Abstract Revision/Whacky Thought

I didn’t post anything of substance on invent-l until yesterday–Memorial Day. Had the day off, and wife/kids are still in FL visiting grand-parents, so I was on my own. I sat in my pajamas until 4pm while I read the first chapters/pages of the Alliez book on Deleuze I mention below (among other things) and got swept up in the witch’s ride once again. The subject line was “whacky question #1” and was a reference to Craig Saper’s response to a question of mine at the conference (can’t remember what it was now). He told an anecdote of a French professor who would always characterize his questions (he was the only one with enough courage to pipe up in this particular class) as “whack-eee.” Here’s the message I posted:

(I think this might qualify as the revision of my conference abstract that Craig
requested a while back)

I’ve been quiet since returning from the Imaging Place conference in part because it was so intense (the preparation leading to it followed by the “being there”) and in part because I experienced a bit of burn-out and have been catching up with the rest of my life: phoenix rising from the ashes. I promised Craig S. at the conference to ask some whacky questions, so this is the first: What is thought? or (conversely?) what is thinking? or “what does it mean to think?”

One thing I hoped for from the conference but wasn’t very good at producing (perhaps my fault, perhaps the fault of the conference format) was a conversation about how a 3-D electronic space like Second Life will change the way we think spatially. To save (my) time in posing the question, I will quote Christy Dena quoting me in her article “Art and Aporia: Imaging Place” (http://www.slatenight.com/index.php?option=com_content&task;=view&id;=96&Itemid;=40

For the Greeks, the act of moving through a space was LITERALLY an act of reasoning for them, if you consider their use of the “memory palace” as a method of organizing their speeches, their argumentative acts of reason. As the fourth step in a rhetorical act, “memoria” was their way of remembering the “topics” (literally “places” in Greek) in their speech: they would put images which would trigger their memory of the speech topic into the places of their memory palace (the imagines loci). Craig also points out that the movement through a space is/was an act of reasoning in oral cultures as well. In aboriginal walkabouts, details of a journey are encoded in a song. And I remember reading in Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines that the aborigines would embed stories in the landscape so that, as they walked about, stories were stored in a kind of pre-literate version of the Greek’s memory palace. So what we are doing in SL/VR when we speak of moving through space as an act of reasoning is nothing new. The question is this: how does the electronic medium change the way that we think spatially? If oral culture’s primary mode was narrative (i.e. using space to tell stories), and literate culture’s primary mode was argumentation (i.e. using space to make arguments), then what is the primary mode of “electracy”? We might say “using space to make patterns” (a.k.a. artwork, aesthetically pleasing constellations of meaning: “The wide image is an emergent pattern…. a constellation that appears within a field of relationships” Internet Invention 276). I think what Ulmer is trying to work out is the codification of creativity, the actual in-corp-oration of discovery into the act
of reasoning (this is actually the first step of rhetoric: invention, which means “to come upon, find, discover”)….”

One thing I tried to do in my powerpoint presentation (now available in two parts at http://www.slideshare.net/rsmyth) was to introduce Lakoff and Johnson’s cluster of conceptual metaphors based on the Mind as Body metaphor (Thinking is Moving, Thinking is Perceiving, Thinking is Object Manipulation) and consider these in light of using virtual reality as a prosthesis for thinking (Ideas are Locations, A Line of Thought is a Path, Understanding is Following, etc.). I wanted to ask three questions: If thinking is moving through space, then

–What happens to thought when our understanding of space changes?
–What happens to thought when we consider the space of non-Euclidean geometries?
–What happens to thought when we begin to navigate virtual spaces like Second Life?

This especially became resonant when Greg told his anecdote about his inability to use a doorknob when very young.

But the more I thought about thought, the more I wondered what thought actually is…. and thought that this would have to be answered before going much further.

Ultimately, I’m intrigued by what it means for abstract thought to be based on bodily experience of 3-D space and early infant/childhood experiences with manipulating objects and learning to navigate our world.

So what do you think? What is thought?


(I was encouraged to post this b/c I just returned from Gainesville [twin sons graduated from P.K. Yonge on Friday] and started reading a book I bought from Goering’s: Eric Alliez’s THE SIGNATURE OF THE WORLD: WHAT IS DELEUZE AND GUATTARI’S PHILOSOPHY? in which the translator writes in the preface, “But what is perhaps most significant about Alliez’s operation… is the absolute centrality he accords to the question of *thought*, which he places at the very heart of Deleuze and Guattari’s recasting of materialism for the twenty-first century as a materialism of the concept. For *What is Philosophy?* clearly shows that it is impossible to answer the question without also expanding it to “What is Thought?”. . . (xxiii) ) (invent-l list, 28 May 2007)

I was surprised when Craig Freeman posted this in its entirety on the conference website, but I was also happy that my posting it seems to have gotten the ball rolling on the post-conference ‘formalized’ activity (like thinking about what product should emerge from the conference).


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