Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

YOU MUST
CHANGE YOUR
LIFE

This booklet has been published as an addendum to

YOU MUST CHANGE YOUR LIFE
and features a curatorial introduction by Hicham Khalidi, a
lecture transcript and a book review from 1986 by neuroscientist Israel Rosenfield, an interview with philosopher Catherine
Malabou, and an essay by the thinker Daniel Blanga-Gubbay,
plus documentation pictures of the exhibition

WITH MANY THANKS TO NATASHA HOARE AND ROWAN MCCUSKEY
FOR TRANSLATIONS AND DESIGN.
ARTEFACT IS AN INITIATIVE OF STUK ARTS CENTRE,
THE PROVINCE VLAAMS BRABANT AND THE CITY OF LEUVEN

Poem on cover
Archaic Torso of Apollo
by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 - 1926)
Translation Stephen Mitchell, 1995

TABLE OF
CONTENTS

YOU MUST CHANGE YOUR LIFE
– HICHAM KHALIDI

9

WHAT DOES THE BRAIN DO ?
– ISRAEL ROSENFIELD

17

INTERVIEW WITH CATHARINE MALABOU

25

THE INSTANT BEFORE JUMPING
– STORY OF A TRAPEZE ARTIST
– DANIEL BLANGA-GUBBAY

33

NEURAL DARWINISM:
A NEW APPROACH TO MEMORY AND PERCEPTION
– ISRAEL ROSENFIELD

45

EXHIBITION PHOTOS
BIOS
COLOPHON

70
98
100

YOU MUST CHANGE
YOUR LIFE
“And in its broadest sense, neural Darwinism implies that we
are destined, whether we wish it or not, to a life of particularity and self-development, to make our own individual paths
through life.”
Oliver Sacks, On The Move, A Life, 2015

YOU MUST
CHANGE YOUR
LIFE

A

ccording to Catherine Malabou, a philosopher in the field of (neuro)
plasticity, plasticity means the capacity to receive form and to give form.1
What is plastic is formable. Philosopher Peter Sloterdijk plays upon the
relationship between the plasticity of human being, and the plastic art of
sculpting, when he borrows the final line of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem
Apollo’s Archaic Torso (1908) as the title of his book You Must Change
Your Life (Boom Publishers, 2011). In this poem, the Bohemian-Austrian
poet looks at an ancient sculpted torso and tries to find the right words
for what the body in front of him conveys. However, the poem lingers in
metaphorical descriptions. In the last two lines something radical happens,
a reversal that is unparalleled in poetry, the body speaks to Rilke and
commands him with the words: “(…) for here there is no place that does
not see you. You must change your life.” (Translation Stephen Mitchell,
1995).2 Sloterdijk uses this poem as a metaphor for man, who can and
must change.3 In Rilke’s poem it is visual art that initiates this change,
but at the same time, the sonnet was written in a period in which Rilke
was looking for a change in his life;
he wanted to become a better poet,
1 – Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do With Our Brain, p.5
2 – From Ahead of All Parting: Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer
and to achieve this he must make a Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell and published by Modern Library.
3 – One could say that plastic art explores the deformability of life through the
change in his life.4
plastic properties of the material used: as in clay or plaster.
The exhibition for Artefact Festival
2015 took Sloterdijk’s dictum You

4 – This reversal of subject and object is key against a historical background
in which late romanticism made place for Modernism; the Industrial Revolution
ushered in an era of new technology and science. In poetry it was no longer
sufficient to describe nature with metaphorical comparisons. The emerging
medium of photography had the monopoly in mimicking nature. Artists searched
for other ways to represent the reality around them.

10

Must Change Your Life as its title, and sought to question the idea of
self-transcendence from the perspective of the plasticity of the human being and the variability of its environment. The exhibition also posed the
question: how can man change himself in a continuously changing environment? Is it not the external environment that determines how people
change, just as the torso appeals to Rilke to change? This publication has
been created as an addendum to the exhibition, and features a curatorial
introduction by myself, an essay by the thinker Daniel Blanga-Gubbay,
an interview with philosopher Catherine Malabou and a transcript of a
lecture and a book review from 1986 by neuroscientist Israel Rosenfield.
This selection of texts intends to provide an overview of the complex interaction between the idea of self-change as defined by philosopher Peter
Sloterdijk in his book You Must Change Your Life, from within the field of
neuroscience, and the philosophy of plasticity and resistance.

LIFE AS A
SELECTION
PROCESS

A

ccording to neuroscientist Israel Rosenfield, all moving animals developed brains because they are faced with an ever-changing and unpredictable environment. The space in which we move is an invention of our
brains, thus also our memory. Both are formed through the mechanism of
natural selection5, and have enabled us to survive.
In other words, man moves in a
5 – Natural selection is an idea of Charles Darwin and is based on the premise
space that he invented himself and to
that life evolves by mutation, migration and genetic drift. If you have variation,
differential reproduction, and heredity, evolution by natural selection is the
do that he needs a brain. The brain
outcome.

11

and movement in space are evolutionarily intertwined in a complex relationship. In one of his lectures What does the brain do? Rosenfield indicates that, “If living things did not move brains probably would have
never evolved. Plants do not have brains; only animals do.”6 A plant has a
nervous system, but requires no brain due to its stasis.7
In a piece for the New York Times Book Review , reissued especially for
this publication, Rosenfield reflects on the work of Nobel laureate Gerald
Edelman, explaining that memory is formed through a process of selection
that works like our immune system: the body produces a large variety
of antibodies which may be linked through a process of trial-and-error
(selection) to bacteria and viruses. Our brain, in the same way, makes a
wide variety of context related connections that, depending upon the situation in which the person finds him/herself, may be turned on or off. Some
contemporary researchers dispute Edelman’s Neural Darwinism theory,
refuting it as a true form of Darwinism9. Edelman’s response to this kind
of criticism is that the idea of variation holds due to the sheer amount of
connections in the brain (it can make more connections than there are
stars in the known universe). As each brain is unique its processes must
lead to variation, and thus to selection.10
8

To what extent can we effect change when considering life as a process of
selection? Where does self-transcendence, as Sloterdijk defines it, begin or
end?
6 – Israel Rosenfield, What does the brain do? Questioning perception,
consciousness and free will, The Institute for Public Knowledge, 2011
7 – The brain anticipates on opportunities and threats coming from the external
environment. As a result, the brain is continuously in the future.
8 – Neural Darwinism: A New Approach to Memory and Perception,
1986
9 – Chrisantha Fernando, Queen Mary University of London, Computational
Theories of Evolution, A New Research Program: Evolutionary
Neurodynamics.
10 – Gerald Edelman, Why I don't think the brain is a computer, The
theory of neural Darwinism

12

F

SELFTRANSCENDENCE

or Sloterdijk, self-transcendence is rooted in sensing the external environment, and becoming better at this process: “For every organism, its
environment is its transcendence, and the more abstract and unknown
the danger from that environment, the more transcendent it appears.”11
Man developed religion, arts and sport to transcend a dangerous and unpredictable environment. These are exercises with which man can reach
higher planes by striving for a more elevated or vertical position. Man is
an anthropotechnic, a practician of the human condition who increases
his resistance by practicing on a biological, psychological and social level;
cells in humans defend against external threats, the human conscience repels us from pride and insecurity, and living together in societies repels us
from other societies or animals.12

There is no beginning and end to self-change. Man must continuously create new outlooks and anticipate new or unexpected situations; this is what
saves humans from determination. Through the mechanism of natural selection (natural law), nature takes what it considers necessary. For example, if I keep creating many different new ideas it is more likely that one
of them is successful. The more ideas, and the crazier the idea, the more
likely it will be that I will find someone who can do something with it. Karl
Popper points this out in his lecture, Natural Selection and The Emergence
of Mind, when he compares the process of making art with the mechanism
of natural selection: “On every level,
11 – You must change your life by Peter Sloterdijk (Polity Press, 2014)
making comes before matching; that 12 – Keith Ansell-Pearson on You Must Change your Life and The Art
of Philosophy: Wisdom as a Practice, Philosophy of the Acrobat: On Peter
is, before selecting. The creation of
Sloterdijk, July 8th, 2013

13

CONCLUSION

an expectation, of an anticipation, of a perception (which is a hypothesis)
precedes its being put to the test.”13
Transforming your own life is second nature, as Catherine Malabou states
in the interview featured in this publication, “something that Foucault
calls the care of the self; the ability to form oneself and not see oneself as
just factically thrown into existence and its variability.” We are not just
thrown into the world, by being aware of our plastic ability we exercise
our strength, “Practice then is definitely a practice of resistance.” But is
this a voluntary act? According to Malabou, consciousness is something
other than free will, “even if the brain is and will remain forever out of the
reach of consciousness (no one can feel their own brain), we may nevertheless produce a kind of knowledge of the epigenetic power of our cerebral
capacities. Brain development takes place all life long, and is certainly
not limited to genetic dispositions. Education, habit, and experience, leave
traces in the brain and form it, which means that we are partly genetically
predestined, and partly epigenetically indeterminate.”
In his essay A Trapeze Artist, written especially for this publication, philosopher Daniel Blanga-Gubbay asserts that by making yourself vulnerable you create an ability, which in turn creates a possibility to excel and
transcend. He states that: “Every ability originates from a vulnerability;
every exceeding reveals a limitation; every transcendence implies a familiar; every attempt to escape elsewhere presupposes a here.” Blanga-Gubbay takes the human body and its limited character as a starting point, a
body that moves from one situation to the other and by doing that grows
in strength: “(...) every training session makes the body more elastic; each
workout makes the body more athletic and makes wider its possibilities:
“Precisely by being vulnerable man
13 – Karl Popper, Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind, Delivered
at Darwin College, Cambridge, November 8, 1977
excels.”

14

The spiritual moment that Rilke experienced in front of the torso of Apollo can be read as an expression of the internal mechanism inside the human being that necessarily strives for something higher, something better.
Through this metaphor the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk states that man
can and must change, and in this way transcend his/her environment. Contemporary neuroscience provides a possible answer to the question of how
man can change when his environment is also constantly changing. This
view of self-change contends that we are born with a genetic makeup that
we cannot change; we cannot change the course of natural selection, because it works through the mechanism of random mutation and variation
at the population level, beyond our individual lives. But within the framework of man’s individual life, in his own time, we are plastic, even into old
age. What we become in our lives we determine ourselves to some extent.
What we will become as a human race now and in the future cannot be
determined; natural selection has the patent on this through the system of
random mutation. Thus one could say that we are partly determined by a
non-determined system.
When we view life as a process of selection similar to the mechanism of
natural selection, the only way man can exert influence is to be open to
change, to anticipate what will be, to take a vulnerable position, as Blanga-Gubbay has stated. When we move from A to B we make ourselves vulnerable, and by doing this, we exert resistance. With resistance we grow.

