[-empyre-] neuroaesthetics and modeling

Paul Woodrow ebp at shaw.ca
Thu Sep 25 14:39:34 EST 2008

Maybe I could just say a few words about the project to which Anna  
made reference  – I know that Alan will
add his contribution quite soon

I have been following the discussion from the outset. I really enjoyed  
the overview given by Andrew and Barbara and have learned so much  
especially the fact that there is potentially so much more to learn  
and consider. What I find interesting is that I think about these  
issues in a slightly different way and perhaps with a different  
purpose in mind. I was really pleased to see that Anna used the terms  
transform and transformative when talking about perception. It is  
within this context that I feel more at ease in the discussion of our  
own work. The Shape of Thought, (www.bodydegreezero.org) a short  
summary of the work is as follows.
The Shapes of thought is a work that visualizes EEG and other  
bioelectrical Signals as three-dimensional forms. Monitoring the EEG  
of a participant recalling a traumatic event and using the numbers  
generated to change simple primitives to complex meshes generates the  
forms. Each vertex on a primitive is assigned a point in space and  
each is pushed and pulled by the incoming EEG data. Over very long  
periods of time - more than 12 hours in some cases - a smooth sphere  
or cube becomes a heavily fissured, bumpy and spiked object - a recent  
geological record of the EEG patterns generated by the participant. At  
prearranged intervals the form is saved into a database to allow the  
event path to be retraced in the future. Participants were monitored  
by EEG and EKG sensors and asked to recall traumatic events from their  
past. Participants agreed to undergo hypnosis to aid in the  
recollection and reliving of events in which they were deeply affected  
by anger, fear, joy, or other primary emotions.
  As a result of the generative method that Alan has devised the  
visual images fabricated from this process opens up the field of  
aesthetic experience to include non-traditional forms, which are both  
complex and rich. These forms demonstrate visual excess, which is  
beyond mere functional value as information, or as message The  
approach taken creates apparent (imaginary) connections between  
unlikely forms e.g. brain activity and natural forms. We have talked  
about the notion of apophenia- the tendency to see connections between  
seemingly unrelated objects and ideas and pareidolia the misperception  
involving indeterminate stimuli which is perceived as clearly being  
something. These types of experience seem to be at the threshold of  
perception. It is also interesting how a multiplicity of forms or  
structures can be generated from similar data sets. Brain activity can  
be expressed in unconventional shapes and structures that stand on the  
edge between the poetic and the useful. Even though the world of  
imaginary or poetic objects seem to exist at a distance from the world  
of practicality, the fabrication and existence of forms like these  
have a strange power to change our perception of the world in which we  
live. Early on in the discussion there was debate about the importance  
of acknowledging scientific reality and the inherent problem of doing  
so. What I find more important but probably less interesting is the  
mind’s capacity to invent and occupy imaginary worlds-even though the  
data acquired during the sessions described above might possibly have  
‘real’ and scientific value.  Something occurs when data is  
transformed and redirected from its original intent and purpose. The  
experience of this transformation is possibly sensed or felt by the  

On 24-Sep-08, at 2:26 AM, Anna Munster wrote:

> Hi Johannes and others,
> I'll just respond to the excerpt from one of my posts, although I  
> have to say you are rising very interesting and challenging  
> questions about models, traffic and collaboration
>> lastly,  Anna Munster refered to "non-modeling"  (what would that  
>> be?)
> I think what I might have meant was a kind of 'unmodeling' ie  
> undoing the place of 'the model' as determining in a scientific or  
> aesthetic project. Of course I don't mean to suggest we just float  
> free of paradigms but rather that we not be onerously committed to  
> 'a' paradigm, especially one that privileges either mental  
> representation or brute biology as causal....I think Andrew may have  
> something more to say here because I suspect that both he and I are  
> interested in a notion of metamodelling (in the sense that both  
> Gilbert Simondon, philosopher of technology and Felix Guattari use  
> the term to denote a kind of processual modeling in which all models  
> are subjected to destabilisation and cross-fertilisation and one  
> lands at a kind of commitment to follow the changes and deformations  
> rather than 'the model'...good complexity theory would be an example  
> of this approach...)
>> and to
>>>> .. 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.>>
>> Can you think of such political projects that would leave the short- 
>> lived fashion of "neuroaesthetics" behind?
> I wasn't so much thinking of leaving neuroaesthetics behind as  
> embarking on aesthetico-scientific collaborations that do something  
> different with neuroaesthetics - perhaps intervene into a 'politics  
> of perception'. This means precisely to question methodology,  
> practice and how one 'applies' one's findings...so, for example,  
> does one deploy neuroscience in an aesthetic context to confirm the  
> idea that we are emotionally 'hard wired' or does one deploy  
> neuroaesthetics to suggest that  the neural basis of perception is  
> both transformed and transformative once it is inmixed with  
> technics, culture, other aspects of embodiment etc...
> I think this kind of project is precisely what Paul and Alan engage  
> with in their work 'The Shape of Thought' - which they haven't  
> spoken about!! Another artist engaged in this kind of work is Warren  
> Neidich and to an extent, I think Olafur Eliasson...although both  
> seem to collaborate with transforming ideas etc in neuroscience  
> rather than collaborate with scientists. But Paul and Alan do...
> cheers
> anna
> Dr.Anna Munster
> Senior Lecturer
> School of Art History and Theory
> College of Fine Arts
> P.O. Box 259
> Paddington
> NSW 2021
> 612 9385 0741 (tel)
> 612 9385 0615(fax)
> a.munster at unsw.edu.au
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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