from the personal to the political, from the vernacular to the academic), how ‘now’ is linked with past and future, ‘here’ with ‘elsewhere’. Studium Generale invites you to join it’s annually settled, slightly unruly, but always relevant research trajectories where knowledge, imagination and reflection are put to work together in a critical and unorthodox way.
January 11, 18; February 1, 8, 15; March 1, 8, 15
Conference-festival and Uncut:
March 22, 23, 24, Conference-days curated by Warren Neidich and André Lepecki.
Rietveld students are kindly asked to bring their Rietveld student card. All students are welcome, for students in the basicyear and first year of specialization participation in Studium Generale is obligatory.
Rietveld Uncut is an annual public event by the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. Within de Rietveld the process of making, from concept to work, is an important element throughout the whole study. Uncut aims to shed a light on this unique, dynamic and experimental part of the academy and connect it to the outside world. Rietveld Uncut encourages students and departments to contribute with a group project or individual work in which the relation to the audience is being considered.
Open Call Rietveld Uncut and Studium Generale will present a conference-festival and exhibition at Stedelijk Museum in March 2017. If you are interested in participating with a project please send an email to email@example.com before January 14 and mention your name, department and vakjaar. Do not send us a proposal yet: we will reply your mail with additional information about the procedure and a standard application form that you have to return before January 18.
AI – artificial intelligence: necessitates algorithms and automation
Aleatory – depending on chance or random choice
Algorithm – a set of rules to be followed in computation and the way to organize forms of automation
Alghoritmic cultures – when algorithms organize data, these processes produce a landscape of knowledge that is generated by computers, making culture effectively interpreted and given meaning by machine intelligence (fn: term coined by Alexander Galloway and taken up in a text by Ted Striphas)
Aesthetic experience – contemporary art is concerned with aesthetic experience rather than beauty (as coined by Immanuel Kant); from Greek: aisthētikos, ‘relating to perception by the senses’
Angry people – click more
Attention economy – considering people have a limited amount of attention, this currency has become most valuable.
Automation – replacing a living process with technological processes
Autopoiesis – cells in our bodies are an example of autopoiesis: something which is self generating and self-sustaining, from: autos, ‘self’ + poiesis, ‘to make’, and the root of ‘poetry’
BAM, Brain Activity Mapping project – his project is a continuation of the connectome: a static map (of neurological microcircuitry) called the Human Genome Project; the BAM project focuses on the constant interaction between genetic information (code) and the
Backtracking – Backtracking is a problem solving method in computing. An example of applying this method is when you’re making a Sudoku
Bio genomics – a corporation that develops biopharmaceuticals: drugs made from organic material, by reorganizing and cloning molecules of DNA
Biopolitics – fn: coined early twentieth century, developed by Michel Foucault) social and political power taking possession over life (having the ability to decide who/what lives and who/what dies)
Bitcoins – digital valuta
Blockchain – a form of securing data through authentication with a timestamp, and storage in a decentralized database: here blocks relate to each other through ‘consensus’. Once the ‘chain’ is made it cannot be altered retrospectively, invented in 2008 and employed to authenticate bitcoins
Brain – bodily organ situated in the skull of a [human] person. How does the brain work? Scientists are grappling with neural microcircuitry [the identification of microscopic electrical movements and their meanings] often referred to as jungles Brain hacking – once a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) is made – placing electrodes on your head – your brainwaves can be measured in correspondence to sense stimuli – this means that potentially your thoughts (as brainwaves) can be analyzed, and used for commercial ends (to plant ideas)
Bayesian Belief Network – a graph that visualizes the calculation of chance: a probabilistic network
Brainstorm – a kind of electromagnetic thunder that takes away your ability to think clearly
Bushwhacking – to live or travel in a wild or uncultivated landscape and pushing oneself through dense vegetation like a guerrilla fighter
Catachresis – using words in the wrong way
