Unit 2: Future of the Mind – Telepathy context / research / my work

One of the things that captivated me following the initial group ideation session we had around Futures, was the notion that technology could progress such that not only human-computer mental interfacing was possible, but human-human, i.e. telepathy (the communication of ideas/thoughts by means other than the senses).

The idea of telepathy first caught on in western culture in the 19th century, following on from the spread of spiritualism (communing with the spirit realm/the dead) and animal magnetism/mesmerism (whereby healing can occur via induced trances and hypnotism). These pseudosciences caught on in response to the fantastical advances in science that were making the world at once more understood and more mysterious. Why should we only trust our senses if there are microscopic cells (with cell theory – that we are made up of cells – only being formulated in 1839), and if time can be relative (theory of relativity in 1905).

Hilma af Klint was interested in spiritualism, and can also be credited with the first abstract art – exploring automatic drawing in attempts to visualise this non-visible reality. I encountered some of her sketches in the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and enjoyed how naive and free they seemed, some of which are below. The nesting and interaction of colourful organic forms, and looping, swooping lines also appeal.

Magicians then, using biological cues, performed ‘thought reading’ stunts, which still continue to this day. Indeed, much of the trends seen in the 19th century reared their heads again during the New Age in the 1970s, e.g. the idea of ‘channelling’ spirits or the collective unconscious via trances to gain new information. This took a strange turn as documented in the book and film adaptation of The Men Who Stare at Goats, with the American military hoping to harness the power of psychic agents for intelligence-gathering (and also, bizarrely, attempting to harm or kill psychically)

This idea of psychic ability being used as a weapon or military advantage is also explored in fiction, e.g. in Star Trek with the Vulcan mind meld appearing in it’s first season, and then later too with empaths such as Betazoids and the hive mind of the Borg. The notion of ‘hacking’ or mind control of another by means of such interfacing is a central theme of fiction such as Ghost in the Shell. This relies too on the notion of interconnected technological knowledge and AI systems within a ‘cyberspace’ – a concept conceived before the internet by William Gibson in his Neuromancer novel, but now a term used to refer to it.

But for me, I am interested in the consequences of such technology. If we were able to communicate telepathically, would this make language redundant? Would we lose language, particularly in our more intimate relationships? This could be a means in which telepathy could be a force for good, and answering a central human desire to be understood – enabling us to fully intimately understand and know our romantic partners and significant others. But what might be lost from our current relationships, and would this be a destructive or positive change?

There is a unique mode of communication already in existence between romantic partners, a secret language you only use within that context – formed of in-jokes, pet names, and particular phrases or patterns of speech that you build together. In a world where you could communicate without language, this would be defunct. I explored some ideas for how we could record these future dead languages, to house in future museums.

Below is a work I encountered in an exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery, curated to explore a post-language society (here conceived as a post-apocalyptic eventuality). The work below explores communication through a personal visual language, which are curious, but I’m unsure if they truly communicate (though perhaps they are recognisable to a native spanish speaker!) – it’s intriguing to see here again colourful, somewhat organic forms appearing.

Returning to my idea… The thought that these languages would be shared, which previously have been intimate and private between two people, is intriguing but one which made me feel unsure I could in good conscience ask people to share with me openly. This is interesting in itself, that I would hesitate to do so. That making open and shareable something entirely private is similar to this notion of sharing our inner most thoughts with others via telepathy. It is certainly an uneasy future being imagined.

What then could be more private than our own sense of self, our inner eye. What might it mean for our perceptions of self, if we can be fully aware of how others perceive us, and view ourselves through their eyes? Would this exacerbate or destroy the current situation of ‘selfie culture’ – whereby we feel pressured to curate our online image to the extent that our bodies, our lives appear perfectly manicured (whether doctored through photoshop or filters or not), and the comparison of ourselves to the online image of others is damaging to our mental health. The obsession with picturing ourselves in any and all situations can be seen as narcissistic and superficial, but it reveals our humanity too. Our desire to understand ourselves, to fit in and be understood by others. To mark our place in the world, and confirm yes I do exist. But this conflict between our inner world and how we appear externally is hard to process – and body dysmorphia and eating disorders are on the rise.

