The brain sciences are unique in their brazen attempt to understand experience, the inherently whole, taking on the paradox of looking at the light that we look with. I think this makes us special, us space invaders, us brain dividers. Makes us a philosophical bunch, with a pretty big toolbelt, and real responsibility. Below is a kind of manifesto for why we stand out, how I would like to teach about it at the MIT Media Lab, and what we should all do about it.
# An Irreducibility Initiative, Convening, Conceiving
What are the ties between reductionism--as a disengagement with experience, with culture and context, with emergent effects--and a failure to prioritize self awareness in science and tech at the level of both producer and what is produced? What is an academics and larger critical STEM, that generates, for instance, an AI ecosystem which refuses to build a backbone for Cambridge Analytica? If indeed "the cultural layer is the layer with the most potential for a fundamental correction away from the self-destructive path that we are currently on," but STEM are tied to capitalism and often shun cultural production, where do we begin? How can STEM become self aware through humility, engagement with the arts, perspective taking--and in turn engender ripple effects of augmented awareness?
Science and tech are steamrolling ahead and it's dangerous. Ethics, context and critique are all too often missing. A dose of humility would be a dose of sanity--specifically humility about the idea that everything is reducible and controllable, solvable at breakneck speed and applicable context-agnostic, that control and quantification represent universal progress, that humanity is for the humanities. The cognitive sciences present a unique antidote, because they are fundamentally the study of construction of emergent experience from mechanism, automatically entailing participant-observation and intuition, a 1st + 3rd person science about (and by) human experience experiencers. Brain science potentiates a bridge between the current scientific trend of reduce/compute and the other aim: of engaging the irreducibility and beauty and movement of complex adaptive human systems, of developing a sentiment for a dynamic thing in context, of studying at all Marr's levels of analysis. I'm reminded of Jane Goodall, ridiculed for refusing to number her chimps and name them instead, later praised for seeing their humanity when others couldn't.
This bridge has many paths, many beams: the re-linking of description of mechanism with descriptions of self, the integration of the arts into science not as aesthetics but as ontologies exalting intuition and experience, the primacy of ethics in tool building, and the redefinition of progress within a world not built to sustain exponential scale and speed and smoke and sulfur. The reductionist project is tied tightly with capitalist incentive--break down to bits and you can control, capitalize. The introduction of perspectives, artistic or philosophical or other, with some distance from and criticality of the current structure and speed of production may as yet save us from ourselves, sold and selling to the exponential end. Better understanding of the layered human system will help us better build systems in which humans interact and systems with which humans interact. A linking of the scientific study of experience with the artistic generation of experience will yield a redemptive respect for irreducibility. The respect for the uncontrollable that composes each of us is, in the face of reductionism, a revolutionary self-respect.
## **Irreducibility Initiative**: **Science as Self-Awareness**
Science of the cell and soma must reintegrate with a science of the self. Practice of STEM has become, somehow, too practical, where soft is a slur, humanity is for humanities and progress is the purpose. Yet in a whirlwind of progress (or at least forward motion), where we are at our most powerful is where we most need the voice of our critic and conscience and context. The aim to break down to bits, the reductionist imperative, is tied intimately to the desire to control, to capitalize upon, to quantify. The respect for the uncontrollable that composes each of us is then a revolutionary self-respect.
The cognitive sciences, as the objective study of subjective experience, both 'me' mind and 'it' brain, form a natural meeting point between this practicality and philosophy. Lionized as the last bastion of philosophy in action in an academy and society which worships tools and solutions and speed and scale, aiming to understand, explore, experience, intervene--each with equal weight. There has been a reductionist brain science, a Skinnerian behaviorism, which collapsed under its own rigid weight with chinks cut by intuition: and as such cognitive science remains a near oxymoronic 3rd person study of 1st person experience that makes inescapably obvious the necessity of soft smarts. Brain science can create a lightning rod of linkages between projects of reductionism and emergentism, generalist and specialist, a STEM to STEAM that centers on a science which is by definition universal, a science of the self.