15

WHAT DOES THE
BRAIN DO ?

16

WHAT DOES
THE BRAIN
DO?
If living things didn’t move brains probably would have never evolved.
Plants don’t have brains; only animals do. Brains evolved because moving
creatures are confronted by an ever-changing, unpredictable environment.
Plants don’t have brains because they don’t need them; they don’t move
from place to place. For animals, motion creates a world of visual, tactile,
and auditory sensations that are unorganized and unstable; in short, the
world is constantly changing. What the brain must do—it’s probably the
principal reason brains evolved—is create a stable, coherent sensory environment for the individual organism to understand and use. The brain
does this by “inventing” a range of perceptions: a series of constructs that
we “see,” “hear,” and “feel” when we look, listen, and touch.

For example, there are no colors in the world. In the 1950s Edwin
Land used two black and white photos to demonstrate how the brain
creates, or constructs colors from a dirty-grey world. We will repeat the
experiment. And we will explain how colors simplify and stabilize the
visual world that is ‘naturally’ a dirty grey.
Artists have always known, intuitively, that the brain makes possible the
creation of our visual worlds, since representational art uses materials on
a flat surface to create the illusion of faces, objects, and scenes.

Neurological damage limits the brain’s ability to construct, or create
images, words and thoughts. We might say the brain is baking a cake. The

ingredients that go into the cake are transformed when they are put into
the oven. So too, stimuli are transformed by the brain into the sounds
(music and words), images and thoughts we are aware of.
A damaged brain has all the ingredients of a cake, but not the means to
bake it: it has the flour, the eggs and the milk, but it can’t bake the cake.

One of the most famous cases in the history of neurology was Jules Dejerine’s 1892 description of a man who could write, but not read
what he had written. He had other problems as well. He was an amateur
musician, but he could no longer read music; he could not make sense of
multi-digit numbers; and he could not see colors in part of his visual field.
These symptoms are not unrelated, as will be discussed in the talk.

Dejerine’s patient cannot read multi-digit numbers because the individual digits change their meaning (nine, ninety, thirty-nine, nine thousand, etc.) depending on their place in the multi-digit number. The same is
true of musical notes; the notes can be seen, but not the melodies and the
harmonies. In other words, the difficulties Dejerine’s patient (and patients
with similar brain damage) have is an inability to interconnect, to relate
stimuli – to bake the cake. They are, at best, aware of relatively simple
stimuli; but their brains cannot integrate them into a larger and meaningful whole.

Oliver Sacks describes a patient who is present with us this evening
– Howard Engel - whose neurological problems are strikingly similar to
those described by Dejerine. Engel is a professional writer who cannot
read what he has written. Engel, like Dejerine’s patient, is partially able to
overcome his reading disability using movement. In Oliver Sacks’s words:
Howard started to move his hands as he read, tracing the outlines of
words and sentences still intelligible to his eyes. And most remarkably, his
tongue, too, began to move as he read, tracing the shapes of letters on his
teeth or the roof of his mouth ... Howard was replacing reading by a sort
of writing. He was, in effect, reading with his tongue.

18

19

What does the brain do is a transcript of a lecture by Israel Rosenfield at The
Institute for Public Knowledge co-presented with Harper's Magazine

In some ways the loss of the ability to read what one has written is not
unrelated to a loss of the ability to recognize faces. The artist Chuck Close
is famous for pixilated, close-up portrait paintings and photography. This
is his way of remembering faces: “I don’t know who anyone is and have
essentially no memory at all for people in real spaces, but when I flatten
them out in a photograph, I can commit that image to memory in a way.
I have almost a kind of photographic memory for flat stuff.” What makes
Close’s greatly enlarged faces memorable for him is their very flatness—
the diminishment of dimensionality. By flattening them, he magnifies their
details and the discrete parts of their physiognomy, just as Dejerine’s patient could read single-digit, but not multi-digit, numbers.

Facial recognition can be destroyed in other ways as well. In 1923,
French neurologists Joseph Capgras and Jean Reboul-Lachaux described
a patient who, though she could recognize her husband and children,
believed they were impostors. Capgras and his co-author attributed this
delusion to a neurological breakdown that prevents the individual from
having an emotional response to people she knows intimately. I am just
as interested in the patient’s own explanation of her complaint: “You can
see it in the details,” she said. His mustache was longer than it had been
the day before, his hair was combed differently, his skin had become pale,
and he was wearing a different suit. She could not relate her husband’s
appearance from moment to moment. In her case, lack of visual synthesis
prevented her from forming a gestalt of the members of her family. Her
husband and children looked different throughout the course of the day.
Their hairstyles, clothing, locations, and facial expressions kept changing,
and this shifting data made her believe they were different people altogether. There is a connectivity, a continuity, a flow to our perceptual worlds
(James’ ‘flow of consciousness’) that is destroyed by brain damage.

Yet brain damage is not the only cause of an individual’s inability to
perceive larger wholes. Blindness too, can do this by profoundly altering

an individual’s relationship to memory and past experience. John M. Hull,
who became blind in his mid-thirties, describes in his book Touching the
Rock how he gradually lost any visual sense of those he continued to have
contact with, and how he started losing visual memory as well:
An adult recently blinded [has] a strange feeling that one has stopped
accumulating experiences. Previously, one seemed always to be standing
upon the edge of a line of experience which had been steadily expanding.
It was like laying down a mosaic pavement. It was always possible to
pause on the edge and look back at the pattern. As I look back now, I feel
that the laying down of the mosaic ended in the summer of 1980.

Another construction of the brain is space and a sense of depth.
Hammerhead sharks and cuttlefish are able to move their eyes from the
sides of their heads to a frontal position, changing a panoramic view of
their environment (without a sense of depth) to a binocular view (with
depth) that allows them to rapidly seize prey. Human beings are unable
to make such rapid shifts from panoramic views to depth views, but Sue
Barry, who is present this evening, was born cross-eyed and had to develop an unconscious strategy to overcome the failure of her two eyes to
work together. She viewed the world one eye at a time. In December of
2004 Barry wrote to Oliver Sacks: “You asked me if I could imagine what
the world would look like when viewed with two eyes. I told you that I
thought I could. . . But I was wrong.”

“Struggling to find an analogy for her experience,” Oliver Sacks
writes, “Sue had suggested, in her original letter to me, that her experience
might be akin to that of someone born totally colorblind, able to see only
in shades of gray, who is suddenly given the ability to see in full color. Such
a person, she wrote, ‘would probably be overwhelmed by the beauty of the
world. Could they stop looking?’”

20

21

In conclusion the colors we see, the words we read, the music we play
and listen to – in short, our entire sensory experience is part of the brain’s
attempt to create a stable environment that we can understand. Our individuality, our subjectivity is a direct consequence of this sensory world
the brain creates.

22

23

INTERVIEW
WITH CATHERINE
MALABOU

24

INTERVIEW
WITH
CATHERINE
MALABOU
Hicham Khalidi: The theme of this year’s Artefact Festival is You Must
Change Your Life. It is drawn from Prof. Peter Sloterdijk’s Formulations
concerning exercise and practice as ethics, resistance, and immunity. You
Must Change Your Life could be read in two ways; either that over the
course of a lifetime a person necessarily changes, or as an imperative commanding a person to change her/his life. Following the latter, Sloterdijk
stresses that man must leave his comfort zone and actively change her/his
life.

morphosis, that is a renewed (and not only new) essence, then the formula
makes sense. It refers to the capacity that a subject has to transform their
own life into a second nature, something that Foucault calls the care of the
self; the ability to form oneself and not see oneself as just factically thrown
into existence and its variability. Practice then is definitely a practice of
resistance. Paradoxically, we have to resist change (constant mutability,
capitalistic continuous display of ‘options’ in all domains) in order to be
able to change, that is to become what and who one is. To become what
one ‘is’ is necessarily a construction.
HK: In your book What Should We Do with Our Brain? (2008) you say
that humans make their own brain, but that they do not know it. Basically, it is a matter of whether you are conscious of your ability to change
your brain, or not. Does this mean that we voluntarily change things only
if we are conscious, otherwise change happens necessarily?

Catherine Malabou: For me the problem resides in the meaning of ‘change’.
‘Change’ is more difficult to grasp than ‘life’ in the formula “you must
change your life”. If by ‘change’, one has to understand a simple mutation,
due to the flux of life, the flexibility of becoming (a bad interpretation of
Heraclitus’ panta pei, everything flows), then “you must change your life”
is devoid of meaning: if life is constantly ‘changing’, why should we intervene in this change? But if, by ‘change’, we understand a new coming into
presence, a carefully fashioned new self, less a change proper than a meta-

CM: This is a major challenge of our times; to understand that becoming
aware of something does not necessarily entail that this thing becomes an
object for the Will, or even paradoxically, for consciousness itself. When I
speak about the current urge to produce a consciousness of our own brain,
I mean that even if the brain is and will remain forever out of the reach of
consciousness (no one can feel their own brain), we may nevertheless produce a kind of knowledge of the epigenetic power of our cerebral capacities. Brain development takes place all life long, and is certainly not limited
to genetic dispositions. Education, habit, and experience, leave traces in
the brain and form it, which means that we are partly genetically predestined, and partly epigenetically indeterminate. This situation brings to
light a new crossing between nature and history. When Marx urged people
to become conscious of their historical dimension, this also didn’t mean
any action of the Will or of consciousness proper. Such is the challenge of

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27

We ‘must’ could be seen either as a necessity, or as a desire. How is necessity connected to desire for you in the context of changing one’s life? What
can we change and what is an illusion? What is practice in this context?

historical materialism: to produce a form of consciousness without consciousness, a process without a subject. I would say that it is the same with
the idea of a critical consciousness of the brain.
HK: A question Daniel Blanga-Gubbay wanted to raise with you in this
context is “Does plasticity put the idea of resistance beyond the categories
of voluntarily / involuntarily?”
CM: Exactly. But we should also examine whether it has been the case
throughout the whole history of philosophy. The greatest thinkers of the
will: Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, or Friedrich Nietzsche, for
example, have always defined it as something different from the ‘voluntary’. No one does anything voluntarily for Kant. If I do so, my action is
not morally pure. It is the same in Nietzsche: the will is not a ‘volunteer’.
It is something else, something difficult to grasp, which has more to do
with the couple commanding/obeying rather with the duality voluntarily/
involuntarily. To go back to plasticity, it certainly has a strong relationship
with the instinct of commanding and obeying, which are life instincts in
the first place.
HK: In your book you beautifully state “Today it is no longer chance versus necessity, but chance, necessity, and plasticity”. Your brain can change
out of necessity, it can change because it needs to change, it is plastic. Do
you mean that these terms do not mean oppositions, but that they correspond?

extent that epigenetics plays with the malleability of the phenotype, with
what depends on gene transcription and interpretation in it; this ‘play’
situates itself precisely in-between chance and necessity. The question of
contingency is currently at the heart of many discussions, see Quentin
Meillassoux’ After Finitude (2010) for instance. I recently engaged a discussion with his definition of radical contingency in my last book After
Tomorrow, Epigenesis and Rationality, which came out in French in 2014
and will soon be published in English by Polity Books.
HK: Can we predict change in this context; when it is undetermined such
as natural selection is partly a random process? There seems to be a tension between chance, necessity and desire, such as we would like to change
things, but things are already changing around us without determination.
If they are random, what are we really changing?
CM. No, I don’t see why and how we might predict change. Biology is not
determinism, contrarily to the usual assertion. See what Sigmund Freud
already said about desire and the drive: they are forces, obscurely determined, and yet they remain highly unpredictable.
HK: What is the relationship between ‘thrive’ and natural selection?

CM: Yes, epigenetics is a science that deals with the non-genetic modification of phenotypes. These modifications do not alter the DNA sequence,
but are significant nonetheless, as they are able to fashion individual identity. There is an intimate link between plasticity and epigenetics, to the

CM: I think it is helpful to recall Darwin’s distinction between necessity
and purposiveness, or teleology. Natural selection is a law, in that sense, it
is necessary, mechanistic even, but since it pursues no goal, it remains unforeseeable. Who can tell what the identity of an offspring will be? In that
sense, the difference between natural selection and ‘thrive’ is not so big as
we might think. Today, some neurobiologists define their work as a form
of neural Darwinism. They explain the synaptic development according
to the laws of selection and stabilization of synapses. Some neural config-

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29

urations disappear, others get stabilized. It is a form of natural selection.
This said, there are no norms that would be able to objectively and definitively account for this selection. Current neurobiology provides us with
new possible readings of Darwin, Freud, and even Henri Bergson. The
fluidification of frontiers between authors and disciplines is a fascinating
phenomenon, which definitely changes our lives, even if we don’t know it!

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31

THE INSTANT
BEFORE JUMPING
– STORY OF A
TRAPEZE ARTIST

32

THE INSTANT
BEFORE
JUMPING
– STORY OF A
TRAPEZE
ARTIST
With his feet on the edge of the platform, the trapeze artist claps his hands
creating a dense cloud of magnesium. He walks through this floating mass
of powder before making his entrance, as if it were a special effect meticulously prepared to announce to the void in front of him his imminent
appearance. He is about to leave the stability of the platform; he is about
to venture into a continuous sequence of instabilities.

simply training for the show. Rather his exercise is an end in itself, or a
means with no end.
Suddenly, alone in the room and with his feet on the edge of the platform,
the trapeze artist questions us with his readiness to jump: what drives him
to leave the platform?
In You Must Change Your Life Peter Sloterdijk explores man’s ability to
transcend himself. The book’s title comes from the final line of the poem,
‘Archaic Torso of Apollo’, by Rainer Maria Rilke, and far from both a
normative agenda and a revolutionary imperative, these five words of the
title are intended to be more ontological, defining the man as the one
who is busy with a constant vertical tension, with a continuous attempt at
self-overcoming. Man is the animal that transforms itself, that exceeds its
limits, the one who – in the words of Rilke – ‘from all the borders of itself
burst like a star. For here there is no place that does not see you. You must
change your life’.i

What drives him to leave the platform?
We usually think about the flying of a trapeze artist from an aesthetic
viewpoint, as if his aerobatics are only for the aesthetic pleasure of the
onlookers; or as if – even when alone during the day – his exercise is just
aimed at fulfilling the onlookers’ desire at the evening performance.
But what if we try to reverse for an instant this causal relation? What if
the trapeze artist is not training himself just in order to perform at night?
What if the evening spectacle is not the reason for his training, but simply
an exhibition for others of what he does in any case? While thinking this
way, his training ceases to be simply a means to an aesthetic end; he is not

From all the borders of himself, man goes beyond the body, training himself as the being who is potentially superior to himself. Sloterdijk acknowledges here the legacy of the anthropologist Helmuth Plessner, appropriating his description of an excentric positionality, as that which defines the
human condition. Men are not animals that just change their position;
they exceed their own position. Men are the ones who live outside their
body, that refuse to be confined to the materiality of their body, that – with
an effort similar to that of Michelangelo’s Prigioni – tenaciously exceed
their limits. Men are not simply transported by their life; they step out of
their bodies, they – in the words of Sloterdijk – ‘step out of the river of
life and take residence on the shore. All increases of a mental or bodily
kind begin with a secession from the
i – Rilke, R.M., Archaïscher Torso Apollos, The Archaic Torso of Apollo, 1908.
ordinary’.ii
ii – Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life (Cambridge: Polity Press), 2013, p.217.

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35

Hence, with his feet on the edge of the platform – or, we could say now,
with his feet on the shore – the trapeze artist seems first and foremost to
be setting up a dialogue with his body. His eyes are already staring into
the empty space in front, in which he imagines his vaulting body: in his
mind he sees the future instants, already translated into coordinated nerve
impulses that he feels running through himself. He is ready to jump into
the empty space, which is a jump into his own vulnerability, and while
staring into the void, he seems to defiantly say: I’m more than a body. If
you think all bodies are hopelessly imprisoned by the laws of gravity, I’m
more than this. I have the opportunity to challenge my body in its inexorable fall towards earth.

With his aerobatics the trapeze artist leaves the stability of his body
to prove himself to be more than it. This is his secession from the ordinary,
from being simply a body.

Maybe only while looking at him in his first moments of exceeding
his body, we can clearly understand the obsessive fascination with images
of trapeze artists and athletes of Francis Bacon, for whom the figures depicted in his paintings leave the stability of the bones to venture into the
vulnerability of the flesh; they are bodies escaping the body.
However, while our trapeze artist throws himself beyond his body, he does
not leave his body. This last does not disappear. On the contrary, it becomes suddenly a unique unit of measurement of his thinking. The extent
and abilities of the body become the only unit of measurement for all
vaulting in space.

What the trapeze artist suddenly reveals is that every activity of exceeding the body inevitably allows the appearance of the body. That is
why, while writing about Bacon’s paintings and describing the bones ‘like
a trapeze apparatus (the carcass) upon which the flesh is the acrobat’,
Gilles Deleuze declares that the body emerges precisely because of the
aerobatics: ‘the body is revealed only when it ceases to be supported by the

bones, making it seem much more vulnerable and lithe, acrobatic’.iii The
body is revealed in its abilities only when exposed in a vulnerable position.

The trapeze artist does not just transcend his body with his abilities,
but while doing so he reminds us that he has a body, a vulnerable one.
While flying into the air the body is no longer protected by the thickness
of a safe position, but is covered by a veil of abilities that – like any thin
veil – cover and reveal at the same time the vulnerable flesh. The trapeze
artist reminds us that each ability presupposes a vulnerability, and that
each vulnerability implements an ability. Vulnerability and ability appear
for a moment as two sides of the same coin, indistinguishable as they spin
through the air.

Every ability originates from a vulnerability; every exceeding reveals
a limitation; every transcendence implies a familiar; every attempt to escape elsewhere presupposes a here. In this way, the words of Maurice
Merleau-Ponty in Phenomenology of Perception resonate with us, when
he says (or almost allows these words to emanate from the lips of our
trapeze artist): ‘The word here applied to my body does not refer to a
determinate position, but the laying down of the first co-ordinates, the
anchoring of the active body in an object, the situation of the body in face
of its tasks. Bodily space can be distinguished from external space and
envelop its parts instead of spreading them out, because it is the darkness
needed in the theatre to show up the performance, the background of somnolence or reserve of vague power against which the gesture and its aim
stand out’.iv The body is the weight necessary for any challenge to gravity,
the limit necessary for any improvement, the limited unit of measurement
necessary for any exploration of the space outside.

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At a closer look, however, what the
trapeze artist is showing us is that
this unit of measurement is not fixed

iii –Deleuze, G., Francis Bacon: the Logic of Sensation (New York: Continuum),
2003, p.22.
iv – Merleau-Ponty, M., Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge &
Kegan Paul), 2005, p.115.

at all. In fact, every training session makes the body more elastic; each
workout makes the body more athletic and makes wider its possibilities.
The space in front of us – which is measured by the possibilities of our
body – will measure up differently. This is at last what the trapeze artist
does, training session after session, and this is why Sloterdijk speaks about
man’s ability to immunise his vulnerability. If man is the animal that explores, he is also the animal that can change the unit of measurement of his
explorations, of his own challenges; that can change the here in relation to
which each elsewhere is conceived. Maybe this is the deeper meaning within the sentence You must change your life, which may not allude simply to
the ability to change your life, but rather the ability to change the unit of
measurement through which life is experienced.
Still,while looking at the trapeze artist, it would be difficult to reduce his
training only to a productive means or to a real necessity of immunising
the vulnerable body. The idea of productivity or functionality is continuously questioned by his aerobatics: first of all his aerobatics do not appear
to be a means of achieving something concrete; he does not simply jump
from the platform to reach the opposite one, or to reach a different place.
As soon as he feels it is safe to land, he jumps backwards to be reabsorbed
by the uncertainty of his own vulnerability. He looks for a vulnerable situation. There is apparently no functionality in what he is doing, and jump
after jump he insistently raises again the question in our mind: what drives
me to leave the platform?

If we observe him, the trapeze artist wants to reach the opposite
platform, but at the same time he avoids reaching it easily. He puts in
some resistance so that he does not land on the it without effort. Maybe not so many works as the one of American artist Matthew Barney
can help to visualise this double tension. Between 1987 and 1989, while
studying at Yale University, Barney created a series of performance events

entitled Drawing Restraint 1–6. His primary intention was to address the
implementation of some pencil drawings, in a way that made it difficult
to produce them. Barney proceeded by hanging a white sheet of paper on
the wall in such a position that it is nearly impossible to reach, so that
he is able to leave some marks on it but only with a great deal of bodily effort. His artistic approach seems to focus more on the process than
on the object, an approach pioneered by Yves Klein with his well-known
Anthropometries, which he referred to as ashes of his art. In the Drawing
Restraint series, however, the pencil marks that have appeared on the sheet
by the end of the performance are not to be regarded as just ashes of an
effort: more than a relation with the past, they are traces of a not yet. The
Drawing Restraint series fixes a movement that refuses to be exhausted in
the result, in which the artistic tension must be kept as such, since it is only
by giving up the achievement of the creation to which he is attracted that
the artist can keep himself in a creative tension towards the very object.
Maybe it is not a coincidence that Barney was an athlete before becoming
an artist. And through him we can understand Sloterdijk’s idea when he
speaks about a Homo Artista defining this conquest of improbabilities,
the performer of the excellence of human training: the Artist is an Athlete,
and the Athlete is an Artist, the creature in ceaseless training, who does
not want to end the training session.
For this reason when writing about Drawing Restraint,v the English art
critic Neville Wakefield described Barney’s body as a ‘Desiring machine’.
Barney presents himself as the one – or the machine – who is able to maintain this physical distance, in which the desire is a never satisfied desire.
In order to prevent himself from what seems to be unavoidable absorption, Barney manages to preserve this unfolded distance and to materialise
a physical strength that allows him
not to yield to the attraction. Hence, v – Wakefield, N. and Scott, K., Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint: vol.
V, 1987–2007 (London: Serpentine Gallery, and Köln: Verlag der Buchhandlung
in one of the Drawing Restraint, he
Walther König), 2007.

