BY: Warren Neidich
PUBLISHED IN: Atlántica Magazine of Art and Thought #48-49, 2009


NeuropowerSection 1. Introduction

In the words of Maurizio Lazzarato, “In the societies of control, power relations come to be expressed through the action at a distance of one mind on another, through the brain’s power to affect and become affected, which is mediated and enriched by technology…The institutions of the societies of control are thus characterised by the use of technologies acting at a distance, rather than of mechanical technologies (societies of sovereignty) or thermodynamic technologies (disciplinary societies).”1 The implications of this statement go to the very core of the biopolitical questions that I would like to address in what follows. I will develop three lines of thought. First, in the transition from the Disciplinary Society to the Society of Control and onward to what Lazzarato refers to as noo-politics, the focus of power and the technology at its disposal is not directed toward the materiality of the body but, instead, its psychic life, particularly its memories and attention, recognising that the mind and the body are inextricably linked through voluntary and involuntary, somatic and autonomic, striated and smooth conditions.2,3 Secondly, I would like to extend this idea of noo-politics to include a new focus of sovereignty: that of neural plasticity itself and its potential as a generator of fields of difference that are moulded according to the new conditions produced by post-Fordist deregulation, especially its effect upon a distributed and delimited workplace, defined as it is by a dilated time-space continuum. In the end, this new situation creates new possibilities for the conditions of the brain/mind. I would like to suggest that the reconfiguration of the brain/mind is actually the site of the performative gestures of the non-productive labour of the communicative virtuoso. “Let us consider carefully what defines the activity of virtuosos, of performing artists. First of all, theirs is an activity which finds its own fulfillment…in itself, without objectifying itself into an end product, without settling into a ‘finished product’, or into an object which would survive the performance. Secondly, it is an activity which requires the presence of others, which exists only in the presence of an audience.”4 This necessity of an audience or a social mind as a roving, wet, mutable, organic interface, where the inscription of the oral history or memory of that performance is inscribed in the static and dynamic conditions of the material brain, is the key to what follows. Finally, I will propose that the multitude is an adequate description of, and metaphor for, the way that these new forms of the social as a multiplicity, formulated in the conditions of post-Fordist labour, produce the conditions of the dynamic, manifold, and metastable brain and mind. These new conditions of the workplace leak into the world beyond, transforming it, with the help of artistic and architectural interventions, according to the changed dynamic contingencies, for instance, of the anyplace, anytime, whatever. These new conditions are then coupled to a plastic brain/mind. Paolo Virno eloquently elaborates this when he says, “The potential for working, bought and sold just like another commodity, is labour not yet objectified, ‘labour as subjectivity’”.5 Labour as a series of performative gestures is continually evolving and is delineated as a form of cultural plasticity that produces new forms of subjectivity. On the one hand, I will look at the regulation of the rhythms of the brain, especially its synchronous firings, as the very conditions through which sovereignty directs the Institutional understanding, coupling it to the minds of its constituents. On the other I will look at the means through which art and architecture deregulate and uncouple these dynamic potentials, rearranging them according to another logic. Untitled, 2002This is essential to the larger context of this essay. The transition from the Disciplinary Society to that of the Society of Control, and from noo-politics to neuropower, is a transition from the biopolitics of Being to that of Becoming, from the administration of the present man/woman to that of the future man/woman.6 Later, I will make clearer how neuropower is now the means through which sovereignty, using powerful techniques at its disposal, regulates the pluripotential quality of that neural plasticity. It is with these tools that the multitude, which Thomas Hobbes rejected in his ideas of a state in favour of a concept of the people because he felt the multiplicity was unmanageable, can now in fact be regulated. But, as Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt observe, biopower has another side: the new forms of biopower that produce empire constitute new modes of resistance as well.7 This is also true of neuropower. Art, architecture, cinema, poetry, design, sound, video, performance, dance and sculptural installation, all utilising very different sets of methods, procedures, instruments, and materials from those of sovereignty and the institutional understanding, instantiate and dis-stantiate a “very other” concoction of dynamic potentials in their production of objects, non-objects, ephemera, and textual fragments, which are distributed into visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic culture. The powerful effects of Surrealism, Dada, Situationism, Fluxus, conceptual and feminist art, and global or post-colonial practices, as cultural and then neurobiological modifiers, stand as examples of this phenomenon. I refer to this process and its effects as the redistribution of the sensible, acknowledging Jacques Rancière’s use of the term the “distribution of the sensible”.8

Constancy, and the regulated, synchronous, dynamic conditions that help to define it, form one of the basic conditions that the institutional understanding utilises to administer bodies and minds to produce a people. As we will see shortly, what is constantly repeated, linked together, and then magnified, for instance by the technologies of neo-liberal global capital, becomes the object of attention and subsequently selection in the brain and mind. Art and architecture, as experimental practices, can discover the latent and hidden variability inherent in a metastable world, in order to constitute new forms of temporal binding as artworks and built space. John Cage’s interest in noise and dissonance is one such example of works that produce other rhythms and syncopations. Recently, artistic and architectural experiments with time-based media in video and film, performance art, and social and kinetic sculpture have been a means to make real the immanent conditions of time. Through the use of distributed, mediated circuits such as television and the Internet, formerly unrecognised concepts of time diffuse into mainstream culture, where personal and cultural effects are possible.

Thus the brain’s potential is sculpted as a result of changes not only in its static elements, the neurons and neural networks with their axonal flows, myelination, synaptic neurochemicals and tight junctions, but in the dynamic apparatus of coordinated oscillation potentials and temporal signatures as well. The dynamic flows of the world in their infinite variability, some of which are produced naturally and others that are invented or discovered by art and architecture, are sampled as a DJ samples music, and, when possible, coupled to an assortment of frequencies that the brain has at its disposal in order to encode them. This coupling process has implications for how the brain is sculpted by cultural experience. Constancy and repetition, especially when globally distributed, are intense directors of attention. Shock and the new are features of modernist cultural excess, and are the artistic rebuttal destabilising and uncoupling institutionalised dictates. Recently, shock has found its way into the institutional armamentarium and is now being used as a way to administrate affect.9 This is the very recipe of emergent behaviour. I would like to elaborate the way that art and architecture have adapted to the new contingencies of our interconnected and networked world with new labour practices and results. Art and architecture, in their most utopian sense, reconfigure the distribution of the static and dynamic contingencies of the sensible and its virtual. They redistribute sensibility to compete with the institutional conditions of the mind’s eye. Art power and neuropower are part of the same equation.10

