[-empyre-] neuroaesthetics and modeling

Andrew Murphie andrew.murphie at gmail.com
Mon Sep 29 12:00:54 EST 2008


Hi All,

what a great discussion - especially I have to say in terms of the
generation of questions and problems (in the best sense of the word).
So thanks to everyone ... I'll keep this reply brief after my last
epic post!

On modelling:

I mean three things by this:

1. models are everywhere - that is, relatively static models. We all
have them of course, in spades, and they aren't all in harmony. I, for
example, often rely on astrological models, even though (being a Virgo
and a therefore a good materialist) I don't believe in astrology.
Indeed there should be an office for lost models, perhaps a recycling
bin for them.. or maybe a kind of population theory of models ... what
the species are, how they interact, how they evolve  maybe we need
conflict resolution workshops for models ... today's favourite model
for me is the "black swan" model developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
... which is kind of an anti-model in that the black swan event is
that which you didn't model for (cf. current economic woes), so that
the "black swan" is also that which you most have to take into account
in modelling ... of course, there's an obvious paradox here, but
that's how it always is with models. Neuroscience makes this very
clear at this stage of its development. But art has always involved
modelling, from life drawing on ... and often gestures towards a
"faithful modelling" of the world, indeed at times a scientifically
faithful modelling of the world (impressionism comes to mind of
course) ...

2. modelling is everywhere - this is very different to 1. it is an
ongoing process of matching/mismatching ... from "modelling" the path
of a frisbee or a wave under your surfboard, to an open modelling of
brain function (most famously in notions of brain plasticity). Here
modelling might, as Anna has suggested, mean unmodelling (to
paraphrase Deleuze and Guattari, there is no model without an unmodel
... you have to break old models to make new ones ... or better,
models are constant falling apart as much as coming together ....
science accepts this with rigour while trying to outwit it, while art
investigates this and often celebrates it ... crucially, you don't
need "a model" to indulge in modelling ... as per Paul and Alan's The
Shape of Thought suggests as quote below ....

"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."

Then there is what Tim Murray refers to as what:

"Paul calls "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. ""

Although I think scientific values might be extended into the
direction of imaginary-worlds (if not in refereed papers, but perhaps
in other aspects of what Stengers calls the ecology of practices
involved).

or think of pottery as a model for neuroaesthetics, rather than life
drawing ... ;)

Guattari writes of metamodelization ... allowing yourself to work with
any models that appear useful, while refusing to identify closely with
any of them ... in other words, letting them slide with experience ...
which makes for a happy contagion and ongoing mix in a pragmatic
approach to life ... however the brain works, this seems to be
something close to what it does ... which leads to

3. the brain is a modelling machine par excellence, but the crucial
question for us all, artist, scientists, cultural theorists ... is *in
which sense? ...  so this is not to say that the brain is fully
modellable, or that it is full of "models" like purple cows, or the
two-party system, or even that it necessarily "represents" things. As
Rodney Brooks, Varela, Thompson, John Sutton and Andy Clark and others
- including poststructuralists such as Deleuze and Guattari (or Hayles
or Haraway) suggest, the brain might just engage with the world as its
own best model ...

a crucial question in aesthetic terms here is what a sign might be
under these circumstances .. I like Deleuze's understanding of it a
kind of ongoing and dynamic contraction of habit (which is here
repetition and difference simultaneously) ... inter-ecological as well
as intra-ecological ... .

put these three together and you have what might be something like the
suspect field of neuroaesthetics, although thought quite differently
from those who try to pin down aesthetic experience, or in fact
perception in general, in terms of fixed and final models.

...

This might mean that "neuroaesthetics" might question the boundaries
of science, art and philosophy, and much more .... if I can be
forgiven, here is one of the conclusions of a recent article I've
written which perhaps sums up the problem from my point of view ...

If the brain is the "junction" then this is a junction in which
neither science in general, nor neuroscience in particular, should
expect to remain themselves. As Arkady Plotnisky puts it, Deleuze and
Guattari see the  "possibility of a different future of thought, in
which the boundary between philosophy, art and science and even all
three themselves disappears back into the chaosmic field of thought"
(2006: 53). The most important questions to consider (especially at
the junction of the biological/social, neuroscience, and what we have
called here "neuroaesthetics), are "the problems of interference
between the planes that join up in the brain" (54). This interference
seems particularly acute in neuroscience's case.

Maybe the more so in "neuroaesethetics", and at the same time, in
neuroscience considered aesthetically .. in other words, I'm perhaps
suggesting that neuroscience always has been a necessarily aesthetic
approach to the world ..

best, Andrew

2008/9/27 Alan Dunning <einsteins-brain-project at shaw.ca>
>
>  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 unassailable.
> 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 change.
> Alan
>
>
>
> 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...
>
> cheers
>
> anna
>
> Dr.Anna Munster
>
> Senior Lecturer
>
> School of Art History and Theory
>
> College of Fine Arts
>
> UNSW
>
> P.O. Box 259
>
> Paddington
>
> NSW 2021
>
> 612 9385 0741 (tel)
>
> 612 9385 0615(fax)
>
> a.munster at unsw.edu.au
>
>
>
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--
"Take me to the operator, I want to ask some questions" - Barbara Morgenstern

"A traveller, who has lost his way, should not ask, Where am I? What
he really wants to know is, Where are the other places" - Alfred North
Whitehead

"I thought I had reached port; but I seemed to be cast back again into
the open sea" (Deleuze and Guattari, after Leibniz)

Andrew Murphie - Associate Professor
School of English, Media and Performing Arts, University of New South
Wales, Sydney, Australia, 2052
Editor - The Fibreculture Journal http://journal.fibreculture.org/>
web:
http://www.andrewmurphie.org/
http://www.andrewmurphie.org/blog/
http://www.last.fm/user/andersand/
http://researchhub.cofa.unsw.edu.au/ccap/

fax:612 93856812 tlf:612 93855548 email: a.murphie at unsw.edu.au
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