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Is consciousness a technology?

 

Linguistic ability emerged from cognitive capacity. In what ways can consciousness be considered a technology and what are the implications of naming it so?

 

Theories of the evolution of language allow us to think of animal intelligence as the pre-cursor to human cognitive capacity. Considering the intelligence of animals in relation to human evolutionary status is analogous to Donna Haraway’s proposition that we “become with” animals as companion species. 

 

In The Embodied Mind the authors situate their argument for embodied cognition alongside the philosophical problem of examining the mind from within its own boundaries.

 

“Progress” should be considered within the context of the evolution of technological beings on a personal and social scale rather than being tied to the infinite growth model of financial markets with consumers being framed as the all-powerful masters of their devices.

 

"It is about investigating the relationship between technology, gathering and revealing through creation ( [...] where “technology” connotes a mind-set and practice of crafting as much as it does “equipment”), while also seeking to extract knowledge from (this) process."

 

 

Process map

 

Naming is seeing, feeling is knowing.

 

The power of text 

 

Storytelling.

 

The origins of language. Language shaping thought. What is thought without language? What connections of comprehension are still possible?

 

Meditation as a technology?

Technology and evolution.

Technology versus technique. 

Technology as material. 

Techniques as learned behaviour.

 

Consciousness as some kind of sentience, evolutionary state. Awareness.

Meditation as a technique to observe other techniques of thought.

 

Origins of language as symbolic material entities (survival, social - - cultural developments).

 

Buddhist concept of un-naming. 

 

creation. communication.

What matters here?

 

Naming naming. Seeing seeing. Feeling feeling. Knowing knowing. 

 

"Getting on together."

 

Map steps.

 

Practices of doing. Un-doing. Non- doing.

Voix - voir. 

Knowing the difference.

Je me débrouille. Figuring it out.

 

Day of silence.

 

You came, you named, you felt, you knew. And what did you do?

 

In what ways IS thinking   making?

 

"How is thinking itself a multifaceted creative practice?"

 

Thinking - thoughtless thought (like walking). Creative thought (frontal cortex). Imagination.

 

Hunting. Tools. Family. Love. Death. Self. Other. Future. Social groups. Human.

Complex emotion.

 

Is this where imagination comes from? The means to create... tied to communication. Symbolic language. There.

 

MIScommunication. Lack. Loss. 

 

Difference.

 

"Power and authorship fabricate reality."

 

"Techniques - to Activate the differencial"

 

"Reading techniques might include creating a familiarity with how a writer activates a style that moves their thinking, how they create concepts and where the concepts are mobilized."

 

"Here, the text is read not in relation to general ideas, but as its own formative force."

 

"Technique is understood here as an engagement with the modalities of expression a practice invents for itself. " 

 

Non-traditional approach to the presentation of ideas.

 

Leaving room for thought.

 

What have I named? What have you seen?
What do you feel you know?

 

Click the text to resurface at your previous position within the récit.

 

Is consciousness a technology?

1. This question is paradoxical. The earliest record I have of this question being on my mind is from a note I recorded after waking up with ideas in my head in early December 2012. Here is an excerpt: “The original ‘virtual world’ is the mind imagining itself beyond the parameters of the present moment. To escape the virtual is to exist in the consciousness of the present moment, much like the natural state of a less functionally active species (a plant, a rock). Similar to Donna Haraway’s definition of cyborgs, the world is perpetually created and recreated based on the virtual constructs of the past. Previous technologies are so internalized that to exist in this virtual world is in fact to be a technology. Consciousness is a technological development.”

Although I wrote this text late at night and never intended to cite it, I believe I was referring to an idea similar to the following quotation from Haraway’s The Cyborg Manifesto “The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation.” (Simians, Cyborgs and Women, 150)

 

Linguistic ability emerged from cognitive capacity. In what ways can consciousness be considered a technology and what are the implications of naming it so?

2. In 1866 the Société de Linguistique de Paris banned enquiry on the origin of language because of a shortage of empirical evidence. This ban led to a lack of research on the topic throughout the 20th century that is only in recent decades being reversed. In his 1998 publication, Ib Ulbaek states that language evolved from the cognitive capacity for intelligent communication among primates which is clearly evident among apes and other species. Despite unresolved questions concerning the origins of language, there does seem to be a consensus in describing language as a technology.