Section 2. Branding the Mind: Not witha Hot Iron but with Invisible Traces

Attention, 2007Thermodynamic properties can be divided into two general classes, namely intensive and extensive. In classical physics, if a quantity of matter in a given state is divided into two equal parts, each part will have the same value of intensive properties as the original, and half the value of the extensive property. The first modification that must be made to the standard definition of intensive property is that the intensities defining a particular physical system may indeed be divided, but the differences that result change the system in kind from an equilibrium to a non-equilibrium.11In my essay, “Resistance is Futile: The Neurobiopolitics of Global Consciousness”, I argue that the social, political, economic, psychological, and spiritual transformations that transitioned the 19th century to the 21st century changed culture from one that could be described as analogue and extensive to one that was digital and intensive.12 Intensive culture is the product of an ontological process that emanates from extensive culture and is defined by manifold, non-linear, rhizomatic processes, immaterial labour as a virtuoso performance, and the conditions of the social brain. It has supplanted its predecessor, extensive culture, defined here as a set of conditions which have been formed according to a different set of coordinates and logics. This is not to say that the intensive has displaced the extensive completely. In fact, the two are simultaneously operational in this global social economy. Extensive logics, as they concern, for instance, architecture, are based on a homogenised geographical spread, such as that found in Le Corbusier’s identical units of habitation and the grid city model of New York. Extensive labour is the model of the 19th century production of real objects, tethered to the actions of the physical body working along an assembly line. Intensive culture, by contrast, is the culture of the network. Red, White and Blue, 2007Extensive culture is driven by the production of exact objects and is a culture of equivalence. Intensive culture, however, is characterised by nonequivalence and difference. Intensive things are one-offs and singular. Whereas extensive culture produces the commodity as a form of equivalence, intensive culture is captured best by the idea of the brand. Each brand is different from every other brand, and the brand does not produce commodities but rather gives them value and enriches them through a vast array of connected externalities. In fact, the unseen and secret relations that each brand connotes, its externalities, the complicated and intense backstage conditions of the information society, now subject themselves to quantification and analysis in the overall strategy of the administration of attention. “In global culture industry this changes. Products no longer circulate as identical objects, already fixed, static and discrete, determined by the intentions of their producers. Instead, cultural entities spin out of the control of their makers, in their circulation they move and change through transposition and translation, transformation and transmogrification. …In global culture industry, products move as much through accident as through design, as much by virtue of their unintended consequences as through planned design or intention.”13 The Ad Man or the Org Man is as interested in the unseen effects of a marketing campaign, on those that the ad was not initially supposed to interest, as they are in the expected effects on the targeted audience. These evolving cultural phenomena produce new conditions in built space, which then have an effect on the distribution of the sensible, and which require new neurobiological strategies or cognitive habits to perceive and recognise. The requirements of an intensive culture, with its distributed, multiply nested temporal irregularities, its metastable conditions, call out and are answered by a brain that has the potential to be formed by distributed and metastable dynamic conditions linked together by top-down as well as bottom-up networks. Indeed, the mutation of built and immaterially constructed environments has required perceptual adaptations in the form of biased networks in the brain in order to understand the sublime conditions instituted. By biases, I am referring to the potential of the brain’s network to be preferentially coupled to existing and invented environmental and, in this case, cultural contingencies.14 That is to say, this adaptation took advantage of and extended the use of an already present cerebral processing strategy, which matched up better to these new contingencies produced and distributed in, for instance, visual culture. As Frederic Jameson observes, “I am proposing the notion that we are here in the presence of something like a mutation in built space itself. 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. We do not yet possess the perceptual equipment to match this new hyperspace, as I will call it, in part because our perceptual habits were formed in that older kind of space I have called the space of high modernism.”15 Accordingly, new perceptual organs needed to be grown, in this case, distributed properties of neural computation had to be instituted in a generation that actually grew up in this new form of dynamic and intensive space, in order to understand the logics of this new built environment. Architecture, art, and visual culture in general have evolved together to meet the challenges of the new ways that information flows and communication acts in the field of production and beyond by elaborating new forms of built space consistent with this new reality. Consider, for the moment, not only the way the Guggenheim Bilbao looks, its flowing titanium skin, but how it performs as an immaterial agent of global commerce, art tourism, and city branding, and as a transnational signifier of the Guggenheim’s position as a functionary of neoliberal global capitalism. After all, its collections migrate from one location to the next in a series of endless repetitions of the common. Branded commodities are now linked together as branded networks. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sbarro’s, and Hot Wok all rent spaces together in a fast food court or group together, covered-wagon style, along the miles and miles of highways that now knife through the American west. But beyond mere representation, what is essential to these branding networks is the new conditions of their production. Today, branding strategies are cooked up as interdisciplinary collages utilising the combined effects of software tools and techniques such as photographic transformation (Adobe Photoshop), post-production editing of the moving image with (Adobe After Effects), neuro-imaging software, 3-D animation programs (Houdini), and socially based marketing tools. Post-production programs make possible the removal of unwanted hair and wrinkles in a face that never ages, colours are intensified, images are overlaid upon each other in fast repetitive bursts of information and then slowed down to a soporific lento, and impossible martial art acrobatics create powerful emotive signifiers of the unlimited potential of a body in action. Neuro-imaging techniques are essential to a new form of marketing called neuro-marketing, where the patterns of neural excitation become registers for desire-driven, commodified decision-making processes in both product designers/makers and advertising firms. 3-D animation programs and simulation software (Forge FX) place the viewer inside the virtual world of possible future encounters, at the same time as they teach techniques critical for these encounters. “Using real-time 3D simulations for decades, the military takes it for granted that simulation-based learning for real world experience pays off”.16 Finally, polling and public relations firms create algorithms to monitor the overall response distributions of their social products. Together, this assemblage of techniques does not simply elicits attention; it produces attention. New apparatus of these new cultural conditions produce, as we will see, contingent assemblages of pluripotential cerebral devices rendered in the mind and brain to capitalise on them. “Moreover, it may be that the biological brain has in fact evolved and matured in ways which factor in the reliable presence of a manipulable external environment. It certainly seems that evolution has favoured on-board capacities which are especially geared to parasitising the local environment so as to reduce memory load, and even to transform the nature of the computational problems themselves.”1

It may be that the memory capacity of an intensive network is much greater than that of an extensive network. Hierarchical memory systems are limited forms of memory representation tied to a single or maybe a few readings. Think, for instance, of the hierarchical taxonomy established by Carl Linnaeus, an 18th century Swedish naturalist. The hierarchy established by Linnaeus and his followers is the following: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. A species is classified according to a specific pathway within certain distributions that does not allow for much flexibility but has the advantage of consistency. When film storyboards are set up in the same way, the possibility for variability in the plot is also limited to a specific pathway following specific actions and responses. This is a characteristic of classic film according to Gilles Deleuze. A non-hierarchical, diagrammatic representation, on the other hand, can store far more information, since its non-narrative character and distributed format allow for a plethora of readings, interpretations, and memories. Recent DVD formats that allow viewers to choose other sequences of chapters and endings have expanded these potentials. This can also be seen in the improvisational jazz of Miles Davis, or the Building Without a Plan of Jonah Friedman, or the social sculptures of Joseph Beuys. In embracing the pluripotentiality of a physical and discursive space, these works increase the potential for different readings and interpretations. This is just the point. The very nature of the multiple pathways of information flow circulating through intense nodal points in a diagram makes possible what is called degeneracy in geometry and quantum theory. This theory has also recently been applied to neural networks, in which the same network can participate in an unlimited number of other networks, both local and global. A social network can operate similarly, and a single network can have different roles in different social contexts. Unlike the limited number of readings inherent in linear or hierarchical knowledge, degenerative intensive networks allow for a multiplicity of readings. Thus intensive networks carry the potential for more information generation and storage. A brain/mind that could parasitise such a network would be able to extend itself into richer sources of information and, through the process of memory, instantiate those networks into itself as intensive memories. When that brain/mind moulds itself as the result of epigenesis to the contingencies of that non-linearity and excess, its capabilities are greatly enhanced. When these mechanisms are tethered to what is referred to as the Baldwin Effect, the brain/mind, rather than simply adapting to these conditions, becomes these conditions.18But there is still more to this story, as we begin to look at branding in the larger context of the changing conditions of immaterial labour and general intelligence. Initially, as just we saw, the brand was still focused optimally on a target audience, but it also has a greater potentiality, through stochastic nomadologies, for instance, of conversation mappings such as gossip or word search engines on the Internet, to reach audiences indirectly. The true power of post-Fordian network conditions is in the production of new forms of general intelligence; the commodification of what are referred to as externalities, submerged intensive networks that form the once secret relations of brand equity. The rhizomatic unconsciousness of the brand equity now creates value in unseen and unknown ways that are now made real. They now become real abstractions, as these once unrecognised factors form complex collaged loopings inside their own distributions and assert themselves as constant and repeatable norms that can be commodified with an assigned value, generating future profits as a part of predetermined budgets. As such, the contingencies of their value, which might have once been taken for granted, now, with the help of new intensive computer calculations, can be specified, analysed, and depended upon. This commodification of externalities is the new definition of immaterial labour and general intelligence.19 These different parts of the branding networks intensify their desire quotient and the degree to which their products capture and produce new audiences.

