Archives for category: intersubjectivity

Interaction is a noun. Vaguely, it can be used to mean some force affecting another. The cue striking the eightball would be an example. But this could also be described as a reaction. in that sense, we could consider one use of ‘reaction’, as in a chemical reaction. There, chemicals react predictably. To act is to perform some action, but also initiate some action. Thus,  intentionality seems to be implied in the word ‘interaction’.

“Inter” means between. While this could be the action of one body towards another, it is better captured by the sense of two or more bodies acting upon one another. Thus while one pool ball may be deformed when it impacts another, this is not the same category as when a person gestures at another. The struck pool ball has no intentionality towards the first. The change in the first pool ball is due to its motion and conveys no intentionality. In the second case, the act of waving (a gesture) may change the person waving. They may anticipate a smile or a wave back.

So, my brief account here defines interaction and its various conjugations as describing a change in the initiator of the interaction as much as the object. Indeed, it would be a mistake not to consider both (or more) parties as subjects.

One attempt to think about the relationship between spectators and interactive art is presented by Carlos Castellanos.

“Symbiogenic experiences are those that give rise to a sense that we are co-emergent, that is, that we exist in mutually influential relationships with our increasingly technological environment.” Castellanos 2016

Castellanos, Carlos. “Co-evolution, neo-cybernetic emergence and phenomenologies of ambiguity: Towards a framework for understanding interactive arts experiences.” Technoetic Arts 14, no. 3 (2016): 159-168.



Precis of my Research

The tree stump refuses to budge. It is substantial, but the judicious application of a shovel blade, an axe, and a chain saw, all lubricated by choice language, has severed most of the root structure. It should be moveable with a strong back. Now with a length of rope secured round it, I am still cursing its parentage, its probable future and itsself. I tug vigorously, and for long moments it seems to tug back. My opponent says nothing (when stumps start talking to you, you’ve been too long in the sun). It occasionally creaks, then as it seems about to give way, it springs back. Eventually, my adversary is extracted from the ground, I wipe the sweat from my eyes, and give it a final curse, before turning my attention to the next chore.

Alfred Gell, in his book Art and Agency(1998) discusses at length how people grant agency to inanimate objects. One familiar example is how drivers ascribe betrayal to their cars, when the vehicle suffers a breakdown. The actual facts in the situation, that normal wear and tear, or more bitingly, lack of maintenance has caused a part to fail is often not acknowledged. It is perhaps more satisfying to berate that “stupid car”. Ascribing agency to objets d’art is another facet of this behaviour, in Gell’s view. “Guernica”, Picasso’s response to atrocities from the Spanish civil war, as moved many people. Other works can be said to have an effect. Yet, we understand that the agency of an art object is not the same as that of a human. After all, unlike objects, humans move, speak, gesture……………hmmmm.

The way we understand that we are subjectivities has been described as folk psychology by some philosophers. People, and recent research has shown, many animals, exhibit a theory of mind. That is to say, we interpret other’s behaviour based on the assumption that it is driven by another mind. Yet the nature of our own subjectivity is still poorly described, questioned by psychology and critiqued by such philosophers as Daniel Dennett. He argues that there is no such thing a subject. He has developed a theory where what he describes as mental fields interact creating in humans the false impression of a subject. Our experience of agency, that we choose and intend towards the world around us, is an error according to Dennett(1993). I will refrain from discussing exactly what his arguments are for his position, at this time. However, I do not accept this position.

What I do accept, is that explaining consciousness is difficult. Philosopher’s have conjectured about it at least since Descartes, with is cogito ergo sum. Contemporary philosopher’s, especially Alva Noe, Shaun Gallagher and Dan Zahavi argue that subjectivity need not reside in a metaphysical soul, but actually relies on the fleshy bodies of human beings. In that respect, they reject the mind/body duality espoused by Descartes, and instead try to accommodate human consciousness in a material world. I take as axiomatic that we are subjects. This subjectivity is important because the fact of its existence, I believe, has potential for important insights into ontology. Currently, modern science cannot account for consciousness. It cannot clearly explain how matter generates consciousness. But the current absence of a adequate theory does not seem to require that we abandon the quest. Galen Strawson recently wrote “The mistake is to think we know enough about the nature of physical reality to have any good reason to think that consciousness can’t be physical.”(Strawson 2015). He has also said more pithily that we must use math to describe the physical universe because we understand it so little, that math is all we have.

My three research proposals, intertwined as they are:the exploration of consciousness through playing physical games, phenomenological analysis of that play, and demonstrating the utility of abductive logic in research endeavours, such as my doctoral research.

We can explore consciousness,(the Other Minds problem) through physical play. This play can be refined somewhat by means of structuring it as game, which allows us to select our variables. Indeed, examining variations is considered vital to most approaches to phenomenological analysis. It seems to me that artistic variations offers a means to that. Another element of phenomenology is the concept of bracketing, or attempting to temporarily examine phenomena separate from the greater social and historical context in which it occurs. This sounds remarkably like the accounts of a “state of play” that theorists such as Huizinga describe.

Considering playfulness as an aesthetic experience opens up new research methodologies. These methods deploy abductive logic, which might be considered the logic of art, to complement the humanities and the sciences. Thus my research reflects on why these methods should be deployed as opposed to more conventional approaches. Thus I want to not only use playful, artistic methods to explore the nature of human consciousness, but I intend to make an argument as to why I should use these methods, and how they can be deployed to complement methods found in the Humanities and the Sciences, both social and physical.

I began this precis with an account of pulling a stump with a rope. By contrasting this with the experience of playing various instantiations of tug o’ war against fleshy human bodies, I home to make progress toward explaining how we come to awareness of our own subjectivity through the movement of fleshy bodies, and in the specific experience of play. The theoretical arguments for this approach I will only nod to here. Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological methods and subsequent refinements by other scholars are significant. Artistic practices, such as the early work of Chris Burden provided inspiration. The discussion of research-creation by Kim Sawchuk, Owen Chapman and Andrew Murphie initiated my interest in exploring the nature of art-as-research and its potential affordances. An elaboration as to how exactly to consider the ramifications of this research lies ahead in conversations with my committee members, and other scholars.

Dennett, Daniel C. Consciousness explained. Penguin UK, 1993.
Gell, Alfred. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Clarendon Press, 1998
Strawson, Galen.”Consciousness myth”. Time Literary Supplement, 25 February 2015

Interaction is a kind of action that occurs as two or more objects have an effect upon one another. The idea of a two-way effect is essential in the concept of interaction, as opposed to a one-way causal effect. A closely related term is interconnectivity, which deals with the interactions of interactions within systems: combinations of many simple interactions can lead to surprising emergent phenomena. Interaction has different tailored meanings in various sciences.

Casual examples of interaction outside of science include:

  • communication of any sort, for example two or more people talking to each other, or communication among groups, organizations, nations or states: trade, migration, foreign relations, transportation,
  • the feedback during the operation of machines such as a computer or tool, for example the interaction between a driver and the position of his or her car on the road: by steering the driver influences this position, by observation this information returns to the driver.- Wikipedia, accessed 15:38 EDT 23 May, 2012

The idea presented in the Wikipedia article is that two or more objects effect each other. We don’t have to go far to find examples. A light is dark, we flick as switch( the simplest binary computer we have) and the light goes on. Digital games offer more complex interactions. Different combinations of information, or movement(watch closely, that term, and others that could be replaced with the term ‘motion’).

But when we look at the painting, it does not change. To be sure, age has an effect on paintings, so their colours change and dim due to dirt and oxidisation. But merely looking at them doesn’t change them, does it?

yet I will argue that time and the social frame in which they occur changes them. The painting that is generally ignored will have a different interpretation than a celebrated painting, say the Mona Lisa. It’s audiences will move quickly past, while staring at the good paintings. it is here I am begining to think about Thomas Kuhn’s studies on science. He recognised that motion as contemporary physics defines it is much narrower than Aristotle did. Aristotle used the term motion to mean change. This lead to Kuhn developing his concept of the paradigm. For Kuhn, a paradigm was a series of assumptions and methodologies for developing particular scientific discoveries. These were instrumental principles, in that they developed knowledge that could guide action, but they weren’t absolute.

So each painting isn’t merely looked at; each painting was looked at in a particular paradigm as to its significance. As that significance changes, so the painting changes, even if it’s colours remain stable, and it’s physical form is not changed. For Walter Benjamin, an artistic object has an aura, and I argue this aura can be changed by the interpretative changes around it. For Alfred Gell, an art object was granted an agency by its interpreters. This agency again could change over time, as interpretation changes.

One may object that changing opinion doesn’t reflect a changing object. I would reply that the meaning of an object, its most significant element, is more crucial then the lack of chemical or kinetic changes. This notion of change again can be reflected in earlier metaphyics, that of Aristotle. He defined four causes by which a thing came to be: Its material cause- that from which it is made, and unchanging i.e. paint, laquer and canvas in the case of many paintings; The Formal cause; that which changes such as the particular design; the efficient cause, in this case the artist; and the Final cause, for what was this made.

The possible mutability of the final cause is what leads me to argue that a painting enjoys a form of interactivity. Its final cause is subject to review and revision. Why should we privilege Aristotle’s characterisation of the origins  of an object using his concepts of cause, versus more contemporary notions of origin and change? I will deal with that problem later. But I suggest that answers to that problem can be found in Duns Scotus’ discussion of quiddity, and in the work of Martin Heidegger, especially the origin of the work of art.


Horgan, John. “What Thomas Kuhn Really Thought about Scientific ‘Truth'” . Scientific American, May 23, 2012
accessed 23 May 2012