 

Theories of the evolution of language allow us to think of animal intelligence as the pre-cursor to human cognitive capacity. Considering the intelligence of animals in relation to human evolutionary status is analogous to Donna Haraway’s proposition that we “become with” animals as companion species. 

3. Here are three quotations from When Species Meet that frame what is at stake for Haraway in the question of how we become who we become.

 

“To be one is always to become with many.” (4)

 

“All of these are figures, and all are mundanely here, on this earth, now, asking who “we” will become when species meet.” (5)

 

“Doing without both teleology and human exceptionalism is, in my opinion, essential to getting laptops and lapdogs into one lap.” (12)

 

In The Embodied Mind the authors situate their argument for embodied cognition alongside the philosophical problem of examining the mind from within its own boundaries.

4. Shifting the scope of my research question to the interior world of the mind, this book offers insight into how Eastern and Western philosophy of mind has been co- and cross- examined in the past couple decades. The authors state that the impossible circularity of examining the mind from within its own boundaries was acknowledged by Merleau-Ponty who, after Heidegger’s critique of Husserl on the matter, admitted that “his task was infinite”. What can be learned from examining the mind? In the same way that the mind cannot be examined apart from its cultural construction and practices, we should not think of technology as being apart from the human. 

 

“Progress” should be considered within the context of the evolution of technological beings on a personal and social scale rather than being tied to the infinite growth model of financial markets with consumers being framed as the all-powerful masters of their devices.

5. Ursula Franklin voices her concerns in no uncertain terms regarding who benefits from modern technological developments in the 1989 CBC Massey lectures and subsequent book entitled The Real World of Technology. Franklin describes the dangers of divisible benefits and how societies suffer when unregulated development is enabled and celebrated without critique or care. When viewed on an evolutionary scale, progress includes such developments as social communities forming for the survival of early humans to thrive in a cooperative foraging communities as opposed to the nomadic lifestyle that had previously been the norm. It is in this sense that the survival of a civilization is at stake if progress is measured by corporate profit margins.

 

“It is about investigating the relationship between technology, gathering and revealing through creation where “technology” connotes a mind-set and practice of crafting as much as it does “equipment”), while also seeking to extract knowledge from this process.”

6. This quotation from Owen Chapman and Kim Sawchuk’s paper Research-creation: Intervention, Analysis, and Family Resemblances highlights the mutable, enacted and processual nature of technology, practice, and of reality. The call to extract knowledge begs the question: What constitutes knowledge? In the Heideggerian sense that truth can be revealed, the authors are calling for a flexible though rigorous conception of knowledge. I wish to push this proposition beyond what knowledge is and consider what knowledge does. In this sense knowledge must be tied to its power. Motion can be made tangible and transparent. The motion of thought. The motion of progress.

 

Process map

7. This is the point in my research/writing process where I tried to take stock of where I’d been so far. I felt compelled to map my process after re-reading Erin Manning and Brian Massumi's article Toward a process seed bank: What research-creation can do in which they describe imminent critique as “an act that only knows the conditions of its existence from within its own process, an act that refuses to judge from without.” Two other processes described in this article influenced my research in the following ways. “Techniques of relation” are a domain of practice meant to “catalyze and modulate” collaborative interaction. Mapping techniques of relation among my peers, my instructor, published texts, internet searches, and myself (including my own archives) has been a collaborative process, although not a thoroughly participatory one. The third process described by Manning and Massumi is “enabling constraints”. It may have been useful for me to design more rigorous enabling constraints in the course of this research in order to limit to scope of my sprawling inquiries into consciousness, language, anthropology, and other territories. Incidentally my enabling constraint was time. The temporal limitations and requirements of the course required me to solidify my text at various points. Only minor changes have been made to my main text (which I will refer to as the récit) since my in-class performative reading on December 10, 2015. The récit composed for that presentation shaped what is presented on this web page. 

