Enhancing in the Fat Present

Paleoethnographer André Leroi-Gourhan understood the hand as the first tool; I prefer to think of the finger as claiming that honor. The first intentional point of a finger, both phylogenetic and ontogenetic, is a gesture that directs the eye beyond the physical body to an object “there” that aligns with the finger “here.” The act creates a copresence with the implication of enhancing and awakening—identification in separation. The finger prosthetically extends the body beyond its physical limits into the world coincident with bringing the world into the body; the loop that characterizes all gesture richly understood. Leroi-Gourhan saw the hand as a fundamental tool enabling the externalization of memory, the origination of symbols and writing and enumeration—the beginning of the digital age—eventuating in touch pads, handhelds, gestural controlled technology, and wearables that, assimilated with the skin, enhances by gesture and touch the entire body. What Leroi-Gourhan understood, recognized by Jacque Derrida’s and Bernard Stiegler’s attention to his work, was that this prosthetic extension of the body into the production of graphics is an enhancement that does not reject physicality and body even in these body-transcending actions. Sociologist Marcel Mauss recognized the inevitable cultural, historical, and psychological shaping of all gestures and that these “techniques of body” serve to mark cultural, historical, individual identity. Gesture accomplishes the seeming impossibility of transcending the physical realized by means of the body’s capacity for living-movement.

Gesture is grounded in posture. Standing upright and walking on two legs coincided with the neurobiological enhancements that distinguish us as human. Posture, both physical and mental, is not static rigid position, but rather an active preparedness for gesture/action/movement characterized as tonus. Posture is the resonating foundation that enables all enhancement.

It is the self-moving gesturing aspect of body that marks life, “animate organism,” that is essential for change, enhancement, creativity. Moving, as philosophers Maxine Sheets-Johnstone and Renaud Barbaras both show, is primal, always already there. Moving itself can be in no place, but always in transition, always transcending itself in what philosopher Brian Massumi terms an “incorporeal corporeality.” Moving is necessarily a twining of body and the action of body; “there” is also “here,” a dynamic involving desire and distance, albeit a virtual one. In Movement: A Philosophical Neurobiology of Vitality (forthcoming) I develop the implications of moving drawing on a broad range of fields and examples from neurology to physiology (proprioception), philosophy, and psychology. Vitality, as I explore it, is not the achievement of meaning or coherence or centeredness or stability; as Henri Bergson noted all these “halt” moving. Rather as living-movement vitality is the vibratory, oscillatory, playful process fueled by copresence or metastability, counter-intuitive, paradoxical. Coherence, for example, is not won or static but briefly experienced in the constant presence of incoherence. I have published on how on-demand improvisational self-movement enhances learning in youth and throughout the life cycle based, in part, on my experience teaching dancing. As can be shown at every level of our being, enhancements are always won in the interplay of copresents.

This emerging perspective on gesture posture prosthesis leads to an understanding of creativity, novelty, free will, belief, and the imagination of the radical otherness that is a marker of religion(s) in terms of perturbation and surprise and the unapologetic proclamation of the impossible; what in scientific terms is commonly understood as “nonlinearity.” Charles Sander Peirce understood hypothetic inference (abduction), the origin of a new idea, or creativity as motivated by the experience of surprise; the “feeling kind of knowing” that occurs in response to the unsettling experience of the unexpected, the novel, the nonlinear. Neuroscientist Nobel laureate Roger Sperry’s and Michael Gazzaniga’s studies of hemispheric brain functions, find nonlinearity the motivator for the invention of story. Neuroscientist J. A. Scott Kelso’s findings in the field of coordination dynamics show how the copresence of irreconcilable oppositions as well as the existence of the novel or unexpected are essential to the successful function of complex self-adjusting neurobiological networks. Nobel laureate neuroscientist Gerald Edelman shows that 90% of neurons are tasked to “reentrance,” that is, to the looping intercommunication among the endless parallel and often conflicting and opposing processings of the nervous system that is essential to managing freedom and novelty and avoiding collapse.

In a 2010 lecture at the University of Colorado on the future of the academic study of religion, renowned University of Chicago scholar Jonathan Z. Smith noted that gesture studies will be among the five areas he believes will be most important over the next generation. I believe that an imaginative account of gesture, particularly when conjoined with posture and prosthesis, is fundamental to considering human vitality and the processes of enhancement that are fully based in the animate organism, rather than proceeding by some disintegration into its parts. An engaging account of enhancement must include moving (desire and distance), reentrance to accommodate nonlinearities (novelty and freedom and creativity), metastabilities (copresence, the play of conjoined oppositions, paradox); it must actively entwine science, philosophy, and religion (arts and humanities). Guiding and enabling future enhancement of life will be won only through interaction and inclusion of varying and disparate disciplines and enterprises. The articulation and exploration of this triadic interrelationship among gesture posture prosthesis dominates my emerging work.