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placed the sheet on the front of a boat and tied himself to the opposite side
with some elastic ropes that prevent him from reaching the paper easily
with his pencil. Both the ropes – which slowly become the most significant
tool of these performances – and the setting of this part of Drawing Restraint remind us of the episode of the sirens and Odysseus, in which he
ties himself to a ship’s mast to stop himself from falling towards something
that is calling out to him loudly. Hence, Barney’s gesture – like that of the
trapeze artist – is anything but idle: he is already outside his body and
headed for the object, but he freezes halfway between an opening toward
the creation and a wavering from it, in an interstitial space where the creative forces are not exhausted; where the desire is not reabsorbed in satiety.
To recall the words of Plessner, we might sat that ‘enclosed but exposed,
man is the being lacking of something, the one that waits, desires, strongly
tries, wants, asks’.vi Man is the being that desires to desire.

This is the desire of the trapeze artist: the desire of exceeding is more
important than the outcome; he turns around the Darwinistic-capitalistic
approach towards exercise that focuses on the result of exceeding, to allow the still unsatisfied desire of exceeding to emerge. And here we can
understand Franz Kafka’s main character within one of the first short stories he wrote, about a trapeze artist who does not want to get off the trapeze: ‘A trapeze artist – this art, practiced high in the vaulted domes of the
great variety theaters, is admittedly one of the most difficult humanity can
achieve – had so arranged his life that, as long as he kept working in the
same building, he never came down from his trapeze by night or day’.vii He
lives in his being outside the stability of his body, and his exercise of instability is not a means, it is not a function of the show, rather it is the end
in itself. Kafka’s trapeze artist is the ultimate example of exceeding the
body that is not directed towards a
result, but which is rather a pure exvi – Plessner, H., The Stages of Organic and the Man, p.108.
vii – Kafka, F., Erstes Leid, 1921. First Sorrow, translated by Willa & Edwin
pression of vulnerability and desire;
Muir.

he reminds us that man does not just step forward to arrive somewhere,
but – while exceeding the body – remains joyfully suspended in mid-air in
a challenging fragment of uncertain contingency.
With his feet at the edge of the platform, and while thinking about the
imperative ‘you must change your life’, a last problem still emerges for the
trapeze artist. The voice that Rilke heard speaking to him at the Louvre
contains the echo of a last doubt: how can you change something which is
changing anyway? Sloterdijk suggests that man has the exceptional ability
to change life, but life is far from being an immutable material in front of
which we can decide – or not – to produce changes: is not life changing
always and in any case?

In the aforementioned quote Sloterdijk defined human beings as the
ones who ‘step out of the river of life and take residence on the shore’,viii
and this stepping out corresponds to a change. Nevertheless, was not life
within the river already constantly changing? Is not the river itself constantly changing? No metaphor is here simultaneously more appropriate
and problematic: the river does in fact constantly change, and the water,
flowing evenly forward, is always already different from itself.
But maybe Sloterdijk seems to suggest something else: indeed, while stepping out from the river we cause the flow to deviate. The river is constantly
changing, but while moving within it we change the way it changes, we
change its changes.

We have then to think differently about the experience of the trapeze
artist. He is alone on the platform, in a cloud of magnesium and with a
desire to exceed his body, before he jumps into the void. Yet, on closer
inspection, there is never a void in front of him, but always a space. Sometimes he is alone, but still the air in front will be moved by his jump. At
other times he jumps forward and, at
that very moment, a second trapeze
viii –Stotedijk, P., You Must Change Your Life, op. cit., p.217.

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artist leaves his activities or starts to calculate the effort necessary to catch
him while he flies, or a safety net is laid out below. Life is constantly
changing before him, but with his changes the trapeze artist changes the
way things change; he changes the changes.
We never face the void, rather the space in front of us is a spider’s web,
or a cosmic tissue: each step we take on the web does not only affect our
position, but it also redefines the space itself, which, far from being just
an impassible background to our actions, is an interlocutor of our every
step. This is how, when we tread on the edge of a platform, we bargain
with our position in the world; we are constantly tourists outside our own
bodies, uncertainly exploring a space that we share with others. And that
is why Sloterdijk suggests that shared interests in life require for their success a horizon of universal co-operative exercise. We can now understand
Sloterdijk’s idea of social justice or ecology as training activities, macrostructures of global immunisation, which he defines – while retaining
a high degree of scepticism towards Communism – as ‘co-immunism’, a
shared exercise?

Adriana Cavarero suggests with the idea of an ontology of inclinationix,
ethics is no longer a form of rectitude, rather it is a form of inclination.
We asked: what if the trapeze artist is not training himself just to perform
at night? What if the evening spectacle is not the reason for his training,
but simply a sharing of what he does anyway? We started by denying the
aesthetic reasons for his training and suddenly an ethical reason emerges.
His training shares an ethical dimension with the onlooker; nestled in his
exercise – as in other unsuspected places – an ethical dimension slowly
appears.
With his feet on the edge of the platform, he jumps through the cloud of
magnesium into the void. He swims in the air and outside the regular river
of life. He is hovering and his ability and vulnerability burst like a star
from all the borders of his body, impressing us. And finally the air that
he inevitably moves arrives with us, and affects us, at last reaching our
ears with the echo of the voice of Apollo, eventually whispering to us the
words: You must change your life.

The direction of Rilke’s imperative suddenly deviates. At the beginning it
seemed to see ethics as a verticality: a continuous tension of overcoming
one’s self, a persisting towards an impossible challenge, like a piece of
furniture that tries to stay balanced on one leg and upright. Yet there is
a second direction: the trapeze artist, motionless on the edge of the platform, tilts forward; and once the body’s centre of gravity is crossed, this
first inclination becomes an inevitable step that shuffles the space in front,
forcing him to be confronted with the other. If from stretching upright – in
a vertical direction – we could fall back to the same position, this inclination would drag us elsewhere, beyond the body and inevitably towards
the other. The trapeze artist redefines
ix – Adriana Cavarero, Inclinations, (English translation of Inclinazioni,
Milano: Raffaello Cortina, 2013), Stanford University Press (forthcoming)
the spatial direction of ethics; and as

42

Palestinian Parkour, Jerusalem, © Sebastien Leban

43

NEURAL
DARWINISM:
A NEW APPROACH
TO MEMORY AND
PERCEPTION

44

NEURAL
DARWINISM:
A NEW
APPROACH TO
MEMORY AND
PERCEPTION
New York Times Book Review
October 9, 1986 issue

“Through a Computer Darkly: Group Selection and Higher Brain Function” 36, No. 1 (October 1982) by Gerald M. Edelman. in Bulletin of the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 20-48 pp. “Neural Darwinism: Population Thinking and Higher Brain Function” by Gerald M. Edelman, by in How We Know,
ed. Michael Shafto Harper and Row, 1-30 pp. “Group Selection and Phasic Reentrant Signaling: A Theory of Higher Brain Function” by Gerald M. Edelman,
by in The Mindful Brain ed. G.M. Edelman, by V.B. Mountcastle MIT Press, 51-100 pp. “Group Selection as the Basis for Higher Brain Function” ed. by Gerald M.
Edelman, by in The Organization of the Cerebral Cortex F.O. Schmitt et al. MIT Press, 535-563 pp. “Neuronal Group Selection in the Cerebral Cortex” by Gerald M.
Edelman, by Leif H. Finkel, by in Dynamic Aspects of Neocortical Function ed. G.M. Edelman, by W.E. Gall, by W.M. Cowan Wiley, 653-695 pp. “Cell Adhesion Molecules”
by Gerald M. Edelman. in Science, Vol. 219, (February 4, 1983), 450-457 pp.“Expression of Cell Adhesion Molecules During Embryogenesis and Regeneration”
by Gerald M. Edelman. in Experimental Cell Research 161 (1984), 1-16 pp.“Interaction of Synaptic Modification Rules Within Populations of Neurons” (February 1985) by Leif H. Finkel, by Gerald M. Edelman. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science Vol. 82, 1291-1295 pp. “Selective Networks and Recognition
Automata” by George N. Reeke Jr., by Gerald M. Edelman. in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (1985), 181-201 pp.

46

In 1895, Sigmund Freud made his last attempt to explain the neurophysiological basis of the way the brain functions. His essay on the subject,
“Project for a Scientific Psychology,” was never published during his lifetime. We have learned much about the brain since 1895, yet no equally
ambitious attempt has since been made to examine the broad implications
of neuroscientific research for the functioning of the brain and for psychology. Recently, Gerald M. Edelman, director of The Neurosciences Institute
at The Rockefeller University, has proposed a new theory, one that gives
us powerful reasons to revise our ideas about how we think, act, and
remember. Although this theory is not directly based on Freud’s work, it
confronts several of the problems with which Freud wrestled throughout
his creative life.
Central to Freud’s work was the connection between memory and the
psychology of everyday life. He considered memory to be a permanent
record of past events, a record that was anatomically separate from the
brain mechanisms that are responsible for our ability to make sense of the
world around us. As he wrote in the final chapter of The Interpretation
of Dreams,
[T]here are obvious difficulties involved in supposing that one and
the same system can accurately retain modifications of its elements
and yet remain perpetually open to the reception of fresh occasions
for modifications…. [Therefore] we shall distribute these two functions on to different systems.
On December 6, 1896, Freud wrote to his close friend Wilhelm Fliess,
As you know, I am working on the assumption that our psychical
mechanism has come into being by a process of stratification: the

47

material present in the form of memory-traces being subjected from
time to time to a re-arrangement in accordance with fresh circumstances—to a re-transcription. Thus what is essentially new about
my theory is the thesis that memory is present not once but several
times over, that it is laid down in various species of indications.
In the same letter he writes, “If I could give a complete account of the psychological characteristics of perception and of the [registrations of memory], I should have described a new psychology.”

