[-empyre-] Cognition and Andrew Murphie

Anna Munster A.Munster at unsw.edu.au
Sat Sep 20 14:23:47 EST 2008

Hi Andrew and everyone,
wow...mega-post! I don't know that I can engage with everything you've  
written at once but something that I think is important to draw out  
and seems to be resonating through this discussion is the question of  
models, which you've so insightfully and multifariously raised.
> Where does neuroscience fit in? Well it seems to me that, despite the
> influence of Varela and others on cognitive philosophy, neuroscience
> has far from a comfy fit with a lot of cognitive science and
> philosophy, precisely because of the different kind of
> empiricism-model relation involved. So I am becoming very interested
> in the way in which neuroscience, especially contemporary
> neuroscience, even as it tries to pack data and theories back into the
> cognitivist cage, seems to question much of what was given in the
> frameworks of cognitive science, psychology and philosophy.

I think this is a really interesting point - the points at which the  
implications of neuroscience go beyond the actual framework or model  
being deployed. This framework might be cognitive (ie the dominance of  
mental representations) or it might be neuro-empirical (ie the base of  
neurons firing off etc) and yet so much of what is 'found' in  
neuroscientific studies can imply a kind of distribution of both mind  
and brain at once such that 'brain-mind' is now everywhere and  
anywhere (in the stomach for example) and most definitely not 'in'  
either a mental representation nor a place in the brain.

But I also think how far one takes these kind of implications within  
neuroscience or without - by other cultural theorists, artists etc  –  
depends upon what kind of a neuroscientist ( or artist etc) one is!  
Lucette has spoken of the extent to which a scientist might be  
prepared to question their own methodology - an extremely important  
point. What is also of importance are the intersections of neurology  
with other scientific disciplines. So, for example, one of the most  
interesting neurologists writing today, is, I think, Steven Rose,  
whose scientific  and medical background is also biochemistry. What  
this lends to his neurology is a really interesting way of thinking  
through, for example, metabolic pathways as processes nested within or  
intersecting with neurological events. Hence we get a kind of double  
systemic view of embodied processes and events at a really molecular  
(and here I mean both scientific and Guattarian) level. He also  
happens to be a very good writer who can translate complex scientific  
ideas and terminology into ideas for people like me who have no  
scientific background! So we start to get a much more complex  
understanding of the processes involved in sensing, perceiving and  
cognition than the rather simplified and clunky models of straight  
cognitive psychology or even locative neuro-empiricisim

But there is something also important in a person/thinker like Rose.  
And that is his politics. Which of course is also a question of models  
or as you have suggested, Andrew, of remodeling or non-modeling. So  
because Rose is completely aware of the implications of his deployment  
of models for how we might understand contemporary life and culture  
(so he is anti-reductionist for one and also deeply anti-racist) he is  
able to really think through the vital political importance of  
complexity, of not reducing thought or 'the body' to either brain or  
mind and of what happens when one does (ontological determinism).

I remember hearing Steve Kurtz ( from Critical Art Ensemble) saying  
once that he wasn't the least bit interested in whether scientists and  
artists actually had anything to offer each other's disciplines. What  
he believed was important in science-art collaboration was whether you  
shared a 'political' project with each other and that if you did, the  
alliance between science and art could become very powerful. I think  
more shared political projects between artists and scientists on the  
basis of complexifying our ways of thinking about brains, bodies,  
thinking, sensing and perceiving are what is important right now,


Dr.Anna Munster
Senior Lecturer
School of Art History and Theory
College of Fine Arts
P.O. Box 259
NSW 2021
612 9385 0741 (tel)
612 9385 0615(fax)
a.munster at unsw.edu.au

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