Cognition – mental action or a result thereof
Cognitive activity – attention, memory, and language (used as the basic condition of semiocapital)
Cognitive automation – cognitive automation, automating human cognition: the term implies that individuals can/will act according to pre-established rules, following sequences of acts organized as automatisms, without the individual being conscious of doing so. It is the coordination of behavior while the individual thinks they are acting out of free will
Cognitive Capitalism – after mercantilist capitalism comes industrial capitalism comes cognitive capitalism, an alternative to post-Fordism and as “new vectors of the production of wealth” (fn: McKenzie Wark on Cognitive Capitalism (2011) by Yann Moulier Boutang, publicseminar.org)
Cognitariat – social stratum of cognitive workers, recognizable by the amount of hours these workers are seated in a day – forgetting we have a social and erotic body, forgetting we are a body (fn: paraphrasing Franco “Bifo” Berardi, nonstop-future.org)
Coin [to] – to invent or devise (for instance: money)
Come-ons – gesture or remark to attract someone sexually, in a similar line of thought come-ons are marketing ploys such as a cheap offer or for giving something for free
Corporation – legally a corporation is a person: a legal body filled with human bodies
Crowd – during the Middle Ages to crowd meant ‘pressuring, pushing’; late nineteenth century crowds are starting to be related to herds, and madness or the ‘collective abandonment of reason’, in contrast to how algorithms are employed today to read societal tendencies
Culture – described as one of the most complex words in the English language according to Raymond Williams in his seminal work Keywords. Culture stems from the cultivation of land, animal husbandry and ideas on domestication (fn: Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976/1983))
Data – things that are known or assumed as facts, from: Latin, ‘something given’
Data mining – the discovery of information / knowledge within large amounts of data
Dearth – a scarcity or lack. Literally: ‘shortage and dearness [beloved, expensive] of food’, dear, related to Dutch: dier, ‘animal’, and German teuer, ‘expensive’ + -th, forming nouns
Deep – more often than not, something deep signifies to – the imaginary of – the sea: distant, dark, profound, unknown, intense (sensatory), (too) difficult to understand, having some relation to the jungle
Deep learning – hierarchical learning, or branch of machine learning, that analyzes complex layers of data in order to visualize this data into graphs, such as the Bayesian Belief Network
Deep storage – also: deep archive – is cheap data storage for data that likely will not be accessed again; extracting or restoring data from deep storage will be time consuming
Designer brains – If you told me a year ago we could stimulate 20 neurons in a mouse brain of 100 million neurons and alter their behavior, I’d say no way… I saw the results and said ‘Holy moly, this whole thing [the brain] is plastic. We’re dealing with a plastic computer that’s constantly learning and changing (…) It’s like reconfiguring three grains of sand at the beach (fn: 12 August 2016)
Determinism – the belief that all events are the logical outcome of predetermined conditions, opposite to free will – and in scientific endeavors contrasted with epigenesis
Dictionaries – traces without … an inventory (fn: The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks)
Diegetic – referring to narrative or a plot
Diet – from Greek: diata, ‘a way of life’ – the enteric nervous system (ENS) or digestive system is also known as the second brain, runs from your esophagus to your anus
DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid, a self-replicating material and the carrier of genetic information
Emergent – in a state of becoming prominent, growing taller than the surrounding environment – in a field of expertise or a rainforest
Employment – a way to indicate usage: of terms or words or people
Entropy – disorder, unpredictability
Environment – the surroundings or conditions in which something lives
Epigenesis – epigenesis explains how cells are shaped through a constant interaction with the environment, juxtaposed to predetermined cell growth defined by genetic code (fn: seminal term coined by Donna Haraway in her doctoral thesis: Crystals, Fabrics, and Fields: How Metaphors Shape Embryos: epigenesis is an embryological concept that celebrates interaction, change, emergence, and the reciprocal relationship between the whole and its component parts. epigenesis states that the identity of any particular cell is not preordained, but that this particular fate arises through the interactions between the cell and its neighbors)
Etcetera – and / the rest / left over
