Workshop: If the Body Is Part of Our Discourse, Why Not Let It Speak?

Workshop: If the Body Is Part of Our Discourse, Why Not Let It Speak?, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone.

Moving together in addition to talking together: what could be more natural? Don’t we anyway need dynamic happenings to carry us forward, to sweep us off our seats into the afterlife of postmodernism, critical theory, the year of the brain, and other kinetically immobilizing academic movements? Moving together puts us at the brink of largely unexplored territory, plunges us into the largely unknown domain of kinesthesia, the felt dynamics of a moving body. When we improvise together in movement, we find that, precisely because movement is our mother tongue, we do not need a teacher or a class situation; neither do we need to fear being put on the spot since, moving together, there is no spot on which anyone can be put. Because movement comes with life, we have the capacity to improvise in multiple ways: sounds come from a piano; lines come from a crayon. In fact, we improvise all the time in words: we enter into conversations daily without planning what we’ll say. The movement workshop will provide a communal experiential point of departure for discussions about our mother tongue, a tongue we as adults ordinarily tend to tie up. It will draw on wholly natural kinetic dimensions of our humanness and basic facets of our interpersonal lives that are anchored in elemental aspects of movement and human sociality.

You will be most comfortable if you wear non-binding clothes and have no reservations about removing your shoes.

Panel: Embodiment and Aesthetics

Michael Fuller: Neuronal Post-Structuralism: A Humanist’s Perspective on the Mathematics of the Construction of Memory

In recent years, coordination between research in the mathematics of biologically plausible neural networks and studies in the dynamics of cortical activation has produced very successful models in which each cortical layer develops a predictive model of the dimensionality of the “world” of data received from below. These self-organizing maps work by a mathematical logic of mutual differentiation, in which the ever more complex “objects” represented in successively higher-order maps are not atomic but follow the structuralist rule of “meaning by difference.” This paper argues that when one takes into account the sorts of emotional systems that Jaak Panksepp delineated and others have explored in the field of affective neuroscience (the amygdala, the dopamine system for novelty detection, oxytocin hormonal production, etc.) and their role in biasing the construction of memory—from the basic development of intermediate self-organizing maps to the construction of semantic memory out of the details of episodic memory—it becomes clear that memory, the mapping of experience, and the construction of the self are not structuralist but post-structuralist. The specific ways the world impinges significantly on the body and the ways in which these events are mapped in the cortical structures of the brain—in joy as well as in sorrow, fear, pain, thirst, and hunger—define a semantic realm that is not neutral but is shaped from the beginning by a logic of bodily need, pleasure, power, and control.

Peter Cariani, Time is of the essence

Temporal order and pattern is a common aspect of events in the world and their representations in brains, yet time is still our “lost dimension.”

We are developing a general theory of brain function based on direct temporal coding of perceptual qualities, event timings, anticipatory predictions, and coordinated actions. The theory is based on neural timing net architectures that operate on complex temporal patterns of spikes (i.e., an alternative to both classical symbol systems and connectionism). Multidimensional time codes afford high-dimension vectorial representations, neural signal multiplexing, broadcast strategies of goal-directed coordination and informational integration, and nonlocal, content-addressable memory. Short-term temporal memory traces consisting of complex temporal spike patterns circulate in and are actively regenerated by neuronal circuits (loops, re-entrant paths,). Neuronal signals related to current motivational and affective states permeate these regenerated patterns and temporal memory traces. Neural information processing is realized though competitive and cooperative vector dynamics of interacting complex temporal patterns of spikes, with goal-signals steering behavior.

Those signals actively amplified and regenerated within global neuronal workspaces form the contents of current conscious awareness (neurophenomenal isomorphisms, bridge laws). In cybernetic terms, the self can be seen as a locus of control for a purposive, adaptive goal-directed percept-action system (realm of internal circular causation).

If the brain is a temporal anticipatory system, then time becomes a common unifying dimension of both perception and action, such that each directly informs the other. Music impresses its time structure widely on temporal firing patterns of many diverse neuronal populations. Temporal microstructures yield musical pitches, timbres; event timing macrostructures yield rhythms, meters. Temporal pattern expectancies are created by pattern repetitions (reinforcements) and divergences (violations). Coordinated movement requires coherent timing of muscle activations, with resulting temporal patterns of action fed back to the brain via stretch receptors (muscle motion) and sensed subsequent environmental changes.

“Luis H. Favela, An Introduction to Radical Embodied Cognitive Neuroscience

Embodied cognition is no longer a fringe movement in the mind sciences. With few exceptions among the less radically inclined, embodied cognition is generally relegated to investigating and explaining lower order cognitive processes involving perception-action and not higher order cognitive processes such as abstract thinking and imagination. Those who accept that lower order cognition could be cases of embodied cognition, but who resist the idea that higher order cognition is also embodied, often demonstrate two commitments: First, cognition functions via representations and manipulations on those representations; and second, explanatory “smallism.” In the cognitive, neural, and psychological sciences, explanatory smallism is the idea that cognitive phenomena are not explained until the account stops at small things like neurons or molecules.

What follows is an introduction to a non-representational, non-computational, and non-smallist framework for investigating and understanding both lower order and higher order cognition: radical embodied cognitive neuroscience. Radical embodied cognitive neuroscience treats cognition as systems phenomena that spread across brain, body, and environment. Unlike its predecessor, radical embodied cognitive science, radical embodied cognitive neuroscience explicitly places the brain and central nervous system within its explanatory purview. By utilizing a kind of computational modeling (i.e., nested dynamical modeling) and conducting research guided by the search for and application of principles of activity (e.g., self-organized criticality), radical embodied cognitive neuroscience provides a scale-free framework for investigating both lower order and higher order cognition. Such a framework can facilitate accounts of phenomena as apparently disparate as single neurons and neural networks, to coordination activities among dyads and larger groups of agents.

Geoffrey Bowker, Where is the body in all this?

Many of us are entering into modalities of increased instrumentation and data analytics – either from outside our bodies (through the emergent Internet of Things) or through our bodies themselves (the quantified self). I explore the emergent ontology of the body in this new era. After an historical survey of the body and technology from eighteenth century govermentality through Samuel Butler’s Erwhon to the present, I argue that this new era is one in which we are distributing bodily qualities and cognition between these instruments and our bodies, in such a way as to dissolve distinctions between the two.

Panel: Where is the body in Code?

Sofian Audry, Aesthetics of Adaptive Behaviors in Agent-based Art

Since the post-war era, a range of artists have used embodied, artificial agents in media installations. Their work runs in parallel with scientific research in domains associated with Computer Science, such as Cybernetics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Artificial Life (AL). Two important concepts are central to these scientific approaches: emergence — the mechanism whereby higher-order forms or processes emanate from the complex interactions of lower-order units — and adaptation — the real-time adjustment of a machine to achieve a better performance in its environment. Recent advances in AI are largely attributable to major breakthroughs in the fields of Artificial Neural Networks and Machine Learning, both of which feed upon these two core ideas. But while notions of adaptation and learning are an extremely important part of that research, artists and media theorists working with agent-based systems have widely ignored them, often in favor of emergence and self-organization. Inasmuch as emergence offers a rich ground for art-making, adaptation offers an equally important, yet complementary dimension of it. To re-position adaptive systems within the theoretical and practical field of agent-based artworks, I examine (1) the historical context surrounding adaptive systems; (2) its relationship with emergence and self-organization; and (3) the aesthetic potential of Machine Learning algorithms by examining their intrinsic characteristics. Building upon that research, I propose an aesthetic framework for adaptive systems based on the morphological aspects of agent behaviors as they evolve through time, supported by examples from my own art practice.

Fabio Paolizzo, Enabling Embodied Analogies in Interactive Music Systems

When human beings make or listen to music, they regularly draw on analogies to other forms of knowledge and embody how they feel through their own body. Recent advances in interactive music systems brought a dramatic increase in human-centered and reflexive retrieval and indexing methods based on subjective concepts such as emotion, preference and aesthetics. However, listeners are able to change their semantic relations with the sonic world through functional adaptation at the level of sensing, acting and coordinating between action and perception, in biological, psychological, and cultural terms that involve motor, kinesthetic, haptic and visual, besides the purely auditory components. Still, current interactive music systems have no “embeddedness” in a world beyond what they immediately do. Implementing some understanding of how we feel and attribute meaning, when interacting with music technology, requires next-generation systems of interactive music and information retrieval to operate in terms that can represent human cognition as multimodal and embodied. Investigating how we translate between these domains, “making analogies”, is the aim of the Musical-Moods project: a mood-indexed database of scores, lyrics, musical excerpts, vector-based 3D animations, and dance video recordings.