Each brand has its own network of users, who form nodes and become sites of attraction for other brand networks with which they form brand allegiances. Through the direct and indirect sharing of this product loyalty, branding networks produce social networks. The primary network acts to link together in time secondary and tertiary immanent networks. When the target audience is stimulated by, say, an ad for dishwasher powder, this has a ripple effect that energises all other networks with which the target audience has allegiances—networks related, for example, to the dishwasher they are using to clean dishes, to the water softening agent, to the type of glassware they may wash, to the number of dinner parties they might have, and so forth. As this is also true for others, the production of externalities and their overlapping in distant cultural fields has the indirect result of a migration of desire in a roundabout trajectory throughout the social and cultural field. Unlike a normal feedback loop that is a moment-to-moment register of stimulation and effect along a single channel, think here of a thermostat: branding and the externalities it generates result in a manifold dynamic stimulation, both synchronous and diachronous, direct and indirect. The end effect registered varies according to the synchronicity or lack of convergent discharges affecting the original brand equity. In such branded systems, collective strategies become each other’s potential markets. In a sense, every time a commercial or ad appears for one product, a current affects all the other networks directly or indirectly associated with it. As such, their affect and effect are emergent.

Section 3. The Distribution and Redistribution of the Sensible

Study for Infinite Regress, 2007Jacques Rancière, in his The Politics of Aesthetics, describes the “distribution of the sensible” (le partage du sensible) as the “implicit law governing the sensible order that parcels out places and forms of participation in a common world by first establishing the modes of perception within which these are inscribed.”20 Implicit in this statement is the notion that sovereignty, that body, whether absolute or popular, local or global, that has jurisdiction over a territory or group of people, produces a system of perceptual facts that are regulated and that regulate its constituents as perceptual bodies, moulding them into a concrete and uniform entity.21 But Rancière also includes times and forms of activity in this distribution. “A distribution of the sensible therefore establishes at one and the same time something common that is shared and [has] exclusive parts. This apportionment of parts and positions is based on a distribution of spaces, times and forms of activity that determines the very manner in which something in common lends itself to participation and in what way various individuals have a part in this distribution.”22 In the end, who sees or hears what or decides to move through what spaces in time refers to either forms of inclusion or exclusion. For instance, who can afford wide bandwidth or only dial-up Internet service will determine what some individuals can know about and what others cannot, as well as who may be privy to phenomena in simultaneous and manifold time, responding to and negotiating digital relations in collapsed spaces within existent global networks. Furthermore, Rancière understands the important position aesthetics plays in the production of this distribution and its redistribution because aesthetics has much to say on what is sensed. Utilising the classic ideas of Kant, according to which aesthetics is a system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience, he sees aesthetics in a political sense as a form of experience that must be controlled through governmental agency. “The aesthetic regime of art puts this entire system of norms into question by abolishing the dichotomous structure of mimesis in the name of a contradictory identification… It thereby provokes a transformation in the distribution of the sensible established by the representative regime…”23 Artists and architects, using their own histories of production, spaces of presentation, apparatus, methods, and materials, create an alternative redistribution of the sensible that in, the end, produces, in its most utopian sense, an alternative paradigm to that of the distribution of the sensible. Throughout this essay I would like to argue that this other distribution produces an alternative set of sensations, percepts, habits of perception, and cognitive strategies that have their material counterpart as neuroarchitectonics and mind. These, what I would like to call coupled registers, create the dispositions for creativity and the imagination. This, again, is the power of art.

Art, 2005The distribution of the sensible and its counterpart, the redistribution of the sensible, are ontogenic; they evolve over time and are epochal. In effect, the history of the subject is a history of the relations of the mutating conditions of the distribution/redistribution of the Sensible dyad, as they mutate according to the changing social, political, economic, historical, psychological, and spiritual conditions that represent and sculpt them. Whether one is looking at early Cro-Magnon societies or 21st century urban street culture, each proposes a distribution of sensibility/redistribution of sensibility that creates particular conditions of knowledge and general intellect. How different is the distribution of the sensible as it appears as a reflection of an extensive culture from that of one intensively driven? Of course, this history is neither linear nor positivistic. Rather, it is a story filled with fits and starts, replay and reverse motion, nested irregularities and plenty of noise. However, there is also a continuity, as each culture samples its predecessors in contextually driven ways. The manner in which governing bodies administer that distribution has implications on what information a society or a group within that society can have access to and will determine individuals’ participation in that society. How different are the conditions of that distribution for a government required to manage a centralised “people” versus one that is based on a “multiplicity”? “Multitude signifies: plurality—literally: being-many – as a lasting form of social and political existence, as opposed to the cohesive unity of the people. Thus multitude consists of a network of individuals; the many are a singularity.”24 Sovereignty is as much affected by the changing conditions of this distributional complex as it is the organiser of its predispositions. For instance, in the transition from extensive to intensive culture, the needed tools of administration adapted to the contingencies of the new distributions and subjects that emerged. In summary, the conditions of production of the cultural field, as opposed to those considered institutional, are very different in the end, producing concurrent but non-analogous distributions of the sensible, which occupy the same spaces at similar or different times. These distributions of the sensible today compete for attention and, as we will see later, also produce it.

Section 4. FromNoo-powerto Neuropower

In order to examine the redirection of control from the external and material to the mental and neurological mentioned at the beginning of this text, I would like to start with a quotation from Maurizio Lazzarato, a second generation “Operaist”, who recognised this new biopolitical dimension as defined by such terms as “mass intellectuality”, “immaterial labour”, and “general intellect”. These concepts are recontextualised in terms of the new nature of productive labour and its living development in society. “In order not to name such different things with the same word, one could define the new relations of power, which take memory and its conatus (attention) as their object… noo-politics. Noo-politics (the ensemble of the techniques of control) is exercised on the brain. It involves above all attention, and is aimed at the control of memory and its virtual power.”25

Neuroaesthetics, 2006Agreeing with Foucault, but using a poststructuralist scrim, he still believes that sovereignty is interested in exercising its power by neutralising difference with repetition in order to reduce the power of variation (the difference that makes a difference), by subordinating it to reproduction. The function of the training of bodies is to prevent the bifurcation, to eradicate any possibility of variation, any unpredictability, from action, conduct, and behaviour. But in the field of the Society of Control, the body is coerced through invisible and sublime intensive loops that incorporate it within itself to homogenise the heterogeneity. The unruly body/mind of the multitude, in all of its possibilities, must also be constrained and contained in the wide-open spaces of the world picture/movie. Accordingly, new and more sophisticated technologies are instituted for the control of the mental at a distance. As we will see, the place of these bifurcations, variations, and instances of unpredictability can also be found in the condition of the brain at birth, which is, on one hand, a set of built-in genetic adaptations that allow for a minimum of survival and, on the other, an entropic and overabundant, exuberant nervous system, ready to be activated and pruned by the conditions of the environment, both natural and cultural. Repetition and constancy are part of the tools communicated through the empathic gaze and nurturing touch of the parents as agents of the institutional understanding that shape this difference.26Paolo Virno sees the aspirations of neoliberal capitalism as always on the lookout for new territories for its markets, and what better place to focus its attention than the potentials locked in the conditions of the nascent brain and mind, with its limited and yet unlimited potential, its dynamis, as the next continent to discover and conquer? What might the future man or woman be and how could he or she be produced? For the true conditions of the dynamis are most importantly found in the conditions of production of the body-brain-mind-world axis. We find these conditions first in the constantly changing urban cultural environment, especially that produced by modernism, with its appetite for the new, and post-modernism, with its inclination toward folded time and space. Then, as a response, these adaptive changes are first recorded and then emblazoned as patterns of neural connectivity—static and dynamic, hierarchical and non-hierarchical—in the forming brain. For, as we progress up the evolutionary ladder, we find more and more of the brain, especially what are referred to as its associative cortex, susceptible to change.27,28 New histories for the production of the mind through differential sampling of the pre-individual are located not only within the life of a single person, but also in the shared ontogeny of the inter-personal social mind. It is this form of second-degree individuation that, according to Virno, leads to “non-representational democracy”.29

