Materializations

A particularly revealing example of the animistic effects of an allegedly naturalizing epistemology can be seen in the wonderworlds of mirror neurons that connect humans and other primates through networks of empathy. This is not to say that mirror neurons are not real; on the contrary, they are the focus of studies and ever more experiments at the top neuroscience laboratories around the world, and have been analyzed in thousands of publications. Mirror neurons are the latest result in a sequence of investigations that once began under the imperative to debunk speculative and spiritualistic entities by means of dissolving them into strictly natural, material processes—perception, feeling, reasoning, decision-making, and memorizing, once understood as results of neurophysiological processing.

The agenda still holds, but the tools to pursue it have become so powerful that they allow sophisticated questions to be addressed. Within the framework of the modern, naturalizing epistemology, these experiments no longer “reduce” speculative stuff to the hard facts of action potentials, gene expression, and causality; instead, they increasingly constitute aspects of social interactions as “real,” as experimentally detected and objectively verified items. Materializations were once the results of séances and strange encounters with ghostly powers, and photography was mobilized to document these instances typically in the form of milky and plasmalike substances protruding somewhere from the “medium.” One hundred years later, today’s high-tech machines detect the results of social interactions as amorphous color blobs in the active brains of the participants. (source)

Fields, layerings, blobs. Data mappings. Flowing systems. Does this gesture toward a kind of ‘cognitive animism’, where even the representations of our thoughts meld and merge into the color bands of other forms of swarming matter?

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