Nicolas Goyer is a writer and philosopher who takes a tour through phenomenology & post-modern philosophy, and how the can provide insights into immersion, embodiment, imagination, mythology, and the human experience experience for experiential designers using the virtual reality medium.
- Aby Warburg: Warburg Institute
- Antonin Artaud: Theater of Cruelty
- Ernst Cassirer: Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1965)
- Henri Bergson
- Edmund Husserl: Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology (1931) & The Crisis of European Sciences (1935)
- Martin Heidegger: Being in Time (1927)
- Jean-Paul Sartre: Being in Nothingness (1943)
- Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The Phenomenology of Perception (1945), The Visible and the Invisible (1964), Cézanne’s Doubt essay in Sense and Non-Sense (1945 – 1947)
- Jan Patocka: Plato and Europe (2002)
- Emmanuel Levinas: Time and the Other (1987)
- Jacques Derrida
- Alfred North Whitehead: Process and Reality (1929)
- Gilles Deleuze
- Friedrich Schelling
- François Jullien: Process or Creation: An introduction to the thought of the Chinese literati
- Nora Bateson: An Ecology of Mind: A Daughter’s Portrait of Gregory Bateson
- Robert Musil: The Man without Qualities (1996)
- Antonio Damasio: Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain (2003)
- Gerard Manley Hopkins: “Sprung Rhythm”
- Richard Sennett: The Craftsman (2009)
- Bernard Stiegler
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So on today's episode, we're going to be taking a tour across different phenomenological philosophies and what kind of insights they provide to virtual reality. Now I know that post-modernism in general is getting a lot of bad rap from folks like Jordan Peterson or Sam Harris and I just watched a whole like eight hour debate between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson and one of the things that was really interesting that they did is that they started to steel man each other's arguments at the beginning of the second third and fourth and debates, which is that they're trying to give the strongest representation of the other person's perspective in a way that is in some ways better than they could articulate it themselves. Now, the problem that I have with both Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson is they can't actually do that with postmodernism. It's difficult for them to actually describe what postmodernism even is in a way that most people would agree with. And so I think the dangers of postmodernism is that you deconstruct all of reality to the point that you just spiral into nihilism. And I think Both Sam and Jordan are kind of afraid of this nihilistic tendency that can come as a result of something that is coming from postmodern thought, of just deconstructing things without having any sort of meaning structures to replace it. So I agree with that totally, but I also think that there's a lot of really important insights that are coming from postmodern thought, especially from the phenomenologists. So on today's episode, I'm going to be featuring a philosopher and writer named Nicolas Goyer, who I met at Montreal. And so the interesting thing about Nicolas is that he's multilingual, speaking French and Spanish and English amongst probably other languages. But that allows him to, in some ways, dive into some of these philosophical thinkers in their native languages, which I think is important because sometimes there's a translation and you get something that's lost in translation or something that is embedded within the language that maybe you can understand the deeper thoughts of what these philosophers are talking about. that may not be as accessible if it gets translated. So he's somebody who has dived into lots of these different French philosophical thinkers, and I see this interview as a little bit of a roadmap if you really wanted to kind of dive deeper into reading some of your texts on your own. So I'm hoping that through the course of this conversation that you'll get a bit of an overview of all these different phenomenological thinkers and you can dive deeper into see how there's so many different insights that can come from phenomenological thinking and these philosophers are very much contextualized and made very relevant when you talk about something like an immersive technology like virtual reality, augmented reality, or these other experiential technologies like immersive theater. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Nicholas happened on Saturday, June 2nd, 2018 at the Symposium IX conference in Montreal, Canada. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:03:02.108] Nicolas Goyer: My name is Nicolas Goyer, I come from philosophy and studies in anthropology and comparative literature also helped me to become what we call nowadays a transdisciplinary researcher and on a more private time being a writer from poetry to narrative. Now, what brought me to know the SAT, Society of Technological Arts, was an encounter here between very interesting people, among them Rémy Kirion, the scientific chief of Quebec. Now, in that encounter, there was a coming together, literally, of the way we think, the cognitive processes, and the syntactic nature, the neural substance that has visually been paralleled to the interconnectedness of the universe, as if both kind of syntaxes had something in common. Now, just to come back to a more modest perspective in this, but keeping in mind the infinitely small and infinitely overwhelming of the scale of the universe, being a writer in this, I realized that Very good writing, as many good films, if you think about Tarkovsky's, are immersive experiences. At first, for the writer or the filmmaker, the people editing the film with all the rhythm they want to create with the images that were filmed, so that with the rhythm that you write or that you try to achieve, that you can make better by staging the action. to be aware that we stage a world or worlds. If your writing is perceived by readers as they can feel they are in the place you write about, whether it be Morocco or Spain or any other place on the planet or outside of this planet, well then, good writing or a film, we heard about cinematography today thanks to Sébastien Gaultier, who strengthened the relationship throughout half a century from cinematography to VR, filming and immersive experience. So this is to put us into why I'm interested by this. I'm very curious when I can learn something from the new technologies that bring in other dimensions. I don't think necessarily further than what Shakespeare or Dante achieved, but new dimensions that can attract people to live it differently, to experience it differently, since it is definitely an experiential field in which people are drawn to nowadays.
