The multi-track evolution of Mind (CADRE Symposium 2000)

The Chemistry of Fear

Abstract for the CADRE Symposium

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Technology is helping us better understand ourselvers, our process of self-thought and our process of creativity. The fear of machines that behave like us may ultimately be a fear of understanding ourselves, fear of understanding why our minds do what they do. Can machines be alive, intelligent, creative? Are we but a kind of such alive, intelligent, creative machines? And what is creativity good for? Modern, interdisciplinary science is providing some of the answers and many more questions, that may turn out to be the very theme of scientific research in the third millennium
This is going to be a recursive speech. You'll eventually understand that I am talking of myself talking of myself talking of...

During the 20th century mind, not only society in general, was influenced by machines, so much so that we sometimes think like machines more than we think like humans. We fear machines: machines will run society, machines will take over, machines hurt children's psychology. Each generation has been afraid of the new tools available to their offspring.

But this is nothing new. We are a tool-making species. And tools have always shaped the mind. We are not the only tool-making species, and we are not the only species whose "cognitive life" is shaped by tools. Even a spider, that has built a spiderweb, will have a "mental" life that revolves around the spiderweb. Each new tool, whether it's fire or television, has shaped the mind of the humans who used it. Tools have "created" the mind as it is now. That includes our "artistic" expressions, that are part of a mental process of using the tools that previous generations have created.

Where does the mind come from? According to the Darwinian paradigm, it must have evolved from something primordial and it must have evolved because it had a useful function for survival. The most primordial mind one can think of is a mind that has very basic emotions, possibly only pain and pleasure. There is mounting evidence that emotions have evolved, as much as any other organ. Emotions had an evolutionary value, as they helped bodies survive, and therefore were valuable, and therefore evolved. It is unlikely that humans are the only species with emotions, but it is likely that humans are the species in which emotions evolved in the most spectacular way. The reason for this spectacular evolution may very well be that we developed more sophisticated tools than any other species. Tools relieved us from many daily chores. Our emotions had been invented to help cope with those chores, but suddenly they were not necessary anymore. Our mind was nonetheless still producing emotions, just like the immune system is producing antibodies all the time. Those emotions flowing through our mind eventually got organized, and yielded thought. Thought eventually yielded a continuous flow of emotions and a concept of the self: consciousness was born. Consciousness was born because our mind had nothing to do most of the day, and that happened because we invented tools.

So on one hand we had evolution of tools, on the other evolution of emotions. At the same time there was evolution of the body. And several scientists would add evolution of language and evolution of memes. They all evolved together (co-evolved). It was evolution on several parallel tracks.

As tools became more and more sophisticated, we also started using them for thinking. For example, language. For example, writing. For example, music. For example, painting, cinema and comics.

Something weird happened next. We started identifying with our mind. We are bodies made of organs, and we don't particularly identify with our left hand or our right testicle. But somehow we identify with our mind. I am the one who is thinking, not the one who is lifting food with his left hand. Somehow we created a theory of our "selves" as miracolous products of the universe. Therefore we'd rather identify with the thinking organ than with the food-lifting organ. So we started wondering where our mind comes from, not just where our body comes from. Little by little we have been able to rediscover our past, and understand how our mind was created, how "I" was created. And this has not been a pleasant trip. The more we understand the more we realize that we are mere accidents of evolution. The more we understand the more we realize that we are not even what we think we are: we do not think, we are thought. We are driven by the environment in what we do and what we think. Frogs only see flying black dots: it's their food. We also only see and hear and ultimately think what makes sense in our ecological niche. Our mind is created by emotions, and it may be recreated all the time, whether we want it or not. The amount of control over our mental life may be extremely reduced, as our control on our heart and lungs.

