Sunday, 27 July 2014

Cognitive Capitalism and Cognitive Aesthetics

The first thing one has to ask when confronted with the tenants of cognitive capitalism is: can any amount of theorizing be useful when the underpinnings of those tenants are that theorization itself is now outmoded?

This is an apparently overly contentious question if the reader is brought up or conditioned by the idea that the mind is the superior tool for examining reality and the minds primary functionality is the use of logic. But from my gender based position, at least half of the human race seems to function with logic balanced by something intangible called intuition. Indeed if one judged logic by its results then absurd situations, like the Arab/Israeli situation do not speak of the success of logical thought and, the apparent intangibility of intuition, the questioning of whether it exists or not, can be applied to the idea of logic itself.

In short Cognitive Capitalism suggests that we are in the third stage of late capitalism, that the assembly of goods to produce wealth is an outmoded concept, that in fact true wealth lie in the assembly of knowledge – or rather the control of the flow of information. That billions of dollars follow the flow of information exchange – that the mercantile capitalist is as ever, the middle man. There is an obvious truth to this, but identifying the obvious is not that useful except for filling up conferences with academics eager to learn and enjoy new language based obfuscations of the ordinary in a decadent and decaying show of strength of the class that seeks to render power unto itself.

There have been recent gestures in academia to take the role of the academic and change it from passive/aggressive hermit to active engaged participant. From my position this is to be applauded. But simply because the idea of the academic is to articulate meaning for the rest of society no longer means that power and influence should be the end game of the academic. We all need a career and we all need income – but not at the expense of the poor.

So it would seem that the project to develop a set of theories and positions around a post-Fordist, post-Marxist view of the world is underway, but what of the development of the idea of aesthetics in this shiny new age of academic relief and joy to be alive? To establish this study we would have to do exactly what the more politically motivated have done which is to look at what Cognitive Neuroscience says about our state, what the human project is and therefore what the context of the developments of the project of the artist within this mime-soup landscape is.

I jokingly referred to all of this as a mime-soup: according to materialist archeological and neuro-scientific studies we came out of the trees two million years ago, we stood up and ran; we then developed mimetic memory to leap across the boundaries of episodic memory and its simple scripting of behaviours; we told eachother what we knew and then developed prosody (a simply singsong exchange) which gutteralised into staccato communications from which language developed; we then told eachother mythic stories to narratavise our development and eventually, in the theoretic age, some of us took power by jargonizing language so that only we would know what to do and say in specific situations – and this gave those of us that did it a very good life-style.

You the scholastics, like the priests and the warriors, enabled the kings, despots and ruble billionaires to take control of the governance of the world whilst taking a cut of the action. Logic and theorizing took the world to it’s current state – topes at the vliff edge of the destruction of the world. As the Cognitive Neuroscientists propose, in parallel, the human project was to take all knowledge and excise it from the human brain and to place it in the environment – mimetic dance, body paint into cave painting, festishised locations in the environment, the constructed Stonehenges, the invention of inscription and writing - papyrus scrolls, palimpsests, books, computers – and today after a 10,000 year velocitised development we have placed all knowledge into the immaterial – into data.

So the artists innovate new ideas embodied within artefacts, which feed into galleries museums and is interpreted by scholars, critics and curators – the cognitive distributive networks thus explaining the prevalence of museums and galleries supplanting churches and cathedrals as a place to go to be awed – to share the mimes of the incoming paradigm – hence my jokey description: A mime soup.

What is art in the age of the cognitively enabled? Another commodity – this time aesthetic and immaterial – within which the currency of value is exchanged.

Is it possible to de-fetishize contemporary art? No. Are there any other strategies to give art or the human behavior which proposes the ideal as opposed to the deal? Only if the act or function of art changes. So how do we change it? I would argue that simply recognising the form of its transmission, such as this article, is not enough – even though I believe form should follow function. Things are too loaded and too complex for simple solutions.

What we have to do is propagate the understanding – share it in simple words rather than academic tracts which obfuscate meaning in grand constructions of difficult words and sentences - that exchange of ideas in a simple fashion would then allow art and artists to become something else, to develop new cognitive behaviours. One possibility is that the age of Cognition is coming to an end. To even identify it is to announce its demise. The concept of Cognition suggests in-formation and out-formation. Cognition is a western ideal of profound 100 per cent input 100 per cent output, that utilises intellectual capacity to churn through information to render understanding. But we need over-standing as much as in-standing.

The top sustainable running speed of a human is 24 miles per hour which when transformed into 20th century mechanical cognition/rendition is 24 frames per second film. But biologists tell us that the eye when sweeping between point a and point b is not a clean graceful sweep it is in fact a staccato frame grab of the world, which when analysed provokes the idea that reality is split into about 3.6 million sections or chronons per second (average saccade angle change rate). The Buddhists say actually, there are not 3.6 but 48 million segmentations per second – because the Buddha had counted these (always dead pan humour with Buddhism). Whichever figure turns out to be right, it would appear that human consciousness is an amalgam of many moments and that cognition is a much later response to witnessing reality’s flow/ What if we could un-couple our reading of experience from our mental abilities and liaise with our sensorial experience?

That is the project for artists at the moment – our sensorial apprehension of reality could also be velocitised if we stop using the normal analytical filters. These are very good at bringing experience into the mental realm of experience, but now that we have some theories about what-it-is-that-we-are and how this comprehension may affect life-as-it-is-lived so that we have a position that over-stands rather than understands what is happening between the viewer and the artist, then we now have a way forward in an age that is post the age of cognitive-capitalism.

Further reading: