Thinking as Thinging: A Process Archaeology of Mind @ Bard Graduate Center, 3/19

Event Website (w/ RSVP)

March 19, 2019, 6:00 – 7:30 pm
Bard Graduate Center, 38 West 86th Street, Lecture Hall

Lambros Malafouris will present at the Seminar in Cultural History on Tuesday, March 19, at 6 pm. His talk is entitled “Thinking as Thinging: A Process Archaeology of Mind.”

What is that thing we call “mind” in the archaeology of mind? Malafouris will argue that mind-stuff do not have fixed locations or set properties: they equally pertain to brains, bodies, and things. A neural activation pattern, a movement of the hand, a line produced on a piece of white paper: they are all mind-stuff. The suggestion he wants to make is that more often than not our ways of think-ing are better described as modes of thing-ing. To explain: thinking is usually understood as something we do about things in the absence of things. On the contrary thinging denotes the kind of thinking we do primarily with and through things. For the material engagement approach withness and throughness takes precedence over aboutness. What we call mind is a “process” constituted by the continuous recycling and re-organisation of mind-stuff, i.e., a cognitive becoming. Thinking, like form-making, exists in a state of perpetual movement. Minds never stop minding. Minds always become. This applies to every sentient organism but is especially true in the case of humans given the profound plasticity and immense variety of the material forms that we make. The unhelpful antinomies of mind/matter, nature/culture, and people/things now give way to a more productive focus on the ways materiality becomes entangled with our lived experience and thinking. We have a plastic mind inextricably intertwined with the plasticity of culture.

Lambros Malafouris PhD (Cambridge) is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Archaeology and Keble College, University of Oxford. He was a Balzan Research Fellow in Cognitive Archaeology at the McDonald Institute, University of Cambridge (2005-2008). His primary research interests lie in the archaeology of mind and the philosophy of material culture. His research expertise is at the intersection between cognitive anthropology, archaeology, philosophy of mind, and neuroscience. Dr Malafouris’ publications include How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement (MIT Press, 2013); The Cognitive Life of Things: Recasting the Boundaries of the Mind (McDonald Institute Monographs, 2010, eds. with C. Renfrew); Material Agency: Towards a Non- Anthropocentric Approach (Springer, 2018, eds. with C. Knappett); and “The sapient mind: archaeology meets neuroscience,” a theme issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (Volume 363, 2008, eds. with C. Renfrew and C. Frith). Dr. Malafouris is directing the European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant, HANDMADE (No 771997 European Union Horizon 2020).

Conference Unknowability: How Do We Know What Cannot Be Known? @ TNS, April 4 – 5, 2019

Schedule, Bios + Abstracts Here

From the earliest moments of humanity’s search for answers and explanations, we have grappled with the unknowable—that which we are unable or not permitted to know. What does the history of the unknowable look like? What are the questions once thought to be unanswerable that have been answered? Are there enduring unknowables? What are they? Are there routes toward understanding and knowing that are different from those used by scientists, and what is the status of knowledge gained in these alternative ways? Our conviction that this conference addresses a singularly important question is supported by a statement made years ago by our former New School colleague, Hannah Arendt, who said, “I believe it is very likely that men, if they ever should lose their ability to wonder and thus cease to ask unanswerable questions, also will lose the faculty of asking the answerable questions upon which every civilization is based.” (Thinking Without a Banister: Essays in Understanding, 1958-1975.)

The question of what it is we cannot know is not only an important question in its own right, but has taken on additional importance in light of the recent rise of misinformation and alternative facts. A better understanding of knowing whether something can possibly be known has the capacity to shape the direction of general knowledge, scholarly research, and public education. Furthermore, identifying what kinds of questions are unanswerable is of great intellectual and perhaps even political significance—to wit, Donald Rumsfeld’s now famous statement that “There are known knowns … there are known unknowns … and there are also unknown unknowns,” to which Fintan O’Toole added “unknown knowns.” This conference affords a rare opportunity for scholars from different fields to engage with each other and with the general public on this issue, particularly while we are living in what some might call a post-truth world.

This conference will look at the many ways in which the unknowable figures in multiple areas of inquiry and scholarship. Experts from across a range of academic disciplines will discuss the criteria used to determine what appear to be unanswerable questions in their field and jointly reflect on how and why these criteria may differ across disciplines. We expect that speakers will, where appropriate, address the different ways of knowing that are possible. There are, of course, the scientific procedures that are well established, but there are also other modes of knowing associated with the humanities and the arts and these too will be discussed.

At a time when the distinction between what is true and what is not has become increasingly problematic, focusing attention on how we know what we cannot know has become essential.