“The general intellect is social knowledge turned into the principal productive force; it is the complex of cognitive paradigms, artificial languages, and conceptual clusters which animate social communication and forms of life. The general intellect distinguishes itself from the “real abstractions” typical of modernity, which are all anchored to the principle of equivalence.”30 Enlisting the communicative industries, pharmaceutical corporations, military-industrial complexes, and scientific community, sovereignty has produced sophisticated, machine-like assemblages to organise the distribution of the sensible to comport with the new conditions of the general intellect and the mind. These assemblages are free-floating and no longer anchored to an object. I refer to this development as cognitive ergonomics, because the contingencies of the real and “potential space” of the brain’s cognitive apparatus, its neural plasticity, have been elaborated to meet the demands of the constructed hegemonic social/cultural dynamis with a maximum of efficiency.31

Section 5. Cultural Difference and the Sampling of Neural Biodiversity

Drawing for Neuroaesthetics Conference, 2005“Deleuze describes the brain as ‘a relatively undifferentiated mass’ in which circuits ‘aren’t there to begin with’; for this reason, ‘creating new circuits in art means creating them in the brain too.’ The cinema does more than create circuits, though, because, like a brain, it consists in a complexity of images, imbricated and folded into so many lobes, connected by so many circuits. While cinema can simply reiterate the facile circuits of the brain, ‘appealing to arbitrary violence and feeble eroticism’, it can also jump those old grooves, emancipating us from the typical image-rhythms…opening us to a ‘thought that stands outside subjectivity’”.32

Neural plasticity refers to the ability of neurons, dendrites, and their synapses to be modified by experience. The famous neurobiologist Marcus Jacobson defines neural plasticity as a process through which the nervous system adjusts to changes in the internal and external milieu. Those adjustments can come in response to changes in the external environment mediated by the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch and by the autonomic sense.33 Here, we see an analogy with Rancière’s distribution of the sensible, especially in the inclusion of the autonomic system, which includes of the emotional and affective subsystems. Secondly the nervous system can adjust to internal changes, such as those that occur after focal brain injuries, in which the brain may recover as long as that injury occurs before puberty. Language production and comprehension can also be affected by plasticity. Most lesions affecting the language areas of children are due to strokes that occur in the perinatal period. The language areas of the brain are represented in early life in both the right and left hemispheres of the brain. By the age of nine or just before puberty, a process occurs called lateralisation, which stabilises the area in and around the anterior left temporal lobe of the left hemisphere, designating it for language understanding (reception) and production. Children who sustain a stroke in the perinatal period do not suffer serious speech defects because the brain is able to adapt. Even children who suffer a stroke, or, worse, a brain tumour in the left hemisphere requiring surgery on the speech area, are able to recover almost all of their language abilities, since the right hemisphere can take over the function with only partial deficit. Adults suffering from stroke in the same area develop either receptive or motor aphasias, illnesses of speech comprehension or production, depending on what part of the language area is affected.34 What this implies is quite interesting in the light of this essay. If the region of the brain specialised for language is destroyed, other, very different, regions, in the right hemisphere in right-handed individuals, may take over its function. The fact that sometimes language is represented bilaterally and that, in some left handed people, language is lateralised to the opposite hemisphere suggests that there is a pluripotential neurobiologic capacity to be unmasked in an area of the brain not normally engineered for a given purpose. What is important is that up to the age of approximately nine years of age, the brain retains the potential to be modified by a linguistic, interpersonal, cultural environment. “Once language exists in the interpersonal, cultural environment, the more general power and tendency of the human brain through imitation and related mechanisms to shape its growth around recurring features of the environment in which it finds itself allows the capability for language to develop in the absence of the areas that many thousands of years ago provided the functional characteristics that allowed human beings and human societies to first develop languages.”35 The same could be said for language acquisition. A child born to Japanese parents living in London learns to speak English without an accent. The same could be said for the English child living in Tokyo who learns to speak Japanese fluently. Second language acquisition is more difficult after the age of nine than before. This model for neural plasticity and language acquisition is also good for understanding the effects of the information economy upon the brain/mind.

Section 6. Sculpting the Brain, And I Don’t Mean Rodin

Today more than ever, it is culture that modifies the brain. I would like to show that, in fact, when the conditions of the information economy and the concomitant general intelligence are expressed as conditions of intensive networks of real abstraction, real intensivity, the possibility for this sculpting emerges and becomes very powerful. I am utilising the theory of neuronal group selection as formulated by Gerald Edelman, not forgetting the important contributions of Jean Pierre Changeux, for what follows.36,37 Permutations of this theory may evolve over the coming years that will eventually replace it. They may not so much prove it wrong as more accurately reproduce the conditions of the ever-evolving nature of the world for which a new model of brain and mind development might need to be adapted. The theory of neuronal group selection, or neural selectionism, is made up of three components. Simply stated there, is the primary repertoire, which is a product of developmental selection; the secondary repertoire, produced by experiential selection; and reentry, which stabilises and elaborates upon the secondary repertoire. I will cover developmental and experiential selection first, leaving reentry for later. The primary repertoire consists of the initial variability in the anatomy of the brain at birth, which is produced by a process called developmental selection. First, it relates to the variation that results from the combination of the DNA contributed by the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg as two very diverse genetic heritages. Secondly, it relates to the history of the species itself in its evolutionary journey and the genes that reflect that history. Finally it is the result of events that take place during gestation. For example, the effects of smoking, drinking, or cocaine use on the developing foetal brain are well known. The combined effect of these three processes is the production of the neurobiologic common, from which the brain/mind emerges through its engagement with culture.

I would like to call attention to the primary repertoire as the site of what is referred to as neural biodiversity. “Biodiversity is a composite term used to embrace the variety of types, forms, spatial arrangements, processes, and interactions of biological systems at all scales and levels of organisation from genes to species to ecosystems, along with the evolutionary history that led to their existence.”38 Neural biodiversity, by analogy, is, first of all, a species-specific condition that refers to the natural variability of neural elements, including their physical and chemical idiosyncrasies and the neurobiological apparatus, which allows for the neural plastic potentiality to express itself. It is a condition of that species’ evolutionary history and contains therein the history of the neurobiological adaptations that were required by that species’ ascendance.

Sampling the Light Fantastic, 2005I would like to suggest that neuropower is, in fact directed, towards this neural biodiversity, attempting to limit its potential. In other words, just as global biodiversity is currently under siege by various factors relating to global capitalism, such as, for example, pollution, over-fishing, and encroachment of habitat, which diminish the diversity of flora and fauna, so, too, do other conditions of this same world system, those that strangle difference to produce a homogenisation of the cultural field, limit neural biodiversity. Further on, I will show how the homogenisation of the cultural field, by analogy, produces a crisis of neural network diversification, leading to a crisis of the imagination. Therefore, neuropower is not simply about past evolutionary history but about history in the future.

The secondary repertoire is a result of epigenesis and neural plasticity during a process called experiential selection. Epigenesis refers to the process by which the environment affects the patterns of stimulation and communication in the neurons and neural networks of the primary repertoire. Hebbian theory, which states that neurons that fire together wire together, is operative in the primary repertoire, where spontaneous electrical activity stimulates genetically prescribed built-in networks. In the secondary repertoire, that electrical activity is joined by what is generated by objects and object relations in the world and, in the case of our world, the real-imaginary-virtual interface (RIVI).39 The RIVI, as used here, is made up of the following: real objects, natural and produced, of which cinematic projections are included; images and facts that are projected onto these objects from our unconscious, dream, and drug induced states; those made by artists in response to other unconscious provocations; and virtual objects and relations as they exist in the internal architecture of the computer or the Web and as they become e-verted for designed products, architecture, or the city as a plan. Although we have defined the primary repertoire and the secondary repertoire separately, they are part of the same overlapping and interdependent process.

What is key to these changes is that experiential selection, unlike natural selection in evolution, occurs as a result, not of differential reproduction, but rather of the differential amplification of certain neuronal populations. What this means is that those neurons and neural networks that are most frequently and intensely stimulated by, for instance, advertised toys that appear and reappear in real and televised environments, or objects which are repeatedly pointed out as significant by the parents, will develop more efficient firing patterns or become progressively more phase locked, synchronously tethered together in time, which gives them a selective advantage over those that are not.