 

The annotations added here are a guide to the provenance of each element of the récit. Like the tip of an iceberg, my research journey can be re-traced through the thoughts, statements and quotations that I encountered. I have chosen to refer to the text as a récit to differentiate it from this text as a whole.

Selected définitions of récit:

1. Présentation (orale ou écrite) d'événements (réels ou imaginaires).

a) Action de rapporter des événements.

 

There isn’t an English equivalent to this word which, as described above, means “presentation (oral or written) of events (real or imagined). Our bilingual class inspired me to reflect on the differences in how I think in English as opposed to French. 

 

The term récit implies questionable facticity.

 

The forced solidification of my research process privileges partial perspective and recognizes the value of transparency and situated knowledge. This view is informed by Donna Haraway’s critique of the myth scientific objectivity (in Situated Knowledges). This text does not seek to make claims beyond that which it is capable. 

 

Another enabling constraint, although a stressful one, has been the looming expectations of a doctoral research paper. Proper form, legibility, and legitimacy have battled here (albeit in a rather civilized fashion) against creative desires, social impulses and Svādhyāya (a Sanskrit word meaning self-study, meditation on the self, introspection). 

 

The final process described in Manning and Massumi’s article is “to enable pop-up propositions” which they describe as “a cut in the event that gathers momentum around itself, offering a slight intensification, or a full change of direction.” This technique is worthy of further consideration in relation to the performative readings I did.

 

Pop-up propositions did occur during each of my performative readings. The first was during my class recitation when my laptop literally had an error message pop-up saying “Your startup disk is full.” This didn’t alter the planned course of my presentation very much but I suspect it intervened into the thinking of my audience. The second occurrence was during a reading that I held at my residence in order to share the récit with a more intimate audience and have conversation afterwards about the presentation. During my reading I could hear noises coming from someone’s stomach. They were so loud I was nervous that she would feel self-conscious about it during this strange meditative event I’d organised. I tried to leave less silence during my reading to try to hide the sounds. In retrospect I could have let the gut sounds fill the empty space but I didn’t want to derail the séance. This highlights how I clearly had a preconceived notion of how the event should go and this is something to seriously reconsider for future live interventions.

 

Naming is seeing, feeling is knowing.

8.  I first wrote down this phrase in one of my notebooks from April 2015 during a satsang session at an Edmonton yoga studio (satsang is a Sanskrit word that combines sat-truth and sang-company, it describes sitting in discussion with other students and listening to a teacher or guru). This phrase “naming is seeing, feeling is knowing” came back to me many times recently while doing course readings and research. It is not an empirical statement but a proposition. This phrase is an oasis to which I frequently return, maybe I’ll finally leave it behind when I make something of it or determine its truth value.

 

 

The power of text 

 

Storytelling.

9. In her article Towards a Manifesto on Research-creation from the inaugural Polemics section of RACAR Canadian Art Review from July 2015, Natalie Loveless explained why in a recent graduate seminar for artists and designers, she chose to assign two texts in tandem: Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories and Donna Haraway’s Companion Species Manifesto. I listened to Thomas King’s CBC Massey lectures from 2003 (which were the basis for the aforementioned publication) and I understood through his powerful presentations that in addition to what worlds are made or not made through storytelling, the means of communication can be just as important (and often more important) than the content of what is being communicated. This insight influenced my decision to attempt an alternative presentation of ideas when I had the opportunity to share my research with classmates.

 

The following quotation from the second chapter of Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs and Women underscores the power of origin stories in shaping cultural practice:  “We learned that in naming our kind, we could control our kin. Only recently and tentatively have primatologists seriously challenged the indispensability of these sorts of explanations of nature and culture.” (22)

 

I have thought about storytelling numerous times throughout my research process. Haraway presents, time and time again in her creative and forceful work, alternatives to popular “factual” accounts of science, history, anthropology, and of course dogs (among other species). Another example of powerful storytelling is Tara Rodgers’ work to provide accounts of women who have been excluded from the documented history of electronic music. Projects like Pink Noises tells important stories that shape perceptions and practices.

 

The origins of language. Language shaping thought. What is thought without language? What connections of comprehension are still possible?

