Data-Driven Dreaming and Biopolitical Immediacy

Speaker: Aleena Chia # University of Jyväskylä

29th Oct 2018

15:30 - 17:00

Staff Room, 6th floor, Crystal Macmillan Building, George Square, University of Edinburgh

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In 2014, engineers and entrepreneurs began meeting up in San Francisco to explore how lucid dreaming headsets using electroencephalography (EEG) and other kinds of biofeedback could stimulate altered mental states. They called these practices “consciousness hacking” and referred to research, financing, and design of these wearables as a movement. Unlike Quantified Self practitioners who combine self-tracking and population analytics to optimize health and productivity, these hackers prod their bodies to gain immediacy to their consciousness. By turning perception inward, they attempt to displace the mediation of technologies. They believe hacking the mind through data-driven stimulation can transform it into the ultimate medium for purposeful dreams, flow states, positive emotions, and secular revelations about the self, unconscious, and nature of experience. How do these practices reconcile New Age assumptions about the sacred essence of the self with biopolitical assumptions about the self as a database to be rationalized according to the 24/7 demands of late capitalism? This talk examines how consciousness hacking proffers a vision about the mind as medium that is futuristic yet ancient. This analysis uses media archaeology to trace the imaginaries of EEG from Brion Gysin’s Beat Hotel Stroboscopic Dreamachine and Bert Kaplan’s microcard database of dreams, to crowdfunded EEG headsets that promise to unlock the secrets of the collective unconscious using big data analytics. By probing antecedents of these datalogical fantasies in sleep science, this talk demonstrates the value of critical inquiry into the techno-spiritual undercurrent of contemporary technoculture, its models and mechanisms for the human sensorium, and its metaphors that we live by.

Aleena Chia is a  Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies at the University of Jyväskylä