[00:05:48.135] Kent Bye: Yeah, and maybe give a little bit of a survey of what you see as the most important philosophical thinkers that are kind of influencing this type of new media studies.
[00:06:01.098] Nicolas Goyer: Outside of phenomenology that has been well mentioned in this symposium, I enjoy referring to forerunners that are not as well known by the general public. So, listening to you and to others at the very beginning of this symposium, I thought about A.B. Warburg. A.B. Warburg is now acknowledged as the founding figure of modern art history. His work on antiquity and renaissance, his travel to North America where he met OP Indians and was a witness to very strong rituals being performed by the OP Indians, his going back to Europe in Germany where he created A unique library, the Warburg Library that is now in London as the Warburg Institute, A. B. Warburg, could be considered as a foreigner for one reason. that we have to construct a dialogue between the image, the action, and the myth. And in his thought, this is not abstract at all. Connecting the Renaissance experience, the symbology, the plastic imagination of Renaissance figures, to what he experienced with the OP Indians, there is a very important dimension granted to embodied experience. So to construct a dialogue between the image, The action and the myth, I think we can find this in Tarkovsky films. This kind of film is just being a very clear example of the strength of an experiential dimension at a slow pace, which came before what we call now virtual reality. So A.B. Warburg is a figure that can be put into parallel with a couple of decades difference with Antoine Artaud, whose pioneering work on the theatre and theatricality did not present theater as a northern European tradition, but as something putting into contact civilizations with their own travel to Mexico. It so happens that those forerunner figures can be very interesting to consider in the present field of virtual reality and augmented reality. I mentioned the symbolic pregnancy, an interesting notion by Ernst Kacerer, who was at first a disciple of A. B. Warburg. Cassirer, the first time he went to visit the Warburg Library, was overwhelmed by the systematic organization by themes in between the books that Warburg had decided to put alongside so that people could make connections between cosmology, astrology, different historical symbologies throughout the centuries and throughout space. So in these terms, this kind of library was new in its design. People can still in public libraries, for instance, find other books because they are placed in a way that they can be surprised by, oh, there is also this perspective pretty close to what I was looking for. But then, as you know, when we look for something, we don't necessarily find what we were looking for. We find something else. So this is referred to analogic reasoning. we have analogic ways in research so that we're not too rigid about like a narrow that we must find the one thing because well tomorrow we have to finish a paper or a task and then at times we are caught in this kind of pragmatic efficiency. The other symbolic means I meant to mention alongside the symbolic pregnancy, and this is a metaphor for immersion, pregnancy, is the symbolic efficiency. I think that's a challenge for new artworks, a new field of virtual reality, of augmented reality. People now talk about X-reality, where in which you would have all that and other dimensions we don't necessarily can name right now, the symbolic efficiency would bring the people that are unaware of these things or are sort of dreading some things, they're a bit confused or they feel that they're not intelligent enough, that they don't know the art or science enough in a way that they can, I don't like the verb control at all, but be comfortable with the material and the experiences proposed. So there's more than one gap in our times to bridge, but one gap could be from the scientific and artistic, where many thinkers and creators could be named for over a century, and as Monique Savoy said today, from Plato to today, from the myth of the cavern to today. To bridge the gap between the scientific and artistic avant-garde, forerunners, new type of creation today, and culture, general culture, embodied experience in daily life where people have not always unlimited access to the comprehension of what is changing today. Because absence, grief, wounds are also part of the reality and our enthusiasm of researchers and makers should also give place to the fears of public surveillance, this kind of dread that is spreading these last years, but also the fact that as much as existential philosophy and psychoanalysis have delved in, How can virtual reality as in contemporary hospitals where they do apply new inventions to lessen the suffering of children, for instance, in very concrete situations, how can this have a constructive impact on the way people relate to each other, relate to the universe. So this is the cultural field to which in this symposium, Nora Bateson alluded at the very beginning of the symposium. And then we heard Tanya, researcher at Stanford, who first worked out in the frontline, as you say, in Afghanistan as a journalist. And then she wrote a PhD thesis about how virtuality can bridge the gap I think for what she calls the social good. Many windows are opening but it is real difficult time-based work as much as these time-based arts we are interested in can foster so many new avenues. There's another part I think it can take a couple of decades so that culture will take it in. in its actual symbolic pregnancy, readiness for it, I believe, for instance, your work can bring so that people will understand more and more with interviews and putting it into the public space.