To understand the mind a few paradigms would help (time permitting).
Henry Simon's symbolic processing paradigm
Jerry Fodor's computational functionalism
Kenneth Craik's representational paradigm
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution
Albert Einstein's theory of relativity
Ilya Prigogine's thermodynamics of non-equilibrium systems
Gerard Edelman's theory of neural selection
Fredrick Bartlett's reconstructive memory
William James' connectionism
Noam Chomsky's generative grammar
Stuart Kaufman's self-organization
Humberto Maturana's autopoiesis
George Lakoff's cognitive metaphor
Roger Penrose's quantum theory of consciousness
Lotfi Zadeh's fuzzy logic
Rodolfo Llina's brain model
Allan Hobson's theory of dreaming

This is the real fear: the fear of understanding who we are.

Creativity is something we do because we have to do it. Our mind is continuously reshaped by the tools we invent, and continuously explores them. We tend to separate the direct, rational, explicit form of communication (that has no name) and the indirect, irrational, implicit for of communication (that we call "art"). We can use any tool in either way: we can scream "tiger" to warn our peers that a tiger is about to attack the village, or we can paint a tiger on a rock to signify our fear and admiration and whatever of tigers. That division is artificial. They are both ways of expressing our emotions, and either way we are using one of the tools that we have invented (language, colors). We are always creative or we are never creative, as we prefer: there is no difference between the two processes. Our mind has no choice but to create meaning all the time out of the flow of emotions using the tools it has invented.

Technology and creativity are the same thing. And we are both the creators and the products of our technology.

Damasio Antonio: DESCARTES' ERROR (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995)
Donald Merlin: ORIGINS OF THE MODERN MIND (Harvard Univ Press, 1991)
Edelman Gerald: NEURAL DARWINISM (Basic, 1987)
Gibson James Jerome: THE SENSES CONSIDERED AS PERCEPTUAL SYSTEMS (Houghton Mifflin, 1966)
Kauffman Stuart: THE ORIGINS OF ORDER (Oxford University Press, 1993)
MacPhail Euan: THE EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS (Oxford University Press, 1998)
Maturana Humberto: AUTOPOIESIS AND COGNITION (Reidel, 1980)
Neisser Ulric: COGNITION AND REALITY (Freeman, 1975)
Ornstein Robert: EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS (Prentice Hall, 1991)
Penrose Roger: THE EMPEROR'S NEW MIND (Oxford Univ Press, 1989)
Pinker Steven: HOW THE MIND WORKS (Norton, 1997)
Searle John: THE REDISCOVERY OF THE MIND (MIT Press, 1992)
Stapp Henry: MIND, MATTER AND QUANTUM MECHANICS (Springer-Verlag, 1993)
Unger Peter: IDENTITY, CONSCIOUSNESS AND VALUE (Oxford Univ Press, 1991)
The annual Cadre Student Symposium, The chemistry of Fear will be held May 6th, 2000 at Fort Ord Military Base Chapel in Monterey California. The Symposium Program will be From 10:00am - 6:00p

Cadre Laboratory/Digital Media Art Academic Programs The CADRE laboratory is dedicated to creative and research enterprise involving new information technology in fine art. The Laboratory emphasizes theoretical and critical discourse, providing a conceptual context in which experimental and scholarly activities are defined. CADRE is the publisher of SWITCH the international net journal of art and technology.

The CADRE laboratory enables the Digital Media Art Academic Program offered by the School of Art and Design. Cadre faculty research and sponsored projects serve to enable computing resources used in graduate and undergraduate instructional programs. The Digital Media Art curriculum includes BFA, MA and MFA concentrations. The BFA and MFA programs stress creative practice informed by contemporary theory and critical discourse. The MA in multimedia computing is focused on development of interactive media and distributed learning resources for practice, interdisciplinary study and collaborative teamwork.

The format that seems most doable is to have the guest speakers present for about half an hour and allow about 20 minutes for questions. We decided not to set it up as a panel since we would like each speaker to be heard and the perspectives on general the topic "cultural fear of technology" will be coming from people in different fields. We don't want valuable content to get lost amidst different uses of vocabulary (at least not totally).

The order of speakers has not been finalized. However, the timing for the guest speakers is between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm on Saturday May 6th, at Fort Ord near Monterey. The symposium will continue on into the evening with student presentations and a party.

Sincerely, Wendy Angel