Freud was acutely aware that recollections are often imperfect and fragmentary, and that they can and do alter perceptions. His theory attempted to explain how what he took to be perfect stores of memory were so
transformed, arguing that memories cannot be released in their permanent form because the satisfactions and pleasures once associated with
youthful impressions can no longer be experienced directly. Hence they
reappear in dreams, but disguised and reworked. Ideas, Freud argued, become separated from associated emotions (affects) and disappear from
consciousness. The emotions become attached to apparently unrelated
ideas, disguising their real meaning. And we often appear to forget the
memories themselves. Repression, screen memories, latent dream content,
the return of the repressed—all were mechanisms elaborated in Freud’s
theory to account for the ways in which fixed memories, however distorted and incomplete, can manifest themselves and affect our present view of
the world. Freudian theory attempts to account for an apparent paradox:
if we believe that memories are, by their very nature, permanently stored
in the brain, why are they rarely recalled in their original form? It is the
inaccuracy of recollection that Freudian psychology evokes so well. The
reasons for this apparent inaccuracy may, however, be quite different from
those that Freud suggested. In fact, the assumption that memories are in

48

any sense part of a fixed record may be wrong.
If memory is a fixed record, neurophysiologists still cannot say precisely
where and how memories are stored. The hypothesis of a fixed record
may have been formulated prematurely, without sufficient attention to the
means by which we recognize objects and events. We are probably much
better at recognition than we are at recollection. We recognize people despite changes wrought by aging, and we recognize photographs of places
we have visited and personal items we have misplaced. We can recognize
paintings by Picasso and adept imitations of Picasso. When we recognize
a painting that we have never seen as by Picasso or as an imitation, we
are doing something more than recalling earlier impressions. We are categorizing: Picassos and fakes. Our recognition of paintings or of people is
the recognition of a category, not a specific item. People are never exactly
what they were moments before and objects are never seen in exactly the
same way.
One possible explanation for this is that our capacity to remember is not
for specific recall of an image stored somewhere in our brain. Rather it is
an ability to organize the world around us into categories, some general,
some specific. When we speak of a stored mental image of a friend, which
image or images are we referring to? The friend doing what, when, and
where? One reason why the search for memory molecules and specific
information storage zones in the brain has so far been fruitless may be
that they are just not there. Unless we can understand how we categorize
people and things and how we generalize, we may never understand how
we remember. Yet we do remember names, telephone numbers, words and
their definitions. Are these not examples of items that must be stored in
some kind of memory? Notice, however, that we generally recall names
and telephone numbers in a particular context; each of our recollections

49

is different, just as we use the same word in different sentences. These are
categorical, not just specific recollections.

Clinical neurologists have long been aware that brain disease may lead
to severe alterations in memory, but they have yet to analyze deeply the
nature of categorization. In a rare abnormality resulting from brain damage and known as prosopagnosia, patients lose the ability to identify the
faces of friends and well-known public personalities. But they can recognize faces as faces. And while they cannot identify their own car or their
own coat, they do recognize cars and clothing as such. They apparently
can recall general categories but cannot identify specific items. Something
similar may occur in some forms of amnesia as well. Antonio Damasio
and his colleagues at the University of Iowa Medical School described a
patient with amnesia sitting in a room with the curtains drawn and unable
to recall the season. When the patient looked out the window, he noted the
color of the trees and the dress of a passerby, and exclaimed, “By golly, it
must be July or August.” He could not recall the month of the year, but he
could deduce it given appropriate evidence.

tionships between separate sensory information items.”1
Individual needs and desires, then, determine how we classify the people,
places, and events that fill our daily lives. Moreover, the categories we use
seem to depend on cross-correlations, or context. Yet many influential theories of mental function posit fixed entities that have an independent existence of their own. Freud, for example, described many ordinary objects as
fitting into categories based on their resemblance to male or female sexual
organs (phallic symbols, for example) and tended to view such categories
as representing deeper drives that are universal within the human species.
Many clinical neurologists and psychologists disagree with Freud’s notion
of universal sexual drives; they nevertheless hold that information is organized into permanent categories in one or more memory systems within
the brain, and that it can systematically be brought to consciousness in
ways analogous to memory searches used in computers. The processes
that are responsible for our recognition of categories, however, do not
seem to depend on such fixed mechanisms.

There are good biological reasons to question the idea of fixed univer-

These studies appear to suggest that our ability to recognize general categories as opposed to the recognition of specific items such as Mary’s face
or Alison’s hat depends on two different brain functions. But the ability
to recognize Alison’s hat is, in part at least, based on temporal associations. We may have seen Alison wearing that hat last Sunday. The loss
of the ability to categorize events in time can cause a nearly total loss of
specific references. It is not the specific items that are no longer recalled,
but their temporal order or their arrangement in succession that has not
been formed or has been lost. When Damasio and his colleagues examined
the man with amnesia about the calendar year, they found he had brain
damage which made him unable to establish “temporal and spatial rela-

sal categories. In a broad sense, they run counter to the principles of the
Darwinian theory of evolution. Darwin stressed that populations are collections of unique individuals. In the biological world there is no typical
animal and no typical plant. When we say a salt molecule has a specific
size we are giving a measurement which, allowing for error, is true for all
salt molecules. But there is no set of measurements that will universally
describe more than the one example of a plant or animal we are measuring. Qualities we associate with human beings and other animals are
abstractions invented by us that miss the nature of the biological variation.
The central conception in Darwinian
1 – A.R. Damasio, P.J. Eslinger, H. Damasio, G.W. Van Hoesen, and S. Cornell,
“Multi-Modal Amnesic Syndrome Following Bilateral Temporal and Basal
thought is that variations in popuForebrain Damage,” Archives of Neurology, Vol. 42 (March 1985), pp.
252–259. Damasio et al.’s interpretation is quite different from the one I have
lations occur from which selection
suggested.

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51

may take place. It is the variation that is real, not the mean. It was Darwin’s recognition of this profound difference between the biological and
physical worlds that led to the rise of modern biology. The mechanisms
of inheritance through genes create diversity within populations; selection
from these populations allows certain organisms to survive in unpredictable environments.
Darwinian ideas have had a variable influence on psychological thinking,
which has sometimes strayed away from biological explanation. Modern
ethology, which studies the relation of animal and human behavior, has
recaptured much of the Darwinian flavor that unfortunately left psychology when early learning theorists such as Pavlov seemed to be successful
in explaining behavior without paying heed to the differences between
animal species. But as important as their insights are, ethologists have not
applied Darwinian thinking to the workings of the brain in each individual of a species.

mold itself around the intruder, thus acquiring a definite shape. Copies of
the mold were made and released into the bloodstream where they would
bind to the invading bacteria. The system learned, or was instructed by,
the shape of a bacterium only after being exposed to it.
Pauling’s theory that there is just one kind of antibody protein proved to
be wrong. In 1969 Edelman and his colleagues worked out the complete
chemical structure of the antibody molecule, providing the important clue
to what structures within the molecule are varied to produce millions of
different kinds of antibodies needed to protect the body against foreign
organisms. For this work he won the Nobel Prize in 1972 along with the
late Rodney Porter of England. Their studies confirmed a theory suggested
in the 1950s by MacFarlane Burnet and Niels Jerne that all animals are
born with a complete repertoire of antibodies and that intruding bacteria
select those antibodies that can effectively combat their presence.

Edelman had earlier studied the immune system. For years, scientists had
wondered how the body produced antibodies against viruses or bacteria
it had never encountered. Linus Pauling had suggested in 1940 that there
was one basic kind of antibody molecule in the body. When the body
was invaded by a bacterium, he had argued, the antibody molecule would

Contrary to Pauling’s theory, the presence of the bacteria does not determine the nature of the antibody that is made, but only the amount. A limited number of genes, a few hundred or a few thousand at most, provide,
through recombinatory mechanisms, the codes for the many millions of
different antibodies. Specialized cells in the blood each produce one of the
many kinds of possible antibodies that then become attached to the cell
surface. An antibody molecule that happens to fit more or less closely a
virus or bacterium floating in the bloodstream will bind itself to the virus
or bacterium. This sets off a chain of events that causes the cell to divide
and make thousands of copies (clones) of itself and more of the same kind
of antibody. Other cells may carry antibody molecules that fit the virus or
bacterium in different ways, and these cells, too, will bind to the virus or
bacterium and produce clones. The body can only rid itself of a virus or
bacterium if there is at least one good enough fit in its antibody repertoire.

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Does evolutionary thought have anything to do with the explanation of
the psychology of individual human beings? The theory of the brain Gerald Edelman proposed in 1978 sought to explain neurophysiological function as a Darwinian system involving variation and selection. Although his
theory is confined to neurobiology, implicit in this work is a bold attempt
to unify the biological and psychological sciences, one that strongly depends on the ideas of evolution and the facts of developmental biology.

Usually there are several fits and some of them may overlap.

So the immunological system is not taught what antibodies it has to make
to rid the body of a particular virus. The invading virus selects the appropriate antibodies and these will be different in each individual. An unfortunate organism may not have any antibodies in its repertoire that can
bind the virus, and this could be fatal. Scientists were generally pleased
with this solution to the immunological question because it was consistent with Darwinian principles of selection that have formed the basis of
modern biology. Theories of immunology based on a process of learning
or instruction were not.
Comparison of those findings on immunology to the theory of evolution
suggested to Edelman that the brain too may function as a selective system
and that what we call learning is really a form of selection. The theory he
worked out is based on three fundamental claims: 1) during the development of the brain in the embryo a highly variable and individual pattern
of connections between the brain cells (neurons) is formed; 2) after birth, a
pattern of neural connections is fixed in each individual, but certain combinations of connections are selected over others as a result of the stimuli
the brain receives through the senses; 3) such selection would occur particularly in groups of brain cells that are connected in sheets, or “maps,”
and these maps “speak” to one another back and forth to create categories
of things and events.

ers. Twins with identical genes therefore should have identical, or nearly
identical, brains. Learning may not have been preprogrammed in Sperry’s
model, but this model seems to imply that what any person could learn
was limited by predetermined connections in his or her brain. If Sperry
were right, many brain functions would be genetically determined, and
to this extent organisms could be limited in their ability to adapt to new
environments. Adaptive behavior and flexibility would have to arise by
instruction; i.e., by external stimuli creating patterns in the brain, much
as programs give instructions to computers. Yet we know that animals
can adapt individually to different environments. The human brain has
permitted survival in remarkably varied circumstances throughout history. Genetic determinism strains credibility because it makes it difficult to
account for the enormous variability of thought and action.
For Edelman, the important question was not, as Sperry had argued, how
specific structures in the brain are made according to markers on each
neuron, but how, given a particular set of genes, enough variability would
be created within the constant overall structure of the brain to account
for the adaptability of humans and higher animals in an unpredictable
environment. The deeper issue that had to be explored to understand this
was the relationship between genes, on the one hand, and, on the other,
the form and structure—or “morphology”—of animals. Notwithstanding
all the work on the genetic code, biologists still cannot predict the shape
of an organism from the information in its genes. If dinosaur genes rather
than dinosaur bones had been found we would never have known they
were dinosaurs and could not have said what they looked like. Why don’t
genes tell us about morphology?