In other words, these neurons are apt to be more likely favoured over other neurons and neuronal networks in future encounters with those stimuli. These stimuli can be grouped together into larger ensembles of stimulation that are persistently aligned in the environment and thus are always coded together.40 Branded environments are one such example, where, through corporate agreements, Nike Shoes, Post Grape Nuts, Hertz Rental Car, Air Berlin, and Sony Music appear together in the commercial landscape of billboards and airline magazines. The institutional understanding and the sovereignty whose bidding it does is empowered by this network of cultural signifiers. What Paul Virilio had formerly referred to in the representational and extensive era as phatic signifiers today become fields of phatic signifiers, embedded in the intensive logics of emerging meaning produced by the new apparatus of global culture. As we have seen, these networks are supplemented by a field of direct and indirect externalities that produce intensive socialised networks.

Each brand is made up of its brand equity and its externalities that, together, compete with other assemblages for the attention of the market place. These selective pressures are coupled to selective pressures in the brain/mind. The conditions of intensivity integrate dynamic flows into the distribution of sensibility that these branded environments are instrumental in producing. (One might argue here, as an aside, that, in the transition from the Disciplinary Society to the Society of Control, the conditions of this intensivity and this integration of dynamic flows, as they jump the normal perceptual mechanism and direct themselves to the brain itself, might instead be called a distribution of the insensible.) Dynamic contingencies play a role in their fit and value. Repeated gossip, for example, differentially stimulates networks that make up the externalities that surround brand equity. The more a certain externality is stimulated, the more it comes to play a direct and constant role in the recognition of the product by the public and the more it indirectly stimulates other related networks. In the end, these externalities evolve to become commodified real factors that are now considered as a direct influence. The same is happening in the brain. These intense branded networks stimulate networks in the brain/mind that register and act on them preferentially, in the end having effects on the overall architecture of the brain/mind. In the competition for neural space during critical periods of development, neural networks selected for by these branded environments will out-compete those that are not selected for, which either wither away or are incorporated in other assemblages where they can continue to play a role and be stimulated.

Field of Phatic Signifiers, 2003–2007Branded networks work directly and indirectly on the child’s mind as well. They work directly through sophisticated marketing techniques. in which advertisements specifically engineered with the child’s mind in mind are transmitted cross-culturally during Saturday morning cartoons. These specially designed advertisements are analogous to “babyese,” in which parents prolong and exaggerate certain key phonetic distinctions important to the child’s immature brain. The same is true of childhood advertisement. Bright colours, fantastic talking cartoon animals, and speaking in “babyese,” which the child already knows from Saturday morning cartoon programs, create an indistinguishable set of signifiers in a child who is as yet unable to distinguish himself/herself from others. This is where the Society of Control really begins in the inside/outside of the child’s mind. But there is another way that the conditions of capitalism are transmitted to the child, and that is indirectly through the parents. Neuropower is focused on the planning and attention capacities of the frontal lobe. The adult assists the child in the routines of his or her daily life that are beyond the capabilities of its immature brain. When these activities involve planned action, for instance, the parent extends the child’s abilities by being its frontal lobe.41 This coupling of adult and child is a necessary condition for the early neural sculpting of neuropower. The key to an understanding of the mechanism of neural Darwinism is that it is based on a variable population of neurons that represent the history of that species’ relationship to the changing contexts and complexity of the world they evolved through. The key words in this statement are variable and population. Neural selectionism depends on variation, generated through the primary repertoire that can interact with the multiplicity inherent in the environment. Nature is one source of variation and was important when we lived in agrarian societies, but, today, as more of the global population moves to urban centres, culture has taken on a more important role as the generator of this variation.

Section 7. Time Never Won or Never Lost

A third tenet of the theory of neuronal group selection is called reentry. Reentry is defined as the recurrent parallel exchange of neural signals between neuronal groups taking place at many different levels of brain organisation: locally within populations of neurons, within a single brain area, and across brain areas. The importance of reentry as a mechanism of neural integration has been recognised. The anatomically distinct areas of the brain, the primary sensory areas such as the visual cortex as well as the more modern associative cortices, consist of distinct areas that code for different information.42 For instance, the visual cortex, as the research of Semir Zeki and others has shown, is made up of functionally segregated areas that code for specific attributes such as the form and colour of a visual object. These areas are linked by what are referred to as cortico-cortical and thalamo-cortical connections because they connect regions of the visual cortex together and the thalamus, a subcortical structure, to the cortex. In some ways, each of these areas sample and produce maps of the world based on their specific biased apparatus. For instance, area V4 of the occipital cortex samples the world according to colour—that is, its cells are wavelength selective—while those of V5 are motion selective.43 But we don’t see the world as disjointed patterns of colour and motion but rather as a seamless whole. Why is this? It is through reentry that these disparate regions are linked together in register, producing a picture/ image that is integrated: this is referred to as binding. These different registers are bound together. We also know through experience that several such sensory areas can work together. When eating an apple, you are using taste, smell, and vision as well as coordinating various tactile and motor repertoires as the apple is adjusted to bring it in register with the mouth and tongue. Reentry is one way that these maps are integrated together. Superimposed on these primary areas are meta-representations coded for in association areas and linked to corresponding areas of other parts of the brain, such as the frontal lobe, hippocampus, cingulated gyrus, and so on. Eating an apple is a planned event that rehearses other, already registered memories of former interactions with the apple, the satiation of hunger, and so forth. Reentry also plays a role in binding these regions as global mappings, since it refers to the whole brain as it is activated at the same time.

Section 8. Brainweb: Hierarchical vs. Distributed Networks

Sketch for Fabrication, 2001“On the other hand, the mixing of times in the media, within the same channel of communication and at the choice of the viewer/interactor, creates a temporal collage, where not only genres are mixed, but their timing becomes synchronous in a flat horizon, with no beginning, no end, no sequence. The timelessness of multimedia’s hypertext is a decisive feature of our culture, shaping the minds and memories of children educated in the new cultural context.”44 Neural assemblies provide a conceptual framework for the integration of distributed neural activity. For our purposes, neural assemblies will be defined as distributed local networks of neurons transiently linked by reciprocal dynamic connections. A useful analogy is found in peer-to-peer network systems such as Bit Torrent, in which geographically distant computers briefly transfer data to each other within transient assemblies that are formed on a static network of hardwired connections.45

There are two basic theories of the solution to the problem of integration in the brain. The first model is essentially hierarchical, in which there is a progressive increase in the specificity of the neurons as you move from the peripheral to the more central areas. Diverse processing streams achieve confluence at higher layers, finally reaching what is referred to as a master area. Such a master area has not been found, although feed-forward convergence is an important anatomical feature of the cortex.

An alternate model, which has broad implications for our understanding of the brain as a multiplicity, is the reentrant model of integration. The two main tenets of this theory are that neurons work together in “neuronal groups” or local collectives and that they correlate their activity through reentry. “As we have already discussed, reentry leads to the synchronisation of the activity of neuronal groups in different brain maps, binding them into circuits capable of temporally coherent output. Reentry is thus the central mechanism by which the spatiotemporal coordination of diverse sensory and motor events takes place.”46

Earthling drawing, 2006Reentry is linked to the theory of neuronal group selection, since it tethers and stimulates recurring and grouped disparate maps together according to repeated and regular internal or externalised stimulation. Non-representational abstract internal maps registered as long term memories and developed over a lifetime are re-stimulated each time in response to similar externally driven inputs through synchronous firing in a distributed pattern. The more times that map is stimulated the greater will be the efficiency of the flow of energy through that system. Memory is re-categorising, as it binds disparate fragments of itself to a multiplicity of already registered neuronal maps in which the same fragment or a related fragment memory may play many roles, depending on the conditions that elicit it. This multiplicity is analogous to how one character in a novel can have many different personalities, each of which may be elicited in different contexts, or how the same actress can have many roles in a staged dramatic or comedic play. This tendency of neurons or components of a map to participate in many different kinds of neural network regimes, as we saw earlier, is comparable to degeneracy in physics and geometry. Analogous to the relations discussed earlier between brand equity and externality, the efficiency of a map is related not only to the strength of its relevance to the inciting stimulus, the original conditions of its formation and repetitive stimulation, but also to its potential to indirectly participate, along with its fellow neuronal, synaptic, and dendritic components, in other maps. As a result of these multiple conditions of stimulation and firing, it develops neural efficiencies that give it an advantage over those not so stimulated in the competition for neural space during experiential selection. A neural-synaptic-dendritic selective potential depends not only on how it was initially formed but also on the alliances it was able to form with other networks during the course of the history of its own plasticity. (Plasticity must be seen here as ontogenic.) “In the visual system model… entire cortical states and all of the cooperative interactions that lead to their establishment can be selected during reinforcement. This results in synaptic changes in many different pathways, including some whose involvement in the task at hand may not be immediately obvious.”47

