Intensive Brain

“The impossibility of producing a synthetic image of the city is also connected with the fact that today the perception range of urban spatial quality is much wider. Today we compose different individual perceptual experiences within homogeneous bands: veritable editings of perceptual sequences. And these bands even more than single static images, are the elements that construct our identity as erratic citizens of the urbanized territory.”
– Stefano Boeri “Two Paradoxes about Multitude”

Culture is part of an open autopoetic system of heterogeneous relational flows made up of evolving sociological, psychological, historic, spiritual and economic conditions that define and delineate it in specific temporal and spatial contexts.

The word open here refers to sources of information, including organizational structures and formats from outside the system that can enter, leave and affect the system. Through various feed-back, fast-forward, reverse, feed-forward, and re-entrant loops it recursively affects its own conditions as well as the relations that helped to form it and which allow it to be in a state of constant transformation, becoming and renewal. (I have on purpose woven in cinematic terms with neurobiological ones because of their implied relation to each other.) This schema also describes a set of implicit conditions and relations at the level of a meta discourse, which helps to understand the flow of these interactions, whist simultaneously inhibiting, disabling, mutating and reconfiguring it. These “new facts” and syntagmas give philosophers, scientists, artists, social scientists and architects new tools, some of which transcend their own disciplines, with which to explore and then understand culture and its relations.

Never has this been truer than in the sudden awakening that has taken us from the extensive to intensive “real”. As such philosophical discourses of Foucault and Derrida which mapped the transition phase of this becoming have been replaced by Deleuze and Guattari, and Delanda, who more keenly understand and explain the effect of internet network culture and its effects on Global Capitalism . “At risk” scalar, linear, hierarchical models have been replaced by non-linear, dynamic, rhizomatic, folded multiplicities. The same could be said for architecture. Thus the grid like spaces of Mies Van Der Rohe , I. M. Pei and Philip Johnson have been “remediated” by the globular and flowing forms of Foreign Office Architects, Rem Koolhaus, Greg Lynne and Multiplicity. One has neither replaced nor been subsumed by the other rather new concerns for the frequency and distributions of time and space have made it necessary to invent new models to instantiate the new cultural milieus in flux and this next generation expressed their “lived experience of this change” as a new noology or history of the images of thought transformed into glass, steel and concrete. How the same technologies and flows synchronously effect the brain and transform it in ways that these new thoughts become available is the subtext of this discussion and will be looked into later. It is enough here to say that these new kinds of images and the networks of relations they instill become instantiated in dynamic neuronal assemblies which allow the mind to think new kinds of thoughts and produce new kinds of self assembled imagery. It is these kinds of thoughts that artists utilize to produce new visual and cultural environments.

Interestingly marginalized art groups like Archigram and the Situationists seem strangely relevant and ideas of Derive and Detournement have been embraced to become important parts of models being constructed to explain the new territories of the heterogeneous and heterotypological urban sprawl. Perhaps it is the changes in the mind-brain interface as well that give these projects renewed relevance in the transformed internal representation that the mind now wanders around in. As we will see shortly a new observer is sensitive to new combinations of information formerly outside the margins of his or her understanding. The transformed observer is privy to new kinds of thoughts and as such is able to appreciate aspects for instance of an artistic work in ways that were previously unimaginable. Thus not only could one argue that the work of the Situationist is relevant again because the cultural conditions of the present have something to do with the past that makes the work of art relevant but also that the observer is different and responds to hidden agendas in the work that formerly were not appreciated.

But what has been left out for the moment is a model first called for by Frederic Jameson in Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism; the means through which this changed space/time continuum becomes instantiated in and available for comprehension by a new observer. ”
My implication is that we ourselves, the human subjects who happen into this new space, have not kept pace with that evolution: there has been a mutation in the object unaccompanied as of yet by any equivalent mutation in the subject.”

My discussion will center around a mechanism which might explain for the moment the way that the intensive qualities perhaps play a role in constructing intensive memories, intensive desires and intensive subjectivities. (Heterotopy creates subjectivities not subjects. ) While not wishing to address the issue of the mind body dialectic as it is reflected in notions of mind and brain I would like to for the purpose of today simply assume that the brain and mind are connected and that changes in one reflect changes in the other and vice versa.

