Superconsciousness

Posted by Rhizome | Sun Feb 9th 1997 1 a.m.

Superconsciousness: part 3 of 3 excerpted from the Consciousness
Reframed listserve

[The Consciousness Reframed listserve was an internet based discussion
forum for artists, theorists and others associated with the
Consciousness Reframed conference at Newport, Wales, UK. The conference
was called by Roy Ascott, Professor of New media at the Gwent College of
Art, to discuss the impact of new technologies on notions of self and
consciousness.]

2.1.97

Stephen Jones wrote: "1: What then of the possibilities for developing a
non-carbon-based, intelligent or conscious artificial device or system?
2: That is, for example, is a conscious silicon computer possible? [See
the article on Neural Networks and the Computational Brain]"

Simon Biggs wrote: Gregory Pleshaw wrote: "I find it somewhat sad that
the end-result of any research into the nature or habits of
consciousness would seek its end result in the creation of a computer
that thinks (or a thinker that behaves like a computer, for that
matter...) If any credence at all is to be given to theorists like Peter
Russell, (The Global Brain theory) or James Lovelock(?) who wrote "The
Gaian Hypotheses" it would seem that the horizon line towards which
consciousness is headed is not an Eliza program with the intelligence of
an eight-year-old, but rather a superconsciousness inclusive not only of
human mind groupings, (Russell), but planetary inclusivity of "all
sentients beings" to quote the 'elders' of my particular faith-leaning.
(Gaian notions.)"

Avon Huxor wrote in his PhD thesis (not sure where it is published,
Middlesex University, about 1993) that AI is mistaken in seeking to
achieve any of the above. He put forward a very different model, where
the issue was dealt with as language. As such, he argued that computers,
as language machines, and people (similar in this regard) made a very
powerful combination. He followed this through to the idea that
computing, as conceived in AI, is just language...both an instance of
language and the totality of language itself (parole and langue). He
sought to seperate this from ideas about conciousness, as he felt that
this derailed what could be seen as a reasonable objective in AI, the
notion of a writing machine. Notably, Terry Winograd has supported this
thesis as well.

This argument is usually codified in academia as the Hard AI/Soft AI
debate.

Gregory's idea of a superconsciousness might well be close to Avon's
argument, in that if we accept that language is that from which
instances of self are formed, and if the computer is an embodiement of
language (at least as process) then one could say that this
superconsciousness exists. But it is a consciousness without self,
without singularity. It is a heterogeneous and discontinuous amalgam of
incoherent parts. It does not even speak the same language as itself. It
is not-self-aware. Yet, it exists.

2.1.97

Paul Warren wrote: "I am totally blown away by what you have proposed,
(in a really cool excited way) and I would like to know the process by
which you came to 'believe' this. Since you have stated discomfort with
mysticism and the use of the word 'energy' I would like to know what
texts have informed you."

Simon Biggs wrote: As I think Picasso once said, he felt no need to
justify a single thing he did. The fact that he did it was good enough
for him. He is also the author of another great quotable line "Computers
are useless, all they can do is answer questions".

I think I'll leave that as my sum total of quotations to this list.

2.1.97

Paul Warren wrote: "But perhaps even more interesting, the renaissance
artists were mostly Platonists e.g., Raphael's School of Athens mural
wasn't so much an allegory as the critics would have us believe. They
were revolutionaries working for and within the most powerful mainstream
social force at the time."

Simon Biggs wrote: You are touching on something quite important here
about the (evolving) social role of the artist. I guess it's important
to remember that Rennaisance artists were emerging out of one paradigm
of the artists role into another. In their case they moved from a
position where the artist was rather anonymous (in fact, more often than
not a workshop, not an individual...an early form of media corporatism?)
to that where their individual existence as author became more valued
than that which they actually produced. This dynamic probably had its
origins less in the visual arts and more in literature, with the figure
of Dante looming large.

The underlying social reasons for this, and its implications, have been
discussed at length elsewhere, so I will not go into that here.

In the 20th C. we saw this role of the "artist" taken to extremes,
resulting in the work of "characters" such as Warhol, Duchamp or Klein
(not to mention Fluxus). The question now is not so much "is the social
role of the artist changing?" (outside the musiefied mummified straight
artworld I feel this question has been settled in the affirmative) but
rather where that change will lead us, and whether we will all find that
change to our tastes.

Personally I still have a nostalgic attraction for the "auteur" role.
Not only does it represent a financial and social model of the artist
that still sort of works, but I also believe that there is a social need
for representative individuals, people who are to play a "role" to
satisfy our needs to see ourselves reflected (mythologised) in the
social spaces about us (as individuals).

Perhaps the underlying question here does not concern the artist's role,
as such (for this itself could be seen as symptomatic of deeper social
formation), but rather the formation of "self" as a social construct. If
paradigms of "self" shift, and given that the artist functions to
represent this paradigm, then clearly the role of the artist will
change.

2.1.97

Stephen Jones wrote: "By the way 'a heterogeneous and discontinuous
amalgam of incoherent parts' could not be conscious at all.
Heterogeneity and discontinuity are all about boundary conditions,
either intellectualised or real, and so speak of the boundaries between
cells or individuals which in an "open-system" are penetrated and act as
points of interchange, etc. the kinds of things that are a society of
individuals. The language must be the same if they are to co-operate and
continue. A non-self-aware system is not a conscious system."

Simon Biggs wrote: When I spoke of "a heterogeneous and discontinuous
amalgam of incoherent parts" I was trying to explicity suggest that this
might be why "consciousness" or "being" or "self" is an impossible
fiction...an idea with no referent, a dream we dream to allow us to go
on.

I agree with all that you say about societies requiring binding, shared
experiences and ways of qualifying those experiences. What I am also
suggesting is that these processes are in fact a mythologisation, and a
mythologisation occuring not only at the level of community but also
self. This was the point of my very first post on this thread (although,
if I remember correctly, it was a seemingly now quiescent Bill Seaman
who initiated the topic).

Just to throw some more grist into the mill though, for us to chew on a
little, I wonder what thoughts people have on issues such as the
extremes of sexual pleasure and that of death (or at least the thought
of death) as components or mirrors of the "self"? They seem like they
might be important.

2.1.97

Paul Warren wrote: "This is more critical deja vu for me. When Kuspit
wrote the essay for FuturelessFuture (which I now view as a flawed
project), he stated from .... Thus, if I understand what Kuspit is
attempting to communicate, art is an awakening of the self, and without
it the self would continue to sleep within its undifferentiated
context."

Simon Biggs wrote: I wouldn't use Kuspit's terminology or seek to evoke
the associations he is...but I can agree with the basic dynamic he is
seeking to address. I do think art is part of a process of bringing into
being, a form of self-realisation...but not only for the producer; it is
equally important in this respect for the reader. It is upon this
foundation that I know I have established my faith in art as a
worthwhile activity, both personally and socially.

However, at the same time, I regard art (all art) as part of the
mythologisation process I mentioned in an earlier post. It is an
essential ingredient in the process by which we "invent" ourselves as
individuals and as a collective. I do not know if art can reflect a
truth about something...but I feel it can reflect this mythologising
dynamic, even whilst it might have to admit that it can never seek the
"real" (in this case, the "real" self).

In many ways I am very attracted to metamorphic cultures...that is,
societies where the self is accepted as unstable and fluid. Here I think
of Hindu and ancient Greek cultures (Ovid is an excellent documenter of
this). I feel that within such cultural paradigms (if that word can be
used here (?) - apologies to Thomas Kuhn) a certain acceptance of things
occurs that might be more insightful and especially honest than the
formations we have come up with in modern Western thought. I guess that
is what I meant when I said that in some respects I feel more
pre-Platonic in my intellectual affinities. Plato was very keen to
establish a highly differentiated and individuated sense of self
(although perhaps I am misconceived in this perception of his work). I
feel that Ovid (OK, a Roman, but also earlier Greeks), whilst admittedly
a writer rather than a philosopher, came closer to an honest
appreciation of what "self" might be.

Paul Warren wrote: "However, I tend to think that in this information
model of society, the identity of artist is going to be submerged even
when attempting to be the revolutionary, since the revolutionary role is
within the accepted (and increasingly expected) social role which the
artist *must* play in order to justify the self-definition of artist."

Simon Biggs wrote: I am not sure that the submergence of the artist will
be a natural outcome of this at all. Strangely, when you look at the
impact of ideas and technologies on culture the very opposite of what
you think they will forment turns out to be the case...almost as if
people feel, en masse, that they need to refuse certain inherencies,
even whilst they push forward that which appears to be causal. Human
beings are remarkably flexible (and hornery).

Paul Warren wrote: "To bring this around to the beginning of the post,
the major issue for art throughout history probably is the formation of
the self, both individually and collectively. Wow, this is a looooooong
way from Berenson."

[...]

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