[-empyre-] decade of the plastic brain

brian brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Wed Sep 10 23:45:46 EST 2008

What Michele says is so true! I have been looking back at second-order 
cybernetics and autopoietic theory, and I think that in addition to 
being very interesting science, it comes out of a deep epistemological 
rivalry with closed-world command-and-control systems -- an ethical 
rivalry, with all kinds of political and cultural significance. The 
irony for all of us is that following this brilliant period that runs 
from around 1970 to 1990, what dominates once again in terms of models 
of the mind is AI and cognitive science - the mechanistic stuff... And 
while I think there were real problems with radical constructivism a la 
Von Foerster and Maturana, in terms of solipsism and semiotic 
creationism, still it's clear that they were deeply opposed to the 
instrumentalization and objectification of human beings which is not 
negligible in such fields. Creating the open-ended universe world is a 
challenge on every level, scientific, philosophical, artistic...

best, Brian

Michele Barker wrote:
> Trish has raised some interesting points about the relationship of a 
> neuroaesthetic practice and the technologies that inform/create them.  
> Of course there is a methodological approach to the creation of work - 
> by new media artists - that is vastly different from how, for example, 
> Rothko has worked with line, colour and composition (nor am I saying 
> Rothko was at the fore of neuroaesthetics). My point is really about the 
> implicit nature of the technologies of the neurosciences - and to a 
> large degree, neuroimaging - to inform the actual creation of work. I 
> believe here there can be an interesting aesthetic/conceptual feedback 
> process that is activated. Now, I don't use the term feedback lightly, 
> and it brings me to Trish's point about autopoiesis - particularly 
> pertinent in this instance as the work Trish is doing involves bees. 
> Open and closed systems were big areas of debate in looking at the 
> relationship between genetics and interactivity - closed/open? - and I 
> wonder where, in light of concepts like neuroplasticity, if we will 
> again move towards more exploring more open-like systems to engage with 
> audiences based on, for example, your work with bees? That fact that the 
> mind/computer metaphor was dominant for many years precisely because of 
> its 'mechanistic' potential needs to  be revised now that we are are 
> engaging with a more 'plastic' state. To do it though, we need to move 
> out of the still dominant mind & brain centricity.
>  - Michele
> On 08/09/2008, at 8:16 PM, trish adams wrote:
>> Hello everyone,
>> I'm most grateful to Michele, and the -empyre- facilitators, for
>> giving me the opportunity to participate in the September discussion
>> group.
>> I guess the best way of introducing myself  is to give an overview of
>> my art practice. I've been carrying out research in labs since 1998
>> but this is really a continuation of my long-standing interest in the
>> intersections of art & science. I often think that my hybrid approach
>> is akin to that of the seventeenth century "Natural Philosophers",
>> entering into my art/science collaborations with a spirit of "what
>> if"!! My focus has been to reinterpret scientific data from the
>> perspective of a visual artist. I then recontextualise this (digital)
>> image data in subsequent artworks. Recently I developed a methodology
>> that allows me to be central to the scientific research and the
>> experimental subject matter. I feel that this first-person approach
>> increases viewer/participant empathy with the artistic outcomes;
>> including the human traces with which the image data is imbued. In my
>> interactive artwork: "machina carnis" I explored the impact of recent
>> groundbreaking techniques in stem cell research, creating an
>> innovative model where I became at once both artist/researcher and
>> "human guinea pig". In seven days, with the aid of my scientific
>> collaborator, stem cells from my blood sample were changed into
>> beating cardiac cells 'in vitro'. "machina carnis" posed questions
>> about what it means to be human in the twenty-first century, and the
>> ways in which our understanding of ourselves will be changed by
>> contemporary developments in biotechnology. Certainly I am emotionally
>> involved when I hold a flask of my own cells or feed bees on honey in
>> the palm of my hand and I think this human connection definitely
>> creates an emotional bond between the artwork and the participants.
>> These artworks present the scientific image data in ways that allow
>> for what is often emotionally charged participant engagement.
>> After a number of collaborative projects in the biomedical sciences I
>> began working with neuroscientists at the end of last year . My
>> experiences whilst looking at cellular behaviours at a microscopic
>> level led me to Maturana & Varela's theory of "autopoiesis" and
>> subsequently to the highly complex issues relating to "brain" &
>> "cognition". In addition I often heard scientists referring to the
>> brain as 'the last great frontier in science' so it seemed like a
>> logical progression for me to make this inter-disciplinary shift. I
>> had been reading about Professor Srinivasan's pioneering research into
>> the cognitive and navigational capacities of the honey bee and I am
>> fortunate to now have a residency with his Visual & Sensory
>> Neuroscience group at Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), The University
>> of Queensland. Although I am still in the early stages of my
>> observations I have become aware that flying insects, such as the bee,
>> are beginning to suggest alternative, computationally simple systems
>> which shed light on human perception - making this research both
>> fascinating and relevant to our understanding of ourselves and how our
>> brains function. Interestingly, in connection with Micheles' queries
>> about emotion, the group are also beginning to explore the honey bee's
>> emotional range of responses - and I am curious to know where this
>> research will lead.
>> When I read Michele's introductory text I was struck by some key
>> issues in relation to my own art practice and research:
>> Firstly that of 'perceptual engagement with the work in order to
>> create, compose, receive & "complete" it'. For me the creation of
>> open-ended, interactive media artworks allows for each viewer to
>> become a participant and through their interaction bring the work to
>> life, resulting in an individual outcome upon its completion.
>> Significantly, in relation to the subject of cognition - and also
>> emotion - this approach allows for "spaces" - it encourages
>> multi-dimensional experiences and interpretations of the work. For the
>> other media artists out there who also embrace this approach I'm not
>> saying anything new here, but it does provide a counterpoint to some
>> of the artworks already introduced in the earlier days of this
>> discussion.. This is not to say that technology is not essential in
>> many of my works, it is of course a vital component to empower the
>> interactivity, however its use is discrete and the human element in
>> the work is forgrounded.
>> This brings me to to the second point raised by Michele in her
>> introduction, when she refers to Steven Rose and the referential links
>> between observational technologies and their outcomes. The level at
>> which scientific data is mediated by technologies has always
>> fascinated me ever since I started going into university labs in 1998.
>> The gel electrophoresis process is a case in point as is the electron
>> microscope itself. (When given a "drive" of the JSM scanning electron
>> microscope I was reminded by the scientist how particles might distort
>> the specimen & thus the image data!). The slippery nature of
>> "readings" of scientific research data have been incorporated into my
>> research which explores interpretations made from the perspective of
>> an artist - and of course subsequently by the artwork's
>> viewer/participants. However Professor Perry Bartlett, Director of QBI
>> states that 'Neuroscience is entering a period of rapid expansion &
>> development' (http://www.qbi.uq.edu.au/index.html?page=62840) & this
>> is of course due in a large part to the rapid development of ever more
>> sophisticated experimental technologies. So perhaps this might be
>> viewed as some sort of double-bind - scientists need the cutting-edge
>> technologies but...???
>> I will close for now, cheers Trish
>> -- 
>> Dr. Trish Adams
>> Artist-in-Residence
>> Visual & Sensory Neuroscience Group,
>> Queensland Brain Institute.
>> http://www.qbi.uq.edu.au/?page=52793
>> ...........................................................
>> http:mellifera.cc
>> http:www.wavewriter.net
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