Non-Conscious Cognition

{RK; in conversation; 12-Jan-2018}

Katherine Hayles’ definition of cognitive systems doesn’t necessarily involve consciousness. In particular, anything that’s adaptive to its environment is executing a kind of cognitive function. That’s an interesting broadening in the topic of algorithms, because they always involve switches and traces, or ‘cognitive functions’. To me, it's an intereseting conceptual broadening of the whole theme, because it involves all lifeforms plus all software. And her argument is: well, we know that consciousness is influenced by all sorts of non-conscious cognitive structures. And there’s plenty of psychological representations. There’s this famous example of the gorilla suit where you’re told to watch a video and track the basketball between people. Then a guy walks through the whole thing in a gorilla suit and you don’t see him. These filtering processes are very powerful. Also we’re in this time, partially because of software, of inventing and creating what she terms ‘cognitive assemblages’. One example of a cognitive assemblage is the entire traffic surveillance system of Los Angeles. But, you know, there’re plenty of others, which could also involve using your smartphone. And one thing that I find interesting is to think of the cognitive processes as essentially akin to functional programs or patterns. But I’m not interested in the cognitive assemblages so much as cognitive assembling and the act of shaping your cognitive awareness of these assemblages. You have these multiple awarenesses and then you’re looking for places where you can align several of these things naturally. Or, in praxis of making a piece you get to a point with it and then you step back and you ask yourself: ok, what little adjustments can i make here that allow these other issues to be copresent? And, in a compositional sensibility, the idea is you’re looking for the small change that doesn’t dramatically alter any of what you’re already doing, but opens it a little bit. So a way to think about that is like: every different thing that goes into making this piece can, and should, be sensorially exposed. So, one idea is: you have singular focus and you eliminate distractions. The other is: you try to maximize the degree and variety of copresence.

Hayles, N. Katherine. Unthought: The power of the cognitive nonconscious. University of Chicago Press, 2017.


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title: Non Conscious Cognition
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