Experiment with a selfie feedback loop using the webcam on my computer and my phone

I very rarely take selfies of myself. My profile picture for several years on Facebook has me in sunglasses that obscure much of my face. This is not out of a particular desire to be unknown, or undocumented. I admittedly do see flaws in my appearance, and suffer that horror when you accidentally have the camera facing the wrong way when you turn it on on your phone. So I never spontaneously feel the urge to do so – to take a selfie feels contrived for me, though I understand it can be different for others! I was interested then to explore this possibility, of the complete knowledge of my appearance to others, and engage in a process that exposed me more than I would usually be comfortable. To invade my own privacy.

To do so, I recorded my appearance in a typical evening at home with my fiance. By attaching a head-mounted GoPro to him, I hoped to approximate his point of view and gain this notion of the self-image through someone else’s eyes. Below, I edited together only those moments when I was in frame. It provides a disjointed account of the time spent making dinner, and the conversation appears surreal.

The camera angle feels like I am floating above myself – as though in an outer-body-experience – which I suppose this is! It is disorienting how it jerks around according to his head movements.

Future Self-Portrait

It is uncomfortable seeing so much of myself in a video, to see less than flattering angles and lighting. Much like the confusion when hearing your voice on a recording (how it never sounds quite as you hear it in your own head), it seemed strange to see my idiosyncrasies – mannerisms and facial expressions – played out in front of me. I feel vulnerable in particular when seeing how my eyes remain closed sometimes when talking – something I am unaware of doing in the moment. Also – I seem so short! In all I think this was a successful experiment.

Survival Kit – Summer project – my work

Survival kit for mental health – 7 objects for 7 strategies

Manifesto for Mental Health

In this hectic, nonsensical reality, sometimes surviving just means preserving your sanity.

A toolkit is needed for the modern human to maintain their mental health and navigate their daily lives.

This kit helps you to gain spiritual and physical sustenance, as well as clarity of vision, through the 7 objects it contains. They provide multivarious defences against an omnipresent threat – a tool for each day of the week to keep it at bay.

Spiritual: connect and reflect, ensuring you are grounded:

  • Connection to inner focus (Vortex)
  • Connection to the natural world (Nest)
  • Connection to technological advances and algorithmic personalisation (Spotify code)

Physical: the necessities that sustain basic human existence

  • Nourishing, tradition and connection to roots (Oats and Seeds)
  • Sensual, personal touch and pleasure (Spoon)

Clarity of vision – as mental health problems can often cloud and distort our view

  • Ability to see alternative perspectives (Mirror & Mirror writing)
  • Ability to see direction and purpose (Compass)

Survival Strategies / A call to action: Research (pt 2)

The environmentalist movement may well have started in the 1800s, by Alexander von Humboldt. He was the first to come up with the notion of an inter-connected natural world, unleashing the basic ecological awareness that our modern understanding has roots in. Since, in viewing everything as connected, he understood also that should some part of it fail, the whole may be at risk. Read more about Humboldt here

Today, the ‘Green Wave’ is picking up speed. The evidence of climate change is now apparent for all to see, but this can also be attributed to the loud voices from the modern environmentalist movement.

One who has influenced global dialogue most is Greta Thunberg, a teenager from Sweden who now famously began striking from school to protest the inaction of adults to address the climate crisis. Millions around the world now join her on ‘Fridays for Climate’ strikes, and she has used the same candour at the marches and gatherings she has attended, as the most senior political arenas she has been invited to speak in.

They keep saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet they just carry on like before. If the emissions have to stop then we must stop the emissions.

Greta Thunberg , speaking at Extinction Rebellion in London, 31st Oct 2018

Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t. That is as black and white as it gets. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.

Greta Thunberg, speaking at World Economic Forum in Davos, 25th Jan 2019

Humans are very adaptable: we can still fix this. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We must start today. We have no more excuses.

Greta Thunberg, speaking at UK Houses of Parliament, 23rd Apr 2019

Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion is a grass roots protest movement which seeks to use the direct action method successfully used by the Suffragettes, in gaining women’s emancipation, in order to drive greater public awareness of the climate crisis and force politicians to act.

