Panel: Experimental Collective Experience

Xin Wei Sha, Textural articulation and rhythm as non-anthropocentric approaches to individuation

Attending to rhythm can help get a grip on collective experience without resorting to a-priori homunculi selves or anthropocentric objects. Rhythm is not sense data — it is not perceived but apperceived. Rhythm arises from body encountering a variation in matter – movement. Taking the converse, we can generalize beyond fleshy human bodies and physical matter to more extended entities. Then rhythm becomes an instrument for non-anthropocentrically examining enaction, gesture, materiality, retrospection and anticipation.

But how can we understand dynamic, change, rhythm without resorting to abstracting procedures without resorting to “time” and “clocks” as a priori abstractions? Does rhythm, even if irregular, require some notion of repetition and rigorous methods for detecting repetition in situ? What concepts of rhythm can afford insights into complex bio-social phenomena at multiple scales, insights that are rigorous and yet do not reduce the phenomena too much? These raise in turn profound and methodologically significant questions about repetition, difference and identity.

To qualify: (1) Temporality means the sense of dynamic or variation of state. (2) Sense is not attached to a pre-given subject. (3) Articulation means not representation but material-semiotically shaping, a mode of ontogenesis (vs. morphogenesis). (4) time-based media means all kinds of distributions of light, sound, matter that vary in concert with contingent activity as well as design.

I will present installation-performance experiments from 10 years of work that simultaneously constitute non-reductive experiments in temporality and non-anthropocentric, ethico-aesthetic spaces of play. These range from movement studies and time-conditioning installations to studies of vegetal experience in philosophy and dance.

Elizaveta Solomonova, Embodied dreaming and improvisation in public and private places: contribution of neurophenomenology and art practice to subjectivity research

he ubiquity of technology is serving the increasing demands not only for information and connectivity, but also for externalization and abstraction of certain subjective facilities, such as personal memory and interpersonal activities. The use of media technology is overwhelmingly representational and modular. Recent approaches to study of brain dynamics and lived experience, however, show that the brain is a plastic and dynamic organ, always changing in response to the organism’s life, therefore challenging the determinate, representational and modular view of the mind.
The importance of focusing on nuanced methodologies for collecting and shaping subjective experience is slowly being recognized as a cornerstone not only for fundamental sciences and philosophy, but also for applied disciplines, such as architecture, urban planning, sociology and technologies of performance. Recent neurophenomenological research on lived experience draws on insights from phenomenology of embodiment, brain dynamics and nuanced first-person reports of experience to elucidate the sense-making process of subjectivity. Studies of varieties of experiences, including contemplative experience and dream practices, suggest that individual experience is organically coupled with physical and social spaces and is mediated by playful intersubjective, performative actions.

In this presentation I will discuss some of the strategies of employing neurophenomenological and media methodologies to inform investigation of not only private but also shared collective experiences. The embodied, enactive and intersubjective dimensions of lived experience can manifest themselves through a lens of a performative, process-based framework. I will present examples from collaborative projects, informed by phenomenology, neuroscience, and augmented media installations. Spontaneous mental activity, in form of private experience, or an utterance, or gesture in shared space, can be seen as improvisational play, thus illuminating creative interpersonal dimensions and the associative nature of subjectivity. Such research facilitates de-centering of subjectivity and emphasizes the shared, intersubjective and temporal qualities of experience.

Adrian Freed and John MacCallum, Sounds from the Electrified Human Body: Reconfigurations of Embodied and Encultured Knowledge from the development of Electrosomatophones

Until the twentieth century, fundamental discoveries of electricity were experienced and articulated by integrating the living and dead flesh of human and other animal bodies into electrical circuits. Examples of this include Watson’s flying boy capacitors, Galvani’s frog motors, Franklin’s batteries, Volta’s pile, Pages’ inductors, Meucci’s telephone and Gray’s musical telegraph. Public demonstrations of electrified bodies were largely abandoned in the early 1900’s as electrical engineering professionalized, power levels increased, electrocutions terrified, and doctors prohibited.

The production of electrosomatophones, musical instruments that incorporate electricity in human bodies for sound production, was not slowed by the establishment of this taboo against direct human contact with the “electrical fire”, but the taboo did induce a significant change in practice: a shift away from direct current flows through bodies to electrical field modulations of the body–as typified by the Theremin of 1920 and musical instrument “apps” that use the touch screens of today’s mobile telephones. Visceral experience of electricity is attenuated by this move to very low currents and electric field interactions. The resulting mystification profoundly reconfigured and conditioned embodied and encultured knowledge of electricity.

These changes will be critically examined by surveying the practice and discourse of the last 300 years of electrosomatophone development including the Denis d’or of Václav Prokop Diviš in 1748, Gray’s devices of the late 1800’s, Theremin in the early 1900’s, Eremeeff, Trautwein, Lertes, Heller in the 1930’s, Le Caine in the 1950’s, Michel Waisvisz and Don Buchla in the 1960’s, Salvatori Martirano and the Circuit Benders in the 1970’s, and Smule Inc. in this decade.

Samuel Veissière, Phenomenality, Narrativity, Tulpamancy; Experience Without Subjects?

I this paper, I examine what the phenomenology of sentient imaginary companions conjured through “thoughtform” meditative practice can teach us about the collective mediation of personhood and experience – “culture” for shorts. I go on to ask whether it is ontologically and ethically honest to hang on to the notion of “the Self”. Can we really speak of experience without subjects?

In fleshing out these questions, I outline a basic cultural neurophenomenology of sociality—the tendency for humans to form cooperative groups and experience shared ways of representing, enacting, and embodying experience. I introduce the notion of interphenomenality to describe the sensory, “what it feels like” aspects of lived experience for humans who come to develop similar ways of feeling and narrativizing their selves. I argue that most of what counts as personhood for humans is shaped, induced, and automatized in ontogeny through selective processes of joint attention that are best described as hypnotic, and discuss my ethnographic and neurophenomenological study of the emerging culture of tulpamancy as a case in point to theorize these mechanisms. Tulpas (a term borrowed from Tibetan Buddhism) are sentient imaginary companions conjured through “thoughtform” meditative practice. Tulpamancy, I offer, presents a fascinating case-study to shed light on fundamentally human cultural-phenomenal mechanisms through which transient, hypnotic, asymmetrically collective, but somatically grounded experiences of personhood invariably arise—and can be altered! In the end, I return to basic onto-epistemic and ethical questions about what counts as a person, and how personhood is knowable. Are we ready to abandon our commitment to the givenness of first-personal experience as a minimal requirement for sentience and consciousness?