Proceptive Self-Reflexive System, 2006When electrical discharges in different regions occur together and in register, one says that they are phase locked and synchronous. Synchrony and neural integration are properties of localised brain regions like the visual cortex, resulting in local binding. In addition, disparate areas throughout the brain discharge together in large-scale synchronisations to form global mappings.48 Metastable coordination dynamics, which express the relation of multiple local tendencies nested within a global cortical condition, more accurately describe the temporal dimension of neural processing than older theories of simple linear phase dynamics, which only define the relations of local areas to each other. Therefore, complex temporal relations, which concern large swaths of brain tissue, are topological and require more sophisticated algorithms and computerised technologies to understand. “Individualist tendencies from diverse regions of the brain express their independence and coexist with coordinative tendencies to couple and cooperate as a whole. As we have seen, in the metastable brain, local segregative and global integrative processes coexist as a complementary pair, not as conflicting theories. Metastability, by reducing the strong hierarchical coupling between the parts of a complex system while allowing them to retain their individuality, leads to a looser, more secure, more flexible form of functioning that promotes the creation of information.”49 The experiential world is a mélange of different temporal possibilities. It is not simply a system of dialectic contrasts but, instead, a multitudinous flow of contingencies, reflecting a continuum rather than an either/or. Nor is time linear, going from one point to another as in a differential equation; rather, it exists simultaneously and diachronically in multiple planes that intersect in an infinite array of possibilities. It is a topologic surface containing infinite combinations of folded time ready to be discovered. The nervous system has selected and been selected by these evolving temporal conditions. A metastable paradigm takes into account this complex nature of time and how it, like Ariadne’s thread, sews the world together into a coherent tapestry. It is these large-scale events that have led Edelman and others to understand reentry as a means with which the seamlessness of consciousness could be made manifest. “This analysis concludes that even the most basic or primary form of consciousness presupposes complex brain systems dealing with perceptual categorisation, memory, learning, biological self-nonself distinction… and a reentrant pathway by which this memory can discriminate current perceptual categorisations.”50

Neuro-Biopolitics, 2006Forms of cooperative synchronisation occur in the real world as well. An analogous system of cooperative interactions exists in the cultural and social world in which all kinds of interlaced patterns have evolved to form complex distributions of synchronous and diachronous sensibility. The rules of this evolutionary process might not simply be Darwinian and subtractive; they might follow a Bergsonian logic. Time does not allow an in-depth discussion of the difference between these two paradigms. Simply stated, Bergsonian logic delineates the way anything ever created or formed continues to exist even though it might not be culturally present. It might simply be resonating below the radar of a specific cultural intelligibility, waiting for the right conditions for which it might reappear with renewed relevance. Fashion styles or August Blanqui’s idea of the Eternal Return might be examples of such. Therefore, cultural landscapes, as they are understood in time and space from this point of view, are in a state of continual becoming.This becoming world is bound together. The state of that external system will be reflected in the temporal sculpting and choreography of the neural biologic common. The early attempts of Gestalt psychology to create a series of laws or factors that influence grouping and the distinctions between figure and ground, such as those of similarity, continuity, proximity, and common motion, were driven by qualitative first person observations of the visual world. The history of art creates its own forms of groupings and affects/effects through laws passed down over generations that delineate the nature of representation. That trajectory, however, is not positivist. Rather, it is continually in flux, with constituent members continually switching partners in non-linear and experimental ways. Marcel Duchamp’s initial foray into the art world as a cubist painter and Dadaist is later coupled to the roots of Fluxus and conceptual practice in the mid-sixties. Gordon Matta Clark’s re-emergence in the late nineties and early twenty-first century as a significant artist is as much about the changing cultural conditions of the late nineties, with its proclivity for looking back at the history of art for examples of resistance, as it was about the nature of recast subjectivities post-Internet among young artists in the emerging contemporary art scene. Yes, it was a reaction to the conditions of an overbearing market with its art fairs, auctions, and collector power, but it was also due to changes in the minds of young artists themselves, looking for a way to refresh the contingencies of the available vocabulary for the production of their art practices. This is consistent with the history of the avant-garde itself and may give us a clue to another explanation of the difference between the historical avant-garde and the neo-avant-garde.51 The multiple transitions produced by the excesses of the modernist apparatus of the avant-garde might instead be seen as a response to the changing conditions of the brain/mind itself, differentially sculpted in response to the changing visual, auditory, and tactile landscape. This last point brings us back to one of the principal themes of this essay: the production of the future human being. In an informational economy dependent on forms of general intelligence, the transformation of the brain/mind in its new global context is essential. The key to the conditions of this mutation is time itself.

Section 9. Perception in Action: Neuropower

From the Common Infinitum to the Neurobiologic Common, and Everything In-Between, 2008In the past fifty years, classical theories of experimental psychology, cognitive psychology, cognitive science, and cognitive neuroscience, which viewed perception as a passive, stimulus-driven device that reacts to sensory information and copies pre-specific information to create meaning, have given way to a view that is more active and adaptive. (Many, like J.J. Gibson, never accepted this idea.) The earlier model depended on the hierarchical system that organised space and time extensively and was believed to deliver and produce an internal world model that was a representation of a stable and context- invariant external environment. As we saw above, perception is built from tiny bits that are assembled into more and more complex entities as one moves up the hierarchy.

A new model called situatedness has posited a much more adaptive and action-oriented system.52 This model assumes that cognition is not built on context- invariant percepts but instead must adapt itself to the continually changing environment; that of the moving subject imposing himself or herself on a nervous system in action. Cognitive functions are now being appreciated more in terms of top-down strategies rather than the bottom-up strategies of classic neuroscience, although bottom-up strategies are still understood as playing an important role. These top-down strategies have shifted the concept of perception away from reflex-driven systems of reactivity toward systems that are driven by expectations derived from previous experience.53 This new shift towards expectation has implications for models of neural systems in the information age, because perception is now “dominated” by intrinsic factors such as attention, memory, and anticipation. “The data reviewed indicate that top-down processing is in many instances, associated with modulation of the temporal structure of both ongoing and stimulus evoked activity. In a wider sense, top-down influences can be defined as intrinsic sources of contextual modulation of neural processing. Obviously, top down factors include the activity of systems involved in goal definition, action planning, working memory and selective attention.”54