Using the model of the Theory of Neuronal Group Selection created by Gerald Edelman in San Diego and Jean Pierre Changeux in Paris we might invent a method by which the newly configured intensive time and space relations in the world are responsible for creating newly configured networked relations in the brain.. The degree to which sensations predominate and focus our attention affects which neurons, the tiny building blocks of the nervous system responsible for the transmission of information, or groups of neurons, referred to as neural nets or networks, will be selected for. In this paradigm neurons and neural nets are competing for stimulation and to the degree they are successful determines whether they survive to inhabit the neural space of the brain. Simultaneously a process of apoptosis or cell death is occurring in which neurons and their nets that cannot compete die off. In the end the brain is sculpted by what it considers significant. To the degree that culture affects what we pay attention to, what has value for us as socially interactive beings and what incites desire it will affect the overall condition of the brain. One other thing needs to be emphasized here is that attention, value and desire may be the product of a co-evolutionary process which links together the way time and space are configured in the world, how objects, object relations and the spaces they occupy are arranged and linked up to create new levels of meaning and a radically different process of how that time and space becomes encoded by a kind of materialization in the brain. For instance Stefano Boeri’s model of the European city is very different then that for instance of Baron Hausmann’s nineteenth century Paris. “And we shall thereby understand that the urban European contemporary territory brings together a multitude of individual, non-synchronous tremors within a few regular movements-distinct in rhythm, duration and intensity-of material. Each of these regular movements is replicated in different and specific organization of social relations and decision-making processes. The map of these patterns of change thus tell us about some of the recurrent structures of society and shows us that the change within the contemporary European sphere is no longer radiating out from a center of focal point, as more conventional interpretations would seem still to suggest.” (Stefano Boeri “Two Paradoxes about Multitude”) These hybrid, heterotypical and heterotopologic inflections in the urban landscapes are sampled differentially by different individuals and groups of individuals at different times according to different systems of needs and desires creating as it were subpopulations of subjects. The same thing happens on the net as shifting subpopulations of subjects are created and connected as they sample and choose from the vast information available to them. They in a sense create Ebay communities, or chat room communities or porn site communities. These communities if you will are transitory moments of shared synchronicity within a larger context of randomness of information flow and the history of their choices.

The process through which these subjectivities are produced is somewhat analogous to the process we alluded to in the production of the Selected Brain. Populations of neurons and networks sample the world differentially creating dynamic conditions in the neurobiological substrate to produce in the end “unique” types of individuality. Creative processes in the mind create assemblages of matter and time that populate the acoustic and visual landscape creating new kinds of object relations with themselves and the objects and sounds already present. Folded, flowing and multifaceted forms are becoming more and more relevant and numerous. One only needs to look at Domus, Artforum or Wired magazine to appreciate this. Intensive networks in the real/imaginary/virtual world create intensive networks in the brain through the production of new kinds of signals that the brain needs to code for these new formations of stimuli. In fact what this intensivity might in fact reflect is that the world is becoming less spatial and static and more time based and dynamic within the constraints of the brain’s ability to understand, interpret and produce such a world. But as I write this text today I am even beginning to wonder if this model is in itself up to the task. One of the beauties of it is that it allows the brain to become. The brain at birth is very plastic and the a priori set of neurobiological architectonic relations is very mutable and unstable. For instance the optic nerve transplanted into the auditory cortex of the newborn mouse makes that cortex the visual cortex. A human child suffering from a tumor which requires removal of the important area of the brain necessary for speech, the Broca’s area, can recover that ability as the other hemisphere of the brain, in this case the right hemisphere, takes over the speech function. Later in life this is no longer possible although a limited plasticity still remains and is important for instance for learning. After birth the brain is sculpted by whatever experiential logic is available allowing for the world and its mutating cultural mnemotechy to have an effect on the brain through experiential selection. That world could be extensive or intensive. But today I would like to suggest that we might need to add another element to the Darwinian equation and replace the competitive model with one defined by symbiosis and models of sharing. Rhizomatic, folded nomadic emergent relations in their multiplicity and fluidity demand a more complex model then strict Darwinism can “conjure”. Sampling by populations of neurons, their intensification, exuberant growth and pruning may be the result of ephemeral cooperative mechanisms of sharing between neural populations which in the end might give them an advantage rather then the result of survival of the fittest alone. These kinds of network relations may be better to adapt to the ephemeral dispositions of networked alliances of heterotopy and multiplicity which now define our environment and which are important for epigenisis. This reconfigured brain may have capacities better fit to deal with the multilayered fast high tech information produced images of our mutating world. Think for a moment of the difference between a teenagers response to Wired Magazine versus an individual who is a healthy 75. The teenager who has been weaned on intensive media graphics and systems is seduced and comfortable with Wired whilst the senior citizen, whose brain has been “wired” according to a different system of extensive relations finds it difficult to read the magazine. My talk and comments will hopefully address some of these issues.