All 3 entries tagged Composition
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October 22, 2005
I have commented previously on how cognitive science has been dominated, and possibly limited, by a conception of the nature of cognitive tasks that reduced them to being classical problem solving activities. This 'problem solving' ranges from trivial pattern matching to complex strategy formation. In every case, the problem is well stated, along with the conditions that demonstrate the achievement of a solution. Cognitive science has of course existed to a great extent to support development in artificial intelligence, which has itself been skewed towards industrial and military applications (see De Landa's War in the Age of Intelligent Machines for an account of this relationship).
Coming as I do from a very different philosophical background, one that is more interested in artistic and literary creativity, it would be easy for me to dismiss cognitive science for its obsession with such trivia (even considering that the actual problem solving isn't that simple). However, Clark's extended cognition thesis fits neatly with accounts of artistic and literary creativity given by the likes of Deleuze and Guattari. Indeed I plan to explore these links in much more depth. I can see occassions in which it finds a line of escape from the 'cognitive task as problem solving' trap.
In chapter 10 of Being There, Clark describes a recognizable form of 'extended cognition', which he calls the "mangrove effect". The metaphor is this: a mangrove seeds itself in a shallow water, grows roots, traps other roots and particles, forms a network of roots with other mangroves that seed nearby (helped by the first mangrove), and eventually forms a more solid island within the sea. Clark argues that in some cases linguistic elements (both publicly spoken and internally contained) can work in this way. A word is uttered, not to fill a definite space or necessarily solve a well–defined problem, but rather to probe the cognitive and social environment, to see what connections form around it, or even to change the cognitive and social environment. This sounds much closer to the activities of musical and painterly composition described by Deleuze.
That is what Deleuze and Guattari would call "rhizomatic".
Most importantly, we should consider how this model of cognitive task frees us from a theoretical dependency upon a well integrated goal oriented super–subject. During the discussion following Clark's paper, the practical question of how to differentiate cognitive apparatus properly belonging to an agent from those belonging to the environment. I think he responded with an answer that relied upon the existence of such a super–subject (and its plans and goals). My alternative argument (which I think comes from Deleuze) would be that it isn't so much a well–integrated well organised super–subject that provides the drive for the cognitive task, but rather a dissonance producing chaotic attractor, speculatively dispersing fragments of sense into the world in order to simple make things happen. As Deleuze and Guattari say "the machine only works when it breaks down" (spot the double meaning).
So in fact, I argue, the cognitive tasks that drive the "mangrove effect" are closer to artistic creativity – composition, especially poetry. But this is not alien to Clark's thesis. In fact on page 208 he brilliantly identifies poetic composition as a form of thinking that exploits the "mangrove effect".
This leads onto Clark's more recent thoughts on other way in which thought is dependent upon an extended apparatus in a non–trivial way (that is to say, more than just as a means of cognitive off–loading, as in the case of simple note taking and note reading). Gestures and other rhythmic, haptic techniques were discussed. Someone asked if an exercise machine could ever form part of the extended cognitive apparatus (a musician would certainly say yes). Clark did talk briefly about non–linear couplings between mental and extended apparatus. A consideration of rhythmic apparatus could be drawn from there, leading into time and complexity.
At this point I remembered Cezanne's description of how his hands and the paintbrush and the canvas would merge together in the act of painting – what Deleuze called the "diagram" (see my entry on Cezanne Unlocking Sensation ). The act of painting for Cezanne, this merge between mental and external apparatus, rhymthically moving together, is a "mangrove effect". Cezanne:
Our art must shock nature into permanence, together with all the components and manifestations of change. Art must make nature eternal in our imagination.
September 15, 2004
…negative freedom is the result of manufactured social prejudices where, through social institutions, such as education and language, we become enslaved by 'order-words' that identify for us ready-made problems which we are forced to solve. This is not 'life', and it is not the way life itself has 'creatively' evolved. Therefore, true freedom, which can only be a positive freedom, lies in the power to decide through hesitation and indeterminacy and to constitute problems themselves.
Ansell Pearson, Germinal Life, Routledge 1999, p.23
This 'experimental and ethical pedagogy' (ibid, p.14) employs the Bergsonian method of intuition, which involves a reflection on the difference manifest in creative thought. When one realises that a currently held concept simply could not have existed nor could have been analytically deduced at a previous time in a previous state, one gets a sense of time as pure difference, despatialized. That feeling is creative, and the philosophical method that draws people into this reflection is Bergson's intuition. Only once the reliance on ready-made problems is abandoned can creativity occur.
The word 'implication' has a special meaning in this. Imagine reality as a large sheet of fabric. The fabric is folded to present you with one aspect, which you may grasp at. The fold (French – pli) is an aspect. You struggle to hold onto that fold, and find that you can only do so by holding onto other folds that follow on to it. As you try to grasp other folds, to unfold the folds, to follow the im-pli-cations, your actions on the further folds cause the first fold to be pulled and distorted in your grip. Out of this feedback loop the specific problem of this set of folds emerges. At some point you are able to stabilise the folds in relation to each other, and have a solution.
When you grasp the fact that a new problem has emerged, that the positing of the problem is beyond your control, and that you must evolve in relation to the problem in a way that was previously both unthinkable and impossible, you have intuition in Bergson's sense. Intuition is a reflection on learning, a creative learning.
And that's why Deleuze makes such a big issue out of the role of fabric in baroque art (le Pli, Leibniz and the Baroque), the role of the curtain in the paintings of Bacon (Logic of Sensation), and the relationship between canvas, paint and brush-stroke.
June 25, 2004
Last weekend Emma and I bought a Fundació Miró print of Pintura. This is to go in our bedroom at the new house in Kenilworth. Looking at it reminded me of something that I wrote just after visiting the Fundació, an interesting coincidence of reading a book on Miro and Guattari's Chaosmosis. I've rescued the text from my old MT blog and repeated it below…
Andre Breton on Miro's Constellations: "They belong together and differ from one another like the aromatic or cyclic series of elements in chemistry. If one considers them both in their development and as a whole, each of them assumes necessity and value like a constituent in a mathematical series. And finally, they give the word 'series' that special meaning by their uninterupted and exemplary sequence." Miro by Janis Mink, Taschen 2000.
Felix Guattari on the Production of Subjectivity: "In this conception of analysis, time is not something to be endured; it is activated, oriented, the object of qualitative change…A singualrity, a rupture of sense, a cut, a fragmentation, the detachment of a semiotic content – in a dadaist or surrealist manner – can originate mutant nuclei of subjectivation. Just as chemistry has to purify complex mixtures to extract atomic and homogeneous molecular matter, thus creating an infinite scale of chemical entities that have no prior existence, the same is true in the 'extraction' and 'seperation' of aesthetic subjectivities or partial objects…that make an immense complexification of subjectivity possibile – harmonies, polyphonies, counterpoints, rhythms and existential orchestrations, until know unheard and unknown." Chaosmosis (page 19)
Miro described how he would evolve the elements of his works from partial objects viewed while staring at the ceiling above his bed. He worked these partial objects into existential orchestrations relative to each other, generating a "necessity" (in the Kantian sense) to their being produced. Guattari takes the Bergsonian interpretation of Kant in seeing subjectivity as enduring or being subject to necessities (refrains or exemplary sequences). But like Miro he knows that these necessities are not given, they are produced through knowable mechanisms (time is activated) – and if they can be known, then they can be chosen, so he has the possibility of an ethico–aesthetic paradigm.