Shaping the Negation of the Negation, 2008These top-down influences are the very substrates that noo-politics is addressing. Phaticity, its field of attention grabbing images and contingent underlying means of production, is no longer only focused on bottom-up processing but on top-down processing as well. Temporal binding operates on these top-down systems, since correlated discharges are much more effective in producing saliency than non-correlated discharges. In fact, repeated synchronisation, the binding that results from top-down influences might have a similar effect on neural distributions to those induced by repeatedly stimulated and synchronised bottom-up stimuli. A parsimonious explanation would suggest this: they might sculpt neurons according to their repetitive logics. These top-down synchronisations are linked to relevancy through correlations between systems of long-term memory and incoming sensation. They are significant for us here, because these top-down influences also act before an external stimulus even appears during states of expectancy and anticipation—states that are the concerns of the public relation firms and polling institutions that drive the global economy of empire.55 Neural selection works on these neural responses, making those that are continually and repeatedly stimulated more relevant. Certain responses become more relevant in terms, not only of the spatial, static, architectonic structure of groups of neural elements, but also of their dynamic proclivities, by enhancing and selecting certain temporal correlations over others. Certain decision-making processes or habits are selected over others as they stimulate more selected networks than others. These habits are the focus of the administrative techniques that attempt to influence the future choices of the global subject or what I refer to as earthling. This goes to the very heart of neuropower. As I have shown above, neuropower, as an administrative technique, depends on the distributed networks that make up our global informational economy. It is that distributed system of intensive-culture logics that has been coupled to the proclivities of the brain. It is not that extensivity is gone and has been replaced by intensive culture or that bottom-up processing as a contingency has been totally replaced by an interest in top-down processing. They exist side by side. What I am suggesting is that our culture has slipped towards a more intensive one, in which the conditions in the brain best suited to interpret them are those involved in dispersed systems following the rules of metastable coordination dynamics; that our society and the brain coupled to it are becoming more distributed. Brain centres that form our goal-directed habits, located in the forebrain, depend on connections they make with areas all over the brain and therefore require distributed networks to do their bidding. Neuropower and the institutional understanding that does its bidding are directing their attention toward the areas of the frontal and pre-frontal cortex as well as the frontal-parietal-temporal cortical system of language, where these correlations are generated. In a post-Fordist view of labour, there is a recognition of the centrality of (an ever more intellectualised) living labour within production. In today’s large, reconstructed company, a worker’s labour increasingly involves, at various levels, an ability to choose among different alternatives, and thus he or she has a degree of responsibility regarding decision-making. Neuropower directs its attention at these new conditions of the worker’s role and the neurobiological centres that direct attention and choice. It does not act alone. It is assembled upon the devices that preceded it: those of the Disciplinary Society, the Society of Control, and noo-politics.

Political Art in the 60’s was about Delineation Political Art is Today is About DifferentiationA new field called consumer neuroscience or neural marketing has adapted the tools of neuroscience to evaluate and determine the response of consumers to product choices.56 Although in its infancy, research into consumer proclivities and its connection to the goals of neoliberal global capitalism, in which the social, political, historical, psychological, and economic conditions that define culture are bound, could have a radical effect on the nature of the multiplicity. Individual freedom could be at risk in a world in which powerful new tools like After Effects, 3-D modeling, surround sound, and radical editing procedures produce incredibly intense photographic and cinematic visual images and feelings and are now joined together with new, powerful tools to probe the brain and see its reactions. This is one side of the story of the agency of neuropower. But, just as the term biopower expresses both a threat to individuality and a possibility for new forms of resistance, so too does neuropower.

Grey Matters, 2008It is against this backdrop that art and architecture, hip to the conditions of this dynamic circumstance of neuropower, utilising their own histories, procedures, technologies, and materials, sample other temporalities embedded in the pluripotential condition of the time environment, in order to produce an alternative, experiential, dynamic redistribution of the sensible. Art, in its most powerful sense, decouples or uncouples the spatial and dynamic contingencies utilised by the institutional understanding. First, the potential for new temporal dynamic couplings, through the agency of a theory such as metastable coordination dynamics, allows for changes, instituted, for instance, in visual culture, to gain tenacity in the internal dynamics of the brain. Secondly, through destabilising institutional spatial/temporal continuities, consistent harmonies may be made discordant, and discordant sounds may appear melodious. Either might produce new forms of sensibility to be tethered to existing oscillatory patterns already operational in the brain, or might create new planes of dynamic interactivity that might produce new contingencies for neuronal group sculpting.

Notes and Bibliography

1 Maurizio Lazzarato, “Life and the Living in the Societies of Control,” in Martin Fuglsang and Bent Meier Sorensen, eds., Deleuze and the Social (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), page 186.

2 Lazzarato, ibid., page 186. The modulation of memory would thus be the most important function of noo-politics.

3 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), page 30: “The productivity of bodies and the value of affect, however, are absolutely central in this context. We will elaborate the three primary aspects of immaterial labour in the contemporary economy: the communicative labour of industrial production that has newly become linked in informational networks, the interactive labour of symbolic analysis and problem solving, and the labour of the production and manipulation of affects.”

4 Paolo Virno, The Grammar of the Multitude (New York: Semiotext, 2004). page 52.

5 Virno, ibid., page 83.

6 This explanation is not reductionist or deterministic in the traditional sense. In this model, the human brain has only a finite number of prescribed and ready-to-use neural networks at birth. In addition, however, it has a series of potentialities and apparatus that are inherited, such as neuroplasticity and the ability to generate, for instance, oscillatory potentials, give it the ability to become reorganised within a set of many possible environmental contingencies.

7 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, page 400: “The general right to control its own movement is the multitude’s ultimate demand for global citizenship. This demand is radical insofar as it challenges the fundamental apparatus of imperial control over the production and life of the multitude. Global citizenship is the multitude’s power to reappropriate control over space and thus to design the new cartography.”

8 Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Neo-avant-garde and the Culture Industry (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000), page xxi. Three further considerations must be kept in mind. First of all, art and architecture are not immune to the conditions of the institutional understanding, because large architectural projects require considerable funding, and artists in some circumstances must participate in art fairs. Second, it is not only that which is sensible that is essential, but also how the underlying conditions that produce the dynamics of the conscious and unconscious, the actual and virtual: how in fact they interrelate to mutate the flow of sensorial dispositions or are subsumed in a matrix of as yet unrecognised and sublime percepts. Finally, capitalism utilises a process that I am here referring to as the institutionalised alternative to modify, absorb, and limit the cultural implications of the new and different. Janis Joplin’s song of resistance, “Mercedes Benz” (1970), becomes a sound track for a Mercedes Benz commercial of the late 1990’s. Different people from a cross-section of British culture perform, lip-synching the song while a Mercedes Benz maneuvers its way through the city. Just as empire dependends on the multitude’s need to move for its access to the labour streams that power its engines, capitalism must not restrict the ingenuity of the avant-garde’s movements too much. The radicality of new forms of knowledge produces the fissures and eruptions necessary to expose the new surfaces and territories that capitalism can use as an inspiration to invent new products and markets. Benjamin Buchloh’s remarks are pertinent here. “This type of installation art and photoconceptualism now produces a techno-lingo of the image that can pride itself in being the first to have fully absorbed the very technologies that made the culture of the spectacle and the production of advertisement imagery a monolithic global power. Such affirmative mimesis makes it seem inescapable that artistic practices would, if not actually pave the way for, at least finally succumb to the powers of spectacle culture to permeate all conventions of perception and communication without any form of resistance whatsoever. It implies that even mere thought and the slightest gesture of opposition appear dwarfed and ludicrous in the face of totalitarian control and domination.”

9 Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador, 2007).

10 Boris Groys, Art Power (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008), page 12: “Thus the question of the autonomy of art seems to me the central question in the context of any discussion of the relationship between art and resistance. And my answer to this question is: Yes we can speak about the autonomy of art; and, yes, art does have an autonomous power of resistance.”

11 Manuel De Landa, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (New York: Continuum, 2002) pages 59-61.

12 Warren Neidich, “Resistance is Futile: The Neurobiopolitics of Global Consciousness,” in Sarai Reader 06: Turbulence, (Delhi: Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 2006) page 226.

13 Scott Lash and Celia Lury, Global Culture Industry (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007) page 5.

14 Andy Clark and David J. Chalmers, “The Extended Mind”, Analysis 58:10-23, 1998. Reprinted in The Philosopher’s Annual, vol XXI (P. Grim, ed.), 1998.

15 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), page 38.


17 Andy Clark and David J. Chalmers, “The Extended Mind”, page 5.

18 David. J. Depew, “Baldwin and His Many Effects,” in Bruce H. Weber and David J. Depew, eds., Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003), page 10: “In recent years, a number of evolutionary theorists have spoken well of a turn-of-the-twentieth-century idea that since the nineteen fifties has gone by the name of “the Baldwin Effect.” The general thrust of the idea is to urge that, under some conditions, learned behaviours can affect the direction and rate of evolutionary change by natural selection. In such cases, cultural inheritance of a learned behaviour across an indefinite number of generations creates a ‘breathing space’ in which inherited factors favourable to the adaptive behaviour in question that either already exist, happen to crop up, or can be stimulated by the change in question —there is some dispute about this— will move along the channel already cut by culture, thereby converting learned behaviours into genetic adaptations or, alternatively, supporting learned behaviours by related genetic adaptations. In either case, natural selection will have ratified evolutionary vectors that learning began.” (page 4).