The research is aimed at cross-modal machine learning and uses multidisciplinary tools and methods drawn from a broad range of disciplines, including music, musicology, dance, motion capture, human-computer interaction, computational linguistics and audio signal processing. Current activities involve: (1) adapting wisdom-of-the-crowd approaches to embodiment in music and dance performance to create a dataset of music and music lyrics that covers a variety of emotions, and (2) applying audio/language-informed machine learning techniques to that dataset to identify automatically the emotional content of the music and the lyrics.

John Seberger, Affordances and Mediation: The Disappearing Subject in Computerized Empiricism

James Gibson initially described affordances as relational possibilities mutually arising from the visual, biological, temporal, and spatial characteristics of animals and environments. For him, affordances bridged the subject/object dichotomy and were not exclusively resident in either category. Contemporary technologists, on the other hand, frequently define affordances as properties of apparatuses. In this paper, I discuss the impacts of this discursive mutation of ‘affordances’ in terms of the emergent and increasingly pervasive epistemic culture of computerization—one fundamentally grounded in the mediation of post-Enlightenment empiricism.

Beginning in the early 19th century, as agents of empiricism shifted their gaze to naturally imperceptible phenomena, direct observation was gradually replaced by mediated observation. In such mediated observation, the apparatuses increasingly definitive of empirical knowledge production took on characteristics of both subject and object, becoming chimeric. As empiricists’ imperceptible phenomena expanded to include topics of massive scale—the social, the informatic, the ecological—the affordances arising between subject and object came to be categorized as properties of the apparatus. As if by transference, the dyad of observer and observed became the lens; as if by amnesia, empirical knowledge production became ‘always already’ mediated.

Through an analysis of various apparatuses and related literature, I identify a set of possible ramifications of this discursive shift in ‘affordances.’ I argue that contemporary technologists’ tendency to locate affordances exclusively in apparatuses is a symptom of an emergent epistemic culture that risks the future invalidation of knowledge produced via the dynamic, unmediated relationships between subjects and objects.

Chris Salter, Technologies of Sense: Quantification, Embodiment and Making up People in the Age of the Data Driven Self

In “Making Up People,” philosopher of science Ian Hacking famously argued that the human sciences through counting, correlation and quantification “create new kinds of people that in a certain sense did not exist before.” Yet, unlike Hacking’s 19th century statistical models, our systems of calculation are based on algorithms, self-organized networks of smart sensor nodes and machine learning within the context of what Andrejevic (2014) has called “the sensor society” – “in which the interactive devices and applications that populate the digital information environment come to double as sensors” and […] “emerging practices of data use complicate and reconfigure received categories of privacy, surveillance, and even sense-making.” SImultaneously, our increased habitation within these new sensory environments produces a strange double bind where we are torn between different forms of subject-hood – becoming “new objects” of sensory inquiry (to update Hacking) – and different understandings of what human experience is and can be. One form relies on measures gathered by sensors that track biophysical data to provide a portrait of the self as “quantified,” and “conductable” (Foucault), while the other exploits new experiences of sensory-based, bodily-driven affects produced by encounters with multi-modal, real time haptic, visual, acoustic, olfactory and other technologies that organize what Hayek called “the sensory order” in previously unprecedented ways. From worn haptic devices to the tracking of sense modalities on bodies, such “technologies of the senses” are exploited to “make up” new people with heightened sensory awareness who, simultaneously, increasingly rely on numbers as forms of sensory truth and self knowledge. Using examples from recent art practice that critically examine this double bind, this talk explores the construction of a new form of “sensory reason” which only serves to heighten the age old tensions between mind and body, external calculation and felt, “phenomenal” data (Varela).