An insatiable interest in ritual, performance, and dancing has led me to field study spanning forty years in many cultures: various Native American cultures; Australian Aboriginals; Balinese and Javanese in Indonesia; Ghanaian and Malian in Africa; and Costa Rican, Dominican Republican, and Puerto Rican in Latin America. I have spent a quarter century devoted to actually dancing and other forms of movement and to teaching dancing. I have danced in many cultures; I founded and operated a world dance studio. The constant and extensive practice of demanding self-movement has complemented my efforts at rigorous and ever-expanding intellectual concerns. At this point in my career I feel that all of these seeming disparate interests and activities have converged not in some singular insight or wisdom, but rather in a highly charged dynamic network teeming with an expanding agenda of projects and ideas. The interplay of my dancing/self-moving career and my intellectual study of dance/movement led to Dancing Culture Religion (2012). In this book I approached dancing by foregrounding moving and gesturing as fundamental and prior to any distinctions such as body and mind/spirit. I show that dancing explores and enacts the most fundamental vitalizing qualities of moving. A process I term “self-othering” involving the proprioceptive experience of something totally or radically other, a transcendence that distinguishes dancing. The experience of transcendence is as common as dancing and therefore it is no surprise that dancing is highly compatible with religions as is evident in the importance of dancing to most of the world’s religious traditions. In Religion: Always Already the Moving Body (forthcoming 2015) I have enriched my work on moving with philosophical, neurobiological, and psychological research and I have applied this perspective to many aspects of religion, not to offer some reductive explanation, but rather to enrich the ways in which we can understand the complexity and depth of religions and life.

At no other time in human history has the thrust for enhancing life been experienced on such a scale. I have become increasingly interested in futurist studies. Advances in genetics and neuroplasty and medicine and technology now compel an accelerating pace of change that is at once thrilling and terrifying. Youth today are healthier, stronger, taller than their grandparents, even their parents. Youth today have instant access to more information than their grandparents could comprehend. Most young people are routinely and comfortably interfaced with remarkably complex technology (they are cyborgs) and they are thirsty for advancements that enhance their lives in countless ways. Advances in medicine evidence that cybernetic organism is commonplace and that to influence evolution is achievable in a generation or two rather than hundreds. Yes, thrilling and terrifying and thus in need of understanding and guidance.

One fascinating and seemingly inevitable direction of enhancement is the full circle return to the intimate self-moving body. Rather than project our bodies prosthetically only through the giant heavy tools of industrialization and wieldy impersonal machines, the most creative current enhancements are coming back to the fingers and faces and micro-gestures of self-moving bodies. As computers have rapidly moved from desktop to laptop to handheld, the current trend is to wearables and implantables; gesture and posture are fused with technology. It is to gesture and posture that the prosthetic capabilities for communication and agency and expression and creativity will owe the remarkable multiplication of potential enhancement. Enhancement has increasingly become achieved in action and perception and knowing and relating rather than in sheer production. From the first pointing finger to the most imaginative technology, I believe that the processes of enhancement are most profoundly comprehended and evaluated based on a rich and complex understanding of gesture posture prosthesis. This proposition is fundamental to my work. My objective is not to recommend specific designs for the post-human or the homo evolutis, but rather to develop accounts of the most fundamental and pervasive dynamic processes that enable and fuel enhancement in order to provide creative insights and effective terminology that will guide and stimulate creativity and enhancement as well as a kind of critical perspective that is now almost absent.

My research and writing gathers towards two complementary works. The first will be Gesture Posture Prosthesis, a book that will thoroughly develop these concepts integrating the research of many fields. I will consider the importance to human aspiration and motivation of the perspective I am developing and apply these basic ideas to select examples in technology (digital age, gestural interfaces, pedagogy/learning, information), identity (gender, social, home, aging/life-cycle), health (genetic determination, directed evolution, acuity), and creativity (dancing, art, science). I have outlined much of this work based on an extensive paper I prepared for a recent lecture at Stanford University. The second gathering will be to pursue the implications of this work specifically towards the development of a rich account of religion as a historical and cultural location of resources and energies for future change and enhancements as well as the conservative tendencies of tradition. I have already begun this work with an article, “As Prayer Goes So Goes Religion,” in which I develop an account of prayer (and also religion) based on gesture posture prosthesis; I consider Navajo prayer. In this second book Religion and Enhancing Life: Gesture Posture Prosthesis I will apply this perspective to articulate principles and strategies for enhancing life in areas of religion such as theology, transcendence, prayer, belief, free will, tradition, myth, ritual, and meaning.