19 Yann M. Boutang, “Mutations in Contemporary Urban Space and the Cognitive Turning Point of Capitalism, Transactions”, from the conference Trans_Thinking the City, The Mind in Architecture; From Biopolitics to Noos-Politics, (Delft: Delft School of Architecture, October, 2008.).

20 Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics (London: Continuum, 2004) page 85.

21 Gabriel Rockhill, quoted in Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, page 1: “[I refer] to what Rancière himself has called the distribution of the sensible, or the system of divisions and boundaries that define among other things, what is visible and audible within a particular aesthetico-political regime.”

22 Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics, page 12.

23 Gabriel Rockhill, quoted in Jacques Rancière, page 4.

24 Paolo Virno, The Grammar of the Multitude, page 70.

25 Maurizio Lazzarato, “Life and the Living in the Societies of Control,” in Deleuze and the Social, page 186.

26 Bruce Wexler, Brain and Culture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), page 102: “These mechanisms permit relatively rapid and selective direction of attention to objects at a distance as well as those close at hand, and allow parental influence over infant perceptual (and related cognitive) activity as well as motor activity. Through such means, adults influence what in the continuous stream of sensory input infants are most aware of, become most familiar with, and think most about. The corresponding effects on brain activity are pronounced making internally concrete the invisible connection between a pointed finger and an attended object.”

27 Peter R. Huttenlocher, Neural Plasticity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), page 5: “While neural plasticity probably exists in the nervous systems of all species, it appears to be most marked in specific regions of the human cerebral cortex, in areas that subserve the so-called higher cortical functions, including language, mathematical ability, musical ability and ‘executive functions’. Regions of the cerebral cortex that subserve voluntary motor activity and primary sensory functions, such as visual and auditory information processing, appear to be less malleable.”

28 Jean-Pierre Changeux, “Genes, Brains, and Culture: From Monkey to Human,” in Dehaene et al., From Monkey Brain to Human Brain (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005), page 83: “Even less understood is the expansion of the cerebral cortex that took place in the course of vertebrate brain evolution, in particular from monkey to man. The number of neurons per cortical column is rather uniform throughout the vertebrates. Thus the surface area of the cortex, i.e. the number of columns, appears as the primary target of the evolutionary changes. The gestation lasts 21 days in the rat, 165 in the macaque and 280 in humans, and the rapid phase of synaptogenesis (which starts two months before birth in macaque and four to five months after birth in man) lasts 136 days in macaque and 470 days in humans. One may further speculate that the fast expansion of the frontal lobe and parietotemporal areas, which contributed to the evolutionary origins of Homo sapiens’ brain, resulted from the exceptionally prolonged action of some still unidentified developmental process.”

29 Paolo Virno, The Grammar of the Multitude, page 79.

30 Virno, ibid., page 87.

31 Warren Neidich, Blow-up: Photography, Cinema and the Brain (Los Angeles: D.A.P., 2003).

32 Gilles Deleuze, quoed in Gregory Flaxman. ed., The Brain is the Screen, Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), page 41.

33 Marcus Jacobson, Developmental Neurobiology (New York: Plenum Press, 1991), page 26.

34 Peter R. Huttenlocher, Neural Plasticity, page 140.

35 Bruce Wexler, Brain and Culture, page 121.

36 Gerald Edelman, The Remembered Present (New York: Basic Books Inc., 1989).

37 Jean-Pierre Changeux and Stanilslas Dehaene, “Neuronal Models of Cognitive Functions,” in Mark H. Johnson, ed., Brain Development and Cognition (New York: Blackwell, 1993), pages 363-403.

38 R.J. Scholes et al., “Toward a Global Biodiversity Observing System,” Science, Volume 321, page 1044.

39 Wolf Singer, “Coherence as an Organizing Principle of Cortical Functions,” in Olaf Sporns and Giulio Tononi, eds., Selectionism and the Brain (San Diego: Academic Press,1994), page 158: “The probability that neurons synchronise their responses both within a particular area and across areas should reflect some of the Gestalt criteria used for perceptual grouping… Individual cells must be able to change rapidly the partners with which they synchronise their responses if stimulus configurations change and require new associations…If more than one object is present in a scene, several distinct assemblies should form. Cells belonging to the same assembly should exhibit synchronous response episodes whereas no consistent temporal relations should exist between the discharges of neurons belonging to different assemblies.”

40 Giulio Tononi, “Reentry and Cortical Integration,” in Selectionism in the Brain, page 129: “Two of the main tenets of this theory are that neurons act together in local collectives called neuronal groups and that they communicate with each other and correlate their activity by a process called reentry.”

41 Bruce Wexler, Brain and Culture, page 108-9: “Given the prolonged postnatal physical maturation of these structures in human beings, lasting until or beyond puberty, it is not surprising that adults must provide these functions if they are to be present in the behaviour of infants and children. Essentially, then, the frontal lobes of parents are functionally linked with the lower brain centres and the sensory, motor and association cortices of their infants and children. While the child’s frontal lobes are developing, the parents’ brains provide frontal lobe functions for the child.”

42 Giulio Tononi, “Reentry and Cortical Integration,” page 129.

43 Semir Zeki, ed., A Vision of the Brain (New York: Blackwell,1993), pages 122-129: “Here, then, was a visual area which, like V5 and V3, received its input from V1, but had properties which were remarkably different from those of V5 or V3. It seemed difficult to avoid the conclusion that there must be a division of labour among the visual areas of the prestriate cortex, with different areas undertaking different tasks in parallel.” (page 126).

44 Manuel Castels, The Rise of the Network Society (New York: Blackwell, 2000), page 492.

45 Francisco Varela et al., “The Brainweb: Phase Synchronization and Large-Scale Integration,” Neuroscience, Volume 2, April, 2001.

46 Gerald M. Edelman and Giulio Tononi, Consciousness, How Matter Becomes Imagination (London: Penguin Books, 2000), page 85.

47 Giulio Tononi, “Reentry and Cortical Integration”, page 144.

48 Francisco Varela et al., “The Brainweb: Phase Synchronization and Large-Scale Integration,” pages 229-239.

49 J.A. Scott Kelso, “An Essay on Understanding the Mind,” Ecological Psychology, 20:194, 2008.

50 Giulio Tononi, “Reentry and Cortical Integration”, page 148.

51 Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Neo-avant-garde and the Culture Industry, page xxiv: “Therefore I would suggest that only at this time did a radically different basis for critical interventions in the discursive and institutional frameworks determining the production and the reception of contemporary art become established, generating propositions of audience reception, distribution form, and institutional critique that were distinctly different from the critical models invoked by Burger.”

52 Engel, A.K. et al., “Dynamic Predictions: Oscillations and Synchrony in Top-Down Processing,” Nature Reviews Neuroscience, October, 2001, page 704.

53 Wolf Singer, “Binding by Synchrony”, Scholarpedia 2007 “These indicated that synchronised oscillatory activity is not only stimulus driven but does occur across widely distributed networks of interconnected cortical areas in anticipation of an attention demanding discrimination task. This observation led to the hypothesis that self-generated oscillatory activity in the beta and gamma frequency range could be a correlate of an executive subsystem required for the execution of the anticipated task.”

54 A.K. Engel, et al., “Dynamic Predictions: Oscillations and Synchrony in Top-Down Processing,” page 714.

55 Ibid, page 714: “A crucial ingredient of the model is that synchrony can be intrinsically generated (not imposed on the system by external stimuli) and modulated by intrinsic signals that reflect experience, contextual influences and action goals.”

56 Editorial, “A Manifesto for Neuromarketing Science,” Journal of Consumer Behaviour, Volume, 7, Issue, 4-5, pages 263-271.