They seek to rebel in order to disrupt business as usual, and welcome arrests as this helps to demonstrate the ardour with which they support the cause, and encourages others to be outraged also. In April 2019, after shutting down 5 iconic London landmarks over a fortnight, 1000 people had been arrested. The next day, the UK became the first country to declare a state of climate and ecological emergency.

They use incendiary language and imagery in their posters and campaign literature, making key use of the skull and egg timer running out of sand to indicate the direness of the situation as they see it.

The science is clear: we are in the sixth mass extinction event and we will face catastrophe is we do not act swiftly and robustly… Our air is so toxic the United Kingdom is breaking the law. It harms the unborn while causing tens of thousands to die. The breakdown of our climate has begun… The ecological crises that are impacting upon this nation, this planet and its wildlife can no longer be ignored… We, in alignment with our consciences and our reasoning, declare ourselves in rebellion against our government and the corrupted, inept institutions that threaten our future… We refuse to bequeath a dying planet to future generations by failing to act now.

Declaration of Rebellion, Extinction Rebellion 2019

They acknowledge that this is emotionally charged territory in the introduction to their book This is not a Drill (2019). That it may make the reader feel ‘sad, or empty, or guilty, or angry, or frightened, or numb’. They counter this with the idea that for them the book is about love for the planet, and for humanity.

Survival Strategies: Research (pt 7)

Indirect Connection/Support: Detritus and Death

A robin took advantage of some crumbs that had fallen from my lunch @ Eden Project, 09/2019

There is a lot of support indirectly and perhaps unconsciously given to the world around us. In Eden I witnessed a Robin picking up crumbs that I had just swept from my knee during a quick lunch in the woods.

The pinnacle of unintended support and connection comes after death. Our bodies return to the earth and can support other lifeforms.

But this is not the only way dead lifeforms can support the living. Humans make various use of dead lifeforms as raw materials for construction, and other supportive functions for life.

A tree stump is being used as a literal support for the bending trunk of a living one.
A Cistacae plant grown twisted around and supported by a wooden post.

Survival strategies/A call to action: Research (pt 1)

This morning I saw the UN sharing it’s latest report on climate action.

This video which accompanies the report highlights the human factor and our need to adapt to survive, and some of the actions that can be taken by communities to do so, which inevitably are to do with how we interact with the natural world. The video opens with stark emotional clarity on the fear & sadness of climate change, but instils a sense of hope in how humans can act now.

It is significant that they have called for adaptation to help us survive the very real impacts of climate change that are being felt today. The Global Commission on Adaptation was formed 10 months ago in reaction to a deadly summer of climate change related natural disasters.

This is intended to happen in tandem with efforts to prevent the worst climate change from happening at all, but since there is a very real threat to survival today this is also direly necessary.

The key and notable difference here vs the Eden Project mission, is that the report is targeting action of governments and business to change their behaviour, not individuals. It lays out the business case for investing now to adapt, as a means of saving money in the long-run (since spending in the wake of disaster much higher than that to prevent/anticipate it) and protecting gdp. That we must reduce this impending disaster to dollars and cents in order to help safeguard life on Earth is stark and disturbing, but it seems this is the reality we face. The UN were already talking about adaptation 10 years ago, so this must be a response that is intended to more tangibly drive action.

Within this report they highlight the key role that the natural world plays as a crucial support system in all elements of our adaptation to climate change – and the visual charts they include play on our inter-connectedness.

While I think this is still highly connected to my survival strategies theme, I think this could be a separate one in itself, specifically around calls to action, activism, protest and societal change. Relating here and now to environmentalism, which would also include eden project, extinction rebellion and Greta Thunberg, but also in recent years the #MeToo movement and protest marches in the UK and US against the political climate.

Survival Strategies: Research (pt 6)

Direct Connection/Support: Family

Across much of the animal kingdom, family connections are strong and a source of great support especially through the juvenile stage. For mammals this is especially strong during pregnancy and in the nursing stage.

A young family touring the Rainforest biome in Eden project, 09/2019
A juvenile gull pesters it’s parent to feed it in Mevagissey harbour, 09/2019
Hand casts in the wall of the Core at Eden project, 09/2019