Noetics Without a Mind

Colloquium Theme

What power do we have over power? This is how one of the most important philosophers of technology in recent times posed the problem of our relationship with technology. Bernard Stiegler wondered if technologies – including the latest digital ones – constitute our acquired ‘power’, then how could we know how to use them? How could we be the ones directing their beneficial results rather than being undermined or overwhelmed by them? Digitalisation literally affects knowledge of every kind: how to live (life-knowledge); how to produce (work-knowledge); and how to think (conceptual-knowledge). It is on this last mode of knowledge that ‘Noetics without a Mind’ (NWM) will focus. The transdisciplinary colloquium will be devoted to an understanding of noesis beyond the conventional approaches. It will constitute the first step towards the establishment of a transdisciplinary consortium that will regularly assemble to examine technologically produced memories and desires.

We will examine how our psychic (personal) and social (collective) individuation are inseparable from technical evolution given that technology produces a series of dynamic constraints which literally determine how we sense the world. These technological constraints –from a table arrangement that conditions a discussion to a handheld device that exteriorises our thoughts – are parts of what Stiegler would call a ‘general organology’. Put simply, the organs of perception become elements of techno-logically reconfigured sets. For example, the decision to elevate a portion of the ground by 80-odd centimetres will have profound ethological and hence ethical consequences. To merely codify it as a ‘table’ would amount to a knee-jerk re-cognition. By the time it is pigeonholed under a neat label, a myriad of affordances have already worked their magic: it’s more or less sit-around-able, more or less lean-against-able, more or less hide-underneath-able, more or less jump-on-able, more or less knock-down-able, more or less weight-sustain-able, etc. The emphasis on the ‘more or less’ as indeterminate, yet capable of determination through activity, is crucial. It points to the primacy of relationality. Neither objective, nor subjective, or perhaps both at once. Next to our noesis, also our potentials for action — what James J. Gibson called affordances — are technologically produced through and through.

The colloquium will bring together Gibson’s thought with that of Stiegler and, crucially, with the thought of Gilbert Simondon. Making Simondon’s concept of technicity central, we start from the assumption that there is a reciprocity in the individuation of humans, technology and their affective environment or associated milieu. Simply put, technicity deals with how humans relate and transform their environment through technology and how these relations transform all of them in turn – humans, technology, and environment. There is no fundamental difference between these terms as everything becomes an effect of power. Sets of affordances constitute an existential environmental niche, which is to say that they are at once constituted and constituting. Continuing with the above example, an oval table is very different from an elongated orthogonal one, not simply in dimensional terms, but as a technicity. The former arguably fashions a different social body from the latter, one that enforces direct perceptual contact opposed to one that allows for the option of disengaging. Thus, it is not an exaggeration to insist on the psycho-social dimension of individuation as dependent on technologically produced memories and desires — what Stiegler would call tertiary retentions and protentions. Put succinctly, the (built) environment as the epi-phylo-genetic memory is the conditio sine qua non of transindividuation.

The transindividuation implied when one thinks in terms of technicities, constitutes an evolution that proceeds by means other than life, fostering a kind of ecological apprehension that is neither merely logo-centric nor solely inter-individual. In other words, it calls for a non-apodictic pedagogy that focuses on sensibility and its potential for drastic affective amplifications as prior to any fixed subjecthood. Therefore, the question of a knowledge of the sensible, as well as a sensible form of knowledge, is considered as the central point of the colloquium. We will invite leading scholars to examine how lack of knowledge on the entanglements between technology, affordances and the production of our (exo-somatised) memories and desires leads to an impediment in understanding how our life and the life of our milieu is crucially dependent on technologically imposed constraints. Concretely, we will examine how technological literacy — especially in its digital variations — can produce a form of environmental literacy — in the broadest sense of the term environment.

Such a task is even more pertinent due to our current climate, social and urban challenges that necessarily demand a transdisciplinary approach in order to problematise issues in their full complexity. Therefore, the colloquium will bring together a cohort of thinkers who dare to cross disciplinary borders: from affect and affordance theories to architecture, art and cultural studies, from philosophy and philosophy of technology to (digital) media studies, from feminist theories to film theory, from social sciences to literature. The invited speakers and participants will tackle the broad and complex spectrum of a contemporary, technologically invested understanding of noesis. Aiming at exteriorisation of its findings as well, the colloquium will result in the publication of an edited volume that will include extended versions of the speakers presentations, providing a cutting edge and truly transdisciplinary contribution that manages to initiate an in-depth discussion and re-evaluation of our (formal and informal, institutionalised and radical) pedagogies, with the aim of enhancing our (affective) power over (technological) power through new forms of acquiring and disseminating knowledge.

Conference Schedule

Het Nieuwe Instituut


10:45 – 11:00 Welcome and intro by A. Radman, S. Kousoulas, H. Sohn and R. Gorny

11:00 – 12:00 Session One: AFFORDANCES

Gregory Seigworth (Professor of Communication Studies, Millersville University)

Mariapaola Michelotto (Architect and Researcher, ETH Zurich)

John Protevi (Professor of Philosophy, Louisiana State University)

12:00 – 12:45 Collective Diagramming One


14:00 – 15:00 Session Two: TECHNICITIES

Susanna Paasonen (Professor of Media Studies, University of Turku)

Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen (Professor of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University)

Setareh Noorani (Architect and Researcher, Het Nieuwe Instituut)

15:00 – 15:45 Collective Diagramming Two


16:00 – 17:00 Session Three: PEDAGOGIES

Libe García Zarranz (Associate Professor of Literature, Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Alina Paias (Architect and Researcher, TU Delft)

Valdimar J. Halldórsson (Director of the Museum of Jón Sigurðsson)

17:00 – 17:45 Collective Diagramming Three


17:45 – 18:00 Closing remarks by A. Radman, S. Kousoulas, H. Sohn and R. Gorny