But is it the case that there is a mechanism that creates such diversity in
each brain? In 1963, the Nobel Prize-winning neurologist Roger Sperry
proposed that the billions of complicated connections in the brain were
each determined by specific chemical markers on each neuron. On this
view, particular genes presumably provide a code for each of the mark-

embryonic development. As an embryo develops, cells divide, move from

54

55

The answer to this question, according to Edelman’s findings, lies in early

place to place, and ultimately become specialized. A cell’s fate, whether it
becomes a liver cell or a nerve cell, depends on where it happens to be at
the moment that specialization begins, as well as where it has been. Cell
shapes and movements will inevitably vary in each individual, making it
impossible to predict exactly where a particular cell will be at a given
time. Therefore the genetic mechanisms that determine what a cell will
become must somehow be sensitive to its location at a particular time. If
each cell’s specialization were completely predetermined by genes, even
one misplaced cell could create havoc and the organism’s subsequent development would follow an abnormal course. A supporting beam placed
between two walls that arrived just moments too late would be of no use
once the walls had collapsed.
How does a pattern emerge in the embryo from early activity of the cells?
Biological systems are not built from preformed parts. Instead cells are
cemented together in the embryo and the individual cells or groups of
cells are then shaped into structures that serve more complex functions.
In determining the shape, it is the signals across the boundaries of such
structures that count. How this works may be suggested by an analogy.
Imagine an architect given the task of shaping a brick wall into the façade
of a building, with windows, ornaments, and a main door. One way our
imaginary architect may proceed is to indicate where the holes for the
windows would be drilled by drawing the borders on the brick wall. The
holes drilled and the window frames added, he might then add indications
for the shutter hinges on the window frames. In general, shaping a relatively uniform collection of interconnected material units, such as bricks,
into a well-differentiated structure requires determining the boundaries
of the structures that have to be carved into the units or added to them.
And those boundaries can only be determined once all the bricks (or other
material subunits) are delivered or are in place. One brick might be substi-

56

tuted for another without changing the pattern. Above all, the boundaries
will determine the function of the bricks, such as supporting a window or
a door.
As tissue grows in the embryo, borders are formed demarcating the different functional parts of the organism; but obviously there is no architect.
The borders are established between different groups of cells by different
intercellular cements or glues, known as cell adhesion molecules or CAMs.
Three kinds of CAMs were discovered by Edelman and his colleagues in
the late 1970s; and more have since been found. Two of the CAMs appear
on the surfaces of cells very early in embryonic development. One is called
L-CAM because it was first discovered in the liver, and the other N-CAM
since it was originally found in association with nerves. L-CAMs on the
cell surface will only stick to other L-CAMs on the cell surface and the
same is true of N-CAMs; L-CAMs and N-CAMs will not stick to each
other. For these primary CAMs, cells can adhere to each other only when
they have the same kind of CAMs on their surfaces.
The structure of the cell adhesion molecules themselves is determined by
particular genes. And in early development of the embryo other genes
regulate when the CAMs are produced. However, the exact amount and
“stickiness” of the CAMs (which vary continuously as the embryo develops) depend on where the cells carrying them are and where they have
moved, and the individual cell’s position is not under direct genetic control. Therefore the arrangement of groups of cells that are linked together
by one kind of CAM will vary even in genetically identical individuals.
These groups of cells send signals that turn CAM genes on and off, as
well as turning on and off the action of genes that specify cell specialization. The entire sequence by which differentiation occurs is therefore
determined not directly by genes but indirectly by the combined action

57

of genes and signals from cell groups that activate genes, and is therefore
called epigenetic.
Cells linked together in collectives by L-CAMs form borders with other
cells linked together in other collectives by N-CAMs. The borders result
because the two kinds of molecules do not stick to each other. Edelman
and his colleagues have shown that cells on one side of the border will
subsequently change into more specialized cells of one kind, and those
on the other side of the border will become specialized cells of another
kind. Throughout embryonic development, borders are formed between
cells that are linked together with different CAMs, and following border
formation the cells specialize. As the cells differentiate further, new CAM
borders are formed before new changes are introduced by signals from
the cell groups to the genes that activate both CAMs and the genes that
specify cell specialization. Depending on the past history of the two cell
groups, signals exchanged at the border between collections of N-CAM
and L-CAM cells will determine the subsequent formation of very different kinds of cells on each side of the border. (Recently a chemical signal
that activates CAM production has been identified.)
The function of the border between cell groups with different CAMs thus
depends on the context—the surrounding cells, and the past history of the
cells. In general, moreover, the rules governing CAM response are similar
both for the neurons of the brain and for other body structures. Because
the borders of cell collectives depend on dynamics of movement, there will
be individual variations that are not determined just by genes and whose
diversity will ensure that different brains would have different structures.
Yet the general patterns formed and the broadly similar sequences of embryonic development would account for the fact that the individual brains
of members of a species resemble one another.

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The importance of the borders formed by the CAM-linked collectives
was shown in a spectacular series of experiments in Edelman’s laboratory on the emergence of a single feather in the chicken. At each stage in
the feather’s morphogenesis, borders were found between groups of cells
linked together with different kinds of CAM. Following the formation of
the borders each group of cells changed, those on one side into one kind
of cell, and those on the other into another kind of cell. For example, the
final feather, with its regular pattern of branching (a pattern that varies
from feather to feather), is carved out of a cylinder of tissue. The distinctive feather pattern arises after alternating groups of cells (i.e., L-CAMlinked cell groups alternating with N-CAM-linked cell groups) make their
appearance. Groups of cells with N-CAM linkages then die, while the alternating groups with L-CAM linkages become hardened, or keratinized.
The result, a feather. The edges of the barbs on the feather were the borders between the L- and N-CAM cell groups. Even more dramatically,
when changes were induced experimentally in the linkages made by one
kind of CAM, cell groups that were linked by a completely different kind
of CAM were altered.
From the workings of such epigenetic mechanisms we can see why knowing the entire genetic repertoire of an animal would not alone permit us to
predict its final detailed morphology. Identical twins are never absolutely
identical. And just as every feather has a different pattern of branching,
every brain would be expected to have a different pattern of connections.
The demonstration that there are molecular reasons why no two brains
could be identical is central to Edelman’s view that the brain functions as
a system based on selection—the CAM mechanism creates diversity in the
anatomical connections of an individual’s brain. The context and history
of cellular development thus largely determine the structure of the brain;

59

and therefore context and history are also important in brain function.
Because development, structure, and function are related, it would not be
surprising if the functional activities of a connected group of cells in the
brain depended both on the activities of neighboring cell groups and on
the past history of the particular group itself.

T

o show that brain function, like structure, also depends on context and
history and not on localized functions and fixed memories is the burden
of Edelman’s theory of neuronal group selection. What emerges is a new
approach to the biological basis of psychology.
A major claim of this approach is that the unit of selection in the brain is
a neuronal group, a set of interconnected neurons that function together.
The patterns of connections that are established among neurons vary from
group to group because of the changes in dynamics of the CAMs during
development. The brain thus contains large numbers of different neuronal
groups.
Neuronal groups are connected to one another as well as to the sensory
receptors for light, touch, and sound in the eyes, skin, and ears. In general,
neighboring groups of neurons in the brain receive input from neighboring sensory receptors (for example, on the second and third fingers of the
hand); two neighboring groups in the brain can in fact receive input from
the same sensory receptor. Although the inputs can overlap, the responses of each group to the stimuli will be different. Because each group of
neurons has its own pattern of internal connections, which differs from
those of other groups, each group will respond differently, even to identical stimuli.

icance not just because of the anatomical connections and physiological
mechanisms on which the functioning of that group depends, but because
of its context and the history of its received signals as well. If this is true,
then a given “memory” cannot be stored in a specific place in the brain,
since neighboring activities would of necessity change, and therefore the
“context” of any neuronal cell group is never constant. If one were to assume that a memory was in fact stored as it is in a computer, altering this
process would irreparably destroy it.

The embryonic processes I have described involving CAMs are central in
creating a large repertoire of different neuronal groups. But after birth the
principle of selection changes. Instead of alternations of CAMs, changes in
the strength but not the pattern of connections occur; such changes determine the paths over which neural signals will flow.2 Environmental stimuli
may cause one group to respond with greater activity than other groups
receiving the same input. And when this happens, laboratory experiments
show that the connections between the neurons in that group (the synaptic
junctions) can be strengthened.

The activities of a group of interconnected neurons would acquire signif-

Edelman and his colleagues have worked out a set of possible rules that
might govern these synaptic alternations. Molecular changes take place
within neurons and at the synaptic junctions so that the neurons tend to be
activated by similar stimuli on subsequent occasions. Particular variants
within the brain’s population of neuronal groups are selected by the stimulus. Indeed, a group that responds to a stimulus might do more than this.
As its connections are strengthened it might alter the strength of its links to
other groups and, by competing with
other groups, integrate neurons from 2 – This is analogous to the process by which antibodies that have been selected
are then produced in large numbers, or cloned. The two processes resemble each
them into its own response activity.
other in effect, but the mechanisms are different: in the brain the strengths of
synaptic connections are increased; in the immune system the number of cells is
The strengthening of the synaptic
increased through cloning.

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connections creates what Edelman calls a secondary repertoire: this is
made up of neuronal groups that respond better to specific stimuli because
they have been selected and their connections strengthened.
In their responses to stimuli, neuronal groups could be likened to a set
of radio receivers, each tuned to a small band of frequencies. One radio
might receive frequencies in the 1600 to 1700 kilocycle range, and another
might receive frequencies in the 1550 to 1650 kilocycle range. Depending
on the broadcast frequencies in the area, some of the receivers will respond
to one broadcast, others to several broadcasts, and others to none at all.
Analogously to an animal moving its head or body, moving from New
York to Peking, for example, would change the response patterns of the
individual receivers. The receiver’s purpose depends on where it is: in Peking it receives Radio Peking, in New York WCBS, and in Moscow Radio
Free Europe, Radio Moscow, and a lot of jamming simultaneously.
Like the radio receivers, a given neuronal group can respond to more than
one stimulus—what is called a degenerate response. In our analogy, a given radio receiver might pick up Radio Peking better than Radio Moscow,
but it can pick up either station. (Of course, stimuli are not organized into
coherent pieces of information like radio broadcasts. At higher levels in
the brain, the stimuli must be organized in ways that will be meaningful
and useful for the organism.)
The brain performs this organizing operation by using maps made up of
neuronal groups. A map is a collection of neuronal groups in the brain
which are arranged in a way that preserves the pattern of relationships
either between a sheet of sensory receptors (such as those in the skin of the
hand) and a sheet of neural tissue in the brain to which the sensory stimuli
have been transmitted, or between two sheets of neural tissue. Groups are
arranged in maps that “speak” back and forth to one another so as to

62

create categories of things and events. Different kinds of maps are found
in different parts of the brain, and an analysis of how such maps interact
is an essential and final part of Edelman’s theory.