Fetish – something that keeps you from what you must do / need to do / actually want (to do) – a kind of lingering, not progressing
Free will – free will implies having responsibility for one’s actions Garrulous intellectuals – intellectuals who talk excessively on unimportant topics
Google Brain – a deep learning research project on artificial intelligence
Hacking – passing time with no definite purpose
Heuristics – in a loving marriage to art education – enabling people to learn and discover something for themselves Historico-defenitional – method or approach analyzing the history of a word’s meaning/s as latencies [dormant presence] Hola – is a browser extension that allows you to access sites that are censored or blocked in your country: hola.org Holacracy – also called “flat management”: relinquishing authority entirely, managers are replaced by self-governing circles of employees and to do away with the manager, head, or CEO
HTTP – Hypertext Transfer Protocol – communication between browser and server
Information – during the Middle Ages the term was used in a religious or creationist sense, ‘animation’ or ‘the giving of form to something’, and in a legal sense: to make known incriminating knowledge, ‘laying of information’, as ‘a speech act – whose outcome is to transform the innocent into the accused’ (fn: Striphas, Algorithmic Culture)
Jungle – a situation or place of bewildering complexity or brutal competitiveness, from: Sanskrit, jāṅgala ‘rough and arid (terrain)’
Machine intelligence – artificial intelligence
Miasma – a highly unpleasant and/or unhealthy smell
Mental – crazy
Molecule – a group of atoms bonded together, the smallest unit of a chemical compound that can take part in a chemical reaction
Neuro – prefix referring to the physical brain, literally to nerves and the central nervous system (CNS)
Neuroaesthetics – a subdiscipline of aesthetics and may be fruitful when made applicable to aesthetics as sensory experience, steering away from notions of beauty
Neuroengineering – also neuroemancipation: the conscious ability of the brain to reshape itself (fn: Franco “Bifo” Berardi, E-flux Journal)
Neuroplasticity – that the way in which the brain operates is shaped by its interaction with the environment
Noo-politics – a concept coined by Maurizio Lazzarato that is the ensemble of techniques of control as it is exercised on the brain. It involves above all attention, and is aimed at the control of memory and its virtual power
Optic Nerve – mass surveillance program collecting private webcam still images: Unfortunately there are issues with undesirable images within the data. It would appear that a surprising number of people are using the webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person
Plants – grow to suit their surroundings rather than having a fixed body plan – plants absorb water and any other inorganic materials present through their roots
Possession – to be consumed, overtaken, or occupied by an entity, demon, or spirit that is not your self
Post-phenomenology – take a 10-day silent meditation course in the technique of Vipassana (fn: dhamma.org)
Prozac – trademark for fluoxetine: drug that inhibits the uptake of serotonin in the brain
Rainforest – a luxuriant, dense forest rich in biodiversity
Resistance – is fertile
Semiocapital – here semia or signs are used as economic or financial assets with the basic aim to capture cognitive activity
Soapbox – historically tied to the right to speak. Soapboxes were used to stand on and have spontaneous and improvised street meetings, attempting to deliver socially emancipatory messages to the working class. A soapbox today can be any thing that provides the possibility for someone to make her or his views public
Social solidarity – the autonomous organisation of a feeling or action in pursuit of a common interest
Statistics – the collection and interpretation / organisation of data in order to formulate facts
Ted Striphas – author of Algorithmic Cultures (2015). The Late Age of Print is his best-known work on the technologies of printing, and all of his research can be found open source on thelateageofprint.org
Synaesthesia – a neurological condition, with many variations, that makes people experience involuntary coupling of different senses, for instance: seeing colours when you hear music. Neurologically conditioned people include: Tori Amos, Mary J Blige, David Hockney, GyörgyLigeti, Eddie van Halen, Kanye West, etcetera
Theory of mind – ToM as an activity or trait, “refers to the cognitive (understanding through thought, experience, senses) capacity to attribute mental states to self and others”, though the Oxford Handbook (2012) would prefer to call this theory-theory in a less biased manner “mindreading” or “mentalizing”.
