User:Emily/Thematic Project/Trimester 03/08

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Dreaming Machines - The performantive brain

(Subjective/introvert media objects)


This is an on-going study on a small group of man-made machines and its interrelationship with themselves, human and surroundings under the theme of "encyclopaedia of media object". Let me give a quick example, I start with The Dreamachine, a flicker as we can understand it in a broaden category, in its basic setup, the brain (may not only humans') is pin down in a simple feedback circuit with (a linear relation to) the machine. It arise a altered state, which can be simplified as bio-feedback. However as Andrew Pickering put forward "We could say that the brain explored the performative potential of the material technology, while the technology explored the space of brain performance." (cybernetic brain, 88), I will explore the performativity in both realistic and speculative way. Those machines within my category are being named as dreaming machine. For one hand the name emphasis its performativity not in a conventional way, for the other hand it is in a way bring the same consideration to the machines as to human.

Dreams: Technology is an expression of man's dreams (Ted Nelson)

Machines: are loaded with dreams

items of dreaming machine category

The Tortoise

The tortoises (or “turtles”) were small electromechanical robots invented by William Grey Walter. It travelled around floors, avoiding obstacles, and was attracted to light.
The mirror dance

Flicker --> is a long-standing term of art in experimental psychology, referring to visual effects induced by flickering lights (Geiger 2003, 12–15)

William Grey Walter became interested in flicker and incorporated it into his EEG research in 1945, when he came across a new piece of technology that had become available during the war, an electronic stroboscope.
biofeedback/EEG machine, nicknamed the Augmentor from The Lathe of Heaven
William Burroughs--> “consciousness expanding experience has been produced by flicker.”
Allen Ginsberg --> It was like watching my own inner organism. There was no distinction between inner and outer. Suddenly I got this uncanny sense that I was really no different than all of this mechanical machinery all around me. (Geiger 2003, 47)
Brion Gysin & Ian Sommerville --> Dream Machine (or Dreamachine); Gysin --> a drug-free point of access to transcendental states, and had plans to develop it as a com- mercial proposition, something to replace the television in people’s living rooms, but all his efforts in that direction failed
a technology of the nonmodern self--> The technology did something—flickered—and the brain did something in response—exhibited epileptic symptoms. (Cybernetic Brain, 77) (nonvoluntary, nonmodern fashion)
a technology of the self, a material technology for the production of altered states (Cybernetic Brain)

The Homeostat

an adaptive electromagnetic device
it was a real ultrastable machine of the kind that Ashby had only imagined back in 1941.
homeostat instead searched its inner being, running through the possibili- ties of its inner circuitry until it found a configuration that could come into dynamic equilibrium with its environment.
that relations between homeostats were entirely noncognitive and nonrepresentational.

Biological computing

Stafford Beer
Beer’s successful attempt to use positive and negative feedback to train young children (presumably his own) to solve simultaneous equations without teaching them the relevant math- ematics—to turn the children into a performative (rather than cognitive) mathematical machine.
naturally occurring systems in search of materials for the construction of cybernetic machines”
The idea was to find some lively system that could be induced to engage in a process of reciprocal veto- ing with another lively system such as a factory, so that each would eventually settle down in some agreeable sector of its environment (now including each other).
Beer then moves on to discuss various thought ex- periments involving animals (1962b, 28–29)
Some effort was made to devise a “mouse” language which would enable mice to play this game—with cheese as a reward function. . . . In this way I was led to consider various kinds of animal, and various kinds of language (by which I mean intercommunicating boxes, ladders, see-saws, cages connected by pul- leys and so forth). Rats and pigeons have both been studied for their learning abilities. . . . The Machina Speculatrix of Grey Walter might also be considered (with apologies to the organic molecule). . . . However no actual machines were built. . . . By the same token, bees, ants, termites, have all been systemati- cally considered as components of self-organizing systems, and various “brain- storming” machines have been designed by both Pask and myself. But again none has been made.
With Beer’s experiments on mice with cheese as a “reward function” we are surely in the presence of the mouse- computer that turns up in both Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series of fantasy novels.
a cockroach-controlled robot by Garnet Hertz


Gordeon Pask --> theatrical lighting
a device that used the sound of a musical performance to control a light show, with the aim of achieving a synesthetic combination of sounds and light.
Materially, the music was converted into an electrical signal by a microphone, and within Musicolour the signal passed through a set of fil- ters, sensitive to different frequencies, the beat of the music, and so on, and the output of the filters controlled different lights. You could imagine that the highest-frequency filter energized a bank of red lights, the next-highest the blues, and so on.
In particular, Musi- colour was designed to get bored (Pask 1971, 80). If the same musical trope was repeated too often, the thresholds for the corresponding lighting pattern would eventually shift upward and the machine would cease to respond, en- couraging the performer to try something new.
the human performer and the machine (we can come back to the latter)—each having its own en- dogenous dynamics but nevertheless capable of consequential performative interaction with the other in a dance of agency. The human performance cer- tainly affected the output of the machine, but not in a linear and predictable fashion, so the output of the machine fed back to influence the continuing human performance, and so on around the loop and through the duration of the performance.


Cybernetic Brain