Because the brain has to be prepared for unpredictable events it must
map stimuli in a variety of ways. Brain maps sort incoming stimuli by similarity (same frequency of sound, same intensity of sound, etc.) as well as
by a mixture of properties. The main evolutionary principle at work here
is that stimuli are organized into patterns that will help the organism cope
with its environment.
In 1870 two young Germans, Gustav Theodor Fritsch and Eduard Hitzig,
first discovered that the brain maps motor stimuli. They reported that
touching discrete areas on a dog’s brain activated specific parts of the
body. By the end of the century motor and sensory maps were a well-established feature of neuroanatomical teaching. These maps were assumed
to be permanent and more or less identical in all members of a species.
It was therefore surprising when in 1983 Michael Merzenich and his collaborators at the University of California at San Francisco discovered that
the sensory maps showed considerable variation in the brains of normal
monkeys. The brain maps in a particular monkey’s brain varied over time.
And there was considerable variation in corresponding maps in different
monkeys as well. Subsequent experiments demonstrated that the maps became rearranged, even within short periods of time, following injury to a
nerve supplying sensory input from one of the monkey’s fingers.
Merzenich’s work gives powerful support to Edelman’s claim that particular combinations of neuronal groups are selected competitively from the
general population of neuronal groups by sensory input. Since the nerves

63

from the different areas of the skin of the hand are connected eventually
by overlapping branches to the same receiving areas in the brain, the part
of the skin surface represented in a particular brain by a group of neurons depends on selective competition. Neuronal groups in one area of the
brain may, for example, receive overlapping input from both the back and
the palm of the hand, and the stimuli from the palm may more effectively
select particular neuronal groups, establishing a dominant representation
of the front of the hand in the map in that part of the brain.
Should the incoming nerves be damaged, reducing or eliminating the input from the palm (as in Merzenich’s experiments), the groups that could
respond to the stimuli from the back of the hand will then be able to be
expressed in the absence of competition from the neuronal groups in the
palm. Thus, based on the inherent variation among neuronal groups, a
new representation emerges in that area of the brain. The continuity of
the new map’s general activity nonetheless can still represent, in some abstracted form, the activity at the sensory receptors.

I

nformation in the brain is distributed among many maps, and according to Edelman’s theory, there must be incessant reference back and forth
among them for categorization to occur. Sounds, for example, can be categorized as speech, noise, and music; or they can be used to locate things
in space. Recent research shows that such localization requires a number
of interacting maps. Owls, like human beings, use sounds to locate moving
animals, for instance a mouse they might attack. The important sensory
clues are the different arrival times of a sound at each ear, and its intensity.
Since the owl’s brain cannot directly map the different times of arrival of a
sound at each ear, two initial sensory maps represent the frequencies heard
by the owl: one maps those heard in the right ear and the other maps those
heard in the left ear. These representations are then combined in another

64

map where the arrival times (called sound disparities) of a given frequency
in one ear are compared to those in the other ear.
The sounds made by a mouse in a field can by this means be categorized
according to the disparities in sound. These disparities can be used to help
determine the sources of the sounds. Specific neuronal groups within a
map may be activated by a difference in arrival time between the two ears
of, for example, one thousandth of a second. In itself the activity of the
neuronal groups will not tell the owl’s brain the source of the sound. But
the entire pattern of activity of the map, the ways in which other neuronal
groups are activated as well, will represent in the owl’s brain the location
of the source of the sound. This pattern will have to be extracted in a
further mapping, which could for example characterize certain patterns
of activity indicating that sources of sound were, say, at 30 degrees to the
left, others at 60 degrees to the right, etc. Finally the mapping that has derived the place of a source of sound is connected to a visual map of space,
created from the owl’s visual receptors. The visual map is thus related to a
map that recategorized auditory sensory input to place sounds in space. By
relating the two sensory modalities, the owl’s brain has created a general
map (auditory and visual) of space and the owl can respond to a variety
of sensory inputs.
A particular pattern of activity will lead to a motor response in which
the owl dives for its prey. If the owl is successful, it will associate that
mapping and that pattern of activity with the particular motor act of attacking. If it fails, however, it will try other responses until it finally succeeds in capturing its prey. This was shown in the series of experiments
by E.I. and P.F. Knudsen in which young owls were raised with one ear
plugged, thus shifting the perceived location of sound relative to its actual
location. Within four to six weeks these owls learned to localize sound

65

accurately. The owls adjusted to the altered mapping of sound apparently
by rearranging their internal mappings. Recognition therefore depends on
mapped and remapped patterns of activity.3

No single map contains all the information necessary for the owl’s
movements, and as I have said there must be a constant reference back and
forth from neuronal groups in one map to neuronal groups in the other
by means of so-called reentrant connections, i.e., nerves traveling in both
directions to link the maps. According to Edelman’s theory, this is how the
brain creates its categories and generalizations. Of course, the owl brain
may also use the initial mapping of sound frequencies for higher maps
that do not represent spatial disparities, but rather the actual sequence of
sounds (to identify the kind of animal making the noise, perhaps). This
will eventually create other kinds of categories for sound information.
The brain has many different kinds of maps and ways of mapping other
maps that categorize “inputs” in many ways. The purpose of the maps
is to create perceptual categorizations that permit the animal to act in
appropriate ways.4 The environments in which an animal might find itself
will of course change and so the perceptual categories must also change.
But this is exactly what the multiple mappings are best suited for: the
maps interact with one another and constantly recategorize information.
And by referring the more abstract mappings back to the primary sensory
maps that have a continuous relationship with external stimuli, the brain
can effectively keep track of its various regroupings of the sensory inputs.
That mappings can be related to one
another without any preestablished
instructions has been demonstrated
by Edelman and his colleague George

3 – E.I. Knudsen and P.F. Knudsen, “Vision Guides the Adjustment of Auditory
Localization in Young Barn Owls”, Science 230 (November 1, 1985), pp. 545–548.
4 – The origin of perceptual categories by neuronal group selection is in some
ways analogous to the origin of species by natural selection in evolutionary time.
Much as unpredictable events over a long period of time may result in the
selection of certain characteristics in organisms, unpredictable environmental
events in an animal’s lifetime may result in the selection of certain neuronal
groups leading to the formation of perceptual categories.

66

Reeke, Jr., who built a new kind of automaton, based on the principles of
selection, to simulate the mapping activity of the brain. The automaton
abstracted from the mappings of visual inputs a variety of categorizations,
such as for letters of the alphabet, without having been given specific instructions to do so. This provided further evidence that the interacting
maps are essential for categorizing perceptions in a selective system.

A spy sitting in a music hall might want to locate the person he just
heard say, “Nine o’clock tomorrow,” and he may also want to enjoy the
singer’s “Casta Diva.” One set of brain maps will locate the person who
said “nine o’clock,” while another set of maps will permit him to hear
the “Casta Diva” for his own pleasure. Sounds have been categorized in
different ways by his brain in accordance with his adaptive needs: business
and pleasure.
Later that evening the spy may have forgotten the time he overheard mentioned by the person he was shadowing during the concert. Annoyed, he
hums the melody of “Casta Diva” and suddenly recalls the nine o’clock
assignation. Or he might recall it when he sees the announcement for a
nine o’clock movie. This suggests that memory is not an exact repetition
of an image of events in one’s brain, but a recategorization. Recategorizations occur when the connections between the neuronal groups in different
maps are temporarily strengthened. Recategorization of objects or events
depends upon motion as well as upon sensation, and it is a skill acquired
in the course of experience. We recollect information in different contexts;
this requires the activation of different maps interacting in different ways
from those of our initial encounter with the information and it leads to its
recategorization. We do not simply store images or bits but become more
richly endowed with the capacity to categorize in connected ways.

67

Memory as recategorization is one of the deep consequences of Edelman’s theory of neuronal group selection. In a remarkable book published
in 1932, the English psychologist Frederic C. Bartlett sketched out the
view to which Edelman’s work has given a precision and a physiological
justification. In Remembering Bartlett wrote:

Remembering is not the re-excitation of innumerable fixed, lifeless
and fragmentary traces. It is an imaginative reconstruction, or construction, built out of the relation of our attitude towards a whole
active mass of organised past reactions or experience, and to a little
outstanding detail which commonly appears in image or in language
form. It is thus hardly ever really exact, even in the most rudimentary cases of rote recapitulation, and it is not at all important that
it should be so.
It is this quality of memory that Freud, too, sought to capture. Believing
that memories must leave permanent traces, and unable to see how a perceptual structure could remain open to new perceptions if it were altered
by previous stimuli, he constructed a theory quite different from the view
of brain function presented here.

some degree creations and his or her memories are part of an ongoing process of imagination. A mental life cannot be reduced to molecules. Human
intelligence is not just knowing more, but reworking, recategorizing, and
thus generalizing information in new and surprising ways. It could be that
inappropriate categorizations from damaged maps may cause psychoses,
just as the inability to correlate the succession of objects or events in time
may be largely responsible for the loss of specific memories in the case of
amnesia already mentioned.
Of course, language is acquired in society, but our ability to use it, to constantly reconceive the world around us, is at least in part a reflection of
the multiple mappings and remappings that appear to be central to brain
function. Such a view reinforces the idea that no two brains can be, or ever
will be, alike. Edelman’s theory of neuronal group selection challenges
those who claim that science views individual human beings and other
animals as reproducible machines and that science is little concerned with
the unique attributes of individuals and the sources of that uniqueness.
Humanism never had a better defense.5

Unable to accept that fragmentary memories may well be fragmentary,
Freud assumed memories were fixed in the same way that Newton had
assumed time was absolute. Einstein eliminated absolute time and thereby
presented a larger view of space and time. In dispensing with fixed memories and replacing them with memory as categorization, Edelman’s theory
represents a radical departure from previous thought and may well open
the possibility of a broader and deeper view of human psychology.
5 – I would like to thank Leif Finkel for his invaluable assistance in the
preparation of this article.

Each person according to his theory is unique: his or her perceptions are to

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previous pages – Choreography for the Running Male (2015)
Eglé Budvytyté. Performance
photo Pierre Antoine
left – Balance from Within (2010)
Jacob Tonski. Installation
photo Pierre Antoine
above – Blindness and memory: being reborn into a different world (2012)
John M. Hull. Video lecture
photo Pierre Antoine

above and right – Stranger Visions (2012-2013)
Heather Dewey-Hagborg. Installation
photo Pierre Antoine

above – When you fall into a trance (2014)
Emily Wardill,.Film
photo Pierre Antoine

above – The Hand, the Eye and It (2013)
– The Hand, the Eye, It and the foot (2014)
Hedwig Houben. Video lecture, Installation
photo Pierre Antoine

above – DNA, A Graphic Guide to the Molecule that shook the world (2011)
Israel Rosenfield, Edward Ziff. Book
photo Pierre Antoine
above – Cosmic Tissue (2014)
Emily Whitebread. Video
photo Pierre Antoine

next pages – Shalom Aleikoum (2013)
Younes Baba-Ali. Object
photo Pierre Antoine

previous pages – Echo Moiré (2012)
iii - Matteo Marangoni. Performance, Installation
photo Pierre Antoine
right – CineChine (2012) | CineChine performance (2014)
iii – Mariska de Groot & Dieter Vandoren. Performance, Installation
photo Pierre Antoine

above – PlaneScape (2011-2014)
Wolfgang Bittner, Lyndsey Housden, Yoko Seyama, Jeroen Uyttendaele
Installation
photo Pierre Antoine
right – Captives #B04 (2014)
Quayola. Installation
photo Pierre Antoine

above – Afterword (2014-2015)
Oscar Santillan. Video performance, Installation
photo Pierre Antoine

above – Operation - For Something Black and Hot (2012)
Okin Collective. Video performance, Installation
photo Pierre Antoine

above – Être et ne pas avoir (2014)
Younes Baba-Ali. Video performance
photo Pierre Antoine

above – Mediterraneo (2014)
Anna Raimondo. Video

above – Room C (extended) (2015)
Roel Heremans. Performance
photo Pierre Antoine
above – An Eye for an Eye (1998)
Artur Žmijewski. Video
photo Pierre Antoine

next pages – Body Revolution (2015)
Mokhallad Rasem. Performance, Installation
photo Pierre Antoine

Hicham Khalidi is a Dutch-Moroccan curator of contemporary art. As of May 2015, Khalidi has been
appointed Associate Curator at the Fondation Galeries Lafayette in Paris after heading the exhibitions
program of Stuk Art Center in Leuven, Belgium for two years. His latest exhibitions as a curator include:
You Must Change Your Life (Artefact Festival 2015); Where are we now? (Marrakech Biennale 2014); On
Geometry and Speculation (Marrakech Biennale 2012); Transnatural Festival (Nemo Science Center 2012)
and Alles, was Sie über Chemie wissen müssen (CTM/Künstlerhaus Bethanien 2011).
Israël Rosenfield received an M.D. from the New York University School of Medicine and a Ph.D. from
Princeton University. He is a professor at the City University of New York and his books, which have been
translated into a number of languages, include The Invention of Memory: A New View of the Brain; The
Strange, Familiar, and Forgotten: An Anatomy of Consciousness (revised and expanded French edition,
2005); and the satirical novel Freud's “Megalomania”, a New York Times notable book of the year. He
has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a longtime contributor to The New York Review of Books. A frequent
speaker at international art/science events, he has written essays and satirical pieces for a number of
exhibition catalogues of contemporary artists.
Daniel Blanga-Gubbay is a researcher in political philosophy and performance based in Brussels.
After graduating in philosophy from the Venice University of Architecture with Giorgio Agamben, and
while working with him, he got a European Ph.D. in Cultural Studies, jointly run by the University of
Palermo, Valencia and Freie Unversität Berlin. He currently teaches Political Philosophy for the Arts at
the Académie des Beaux Arts in Brussels, and he has a research project at the Heinrich Heine Universität
in Düsseldorf, within a project on the use of the concept of possible in art and politics. Results of this
research have been presented recently in Beirut (Orient Institute, AUB), Copenhagen (What Images Do),
Moscow (Political Mimesis), Oslo (The Nordic Society for Aesthetic), Tel Aviv (TAU) and Brussels. He
develops theoretical projects for performing art institutions and festivals, such as the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Santarcangelo Festival, Chantier d'Europe / Théâtre de la Ville de Paris, and Centrale Fies, and is
the founder of the Brussels-based project Aleppo (www.aleppo.eu).

Catherine Malabou (born 1959) is a French philosopher. She is professor in the Philosophy Department
at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) at Kingston University. Malabou
graduated from the École Normale Supérieure Lettres et Sciences Humaines (Fontenay-Saint-Cloud). Her
agrégation and doctorate were obtained, under the supervision of Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion,
from the École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Her dissertation became the book, L'Avenir de
Hegel: Plasticité, Temporalité, Dialectique (1996). Central to Malabou's philosophy is the concept of
“plasticity,” which she derives in part from the work of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and from medical
science, for example, from work on stem cells and from the concept of neuroplasticity. In 1999, Malabou
published Voyager avec Jacques Derrida – La Contre-allée, co-authored with Derrida. Her book, Les nouveaux blessés (2007), concerns the intersection between neuroscience, psychoanalysis, and philosophy,
thought through the phenomenon of trauma. Coinciding with her exploration of neuroscience has been
an increasing commitment to political philosophy. This is first evident in her book What Should We Do
With Our Brain? and continues in Les nouveaux blessés, as well as in her book on feminism (Changer de
différence, le féminin et la question philosophique, Galilée, 2009), and in her forthcoming book about the
homeless and social emergency (La grande exclusion, Bayard). Malabou is co-writing a book with Adrian
Johnston on affects in Descartes, Spinoza and neuroscience, and is preparing a new book on the political
meaning of life in the light of the most recent biological discoveries (mainly epigenetics). The latter
work will discuss Giorgio Agamben's concept of «bare life» and Michel Foucault's notion of biopower,
underscoring the lack of scientific biological definitions of these terms, and the political meaning of
such a lack.

THIS BOOKLET HAS BEEN PUBLISHED AS AN
ADDENDUM TO ARTEFACT ARTS AND SCIENCE
FESTIVAL, 11 – 22 FEBRUARI 2015
Editor – Hicham Khalidi
Text translations – Natasha Hoare
Graphic design – Rowan McCuskey

ARTEFACT
Artefact is an initiative of the province Flemish
Brabant in collaboration with the City of Leuven.
Artefact is partly supported by KU Leuven as part of
“science meets art” Artefact and STUK are supported
by
De Vlaamse Overheid, Provincie Vlaams- Brabant, Stad
Leuven, KU Leuven Cultuur, Ku Leuven Groep
Wetenschap & Technologie, ThromboGenics, KLARA,
De Streekkrant, De Lijn, Cobra en De Standaard.
(mediasponsors)

THANKS TO
Annie Cooreman
The participating artists
Nicolas Wierinck
The volunteers
Delfina Foundation
Province Flemish Brabant (Luc Robijns, Tie Roefs,
Kolleg Friedrich Nietzsche
Wannes Verhoogen, Pia Brys, Nele De Cuyper, Dirk
Goethe und Schilller Archiv
Bollen)
Jan van Eyck Academie (And the generosity of Maria
The City of Leuven (mayor Louis Tobback, alderman for
Ines Plaza, Jerome Daly, Ardi Poels, Dr. Rüdiger
culture Denise Vandevoort, Piet Forger, Steven Schmidt-Grepaly, Peter Mair, Evelyn Liepsch, Amy Bell,
Dusoleil)
and Joep Vossbeld)
KU Leuven (Katlijn Malfliet, Georges Gielen, Stéphane
La Maac
Symons, Hilde Van Gelder, Geert Bouckaert, Ludo
Hotel Park Inn
Froyen)
Ibis Hotel Leuven
KU Leuven Dienst Cultuur (Kristien Jacobs, Greet
Jos Maes
Verbeek, Veronique Verbert, Heidi Froyen)
Loko cultuur (Hannah De Neve & Jasmien Schutz)
ThromboGenics (Alexandra Schiettekatte)
Pierre Antoine (fotograaf exposities)
LRD (Paul Van Dun)
Sitonit (Koen Deloose)
Artforum (Hai-Chay Jiang, Marijke Van Geel)
Peter Kilchmann Gallery
Bibliotheek Tweebronnen (Ilse Depré & An Steppe)
Jorn Carels
Toneelhuis Antwerpen
Marres (Ardi Pols)
Moussem (Mouhamed Ikoubaan) Summer Sessions (Anneleen van Kuyck, Dagmar Dirkx,
Het Depot
Joeri Verbesselt, Luce Moelans, Olivier Adins, Jeroen
ZebraStraat (Isolde Debuck)
Verbeeck)
Campus Gelbergen (Suzan Langenberg & Fleur Beyers)
John Hull
STUK STAFF
Serpentine Gallery
Steven Vandervelden - general & artistic director
Israel Rosenfield
Klaus Ludwig - financial director
Borin van Loon
Wieter Bloemen - daily operations
Edward Ziff
Hicham Khalidi – visual arts and Artefact promoter
Daniel Blanga-Gubbay
Charlotte Vandevyver - dance promoter
Catherine Malabou
Gilke Vanuytsel - music promoter
Museum Astrup Fearnley (Renate Thorbjørnsen)
Ilse Van Essche - production Artefact
Odico formwork robotics (Denmark)
Fleur van Muiswinkel - production Artefact
Jelle Feringa
Laura Delaere - production performing arts
TED Global (Kari Mulholland)
Frank Geypens - communication
Shapeways
Joeri Thiry - communication
Peter Adriaenssens
Hans Empereur - communication
Iseult Beets
Leen Persoons - communication and layout
Bert van de Ven
Danielle Gielen & Jan Delvaux - communication
Raymond Langenberg
Artefact
Luc Desmet
Leen Van Hoeck - accounting

Leen Bleys - volunteers coordination
Richard Kerkhofs - technical supervision
Babs Boey - technique
Anne Heyman - technique
Jesse Jansens - technique
Roel Penninckx - technique
Erik Penninckx - technique
Johannes Vochten - technique
Joachim Beckers - facility manager
Ingrid Van Eycken - coordination reception & ticketing
Annemie Lambrechts - reception & ticketing
Hilde Van Wijnsberghe - reception & ticketing
Lisanne Valgaerts - reception & ticketing
Peter Hannosset - catering
Raphael Klaps - coordination STUKcafé
Zoë Pauwels - coordination STUKcafé
Cecilia Nyarko - maintenance
Adon Boateng - maintenance
Mohamed El Ghanoui - maintenance
Coordinator guided tours Artefact (Christina Seyfried)
Children's guided tours (Marlies Verreydt, Mieke
Lamiroy, Jonas Slegers)
Guided tour interns (Hannah De Neve, Stefanie
Verbeeck, Ellen Rottiers, Sofie Vandeweyer, Ana
Schultze, Stijn 'T Kindt)
Luce Moelans - intern Artefact
Eline Verstegen - intern Artefact
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Jo Stulens (chairman)
Stefaan Saeys (vice-president)
Peter Anthonissen
Lies Daenen
Katlijn Malfliet
Saïd El Khadraoui
Izzy Van Aelst
Nele de Cuyper
Hannah De Neve
Heleen Devlieger
Luc Haegemans