“Idols and Art: The Cog­ni­tive Fetish” presented by Hart


Session Title:

  • Don’t Anthropomorpise Me: Electronic Performance Tools, Automatons and The Vanity Apocalypse

Presentation Title:

  • Idols and Art: The Cog­ni­tive Fetish




  • Panel: Don’t Anthropomorpise Me: Electronic Performance Tools, Automatons and The Vanity Apocalypse

    The hy­poth­e­sis of the ex­tended mind de­vel­oped by philoso­pher Andy Clark posits that the cog­ni­tive processes of the mind ex­tend be­yond the brain or phys­i­cal em­bod­i­ment to co-opt the ob­jects and ac­tions we ha­bit­u­ally use. With the care­ful rea­son­ing of the philoso­pher he ar­gues that a note­book can be func­tion­ally equiv­a­lent to mem­ory, when it is car­ried around con­stantly and re­ferred to so fre­quently that it be­come in­dis­pens­able to the owner.  For con­tem­po­rary thinkers how much more so an ex­ten­sion of the mind than a note­book are the tech­no­log­i­cal fetishes of lap­top, tablet or smart­phone. Mav­er­ick 20th C psy­chol­o­gist Ju­lian Jaynes posited that the de­vel­op­ment of what we term con­scious ex­pe­ri­ence was a his­tor­i­cally re­cent event, and that be­fore around 1000 BC minds were com­part­men­talised or bi­cam­eral.  Jaynes posits that these bi­cam­eral minds used ob­jects such as idols as an aid to com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween these com­part­men­talised as­pects of the mind.

    These ‘an­cients’ lit­er­ally spoke and walked with their gods, but in many ways they were au­toma­tons. On some lev­els an­thro­po­mor­phism is hard­wired into the human psy­che. Spec­u­lat­ing from the ideas of Jaynes and Clark about the na­ture of the tech­no­log­i­cal art ob­ject – it is hard not to view per­sonal tech­nol­ogy as an ex­ten­sion or pros­the­sis of the mind. In front of my lap­top I am a dif­fer­ent crea­ture in com­mand of knowl­edge and a fac­tual per­sonal his­tory, to the one who day­dreams as he walks the dog through the bush. If an as­pect of tech­nol­ogy is the evo­lu­tion of cog­ni­tive arte­facts then per­sonal and per­va­sive com­put­ing must con­sti­tute a dra­matic leap.  Sim­i­larly it is tempt­ing, as does art his­to­rian Bar­bara Stafford, to see art­works as cog­ni­tive ob­jects. Cog­ni­tion in the view of Neu­ro­sci­en­tist An­tio­nio Dama­sio in­volves emo­tion and phys­i­cal sen­sa­tion as much as it does logic or men­tal rea­son­ing. I would hy­poth­e­sise than when we en­gage or are im­mersed in an arte­fact we par­tic­i­pate in an act of com­mu­nion or com­mu­ni­ca­tion with it, it be­comes part of our thoughts.  This is a step be­yond I think where Clark would go. The com­bi­na­tion of these two ideas sug­gests that au­tonomous tech­no­log­i­cal art ob­jects could ful­fil a pow­er­ful dream by com­bin­ing both as­pects of pros­the­sis and com­mu­nion.  What would be the con­di­tions that would allow this to hap­pen, is it de­sir­able or in­evitable?

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