Twitterati – the Tweet elite or (the) Twitterati are a group of people with large followings, the term is a pun on (the) Illuminati: people who [claim to] have access to certain knowledge
Uber – from Übermensch
User-friendly – easy to manipulate [a two-way street]
Wealth – Wealth makes people drunk and able to forget (fn: Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth)
Tarja Szaraniec & Tomas Adolfs (Coordinator / Curator)
STUDIUM GENERALE RIETVELD ACADEMIE
Jorinde Seijdel (Head of Program / Curator in Chief)
Jort van der Laan (Associate Curator / Production)
Nikos Doulos (Host and Logistics Coordinator)
Amelia Groom (Reading Group Plastic)
Jeroen Boomgaard, Tom Vandeputte (Brainstorms)
Charlotte Rooijackers (Lexicon)
Hemminkways (Travel Arrangments)
GERRIT RIETVELD ACADEMIE
Jeroen Vermandere (Technical Assistance)
Eric Kameron (Catering Lunch)
Public Rietveld (Press & PR)
Zgjim Elshani, Inna Kochkina, Steven Lenoir, Vera Rijks (Design Team)
Jung-Lee (Type Design)
Selin Kuscu, Meike Legêne (Blog)
Pieter Verbeke (Librarian)
Henri Sandront, Margriet Schavemaker, Britte Sloothaak
Thanks for support in a variety of ways:
Ralph Beijers, Jeroen Boomgaard, David Bennewith, Willem Jan van Dijken, Annelies van Eenennaam, Steven Jongejan, Floor Koomen, Rieneke van den Broek, Hansje van Ooijen, Tom Vandeputte, Wilbert van Rossum, Peter van Ruiten, Riet Wijnen, Ben Zegers.
ATTENDANCE CONFERENCE-FESTIVAL BASICYEAR AND FIRST YEAR OF SPECIALIZATION: 8 BLOCKS
Blocks are indicated on the time schedule of each day.The complete program consists of 12 blocks. Students at Basicyear and first year of specialization are obliged to follow a minimum of 8 blocks.
March 22, 23, 24:
So this is the afterwards. It’s not the after party – that’s already over. ‘Everyone’ has gone home. It’s not even the after-after-party, with the people back in their houses. ‘The people’ may have already left their homes again, been to new events, new parties.
There is something in this afterwards that is important to me – I can be honest now, the party is over, more parties will come. I can finally admit that I didn’t really like the party – and ‘we’ can laugh about it, and some of ‘us’ can say: yes, I hated it too.
At the end of the final lecture an interesting question was posed, that related to the conference as a whole: why were there no non-white speakers, and barely any non-white conference participants? Of course it’s hard to give an answer to such a question because it seems to be asking for the wrongdoer. The main answer given was: ‘you are right, it is good that you bring that up.’ The man that asked the question gave this as a reply: ‘it’s not about me being right’. But of course that’s exactly what it was about, was it a good remark or not? A friend of mine was of the opinion that ‘we’ were already super tolerant – ‘we’ would be completely open to non-white participants – why would ‘we’ still have to blame ourselves for ‘them’ not being here?
I have been writing about the meaning of ‘me’ and its borders – and I think Amelia was right, at least when she spoke about tentacular thinking – during Studium Generale; the question about where the border between ‘me’ and ‘you’ begins is irrelevant. The border of ‘me’ lies outside of the conference. When I enter the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, I am one of the ‘participants’ and ‘we’ become one and the same body, a ‘giant octopus’.
Following from this, I think the remark about there being no non-white participants at the conference is really important. Of course, each one of ‘us’ is probably super tolerant. But at the conference, it’s not about ‘each one’ anymore – it’s about ‘the octopus’ as a whole, and while this ‘octopus’ may be super tolerant, it may also be completely white. Realizing this caused the ‘the octopus’ to wake up. And as I heard the question, I realized not only ‘me’, but also ‘we’ have borders.
The nice thing about being an ‘octopus’ is that ‘we’ are able to experience the conference with all of our senses. Anne Juren made ‘us’ experience this with her performance. ‘There are bubbles of air in between the bones of your left arm, they are growing, they are pushing their way out, they keep growing and fill the whole room’ – as she said this, it happened. I have to admit that this didn’t feel comfortable, especially when she started speaking about the insect crawling into my vagina, or when she described how the skin of my back became transparent, and how she opened it and stepped in – I tried to push her and the insect out, without much success.
After the performance, Juren received some criticism on it not being a nice experience. And this was absolutely true – the performance had felt somewhat like an assault. But now, afterwards, I realize she showed another border of ‘the octopus’. Some things are still too much for ‘us’, or too scary, or too weird or too assaultive – and after her performance, people had to give words to this feeling.
When you sleep, ‘you’ are completely in your own head. The things ‘you’ dream, that seem to be outside of ‘you’, are actually constructions of your own memories and fantasies. Within your dreams, ‘you’ are the one that creates every single part of the world, without you yourself knowing it.
