The Syncretic Imperative: towards the spiritual in discovery

Roy Ascott

The ambition to work without boundaries, beyond categories of learning; to build new realities, new language, and new practices, defines the work of the artist and gives those practices relevance in the social context

The Spirit of Discovery FACTO Trancoso Portugal 18-21 May 2006

REDUCTIONIST ALERT! The artist is prepared to look anywhere, into any discipline, scientific or spiritual, any view of the world - however esoteric or arcane - any culture, immediate or distant in space or time, in order to find ideas or processes which might engender creativity. There is no meta-language or meta-system that places one discipline or world-view automatically above all others. This liberated trans-disciplinarity can inform artistic research at all levels. This is why we look in all directions for inspiration and understanding: to the East as well as the West; the left hand path as well as the right; working with both reason and intuition, sense and nonsense, subtlety and sensibility.

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• our media is moist • our mind is technoetic • our body is transformable • our planet is telematic • our reality is syncretic

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Why “syncretic”?

extended field consciousness Vegetal Reality psychoactive plant technology entheogenic, spiritual emergent cybermorphology ego boundaries diffused

syncretic reality

Validated Reality reactive mechanical technology prosaic, Newtonian

Virtual Reality interactive digital technology telematic, immersive

The three VRs

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• bringing together disparate entities- material and non-material and their philosophic, religious, and cultural customs and codes. • emergent bodies of knowledge plus the wisdom of older cultures, often embracing what is unfamiliar, alien, or proscribed • syncretic thinking is associative and non-linear • the etymology of syncretic is from sun-kretismos derived from the coming together of the ancient Cretans to face a common enemy • in different historical and religious contexts the common enemy has been military, religious, political • In present day cultural terms the enemy is habit – the uncritical repetition of behaviours, opinions, perceptions and values - the enshrining of metaphors and verities that have passed their sellby date.



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• Understanding contemporary reality as SYNCRETIC will lead to significant changes in the way we regard our identity, our relationship to others, and the phenomenology of time and space. • SYNCRETISM not only destabilises orthodoxies and changes language, it may also result in the release of the self from the constraints of overweening rationality and totalising dogma. • In religious or spiritual contexts, SYNCRETISM means combining rituals, psychic instruments, the assimilation of plants and herbs, into new forms of sacred communion. • A parallel process of the bringing together of disparate technologies (interactive and digital, reactive and mechanical, psychoactive and chemical), and new rituals of communication (mobile, online), and forms of community (the Net), is seen in our society, and remains open to the incorporation of the older arcana.

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• I n the past, religious syncretism has suffered at the hands of orthodoxy. Think of the Gnostics, Neo-Platonists and Hermeticists of the late renaissance, the eradication of the Cathars, the wholesale burning of witches, and the assault on Rosicrucianism. • All these bodies of knowledge and belief have been syncretic in their formation, always bringing together the unfamiliar, proscribed, alien, non-linear structures of thought. • T he early 20th century saw the emergence of spiritual and psychic syncretism in Brazil, as exemplified by Umbanda, Candomble, Santo Daime, Uniao do Vegetal, Barquinha, Kardecism (spiritism). • A study of these practices involves pharmacology, neuroscience, shamanism, spiritual healing, ethnobotany, art, dance, and architecture . • T he study of these practices is meaningless without profound subjective experience and immersion in them .

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It was perhaps Hans Bonnet who first characterized syncretism as the realization of the idea of one god "inhabiting" another rather then two gods being fused, equated or identified. Using the example of Amun-Re, Bonnet argues that:"The formula Amun-Re does not signify that Amun is subsumed in Re or Re in Amun. Nor does it establish that they are identical; Amun does not equal Re. It observes that Re is in Amun in such a way that he is not lost in Amun, but remains himself just as much as Amun does, so that both gods can again be manifest separately or in other combination The Syncretism of Egyptian Gods. Jefferson Monet

Domestic syncretism: Bangalore, 2000 Photo: Clare Arni

Valle do Amadhecer

Photo: Ascott 2001











Syncretic ritual

The Brazilian ceremonies of Candomble and Umbanda constitute a complex syncretism in their codes and protocols

Photo: Ascott 2001

shamanic possession Seoul

Photo: Ascott 2001

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Every fibre, every node, every server on the Net is a part of me. It’s a phase space I’m in, a sort of tele-potentiality. As I interact with the Net, I reconfigure myself. My net-extent defines me, just as my body defined me in the old biological culture. I am weightless and dimensionless in any exact sense. I am the reach of my connectivity.

