Psychedelia and Computing: How to Bifurcate Cybernetics?

7 Apr 2023
9:00 am - 7:00 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type
Special Event



In parallel with the current collapse of the cinema industry, we are now witnessing the emergence of new recreational dream bio-industries that aim to renew and artificially provoke dreams: the industry of psychedelic experiences produced by micro-doses. This colloquium will consist, first of all, in understanding the psychological, economic, and technological (or organological) forces that explain the dazzling success of these new industries. We will put forward the hypothesis that these psychedelic industries are developing as a counterpoint to the technological processes of general automation (which is also the automation of the mind), which are increasingly affecting our ways of living and thinking. Now, rather than generating a non-dialectical intermittency of the automation processes of the mind through psychedelic experiences, we propose to carry out a critique of the theoretical foundations of computer science that are at the origin of general automation: cybernetics and computational theory. Against a computationalist conception of reason implemented in our new artificial intelligences, the stake of this critique will be to discuss the bases of a new psychedelic computer theory that reintegrates the possibility of the dream experience and the determination of the unconscious within our interactions with machines. It will therefore be a question of conceiving the psychedelic experience as a cognitive bifurcation operator, whose challenge is to anticipate its occurrence within computer theory; that is to say, within our interactions with new artificial intelligences, which are still completely incapable to dream.

The Argument:

The future of humanity demands that the specific questions of negentropy and anti-entropy be addressed to challenge our legacy of cybernetics. In the current context of big data and artificial intelligence, thought (noesis) cannot be reduced to computation or computational language (language processing models based on cybernetics). The fight against anthropy – characterized by optimization, standardization, and automation — requires other experiences and forms of thought to be reevaluated in order to promote operators of bifurcation (Gilles Deleuze) through technology. In other words, against the automation of thought, it is a question of disposing noesis (Edmund Husserl) toward operations of cognitive bifurcation (Bernard Stiegler), by inventing new technological arrangements – or organologies of the mind (Bernard Stiegler).

To this end, we propose that the psychedelic experience be reconsidered. Recent neuroscientific experiments and analyses carried out with DMT and Ayahuasca show today, among other things, phenomena of Neural Regression and Divergent Thinking, which suppress the normal modulating activities of the frontal cortex, which is a source of convergent thinking ; i.e the generation of a single optimal solution (Warren Neidich). However, if the history of California was joyfully colored by this experiment in the 1960s and 1970s (Fred Turner, John Markoff), we are witnessing today, through the psychedelic protocols of micro-dosing, the advent of new pharmaceutical industries and recreational aspects of the psychedelic experience, which find social meaning as an experience of the de-automation of thought (Bernard Stiegler), to the extent that thought tends toward progressive self-automation. But the challenge at hand does not consist in reinventing “a psychedelic consumerism” instilled by a new neural capitalism (Warren Neidich), which develops as a non-dialectical counterpoint to the automation of thought. It is rather to contribute to a positive critique of cybernetics—that is, to the development of new principles and computer models that can open (or limit) the horizons of conceptualization and creation of artificial intelligences. These in turn determine our cognitive configurations and our noetic potentials through the systemic interactions that we establish with them and which ultimately constitute our modes and procedures of thought by becoming our (organological) living environment.

We therefore wish to develop a critical organology of cybernetics, not only in order to study the new causal relationships between cybernetics and madness (Bernard Stiegler) generated by the automation of thought, but to explore the pharmacological and therapeutic potential of the psychedelic experience, against the automation of thought, in order to imagine the bases of a new psychedelic theory of computing.

For this purpose, we wish to develop a critique of the historical foundations of current computer theory, dominated by computationalism (Giuseppe Longo) and recursivity (Yuk Hui), based on the noetic values ​​of the psychedelic experience. This will necessitate the consideration of new modes of reasoning, which, beyond calculation, revalue and reintegrate imagination and dream (Jonathan Crary) into the concept of Reason (Immanuel Kant).

How under what conditions can the psychedelic experience, as a cognitive operator of bifurcation, and drawing on the forgotten potentials of the imagination and the unconscious, participate in a refoundation of computer theory? And how to enrich the critique of recursive reason (Yuk Hui) to reinvent a “psychedelic reason” understood as an experience of cognitive plasticity (David Bates, Catherine Malabou)?

This dual organological and pharmacological challenge will be approached not only by scientific analyses – from philosophy, anthropology, medical sciences, cognitive sciences, media sciences and computer sciences — but also by artistic research, which experiments with new designs of the operations of the mind through the invention of new apparatuses, prostheses, devices, Human-Machine Interfaces, and other “search engines.”

Event Program:

Opening by Igor Galligo (Université Paris Lumières and UC Berkeley) / from 9:00 a.m. to 9:20 p.m.

1. First session: “Psychedelia: a noetic experience of the entropic brain?” /from 9:25 a.m. to 10:55 p.m.

The Robin Carhart-Harris theory postulates that the psychedelic experience is characterized by entropic dynamics in the human brain. Could we then suppose that the psychedelic experience increases the rate of entropy of the human brain, and thereby breaks the established automatisms, thus making it possible to establish new synaptic connections and cognitive bifurcations?

Speakers: Patricia Pisters (University of Amsterdam), Warren Niedich (Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art)
Discussant: Patricia Kubala (UC Berkeley)

10-minute break

2. Second session: “There must be in theoretical computer science a dream between the calculation” / from: 11:05 a.m. to 12:35 p.m.

The artificial neural networks (ANN) at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence today claim to mimic the neural structures of the brain and nervous system in order to produce cognitive performances equivalent to that of human intelligence. This technology nevertheless represents a limited computationalist conception of human intelligence. The aporias of computationalism as a theory for understanding the mechanisms of invention of the human brain have been frequently raised. In this session, we will focus on the role of imagination and dreaming in human ingenuity and their resistance to the computationalist model of intelligence, which dominates current innovation in artificial intelligence.

Speakers: David Bates (UC Berkeley), Pieter Lemmens (Radboud University, Nijmegen)
Discussant: Julia Irwin (UC Berkeley)

Lunch break from 12:35 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

3. Third session : “The psychedelic experience for computer research” /from 2 p.m. to 4.10 p.m.

Computer science research in cybernetics is particularly interested in new conceptualizations and modeling of human-computer interactions and artificial intelligence. This session will aim to present recent research on the critique of recursivity and computationalism in computer theory and recent processes of artificial imagination, in order to show the limits of existing models, but also present for the development of new computer models that focus on psychedelic processes.

Speakers: Eric Rawn (UC Berkeley), Giuseppe Longo (CNRS, AAGT, France), Marie Chollat Namy (AAGT, France)
Discussants: Eric Rawn (UC Berkeley) et Igor Galligo (Université Paris Lumières, UC Berkeley, and Noödesign)

10-minute break

4. “Representations of psychedelic process in artistic research” / from 4:.20 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.

Entropy and negentropy are complex dynamics that are difficult to grasp. The same goes for cognitive automation and cognitive bifurcation. In this session, we wish to solicit artistic research as an art of representation allowing us to see and to imagine new dialectics between entropy and negentropy, automation, di- automation, and cognitive bifurcation.

Speakers: Sanford Kwinter (Pratt Institute, New York), Greg Niemeyer (UC Berkeley), Rodolfo Augusto Melo Ward de Oliveira (UC Los Angeles)
Discussant: Victoria Vesna (UC Los Angeles)

Organizers and Partners:

This symposium is organized by Igor Galligo, founder of Noödesign and Visiting Student Researcher at UC Berkeley, with the contribution of Patricia Kubala, Researcher at the department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, and the help of the administrative teams of the department of Rhetoric and of the CSTMS. This project has received funding from the MSCA-RISE program under grant agreement No 101007915

Funding and Scientific Partners:

1.  NEST
2.  Noödesign

Scientifics Partners of UC Berkeley:

1. Department of Rhetoric
2. Department of Anthropology
3. Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society

Other Scientific Partners:

1. Art Sci, UCLA
2. Saas-Fee Summer Institute of Art
3. Ars Industrialis, Association des amis de la Génération Thunberg


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