When you wake up, you start to realize: there are things outside of ‘me’, things that I may never have seen, things that are completely different, things that have nothing to do with ‘me’, or even things that have power over ‘me’ but are not ‘me’. Maybe then you can also see the ‘octopus’ ‘you’ are just an arm of, and maybe then you can also can see that this ‘octopus’ is just one of a group of octopuses. The more you see the borders that exist, the more you are awake. And it’s only afterwards, after the waking up, that you realize you have been sleeping.
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The Spotless Brain does not guarantee a happy mind.
Sacha lies in her bed trying to sleep. She’s an eighteen-year-old girl, living in Groningen, a city in the north of the Netherlands; it is a distant city close to the sea, surrounded by many square kilometres of meadows and villages without many streetlights on their small streets. She has lived here all her life, but not in this house. Two years ago, her parents separated, and she moved into her mom’s small two-floor apartment. She has her own floor, meaning a small room, a corridor and a shared bathroom that her mom almost never uses anymore, mostly using the one at her new boyfriend’s house when she goes to stay with him.
Sacha is home alone every weekend. But she doesn’t mind. Normally the upper floor is used by her mom. Now she’s able to wander through the house and lay claim to any room. She likes to have dinner on the floor in the middle of the living room; she likes to play her music loud enough to hear anywhere in the house; she likes to leave the door open when she goes to the toilet. She doesn’t look at the clock on weekends and loses her sense of time.
She only leaves the house when she needs to get something to eat from the supermarket. On this particular day, when she gets back she notices the door is double locked. But she only locked one of the locks when she left. She opens the door and switches on the light (it has become evening already). After closing the door carefully behind her, she quickly double locks it, stands still and listens. ‘Hello?’ she says – the first word she has spoken since her mom left two days ago. She looks up the stairs and into the dark space at the top. She has heard stories of people who thought they lived alone, but in fact unbeknownst to them others were using their rooms. Sacha makes a rational effort to tell herself that this is very unlikely to happen in her house. There is probably some mechanical explanation as to why the door sometimes locks itself. She goes to her room, closes the door and puts on some music
Later that night, Sacha is trying to sleep. She has been awake for quite a while – she’s unable to relax and close her eyes. She tries several times, but when she manages, not facing the door, her brain seems to wake her up with the thought that someone – or something – has entered the room and is watching her. She feels the softness of her body, the weakness of it, and then cannot move anymore; she’s paralyzed by fear. This person, this something, has entered her room and it’s bending over her, so quietly that she cannot hear it. It looks at her face that seems to be at rest. It steps back without making a sound and waits, maybe for a movement, for a life sign.
Waking up. Daylight. So comfortable – the warm duvet. The light shines into the room. She’s woken up this way a thousand times, but it’s all the same moment, one moment. The table still stands, the plant still lives: hello table, hello plant. The curtains can be opened. Stretching arms, turning wrists, tapping fingers: air. Stretching legs and then becoming small, she wonders, what time is it? It’s 10. Now the awakeness starts.
I’m a student at Rietveld academy. I have to go to class tomorrow and I still need to do some work… It’s Monday. I’m nineteen years old. Single, but in love with a guy I will see today, probably – I should wear something nice. And I really have to eat breakfast to be able to start working. I remember something my teacher said: don’t think too much, make stuff… Yes.
Don’t think. Make. Just do. Don’t worry. Follow what comes naturally. This is a good morning, let’s get out of bed, I’m putting my feet on the ground, walking quickly to my desk to turn on my computer and then walking to the closet to choose what to wear to school.
And there’s a song in my head:
Dreaming dreaming –
drifting drifting –
dreaming drifting dreaming drifting –
as the day starts
What are we gonna do
to wake up?
THE BORDER OF ME
Sitting on the Gym’s floor, trying to pay attention to the lectures and desperately failing at it. Being distracted by people’s special clothing: purple shoes, shiny coats, glittery pants. (Why?) A room full of individual brains.
Brain=a piece of grey flesh in my head. I can point it out, but I cannot feel it.
Me=the thing that makes decisions. I can feel it, but I cannot point it out.