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PLANETARY CONSCIOUSNESS Remembering the Martin Amis commentary on 9/11, where, in recent Western thought, did the notion of species consciousness and planetary consciousness arise? Certainly Marx invoked species consciousness in Private Property and Communism back in1844, and more recently its currency has been renewed by New Age writers of varying complexion, from the so-called info-mystics to more orthodox scientists such as the Pittsburgh physicist Oliver Reiser with his Psi-field of 1966. Peter Russell in The Awakening Earth 1982 made the case for its emergence out of our telecommunications complexity. We have seen other terms appear in this context. Pierre Levy in 1994 published L'Intelligence Collective, and Derrick de Kerckhove, a tireless advocate of McLuhan’s global village, published Connected Intelligence in 1997. Aldous Huxley talked of Mind-at-large In the Doors of Perception, 1954, as did Gregory Bateson, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) . De Chardin’s Noosphere provided a more fully spiritual dimension. And of course no one can forget the planetary vision of Buckminster Fuller .
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Radical Connectivism Telematics is about the connectivity of minds. The potentiality of being distributed beyond the constraints of space and time, in asynchronic communication. It means a kind of entanglement at the social level. Central to this is the Web’s hyperlink: a kind of semiotic black hole that instantly brings one into other universes of discourse, other worlds, other constructions of reality. Just as wormholes are described as tunneling in quantum foam, connecting widely separated locations in the galaxy, we tunnel through data foam from hyperlink to hyperlink across our planetary Web. This is telematic mind, collective intelligence reaching a level of complexity which suggests the emergence of a kind of hypercortex, now at the core of our reality engine. Heinz von Forster’s On constructing a reality concluded with the simple formula: reality = community. Our community is telematic community, set in a many-worlds, hybridized reality.

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Donna Haraway
Before her well known assertion “I would rather be a Cyborg, than a Goddess” she celebrated Field Theory in her book Crystals, fabrics, and fields. Metaphors of organicism in 20th century developmental biology. (1976) in which she recognises Alexander Gurwitsch as the first to use the term ‘field’ in biology (in 1922). Gurwitsch is at the root of the renaissance of contemporary field theory in biology. His ideas have been central to the development of the work of Fritz-Albert Popp.

Fritz-Albert Popp
Biophoton emission is a general phenomenon of living systems. It concerns low luminescence from a few up to some hundred photons per second, per square centimeter surface area, at least within the spectral region from 200 to 800nm. The experimental results indicate that biophotons originate from a coherent (or/and squeezed) photon field within the living organism, its function being intra and intercellular regulation and communication.

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• B i o electrical or bioelectromagnetical phenomena have been known for a long time, but the coherent bioelectromagnetic fields, including biophoton fields are a new concept. • They exist in living biological systems although we cannot see them. • They are some kind of structure with specific patterns, but they are not real matter, only fields which regulate and bring the living system into a coherent state. • In such a state within the coherent volume, there is no difference between particles and waves, therefore distance has no meaning. • This state provides ideal conditions for the communication that is the basis for biological regulation.
Zhang. J. 2002

Kobayashi Biophotons Lab


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International Institute of Biophysics, Neuss, Germany

Photon: a quantum of visible light or other form of electromagnetic radiation demonstrating both particle and wave properties

Below: a living system emitting biophotons

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Biophotons and Mixed Reality technology
• Mixed Reality and bio-telematics may become entangled with the quantum states of coherence, leading to the emergence of universal connectivity and non-linear relationships that exist beyond the classical constraints of space and time. • Biophotons orchestrate the quantum coherence of the living being, and may lead us to ideas in some pixel/particle exchange of establishing the quantum coherence of virtual states. • At the material level, Mixed Reality technology provides us with another skin, another layer of energy to the body, adding to the complexity of its field. • Instead of populating Mixed Reality space with (virtual) objects we could consider it as a medium for the creation of (virtual) fields, or as an extension of the biofield itself. • Just as DNA is the main source of biophoton activity, so might Mixed Reality be the field in which new possibilities for living systems could be rehearsed.

