The Extended Mind in a Technologically Augmented Body: Neuroplasticity and Bio-Sociality
For forty years, the Australian performance artist Stelarc has probed the evolutionary architecture of the body. From his early body suspensions, in which the body was suspended from pulleys over buildings; his work with
spatially separated but electronically connected Fractal Flesh; biotechnologically engineered limbs and organs, such as Third Hand, and Extra Ear (through which internet interactants, located thousands of miles away, could listen to sounds in Stelarc’s physical environment); to his more recent projects such as Re-Wired/Re-Mixed, in which an exoskeleton enabled remote participants to programme the movement of his arm, Stelarc’s work is a prime example of enactive research into collective intelligence.
First used by Varela et al (1991), ‘enaction’ is thinking as embodied action; ‘embodied’ not only because experiences are derived from having a body with sensorimotor capacities, but because these capacities are embedded in a broader biological, ecological, and cultural context; ‘action’ because sensorimotor processes and action are inseparable in lived cognition. Although collective intelligence has exercised the minds of philosophers (Spinoza) and political theorists (Marx; Hardt and Negri) for centuries, contemporary bio-information technologies are perhaps its most radical incarnation.
Mobilising Malabou’s work on neuroplasticity, which consists of three dimensions: the aesthetic one, which implies sculpting, the ethical one, which consists of solicitude, repair, and rescue, and the political one, which involves responsibility (2004), this paper engages with the following questions: what are the implications of the bio-tech entanglement of the extended mind and collective intelligence for the sensing-thinking human multitude? What are its relations to calibration and scale; distance and reach; wellbeing and pain? Departing from Stelarc’s work, which, apart from being publicly enactive, relies on numerous cross-disciplinary collaborations, the paper also seeks to
shed light on the disciplinary entanglement needed to ponder such questions.