February 17, 2014

To remember and forget

This is a work in progress proposal for a series of lecture and workshop. The series will be ideally hosted at a higher level academic institution or art space in collaboration with research labs. This series will explore how human brain works in relation to computational technology.

How can we learn to remember and how can we learn to forget?

Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux explains plasticity of synapses in our brain is the core mechanism that enables human sense of self. Thus we know that we exist by remembering things past and anticipating things to come.

How is our sense of self transforming with computational technology in daily life? And specifically, what role does mobile device play in our communication with past and present? By finding answers to these questions, we can begin to understand integration of mediated experience, constructed memory and permanent storage.

Revolutionary developments occurred simultaneously in computer science and neuroscience since the 60s. However, neuroscience have had less greater effect in the realm of art and culture, while popular recognition of Cybernetics and Artificial Intelligence continues to inspire notions of thinking and feeling machines.

This series is an opportunity to engage in critical thinking on technical topics ranging from neuroscience, analog computers to object oriented programming in its social context. We will examine the history of art and computation in relation to the sustained pursuit in understanding human nature. For example, dominant paradigm of cybernetics in post war United States in relation to abstraction in visual art. Towards the second half of the series, participants will be encouraged to make new work (research or art work) inspired by technical and theoretical possibility of recently gained understanding in human brain and computation.

Still Life with Turkey Pie by Pieter Claesz (1627). This image is mentioned in week 6 on Taste.

Weekly schedule

Week 1 Course introduction

This class is about imagining what happens in our brain when we remember and when we forget. And what happens in our brain for this to happen? Human labor of remembering and the machine assisted memory by contemplating on the mediation of experience, archivial desire, and materiality of permanent storage.

The comparison between brain and computers, for example, voltage is applied to synapses during brain activity as well as electrical circuits during computation, comes to a limitation as we understand more about brain and it’s its plasticity. On other hand, is it possible to image a truely thinking and feeling machine?

The class will develop around text of following authors mentioned in the syllabus. The lecturer will deliver introduction to the text each class, students are expected to participate in discussion.There are in class activities and assignments that are categorized as ‘student output’.

  • Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do With Our Brain? (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009, trans. Sebastian Rand).

Student output: Students will make a ‘Mystic writing pad’ (Etch A Sketch) in class.

Week 2 Memory and storage

How is historic memory shaped by technical reproduction and visual representation? Why is archive important and how can it be reanimated?

  • Susan Buck-Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000)
  • Jacques Derrida, Archive desire: A Freudian Impression (University of Chicago Press,1998)

Student output: Students will visualize their computer harddrive and mindmap of memory.

Week 3 Neural plasticity

What is the memory mechanisms in neurons? How do humans use working memory? and why is attention so important?

  • Joseph LeDoux, Synaptic self: How are brains become who we are (London: Penguin Books, 2002)

Student output: Students will visualize their understanding of human memory after reading reference material.

Week 4 Love and affection

How do we fall in love? What is the difference between romantic love and euphoric states?

  • Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki, The neural basis of romantic love (NeuroReport 11:3829- 3834)

Student output: Students will write a short script about the moment they fell in love. They will enact the script in class.

Week 5 Language and sound

What is the difference between noise, speech and how is human sonice memory constructed? What is perceptual coding and how does audio compression take advantage of it?

  • Jonathan Sterne, MP3: The meaning of a format (Sign, Storage and Transmission) (Duke University Press, 2012)

Student presentation: Students will make sound composition about a place in their memory

Week 6 Taste

For Proust, eating madelaine with tea brought back certain memory. In out daily activities related to taste, such as cooking, smelling and eating, we are reminded of past memory and creating new one. Artificial flavoring industry have mastered engineering of taste as instigator of memory. Artists such as Conflict Kitchen, Rirkrit Tiravanija use taste as the medium for social and asthetic confrontation.

  • Julie Berger Hochstrasser, Still Life and Trade in the Dutch Golden Age (Yale University Press, 2007)

Student output: Students will host a picnic and tell a story about the food they prepared.

Week 7 Learning and teaching

One of the biggest use of memory is to learning new skills. How is education system affect our learning behavior and how is our memory affected in return? We will review Joseph Beuys’s lecture performance and contemporary alternative education practices.

  • Bernard Stiegler Technis and Time:3 Cinematic time and

Student output: Students will teach each other their secret knowledge.

Week 8 Presence

What about human presence different is different from that of animal or object? How do we feel comfort or fear in presence of another person? What kind of change happens in our consciousness being in a crowd and being in solitude?

The intimacy shared in family is different from distance shared among strangers. The comfrot of familiarity

Student output: body movement workshop

Week 9 Cybernetics

Introduction to concepts of Signal, Feedback, Entropy. This class will review history of few disciplines, Cognitive Science, Human Compute Interaction and Art and Technology circa 1960’s.

  • Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings, (Da Capo Press, March 22, 1988)

Student output: Students will write an essay about a fictional work of art by appropriating language from art and technology studies from the 60’s onward.

Week 10 Technical objects - 1

This class will introduce Gilbert Simondon’s concept of tools and instruments.

  • Gilbert Simondon, Du mode d’existence des objets techniques (Méot, 1958; second ed. Paris: Aubier, 1989). - English translation provided by the lecturer

Student output: reading notes and questions.

Week 11 Technical objects - 2

This class will introduce Simondon’s concept of technical objects, automation and open machine.

Student output: reading notes and questions.

Week 12 Thinking machine

This class will be a discussion and presentation about recent achievement in Artificial Intelligence and its social impact.

Student output: Plan for the final project.

Week 13 Feeling machine

What is the difference between emotions, feelings and affects? Artists such Melanie Gilligan have been making performance and video art that question the boundary between affects and currency. Brody Condon’s participatory performance reverse participation and spectatorship through game mechanics. What now, if machines can feel?

  • Jill Bennett, Empathic Vision ()Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art)(Stanford University Press, 2005)

Student output: Updates on the final project.

Week 14 Final lecture

Reflection on the course and final discussion.


Taeyoon’s lecture slide example.

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