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An organism’s information network of photons emitted by DNA molecules is paralleled technologically by the constant flows of electrons and photons across the body of the planet through telematic networks.

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Whose epiphenomenon are we anyway?

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Technoetic inquiry in the field of art, technology and consciousness constitutes a new field of practice. Both post-biological research and the investigation of psychic states are involved, from the leading edge of scientific thought to the spiritual centre of ancient cultures. Telematic connectivity is at the heart of this creative process.

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The hypercortex may inform and be informed by the structural coupling of each individual within the network, and thereby affect the status of human identity, leading in evolutionary terms to the emergence of the ‘subtle being’. The Self becomes more negotiable, transactional, impermanent, transformative in its definition. The Self is an ongoing creation, open to differentiation, distribution and dissemination through telepresence, with a kind of non- linear identity in which fixed patterns of behaviour, conditioning, and enforced protocol become the exception rather than the rule. This subtlety of being will call for a subtle art, which will embody interstitial practice, art located at the intersections of e.g. cognitive science, bio engineering, and metaphysics.

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• It is through our eventual understanding of that subatomic domain that we may discover the source of consciousness. • We should be prepared to discover that “individual consciousness” is no more than an oxymoron. • While individual self-awareness is a prerequisite of living beings, consciousness is more likely to be the attribute of a field than of the individual organism. • A strong advocate for this point of view is Hans-Peter Durr, of the Max-Plank-Institut für Physic, Munich

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Immaterial Connectedness - the physical basis of life. Hans-Peter Durr Max-Plank-Institut fuer Physic, Munich
•quantum physics reveals that matter is not composed of matter, but

reality is merely potentiality.
•the world has a holistic structure, based on fundamental relations and

not material objects, admitting more open, indeterministic developments.
•in this more flexible causal framework, inanimate and animate nature

is not to be considered as fundamentally different, but as different order structures of the same immaterial entity.
• in a stable configuration effectively all the uncertainties are

statistically averaged out, thus exhibiting the unique and deterministic behaviour of ordinary inanimate matter
• in the case of statistically unstable but dynamically stable

configurations, the ‘lively’ features of the underlying quantum structure have a chance to surface to the macroscopic level and be connected with what we observe as the phenomenon of life.




WET wet

telematic systems

biological processes

emergent mind emergent form
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MOIST MANIFESTO moist space is where dry pixels and wet molecules converge moist art is digitally dry, biologically wet, spiritually numinous moist reality combines virtual reality with vegetal reality moist media comprises bits, atoms, neurons, and genes.

moist architecture thinks, feels and returns our gaze moist life embraces digital identity and biological being moist mind is technoetic multiconsciousness moistware internalises hardware moist manufacture is neuro-constructive, and nano-robotic moist engineering embraces ontology moist design is bottom-up, seeded and emergent moist communications is bio-telematic and psi-bernetic

Ascott, R. 2000. The Moist Manifesto. In: H. Conrad and R. Kriesche, eds. Comm.gr2000az: Kunst – Wissenschaft – Kommunikation. New York: Springer. pp. 44-49

Fluorescent Dictyostelium The biobot has a colony of GFP amoeba called Dyctiostelium discoideum as its !rain cells

GFP fish

Synthetically luminescent life forms share their environment with a biobot, a robot whose actions are controlled by a colony of amoeba acting as its brain.

GFP mice


All of the transgenic creatures in The Eighth Day are created through the cloning of a gene that codes for the production of green fluorescent protein (GFP). As a result, all creatures express the gene through bioluminescence visible with the naked eye. The transgenic creatures in The Eighth Day are GFP plants, GFP amoeba, GFP fish, and GFP mice.