Yet in their current instantiation the cognitive sciences are trending towards a microcosm of the larger slide towards a reductionist, utilitarian higher education, a capitalized project with tacit assumption that more is more, more scale, more progress, more speed, a conception then of the self as tamable, computable, a definition of intelligence as computational power, of control as progress and universal good, a divorce between the creation of tools and the ethics entailed, a disregard for sentiment, sense, intuition as guiding principles in the experience of examining. The move is not wholesale and the reasons are myriad, from funding models to the predictability of pendulums, but we can do better.
The study of the brain must be our example of modern self examination, a science of participant-observers with ethical imperatives, respect for many notions of knowing and the complications and complicity of sight with tool and context. This involves a re-integration with the arts, a recognition of parallels between the study of experience and the generation of experience, an acceptance and cautious respect for intelligences untamable, artificial and organic, of the pursuit of the irreducible beautiful exalting in ideas for ideas sake. In the tradition of MIT, of David Marr, of Marvin Minsky, of CAVS, the Media Lab can be an exemplar of a science which is as irreducible as the society it aims to apply to. In the tradition of Jane Goodall who refused to number her chimps, who named them and saw their humanity only once she stood up and framed it and spoke it so. Participant design begins with participant observation, and participant observation begins with a propaganda of the deed: a reframing of the project of objective observation as participatory, ethically entailed, artistically alive, complicit, complex and adaptive.
**A Class Could TEACH About**
There are a few things really. Each could be a class.
* **What the science of awareness is, and the practice of awareness is, in tandem.**
* Cognition, metacognition, and the lenses science and tech and art provide with which to see ourselves.
* Embodied cognition, enactive cognition, and how they tie into meditative practices.
* Storytelling as medicine, the central non-duality of biology, enactive and extended and embodied cognition, the unconscious influence on emotional, evaluative, perceptual and motivational selves...
* Quantification of awareness in the neurosciences and limitations of quantification
* How to study what is irreducible: to understand, not to control, not to measure
* **How science can engage with the humanities in terms of ethics**
* Futuring, speculative science, feeling.
* Protocols for humble science
* Citizen Science
* Humanist science engagement with policy examples today--Harvard's *Center for Law Brain and Behavior*, for example
* How the arts can shape not just aesthetics, but ontologies.
* Criticality, conscience, context
* Past projects intertwining the ontologies of art and science
* **What science can tell us about ourselves, how we experience and see, and how art can engage in that dialogue.**
* Experimental phenomenology and epistemic arts.
* Different kinds of intelligences, as defined by AI, art and science
* Studying common sense and soft intelligence
* The fear of the future, the integration of the past
* Self-examination as inherently valuable--
* Cog sci is the study of how the brain generates experience, and successful global human interaction is based on a real understanding of how humans process bias, insight, emotion.
***Scientific discovery consists in the interpretation for our own convenience of a system of existence which has been made with no eye to our convenience at all.-- Norbert Weiner***
**A Negative Active Manifesto**
Neuroscience will **NOT** be a science of the self while it is understood only in the ivory tower
* So we build better tools for quantified self (in-ear EEG)
* And we build treatments which patients can self administer without toxicity (SZ bracelet and imagery rehearsal therapy)
* And we do a better job of communicating brain science (Blank Canvas)
* And we integrate it into art contexts where philosophy is not taboo (Cocoon, Robot Arm Tree/Bench Vibration/The Digital Spa)
* So we extend possibilities for **participant observation** in the sciences
Neuroscience will **NOT** be a science of the self while its mission remains reductionist and utilitarian
* So we examine the irreducible (Meditation, Gabrieli + Poetry)
* So we re-examine the reduced in artistic contexts where sensual/nuance is permitted (The Digital Spa)
* So we build intersectional communities fluent in neuroscience and X (The Piene Studio, Consciousness Hacking)
Neuroscience will **NOT** be a science of the self while its aims are for laboratories by laboratories
* So we build tools for DIY brain science (In-Ear EEG, Fluid BCI, Dormio, SZ Anchor)
* So we compact and scale up interventions that are effective in lab for ecological validity (SZ Anchor)
* So we tie understanding of neuroscience into the criminal justice and educational and political systems (CLBB, PVD Talks)
* So we tie understanding of unorthodox/non-academic communities into neuroscience (Consciousness Hacking, Jung, Stickgold)
**There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly.-- Buckminster Fuller**