The Mind-Expanding Ideas of Andy Clark

The New Yorker finally got around to predictive processing with Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of Andy Clark. Clark is the author of Surfing Uncertainty, the premier book on the subject.

Perception did not, then, simply work from the bottom up; it worked first from the top down. What you saw was not just a signal from the eye, say, but a combination of that signal and the brain’s own ideas about what it expected to see… Continue reading “The Mind-Expanding Ideas of Andy Clark”

Predictive Processing & Art as Cognitive Remodeling

I.

Visual art — representational imagery — begins somewhere between fifty and one-hundred thousand years ago, overlapping with the Upper Paleolithic Transition. The period consists of rapid gains in tool technologies alongside the beginnings of modern symbolic thought, with human societies developing currency systems, dispersed social organizations, and increasingly sophisticated religious belief.

To Alva Nöe, writing in 2015’s Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature, the religious and social practices which began in this era, such as funerary rites, rites of passage, religious ceremony, symbolic adornment, and complex linguistic interactions, are examples of organized activities, “evolving patterns of organization” within which humans are embedded. Modern examples include driving a car in a highway system or navigating the complexities of workplace protocol — both being situations where we act improvisationally, within sets of constraints, and using established scripts, pre-determined by the situation’s structural context. Continue reading “Predictive Processing & Art as Cognitive Remodeling”

Art as the Antithesis of Design

From the footnotes of an upcoming piece examining predictive processing and Alva Nöe’s 2015 work on aesthetics, Strange Tools:

Nöe makes [his] argument through exclusion: art practices which are not interrogative, which do not challenge existing structures and practices are not, technically speaking, art. Pop songs, to Nöe, aren’t musical art, they’re a first-level human practice (or “organized activity”) called “song-making.” Choreography can be art, but “dancing” as practiced by amateurs and many professionals is an organized activity. Continue reading “Art as the Antithesis of Design”

Effect Ideas and Close Encounters

Gabriel Duquette of Liposuction has raised a number of objections to my insertion of effect-ideas into his maps/chords dualism. Either effect-ideas are not real, he argues, or they are not significant. They are trivial in that they are wildly personal, unpredictable, and unengineerable. Read rather than written into texts, they are the creations of readers and audiences instead of artists and authors. It is akin to ruminating on a rock for hours at end, and then pretending the rock had instigated the conversation. Continue reading “Effect Ideas and Close Encounters”

A Possibility for Artistic “Meaning”

Interested in literary or artistic "meaning" as the sum of all infinite interrelationships between a work of art/literature and the equally infinite set of all data points which exist both inside the work and out in the world. These data points include, but are not limited to, the composition of society in its entirety, both at the time of the work's creation and every time before or since; the position of the artist/author within society during every moment of his lifetime and also before/since; all facts and biographies about audiences/readers both real and hypothetical; every included word's complete etymological history and complete history of usage (also, important in their negation, the histories of excluded words as well); and all physical facts about the universe. Continue reading “A Possibility for Artistic “Meaning””

Maps, Chords, and Effect Ideas

 

“A dramatic presentation should be an act of initiation during which the spectator will be awed and even terrified… During that experience of terror or frenzy… the spectator will be in a position to understand a new set of truths, superhuman in quality.” (Wallace Fowlie on Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty”)

Gabe Duquette, writing at Liposuction, divides artistic fit into two categories: chords and maps.

Chords are elements combined in a way that is appealing, but not because the combination describes reality. Chords exploit the many evolved sweet spots of the senses. They can be comprised of “real” things but prioritize creation of an experience over transmission of knowledge. Chords can be consonant or dissonant — the sum of their parts can elicit pleasure or irritation, or even revulsion. Chocolate and peanut butter fit better than chocolate and ketchup. Continue reading “Maps, Chords, and Effect Ideas”

Excerpts from Alva Nöe’s Strange Tools

"Tools are useful only against the background of our needs and capacities. Let’s return to the doorknob. A simple bit of technology, yes, but one that presupposes a vast and remarkable social background. Doorknobs exist in the context of a whole form of life, a whole biology—the existence of doors, and buildings, and passages, the human body, the hand, and so on. A designer of doorknobs makes a simple artifact, but does so with an eye to its mesh with this larger cognitive and anthropological framework." (99) Continue reading “Excerpts from Alva Nöe’s Strange Tools”

Intro to Cargocult

In the Second World War, Allied troops airdropped massive amounts of food, weaponry, and supplies onto the Melanesian islands as part of their island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. To the islanders, isolated from industrialization, the wealth and abundance of these drops were interpreted within a mystical, quasi-religious framework. When the war ended, and the airlifts dwindled to a stop, cults emerged among islanders attempting to ritualistically summon more supplies. Lacking an understanding of the core mechanisms behind the airdrops — a world war, mechanized flight, the Allied island-hopping offensive — these so-called cargo cults began constructing imitation runways, dressing like U.S. soldiers, and praying that supplies would come without success.

Continue reading “Intro to Cargocult”

Art As Engineering

A Conversation with Gabriel Duquette and Haley Thurston

Gabriel Duquette is a co-founder of Liposuction (tagline “aesthetics without all the fat”). He started the site with Haley Thurston, who studied art at Yale before contributing to Carcinistion and Ribbonfarm (her more casual art writing can be found at The Sublemon). Both are interested primarily in “retro-engineering” and applying “epistemic hygiene” to matters of taste and aesthetics. They write loosely within the community — and from the intellectual framework — of postrationalism (alongside critics like Sarah Perry and Venkatesh Rao).

Continue reading “Art As Engineering”