Georgia Tech Researchers Use Lab Cultures to Control Robotic Device — The Hybrot, a small robot that moves about using the brain signals of a rat, is the first robotic device whose movements are controlled by a network of cultured neuron cells. Steve Potter and his research team in the Laboratory for Neuroengineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology are studying the basics of learning, memory, and information processing using neural networks in vitro. Their goal is to create computing systems that perform more like the human brain. Potter is connecting laboratory cultures containing living neurons to computers in order to create a simulated animal, which he describes as a neurally-controlled animat. "We call it the ‘Hybrot’ because it is a hybrid of living and robotic components,” he said

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MEART - "The semi living artist"
SymbioticA Research Group in collaboration with The Steve Potter Lab MEART - The Semi Living Artist is a geographically detached, bio-cybernetic project. Meart takes the basic components of the brain (isolated neurons) attaches them to a mechanical body through the mediation of a digital processing engine to attempt and create an entity that will seemingly evolve, learn and become conditioned to express its growth experiences through "art activity". MEART's brain - the living neural cultures –was set up in Steve Potter's lab. A multi channel neural recording from MEART's brain was performed. The data sets, extracted from the living neurons, was processed in two locations Atlanta & in the Eyebeam Gallery. The outcome was used to control the drawing arm and to stimulate the neurons as feedback.

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MARTA DE MENEZES Nature? A butterfly with modified wings developed at Leiden University (NL). 'My main aim was to create works of art in which art and life are simultaneously present by using the possibilities of biology as a new medium for artistic creation.’

JOE DAVIES "Artistic work constructed from synthetic molecules of DNA. The first of these artistic molecules, Microvenus, contains a coded visual icon representing the external female genitalia and by coincidence, an ancient Germanic rune representing the female Earth. [The] work was carried out with molecular geneticist Dana Boyd at Jon Beckwith's laboratory at Harvard Medical School and at Hatch Echol's laboratory at University of California, Berkeley.” Ars Electronica:

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By growing Victimless Leather, the Tissue Culture & Art Project i further problematising the concept of garment by making it SemiLiving. • The Victimless Leather is grown out of immortalised cell lines which cultured and form a living layer of tissue supported by a biodegradable polymer matrix in a form of miniature stich-less coat like shape. • The Victimless Leather project concerns with growing living tissue into a leather like material. • This artistic grown garment will confront people with the moral implications of wearing parts of dead animals for protective and aesthetic reasons and will further confront notions of relationships with living systems manipulated or otherwise. • An actualized possibility of wearing ‘leather' without killing an animal is offered as a starting point for cultural discussion. • We see our role as artists as one in which we are providing tangible example of possible futures, and research the potential affects of these new forms on our cultural perceptions of life.

growing Victimless Leather

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Oron Catts & Ionat Zur Tissue Culture Art

SymbioticA: Art & Science Collaborative Research Laboratory, University of Western Australia

YASMIN and bio art To become a member & Yasmin list archive: To post:

Singing and Screaming in the Nanofield

James Gimzewski and Andrew Pelling at the UCLA Department of Chemistry made the discovery (in 2002) that yeast cells oscillate at audible frequencies. The tool with which the cell sounds are extracted – the atomic force microscope (AFM) – can be regarded as a new type of musical instrument. The AFM touches a cell with its small tip, comparable to a record needle feeling the bumps in a groove on a record. With this interface, the AFM feels oscillations taking place at the membrane of a cell which can then be amplified. Manipulating the cell with chemicals will result in a change of oscillation. Isopropanol (rubbing alcohol) for example, will change a singing cell into a screaming cell. Artists Anne Niemetz and Andrew Pelling have put together the first composition to utilise cell sonics: The Dark Side of the Cell Gimzewski: all is vibration





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A single carbon-60 molecule, named a "buckyball" for Buckminster Fuller.

NANO 2003 Victoria Vesna/ Jim Gimzewski Los Angeles County Museum of Art


david mcconville ELUMENATI

Diana Slattery

Tierra A-life
Synthetic organisms have been created based on a computer metaphor of organic life in which CPU time is the “energy” resource and memory is the “material'’ resource. Memory is organized into informational patterns that exploit CPU time for selfreplication. Mutation generates new forms, and evolution proceeds by natural selection as different genotypes compete for cpu time and memory space.

Nineteen psychedelics have each been screened against over one hundred receptors, transporters and ion channels , providing the first comprehensive view of how these compounds interact with the human receptome. Each individual psychedelic causes a unique spectrum of subjective effects. DIPT causes auditory distortion. 5MeO-DIPT enhances orgasm in males but not females. MDMA provokes empathy. TMA provokes anger. Mescaline provokes an appreciation of beauty. 2C-B causes tactile, gustatory and sexual enhancement. 2C-E provokes rich fantasy and introspection The project aims to understand the mechanisms underlying the qualitative diversity of actions of psychedelics, by locating each drug in an abstract "receptor space", a coordinate system with one axis for each receptor. The state of the brain is constantly on the move, regardless of medication. We can think of it as a complex dynamical system, in which the trajectory follows high-dimensional orbits, and switches among many "attractors", where the attractors represent the major emotional states and moods, and whatever mental phenomena the chemical systems are mediating. In this dynamic reference frame, drugs will create a perturbation along the binding vector, thereby pushing the system into a new attractor. We want to get to know the pharmacology of the attractors. . . .to begin to map the chemical organization of the human mind.

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• For the artist at the leading edge of inquiry, the digital moment seems to be passing, with the computer now totally absorbed into our culture • The ‘pharmacological’ moment is upon us, both within cognitive science and beyond its current borders, and only legislation, caution, and political expediency, backed by the credo of extreme materialism, will prevents us from exploring new worlds, and participating in new realities. • The separation of “advanced” technologies of the Valley (Silicon) from the ancient technologies of the Forest (Gabon, Amazonia) for example, may become increasingly irrelevant, as we look to a kind of technological co-evolution of consciousness-changing agencies. .
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Vegetal Reality
psychoactive plant technology entheogenic, spiritual

Vegetal technology

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Banisteriopsis caapi + Psychotria viridis

Brewing the ayahuasca

Santo Daime

Pablo Amaringo

Five questions • Is our drive to created wider and deeper and faster networks an evolutionary impulse to engage more fully with universal mind? • Does the telematic field of cyberception attempt to mirror or even augment our awareness of the field of consciousness? • How aware are we of our own teleological promptings, the purposive impulse of our own DNA? • Is our interest in the hybridization of forms and materials related to the hybridization of space? • Are we developing a syncretic reality that merges mixed reality technology, vegetal reality, and the realities governed by metaphors of biology and quantum physics, language and social habit?

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Five unknowns • Dark matter and dark energy • The location of mind • The nature of qualia • Evolutionary purpose • The influence of energy fields

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My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what science can do for art but what art can do for science

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• Scientists do not know what makes up 96% of the Universe. We live in the midst of unknown dark matter and dark energy • As above so below. We also know next to nothing about consciousness – where it is located, how it arises, when it is shared, why it persists. • The “dark matter” of the mind has been treated as occult, and banned from polite academic and religious discussion for over three hundred years. • Artists have the freedom to absorb both orthodox and forbidden knowledge and a duty to attempt to bring the unknown to light.

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Dark side of the Moon For John Whiteside Parsons - the early pioneer of rocket science -"rocketry postulated that we should no longer see ourselves as creatures chained to the earth but as beings capable of exploring the universe. Similarly, magic suggested there were unseen metaphysical worlds that existed and could be explored with the right knowledge ... [In] striving for one challenge [Parsons] could not help but strive for the other."
George Pendle. 2005. Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons. New York: Harcourt.

While Parsons, (along with Ed Forman and Frank Malina – founder of Leonardo journal) formed the country's first governmental rocket group, he also experimented extensively with the occult, becoming a key figure Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis, in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Contrary to those those who saw magic and science as inherently contradictory Parsons saw them as complementary, two sides of the same coin.

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The space of physics

The space of psychics

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• The power of metaphor both in art and science is hugely persuasive. • The war of interpretation in quantum physics was won with metaphor by Neils Bohr and his Copenhagen School. • The data driven visualisations of the cosmos or of our own microscopic texture are coded conventions at best and ideological instruments at worst.

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• A syncretic process could hold together the current ferment of ideas, images and models of reality that communities and cultures across the planet are generating. • To recite the story of media art in its syncretic mode is not to advance its development, nor is it sufficient simply to outline the syncretic reality that is emerging. • Strategies to strengthen this emergence are needed • C u l t ural habit to be viewed as the enemy. • Need to identify new knowledge fields and develop transdisciplinary discourse. • Need to create syncretic, many stranded organisms of exploration, inquiry, learning and creativity. • d e m ands a syncretic schedule of artistic, computational, psychic, biophysical and nanotechnological projects in order to bring about new conditions for life and art.

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• Field theories offer useful models in charting the relationship of consciousness to the material body. • T he (human) organism’s internal information system seems to be closely connected to the biophotonic activity of its DNA molecules. • S c r u tiny of the nano-field may lead to an understanding of ideas about the immaterial connectedness espoused by both quantum physics and Eastern metaphysics. • More ancient cultures that retain a place on the margins of technological society have also something to tell us, both directly and metaphorically, about the perception of the numinous and our construction of reality. • As it outgrows dialectical sociology, narration and representation, new media art may play its part in the navigation of mind that will take us to new spaces and states of consciousness, while enhancing the technology of our connectedness.
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psychic space apparitional presence

field consciousness spiritual coherence

ecospace physical presence

hybrid space emergence

materiality Agency

syncretic reality

moist media

connectivity cultural coherence

world building quantum coherence

ars technoetica creativity
cyberspace telepresence
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nanospace vibrational presence

Strategies To identify new knowledge fields and develop transdisciplinary discourse and practice. Prioritise: • subject before object • Process before system • b e h aviour before form • intuition before reason • mind before matter

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the transdisciplinary collegium

amplifying thought concept development sharing consciousness collaborative processes seeding structures self-organising systems making metaphors Knowledge navigation constructing identities self-creation

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© roy ascott 2006

CAiiA-Hub Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Integrative Arts University of Plymo u t h Director Professor Roy Ascott

Z-Node Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst Zürich Director Professor Jill Scott

President Professor Roy Ascott

P-Node School of Software Peking University Director Dr. Kenneth Fields

M-Node Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, Milano Director: Professor Francesco Monico Director of Studies: Professor Antonio Caronia

Planetary Collegium [7 nodes] Design: Peter Anders

Planetary Collegium Node Architect: Peter Anders

INTENTION The Planetary Collegium was created in response to the following needs: • to identify and theorise emergent fields of art practice • to develop transdisciplinary discourse • to advance the integration of art, science, technology, and consciousness research within a post-biological culture • to facilitate worldwide collaboration and networking • to achieve academic recognition of high level research in new media arts practice

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key questions

• How might new technologies and the metaphors of science be employed in the education of the artist? • • How might the insights of the artist contribute to the advancement of knowledge in science and to technological development? • • How can the accrued wisdom of exotic or ancient cultures be allied to the search for meaning and values in a postbiological society? • • How might new technologies serve to support and sustain cultures that lie beyond the Western paradigm? • • How might the Net serve the needs of interactive, nonlinear, transdisciplinary learning, and engender creative thought and constructive action? • • How might new discourses be initiated which will bring critical, aesthetic and moral perspectives to bear on emergent fields of practice? • • While stretching to the full the constructive and expressive potential of electronic, telematic, and interactive digital media, how might the Collegium pursue developments in post-biological research, molecular engineering, neuro science, and nanotechnology, while identifying artistic and spiritual strategies that optimise human capabilities, and seed new visions of a planetary society.
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