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In this experimental video, I explore the possibilities of acting differently yet remaining ‘genuine’ in my disparate personas, allowing them, for the first time, to converse.
The idea for this experiment came about as I was writing in my diary in my bedroom. As I was writing and thinking about my research on the relationship between fictional characters and the characters of persons, I began engaging with the latest part I read of Daniel C. Dennett's Freedom Evolves (2003). This part of the book takes issue with a neurophysiological experiment by Benjamin Libet (1999), in which it was shown that there is a 300 milliseconds gap between the point at which participants report that they made a spontaneous, conscious decision (to press a button) and the point at which their brains’ readiness potential was activated — this meant that people typically reported their decision happening circa 300ms after the brain already set in motion enacting that decision, leading many scholars in the neuroscience community to conclude that we do not really have free will, but are rather under the illusion that we’ve made a decision that our ‘brain’ has already made for us. Dennett finds many ways to problematise this conclusion, but the main point is that this sort of conclusion presupposes that ‘you’ — the ‘you’ that makes the decisions and is conscious — is located in a single point somewhere, presumably somewhere in the brain (in what Dennett calls the Cartesian Theatre), waiting on the input that will ultimately colour your decision. But there is no reason to believe such a point in time and space exists — rather, it is much more probable that ‘you’, your ‘self’, is distributed in time and space, and that in fact, decisions are essentially temporal (and spatial) events, not instantaneous nor confined within a point.
For me, the question is, “What does it mean for a distributed being like me to recognise this fact about myself?” I paused in my writing and tried to feel, through experience, my own distributedness. I wondered whether accepting the fact that my being is not gathered in one point in space and time, might prove to be liberating or damaging. There’s always the possibility that there is an evolutionary reason why we are under the Cartesian spell and can’t seem to shake off the feeling that we are discrete, synchronous beings, and that unlearning this habit might be harmful. However, I have a feeling there might be something liberating about this acceptance; and that it might lead to positive changes in how we relate to our selves. For instance, often we humans feel we are battling with ourselves. Over whether or not to eat an extra biscuit, for example. How would an acceptance of our distributed self affect how we manage the community that resides within a common name like ‘Katarina’, how we confront daily problems such as these, and whether we will even continue to think of them as problems?
Perhaps we won't really know until we try. In this experiment, I invite one of my fictional characters to have a live conversation with me about our relationship, whether or not we both compose the same person, and the shape of our personal cosmos.
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