Brain=part of the machine that is my body.
Me=a ghost in this machine that is not able to do anything.
Brain=the thing that makes decisions.
Studium Generale is not asking ‘what is happening to our brains’, those fleshy things that fill up our head, but ‘what is happening to Our Brain’. It’s all about the meaning of brain.
Brain=‘always situated in a body and self, and thus in social relations, in family, community, in culture and the economy, in the local and the global, in history’ (fifth point in Victoria Pitts-Taylor, ‘Neurocultures Manifesto’, SocialText, 7 July 2012).
Me=situated in ‘social relations, in family, community, in culture and the economy, in the local and the global, in history’.
It’s asking what is the meaning of me.
Brain=not entirely me.
Me=not entirely you.
Suddenly looking around the Gym, hearing the beautifully dressed-up people think, as if emerging from one and the same brain: what is the border of me? Where begins you?
FIGURES OF THOUGHT
- If I hear those professors talk about the brain and how you send all these signals to my body, that you shape me, I can’t help but get the feeling desires and ambitions can’t be real. I mean, for desires to have a concrete presence within me. Is it not just something we have convinced ourselves to believe in, a way to fill up the time we have? - And so what? You’re getting stuck inside me. Well, it’s dark here. You know The Princess Diaries; look up Mia’s speech. It’s simpleminded TV wisdom but therefore more comprehensible: “But then I thought, if I cared about the other seven billion out there instead of just me, that's probably a much better use of my time.” - But you’re not answering my question. What is the use of longing if the brain decides what I long for? Don’t I get a choice in this? - It is such a juvenile preoccupation, pondering existential questions. Look around you. There is more to see than just the two of us. At some point you have to accept the inevitable actuality of me and the uselessness of your and my being. - You make it seem like I am here to fight my own boredom. - Haven’t you noticed that you’ve spent all fucking day wondering about this? You are looking for the meaning of meaning. Dear God, to speak of meaning. I would’ve come up with significantly more interesting pursuits, or more fun ones at least. - So what are you suggesting then, that I am here for my own entertainment? - Think of Maslow’s pyramid. Everything you question me about revolves around self-actualization. It is not a basic need; it is not even a psychological need! These are the extra bits! Really, what are you crying about? Doesn’t this embarrass you? I guess, if I know you a little, you are lazy and at the same time feel guilty about the way you live, which is understandable. But you were born with the privilege to experience every stage of that pyramid. Feeling guilty about it doesn’t change anything. So maybe it’s a waste if you continuously question it. - But then we come back to meaning. I thought we agreed meaning is imaginary? - No, I said one life, yours, is useless without context. Imagine one body, one brain. As developed and active as it may be, what does it achieve if its single occupation is observing from a solitary distance? Yes, you are capable of experiencing beauty, but there isn’t much to it if you can only experience it with your eyes. A brain is irrelevant if it doesn’t interact, whether it’s through talking, touching or making love, though preferably in every way and every direction, and while we’re at it also in every possible variety: nature, animals and humans. - At the end of the lectures the man coordinating the brainstorm sessions said we understand things better when we talk out loud and to each other. - Exactly. Brains and bodies should be in conversation with other brains and bodies. Things don’t grow if they are confined. I crave stimuli. - So I need to make myself believe I have desires, longings, passions, needs? To make me move around others, invite them to titillate me? - A lot of what people desire is merely the desire to desire. It can be very convenient to not be too aware of this. It could be the case that I make you want things so I can get something out of it that’s beyond your comprehension anyway. One other thing: I know I said you should be embarrassed, but it’s all right to have all these questions, because they are real to you and you seem to be looking for realness. - I need to ask you: is self-expression real? - What do you want to express with your work? Why do you want to tell what you are telling? It’s these questions that confuse you, don’t they? - Come on, can you even formulate a specific and enclosed answer to such questions? No, right? - Let’s focus on personalities for a minute. I am going to jot down two extremes now. There are people who always want what is still ahead of them, and people who are satisfied with what they are already sitting on top of. - I am not sure what you’re trying to say. - That self-expression in itself is not enough to create work. Those creations are solely statements or definitions. It excludes expansion. But then there is something called curiosity. Just keep asking questions.