10. I received positive feedback on these questions from a couple of my classmates, reinforcing my hope that these are productive questions. These questions produce in the reader the effect to which they refer. They propose the exercise of thinking without language which arguably is the only way to answer the question. A true answer could not take the form of words. 

 

Meditation as a technology?

Technology and evolution.

Technology versus technique. 

Technology as material. 

Techniques as learned behaviour.

 

Consciousness as some kind of sentience, evolutionary state. Awareness.

Meditation as a technique to observe other techniques of thought.

11. This sequence of statements map my thought process pursuing the idea of consciousness as a technology. From the origins of language I traced the evolution and innovations of early humans back to the beginning of communal social living which is believed to have contributed significantly to the evolution of homo-sapiens. Technological tools changed the social life and the capabilities of humans out of necessity, and this led to our evolution into homo-sapiens. Dr. Niobe Thompson, anthropologist and director of the The Great Human Odyssey which aired on CBC’s The Nature of Things in a three part series, contends that the resiliency, inventiveness and tenacity of humans led to the development of the modern brain. Technological abilities shaped who we became, but is it useful or simply reductionist to think of every action, idea, and thing as technology? It may be more useful to refer to technological practices as techniques if they occur within the body. In this sense consciousness could be thought of as a technique rather than a technology. Evan Thompson confirms that the traditional Buddhist view of consciousness is that it transcends the brain, it has been compared to a light that illuminates that which it apprehends and thus knows (Waking, Dreaming, Being, prologue).

 

Are humans the technology of the Earth? 

 

Haraway provides the following quotation by the sociobiologist Richard Dawkins, from 1976: “Now they swarm in large colonies, safe inside gigantic, lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by remote control. They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.” (Simians, cyborgs and women, 43)

 

Origins of language as symbolic material entities (survival, social - - cultural developments).

12. According to Niobe Thompson, cave paintings found in South Africa are believed to have been to created to share important information about survival, including depictions of hunting tools and the animals in the region. Is art the cultural surplus of communication tools?

 

Buddhist concept of un-naming. 

13. In 2001 I was perusing a University of Manitoba library and came across some books on Buddhism. I picked up a book called The Eightfold Path and I recall reading about how in order to exercise non-judgement Buddhists should seek to be like a baby who hasn’t yet learned the names for things. What can un-naming un-do? I found a newer version of this book but could not find this particular passage.

 

creation. communication.

 

What matters here?

14. There were times during my research process that I felt adrift. At these times I would try to take stock of where I’d been thus far.

 

Naming naming. Seeing seeing. Feeling feeling. Knowing knowing. 

15. Trying to name, see, feel, and know things for what they are.

 

“Getting on together.”

16. Donna Haraway described the potential of multispecies understanding as follows:  “There is no teleological warrant here, no assured happy or unhappy ending, socially, ecologically, or scientifically. There is only the chance for getting on together with some grace.” (When Species Meet, 15) Kyle McGee describes Bruno Latour's similar purpose “The politics of the cosmos describes the practical problem of living together, or better, the challenge of building a world in which we, humans and nonhumans, can live together in durable association.” (The Normativity of Networks, 77)

 

Implicit within these calls is the need for understanding and empathy. In trying to improve my own techniques of living, I sometimes feel trapped in the reality of those around me. How can we reconcile the contradictions of living in a crowded globalised world, successfully communicate, and survive together along with our nonhuman messmates?

 

Map steps.

 

Practices of doing. Un-doing. Non- doing.

 

Voix - voir. 

Knowing the difference.

Je me débrouille. Figuring it out.

17. How to decolonize? Decapitalize? Thinking in different languages can help. 

 

Mapping thinking processes. Voices tell stories that create worlds. 

 

There isn’t an English word for débrouille, it means to get by, to sort out, to untangle. Here I imply sorting myself out as well as getting by. I like the definition of untangling for how it relates to Haraway’s frequent use of figures, knots and tangles.