* * * * *

The above perhaps overly formal, deadly dense, somewhat self-indulgent (I refer to myself in style that isn’t comfortable) statement is a letter of intent (slightly modified) for a grant. It sums with brevity my sense of the fatty present; the experiential presence of my “done been there” and my “heading there.” The term “enhancement” is not natural to me (note in the title I fudge by adding the “ing” which I’m more comfortable with, enhancing close to dancing), but I drummed the word throughout the LOI (as the funder-folk put it) as a way of connecting my interests with those of the funding project. I tried to be honest to the point that I likely won’t get the grant. With the recent release of the US government Torture Report (2014) the word “enhance” becomes associated with, for me, a euphemistic repugnance. Any positive feelings I have about the word “enhance” are spoiled by the sidestepping, but utterly failed, attempt to deny the immorality and inhumanity of torture by calling it “enhanced interrogation techniques.” A humorous but also disgusting common use of this word “enhance” occurs all too frequently in my reality because of some weakness of my email spam filter. The emails guaranteeing “enhanced manhood” would be laughable if, like the acceptance of EITs (an increasingly common second layer of sanitizing euphemism distancing from the blood and pain), it weren’t that so many of us apparently think this man-enhancement is possible, necessary, and desirable. Surely there are already enough big dicks in the world. With these annoying distractions identified that they might be bracketed I might extend my reflections on enhancing into the less formal and more fun.

My current thinking is that all of experiential existence is contained in what I call the “fat present.” This is the thick viscous fuzzy timescape filled with a plethora of parallel processings of which we have feeling awareness and where the sovereignty of linear sequencing does not reign. The experience in this fat present (well it is pretty much all our experiencing) is akin to looping or swirling in eddies and vortices where things separated by distance (time and space) are experienced together and at once; where the oscillating processing of comparing is experienced; where we are surprised by novelty; where effect can occur before cause; where future as well as past are both aspects of the present identified only by markers.

From the perspective of the fat present, enhancing, the contemplation of goals (I like to term “goaling”) to elevate, is experienced as energizing. The word “enhance” originally meant “to elevate” both literally and figuratively and it meant and still means to increase value. “Enhancing” then is experienced as the necessary copresence of “what we are now not” and the “what we imagine we might then become.” The two must co-exist now; the “not” and the “might be,” the “lacking in the present” and the “coming elevation,” in enhancing these must all be present now. All these mush about charging the fat present. I don’t think that the value of considering enhancement is in its achievement at some “not yet” time, but rather in its capacity to vitalize the quality of the eddying of the “fat present,” our only present, the only time, we can experience.

Enhancing then must be a present idea (experienced) with both “future” and “elevation” markers, but always also present with and in relation to the “now that is lacking” or the “lacking in the now.” Enhancing is the interplay among these impossibles; each set of marked values seems to depend on the other set for its distinction by contrast or exclusion, but that interdependence necessarily bonds them. Enhancing is distinguished by what is “not here” (because the “here” is a lacking, is the need of elevation or increase in value) and “not now” (because the “now” is the time of the lacking), but the enhancing, I suggest, occurs not in filling that lack, but rather in making experientially present, “here” and “now,” the elevated values, valued attached to a future, by imagining them. That the fat present can include the experience of the “now” that is “not now” and the “here” that is “not here” enables the energizing and vitalizing aspect that is enhancing; the here is already elevated. It is the complicated copresence of these distinctions and oppositions that fuels the vibrating oscillating experience of vitality that we call enhancing. Almost invariably when we engage enhancing we experience heightened emotions be they hope and anticipation and excitement and determination or perhaps frustration and anger and stiflement. Both poles interestingly elevate the feeling of aliveness.

It is common around the end of the year (I write this the end of December 2014) to assess our lives and set goals directed at achieving enhancement; either to elevate our dreary selves or to search for yet some small measure keeping us from perfection. We not only identify the lacks that need our attention, we also often set specific goals quantifiable and dateable. We make lists and mark goals on calendars. While certainly we may assess our “progress” by occasionally consulting our achievements or changes correlate with calendric goals and lists, I suggest that this larger frame that seems to exceed the fat present is actually a strategy to retain the elevated qualities of the process of enhancing or goaling experienced in the fat present.

This entry was posted in Aging and Brain/Body Acuity, Future Studies, Movement, Neuroscience and Humanities, Play, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply