Workshop 1 - Cornelius Borck, ‘Dancing With the Brain: Voodoo Science, False Colours, and Attentive Failures’
Cornelius Borck’s (Institute for History of Medicine and Science Studies, University of Lübeck) presentation followed the theme of the appropriation of simulation by science with a strong sense that one cannot talk scientifically about any topic without it.
Borck opened his paper by referring briefly to his work on the productive nature of 'failed' experiments, before presenting a few examples of installations, e.g. ‘Possessed’ by Louise Wilson (1995), as a neat way of commenting on our fascination with the new brain imagining technologies. Further, he evaluated the notion, advanced by neuroscientists, that these technologies reveal a deeper truth about the self.
Borck presented his arguments by referring back to the case of the accusations of neuroscientists of practicing so-called 'voodoo' methods (for references see ‘Puzzling High Correlations in fMRI Studies of Emotion, Personality and Social Cognition’ in Perspectives of Psychological Science, which raised a wide debate about the legitimacy of the results of brain imagining studies). Here he referred back to the differentiation between ‘proper’ science and questionable methods with results so persuasive that they are sometimes accepted as legitimate.
Then Borck followed with a radically form of employing methods of neuroscience, drawing on elements of science fiction. He illustrated his argument with Mariko Mori’s ‘Wave UFO’ – a cell with a brain-imaging ceiling that simply aims at making one’s experience something strange - ’A mental journey into other spaces’.
Borck contrasted these examples with the American-French composer Alvin Lucier’s mid-1960s research oriented around driving mechanical percussion instruments by the amplification of brain waves (the mechanical resonance of turbulence EEG). Here, Borck emphasizes the importance of Lucier’s agenda of exploring spaces according to his own coordinates rather than neuroscientists’ agendas, and pointed to the paradox of Lucier having to disengage in order to generate Alpha waves, and detachment as a form of generating music.
In conclusion, Cornelius Borck drew connections between the themes of his talk. He started by emphasising that the neuroscientists make their own objects of investigation as the amount of data that they receive is impossible to digest. Secondly, he pointed out that information-processing differs if the subject has already processed similar information by comparing the process to a lie detector that operates in an unconscious sphere – where subject does not know s/he is processing information. Here he referred back to the installation ‘Possessed’ where the subject is encouraged to interact with the brain image, touch the screen etc.
Finally, Borck called for the further exploration of interactivity in the field of neuroscience.
Discussion following Cornelius Borck’s presentation opened with an interrogation of the synonym of play, in terms of asking the public to play with what neuroscience does. The main emphasis was placed on the importance of keeping the notion of play open.
Secondly, more serious social implications of inviting the public to join the neuroscientific debate through art and music were considered. Here, arguments pointed to a danger of a so-called general audience being allocated the seats in the debate very much at the receiving end. Debate required keeping the game open for the future of brain research.
Concomitantly, consideration was given to social projects linked to surrealism and the ways in which play is opening but potentially also closing the debate. Here, emphasis was given to the power relations in techno-science. Also the idea of the automated moment of play (not interacting with neuroscientists) as a way of keeping the debates open was evaluated.
Finally, connections were drawn between this presentation and David Lomas', considering:
- the interplay of science and play, novels and music, and its roots in many surrealist experiments
- concern about the impossibility of distinguishing mass pop media and innovative techniques, as the majority of radical experiments are immediately seized upon and commodified
- cyborgisation as an utopian notion of hybridising man and machine
- the work of art as a performance (re: Alvin Lucier - forgetting playing the instrument but listening to the sound that the audience hears).