I will be giving a paper at the forthcoming Towards a Science of Consciousness conference to be held in Stockholm in May. My paper is titled: Rheomode and Aesthetics: Towards An Ecological Cybernetics Of Mind. These conferences are legendary (this is the eighteenth), and they bring together an exceptionally wide group of disciplines, beliefs and practices. I attended my first last April in Tucson, and was delayed there with many others by the Iceland volcano. I meet neurologists and philosophers, quantum physicists and psychologists, AI researchers and Buddhists, artists and synaesthetes, including quantum consciousness theorist Stuart Hammeroff, artists Robert Pepperell and John Jupe, roboticist Riccardo Manzotti, neuropsychologist Henrik Ehrsson.
I am looking forward to the coming event, notably Henrik Ehrsson (of Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, producing fascinating work on how we have a sense of owning a body), Roger Penrose (mathematician and theoretical physicist), Paavo Pylkkanen (philosopher and leading scholar on physicist David Bohm) and Stuart Hameroff (quantum consciousness theorist) among others.
My paper proposal:
Rheomode and Aesthetics: Towards An Ecological Cybernetics Of Mind
The quantum physicist David Bohm suggested that many of the contradictions and paradoxes that arise when we try to formulate accurate descriptions of both matter and mind, arise from the structures of everyday western language, and the ideology of modern reductive scientific method. For Bohm, western languages privilege nouns, and construct for us a perceived world of discrete subjects and objects. Our language obscures the fundamentally dynamic and interconnected process based nature of reality.
Bohm imagined a new verb-based form of language, which he called the rheomode (from the Greek flow). He hoped this might make it easier for us to see and conceive of a dynamic unfolding wholeness. In this thinking, Bohm was influenced by two philosophical schools: Whiteheadian process thought, and Hegelian-Marxist dialectics. Bohm suggested that if it were possible to reformulate quantum theory in rheomodic terms, it might move beyond the paradoxes that characterised the standard interpretation: indeterminacy, non-locality, wave-particle duality, the role of the conscious observer etc.
Describing the internal relations of an unfolding dynamic system does not just re-imagine matter. Bohm insisted that rheomodic thought necessarily redefines the other half of that old dualism: mind, or consciousness. He described his holistic account as “more quantum organism than quantum mechanics”, and in his process based concepts such as “active information”, “implicate ordering” and “holomovement”, mind and matter are radically and mutually enfolded; this thinking resonates with panpsychic, hylozoic and radical externalist approaches.
Bohm’s joint work with David Peat developed new conceptions of order and creativity that had as much to do with aesthetics as they did with science. In this paper I will extend this line of thinking, and suggest that new rheomodic approaches can be found within some art and design based research, specifically a series of experimental projects associated with the work of neocyberneticians Gregory Bateson, Stafford Beer and Gordon Pask. In his recent The Cybernetic Brain, Andrew Pickering argues that in their work “cybernetics drew back the veil the modern sciences cast over the performative aspects of the world, including our own being” and through “hylozoic wonder” and “nomadic science” staged a “a vision of a world.. in which reality is always ‘in the making’.”
Although most contemporary neurological research tries to reduce correlates of consciousness to ever smaller elements, as Alva Nöe has noted, “the phenomenon of consciousness, like that of life itself, is a world-involving dynamic process,” which must have “external correlates” too. As Bateson argued, cognition is a radically ecological “system whose boundaries do not at all coincide with the boundaries either of the body or of what is popularly called the ‘self’ or ‘consciousness’.”
At TSC Tucson 2010, several speakers proposed to explore new unification models, to bring together insights from recent neurological, psychological and philosophical research. I suggest that without a renewed (and necessarily political) appreciation of Bohm’s rheomode, and the development of a language of dynamic ecological aesthetics, such a task is impossible. Indeed, in an important sense, the project of a ‘science of consciousness’ is impossible without a dialectical aesthetics and politics of mind (and matter).