Thermostatic Subjects: Nicole Starosielski @ GIDEST, 5/3

Friday, May 3, 2019
12:00 to 1:30pm
Visit the GIDEST website shortly before the event to download the paper, which attendees are encouraged to read in advance of the meeting

Nicole Starosielski is Associate Professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Her research focuses on the relationships between media, infrastructures, and their environments. Her first book, The Undersea Network (2015), charted the development of the cable systems that carry almost all transoceanic internet traffic. She is also co-editor of Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructure (2015), Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment (2016), and the “Elements” book series at Duke University Press. A second project in progress, Media Hot and Cold, traces the connections between media technologies, embodied perception, and temperature.

Her GIDEST presentation draws from her longer project, “Media Hot and Cold,” that investigates heat and cold as modes of communication, the calibration of the human sense of thermoception, and the thermal fractures that structure everyday life. This paper takes the thermostat–the interface to a vast infrastructure of heating and cooling–as the site where subjects of temperature are formed.

Chinese Typewriter Exhibition @ MoCA through 3/24

Radical Machines: Chinese in the Information Age October 18, 2018 – March 24, 2019
Museum of Chinese In America [website

Radical Machines: Chinese in the Information Age explores the seemingly impossible, yet technologically crucial Chinese typewriter – a machine that inputs a language with no alphabet, yet has more than 70,000 characters. For centuries, written Chinese has presented fascinating and irresistible puzzles for engineers, linguists, and entrepreneurs alike. With help from the global community, China solved these puzzles, and Chinese became one of the world’s most successful languages in the information age. Radical Machines explores the design, technology, and art of Chinese characters in the information age. Through a collection of rare typewriters and computers — and a diverse array of historic photographs, telegraph code books, typing manuals, ephemera, propaganda posters, and more — we gain unprecedented insight into the still-transforming history of the world’s oldest living language.

The exhibition originated at the East Asia Library of Stanford University and is curated by Stanford historian Dr. Tom Mullaney. Composed of items in his personal collection, which is the largest Chinese and Pan-Asian typewriter and information and technology (IT) collection in the world.

More from Dave Parisi

After our great conversation with Dave Parisi about Archaeologies of Touch, Dave shared some further insights and resources via email:

“[In] that third chapter especially, the archive is so rich that picking which objects to focus on and treat as representative was a challenge. The Cutaneous Communication Lab (active at Princeton from 1962 to 2006) did a ton of work related to using touch communication to help those with vision and hearing impairments, a lot of it funded by the Office of Naval Research, IIRC. They generated a staggering amount of publications, I only mention a small sample, but definitely more work to be done there if you have students who are inclined toward a deeper dive….

Please feel free to share the Powerpoint–I prepared it for a session with Matt [Kirschenbaum]’s Digital Studies Colloquium at UMD, and it includes a lot from the book, in addition to a bunch of images I couldn’t get rights to/ran out of space for. The Teslasuit (a video in the middle and a few slides at the end) I think gets the closest of anything so far to Sutherland’s vision, and I’ve done some work with them on possible use cases for the device. But they’ve pivoted away from gaming apps too and are now looking at doing custom development, mostly for corporate training purposes. The video in the Powerpoint is a couple of years old, and features all dudes testing out the suit; they’ve tried to correct that image in the last year or so–but Zed, it’s definitely a question of what you pointed out about them not being able to think beyond their subjectivity. They sent me the programming software for the Suit–it’s absolutely wild and complicated and gets at the content creation challenge of haptics: the more complex the device, the more specialized labor it requires to write content for it (‘haptic effects design” is a think they’re teaching at a few places now).

I also appreciated the discussion at the end about circumscribing the term ‘interface’. It’s [something] I just had to make peace with, because I was out of time, years behind on the lit, and way way over my word count, but: in the diss I had a section titled ‘from display to interface’ where I talked about the move from the tactile communication paradigm of the 1920s-1980s to the haptic interface paradigm of the 1980s on. There’s a later article from Bach-y-Rita where he laments the shift, and attributes some of the stagnation in sensory substitution to haptic interface research taking over the field of touch communication. But, as I mention in chapter 4, ‘haptic interface’ wasn’t coined until the 1990s (ish), and plenty of engineers in the 1970s-80s were talking about what we now call haptic interfaces as ‘force display’–keeping language that implies a sort of one-way model of information presentation, rather than the information interaction model implied by haptic interface. From a methodological standpoint though, interface does a lot of work for me, in that it gets at the way scientific apparatuses are co-constitutive of their objects: touch is not a thing revealed by scientific experimentation, but instead actively constructed by it and inseparable from the techniques used to render it. This point is pretty obvious to people who work in our space…but it flies in the face of how hapticians understand their work…