 

“Figures are not representations or didactic illustrations, but rather material–semiotic nodes or knots in which diverse bodies and meanings coshape one another. For me, figures have always been where the biological and literary or artistic come together with all of the force of lived reality.” (When Species Meet, 4) Many stories are beyond untangling but recognizing their power can help to adjust it.

 

Day of silence.

18. I would like to attend a silent meditation retreat, there is one near Montreal that requires a minimum ten day stay. I don’t know when I’ll be able to do this so I’ll start with one day, someday soon. A friend who attended a ten day retreat told me that she found it difficult to speak afterwards because of how words felt like they were always crafting lies.

 

You came, you named, you felt, you knew. And what did you do?

19. What you know is what you’ll leave behind.

 

In what ways IS thinking   making?

20. What has been made out of all these thoughts? I hope to communicate.

 

“How is thinking itself a multifaceted creative practice?”

21. This quotation from Erin Manning and Brian Massumi’s aforementioned article conceives of emergent collectivity among collaborators and, I would add collaborations with oneself over time. In reimagining the relations between art and philosophy, thinking and making, emergent practices are required for each instantiation of thought and action. Similarly, re-visiting old ideas and philosophies at various times can provide new iterations from the same ideas. This generative model is self-reflexive, as the authors state: “Each time, under each circumstances, in each practice, a technique is needed for this activation of the overlap between research and creation.” The requirement of addressing the singularity of each event could be considered an “enabling constraint.”  This technique requires awareness.

 

Thinking - thoughtless thought (like walking). Creative thought (frontal cortex). Imagination.

22. Nigel Thrift (2005) describes the technological unconscious as the “actions, expectations, and anticipations that have become so habitual they are “automatized,” sinking below conscious awareness.” (as quoted in Katherine Hayles' How We Think, 96) How do technological tools become a part of everyday practice, enabling techniques that naturally incorporate previous techniques into practice.

 

Hunting. Tools. Family. Love. Death. Self. Other. Future. Social groups. Human.

 

Complex emotion. Is this where imagination comes from? The means to create... tied to communication. Symbolic language. There.

23. This section distills and reiterates the lineage that has been traced. I’m curious about the relationship between evolution, language, culture, and art.

 

MIScommunication. Lack. Loss. 

24. Deconstructionists frequently state that “every reading is a mis-reading.” Does art attempt to fulfill where language fails? 

 

Difference.

25. Jean Guitton, a mentor of Althusser stated: “Si tout est rose, rien n’est rose” (“If everything is pink, nothing is.”)

 

“Power and authorship fabricate reality.”

26. This a quotation from Donna Haraway (Simians, Cyborgs and Women, 74) reiterates the power of stories to create worlds, and how power is tied to certain forms of storytelling such as the written word, or statements made under the guise of scientific facts.

 

Techniques - to activate the differencial

27. Manning and Massumi describe immanent critique as “one technique for the activation of the differential between research and creation.” In practice I cannot identify the differential between my research and creation work so I don’t know how to activate it. Does this lack of difference activate the difference?

 

I altered the spelling of differential as a reminder to myself to articulate the word with emphasis on “difference” with “-tial” added (diff-er-en-ce-she-al) when reading this work aloud in an effort to make listeners aware of my mediation of the words. Ideally this would highlight the temporality of the reading, and my presence as an author. 

 

"Reading techniques might include creating a familiarity with how a writer activates a style that moves their thinking, how they create concepts and where the concepts are mobilized.”

28. This quotation from Manning and Massumi is included particularly for the live reading. How does the method of speech and sound delivery affect the presentation of the ideas and what they mobilize?

 

“Here, the text is read not in relation to general ideas, but as its own formative force.”

 

"Technique is understood here as an engagement with the modalities of expression a practice invents for itself. " 

29.What modalities of expression does this research compel and necessitate? Techniques have emerged from the process.

 

Non-traditional approach to the presentation of ideas.

30. A comment intended to contextualise the reading of this text.

 

Leaving room for thought.

31. A comment intended to justify the method of reading this text.

 

What have I named? What have you seen?
What do you feel you know?

32. An attempt to water the seeds planted within the minds of listeners or readers.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

​© 2012 - 2019 by Emilie St-Hilaire

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