Art, Technology, Consciousness – Roy Ascott

“For some years now artists working at the edge of the Net have been exploring the nature of consciousness and the potential of artificial life, assisting effectively in the emergence of Edge-life. Compared to the art of previous eras, their work is inevitably more constructive than expressive and more connective than discrete; and considerably more complex both semantically and technologically. Within this complexity, I forsee the insertion of a new but very ancient technology – that of the psychoactive plant – such that a kind of cyberbotany may arise around the instrumentally of such plants as ayahuasca (banisteriopsis caapi), the shamanic liana. It is my contention that Vegital Reality and Virtual Reality will combine to create a new ontology, just as our notions of outer space and inner space will coalesce into another order of cosmography.

My project ayahuascatec. net is designed to explore this field. It seeks to link telematically and telepathically a number of ayahuasceros, employing their double consciousness to navigate both psychic space and cyberspace, with spirit guides who traditionally can be expected to arrive as helpers bringing wisdom and knowledge to those in advanced use of the psychoactive brew. This builds on my initial project to share ideas of navigation in cyberspace and psychic space with the Kuikuru indians during my visit to the Mato Grosso in 1997, and on my experience with the ayahuasca in the ritual of Santo Daime. The aim is to bring these disembodied entities into communication with human users and their artificial agents in the Net, thereby creating a kind of a psi-bernetic system, in which experience of our everyday world and the wisdom of the other can interact in a kind of feedback loop.

Terence McKenna’s observation is wisely pertinent:

Our future lies in the mind; our weary planet’s only hope of survival is that we find ourselves in the mind and make of it a friend that can reunite us with the earth while simultaneously carrying us to the stars. Change, more radical by magnitudes than anything which has gone before, looms immediately ahead. Shamans have kept the gnosis of the accessibility of the Other for millenia; now it is global knowledge. The consequences of this situation have only begun to unfold. (McKenna, 1992)

The key to understanding this new state of being is language: the understanding that language is not merely a device for communicating ideas about the world but rather a tool for bringing the world into existence. Art is of course language, and as such can be a form of world building, of mind construction, of self-creation, whether through digital programming, genetic code, articulation of the body, imaging, simulation or visual construction. Art is the search for new language, new metaphors, new ways of constructing reality, and for the means of re-defining ourselves. It is language embodied in Moistmedia, it is language involving all the senses, going perhaps beyond the senses, calling both on our newly evolved cyberception and our re-discovered psi-perception.

Language not only enables us to understand nature, to communicate with nature, but to become partners in a process of co-evolution which will give us the responsibility to redefine nature.

Through the languages it creates, art serves to reframe consciousness. Simply to reiterate  received language, uncreatively and uncritically, is to renounce the idea that we can rethink ourselves and our world, and to accede to the notion that in matters of reality our minds are made up for us. (pp2-4)

While Euclidean space appeals primarily to the physical body, cyberspace appeals primarily to the mind. The body loves surfaces, solidity, resistance; it wants its world to be limitless but safely ordered, open to the clouds but protected from interminacy. Above all, the body wants its senses put in perspective…The mind seeks connectivity and complexity, uncertainty and chaos. It knows reality to be layered and ambiguous, constantly collapsing and reforming, observer-dependent, endlessly in flux…In turn, our frustration with the limitations of our own bodies will demand prostheses and genetic intervention of  a high order.

We realise that the body, like our own identity, can be transformed , indeed must become transformable. The many selves hypothesis, like the many worlds hypothesis of physics, is not only compelling but also necessary to life and liberty in the Moist culture…Human bodies and artificial agents need common habitats. At the point where cyberspace and post-biological life meet, an entirelly new kind of social architecture is required. A truly anticipatory architecture must prepare itself for this marriage of cyberspace with Moistmedia, combining self-assembling structures and self-aware systems. (pp5-6)

Ascott, R (2000) Beyond Boundaries Edge Life: technoetic structures and moist media. In Ascott, R (ed.) Art, Technology, Consciousness mind@large. Intellect. Bristol.


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