[-empyre-] neuroaesthetics and modeling

Alan Dunning einsteins-brain-project at shaw.ca
Sat Sep 27 08:22:42 EST 2008

  Alain Robbe-Grillet's work, the descrepant returns of memory and the 
descriptive languor of the work presents a model for imagining a 
world that is really beyond description . Robbe-Grillet's thesis 
that the physical world is true reality, that the only way to 
approach memory is through physical objects, was an early influence 
in taking me in a quite different direction.

The attempt to describe a world really brings into sharp focus for me 
the impossibility of doing so. The description is always be 
deficient. (pace, all you mathematicians) Never complete, never 
Much like the perceptual deficiencies that Paul and I played with in 
works like the Errant Eye, the very act of description is a 
fundamental acceptance of its ever receding limits. (I am reminded of 
Benjamin's "...the inventory of the streets is inexhaustible. or Dr. 
Johnson's never complete dictionary)

Again, presence and absence. Ruptures and breaks  in the cognitive 
connective tissue (the missing links) are at least as important as 
the links that are present, as they enable some empathetic modes of 
communication rather than inferential interpretation.

I have described the forms in Shapes of Thought as more paradoxical 
spongy mirrors than repositories of information. That they hold 
retrievable information is not in doubt - the EEG activity of the 
participants' can be peeled away like the thousand layers of an 
onion. But, they are quite resistant to simple interpretation, 
reflecting and absorbing what is brought to them,  in response to the 
ebbs and flows of recursive and reflexive distributed cognitive acts. 
The acts of understanding here are more to do with osmosis and 
diffusion than they are with inference - the form, perhaps the 
descrepant memory of the form, acting as a kind of recombinant 
membrane across which cognition occurs.

More white hole than black hole, their event horizon is always 
receding. They are intangible in a way that goes beyond the virtual. 
There is more that is absent than is present in these forms.  Even as 
they are connected to the numbers streaming from the brain, they have 
no real connection at all, as the connection is instantly 
reconfigured away, as Paul says, from its original intent and purpose.

I wonder if the very complexity of artworks, their constant state of 
becoming, of being re-imagined,doesn't render them unusable for 
experimental purposes, even as it reaffirms their power as agents for 


>just a quick thought. i am very taken by your concept of visual 
>excess and demonstrating connecctions between/among unlikely forms 
>that goes BEYOND information. going back to michelle's question: 
>complex art works like these might give brain scientists the tools 
>to understand and devise experiments that foreground the difference 
>between signal/information and the creation of understanding.
>my best, barbara
>On Sep 24, 2008, at 11:39 PM, Paul Woodrow wrote:
>>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 viewer.
>>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...
>>>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
>>>empyre forum
>>>empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>>empyre forum
>>empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>empyre forum
>empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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