[00:13:14.581] Kent Bye: Yeah, and when you talk about that sort of connection between the science and the arts, I'm currently reading the Jazz of Physics where the author talks about how he's using metaphors of music and jazz to be able to describe the structure of the universe, but once you get to a certain point of theoretical physics, you have to be able to discover new combinations of mathematical structures to kind of push forward the theory and that takes a certain level of intuition and he was floundering and struggling and his advisor brought him in and said what would really be helpful for you is to go play music and to let your unconscious do a lot of this work and let it sort of seep in from your psyche and but also to learn how to interpret your dreams and to be able to look at this symbolic metaphoric layer of reality that he had trained as a Jungian analyst and he said read these letters between Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli because Pauli didn't discover the neutrino on his own it was through the process of interpreting one of his dreams that Jung helped him sort of discover this scientific discovery and so is basically this bridge between what has been this depth psychological tradition through Jung that is using this symbolic imagery and digging into a lot of the esoteric traditions of alchemy and astrology and going into different indigenous cultures and seeing how the myths and rituals were integrated so seamlessly into the society. And he kind of created this interface between East and the Western ways of thinking through his practice of depth psychology and you know in fact he got into a lot of trouble with Freud and had his falling out because he was dabbling in a lot of these more esoteric occult traditions and Freud was afraid that that was going to discredit his other work but Jung despite all that continued to do that and to bring forth this work and this research then leading into Joseph Campbell and his work with comparative literature and traditions of looking at all the myths and stories and in the imagery, but there's something about that symbolic interface that we have that in talking to a wide range of people, it's almost like a portal into a transcendent realm where we're able to tap into these deeper strands and the meanings and that these archetypes are almost like these multivalent, multifaceted dimensions of reality that Allow us to some extent a pair consistent logic where they allow for a wide range of possibilities But yet it's up to each individual to kind of collapse that wave function metaphorically to be able to have a singular meeting of what that story means for an individual so you may have these low-level elemental archetypes like earth, fire, water, and air and you know for me I call them like active presence and for fire and for air there's a mental and social presence and for water or emotional presence and for earth and body presence but those elements are like these metaphors that are actually very rich and have traditions through many different Society is around the world and you can sort of dig into many different dimensions of what those elements mean but as the kind of the most essential Ingredients to be able to start to mix together. It can start to talk about the quality of the experience And yeah, I don't know if you have any thoughts on that
[00:16:19.894] Nicolas Goyer: A French thinker, the philosopher Henri Bergson, was very important for Merleau-Ponty, for Deleuze and Guattari. One might say that in this symposium, and people at the SAT would acknowledge it, The French thinker Gilles Deleuze, who has these very strong books on cinema, the movement image and the time image, he was influenced by Bersan. If I mention Bersan, it's because the intuition, the human intuition was considered by Bersan as the highest, most refined form of human intelligence and the highest doesn't mean that it is shared only just by a few individuals. The way Bersan trusted intuition I think is the manner in which today metaphors and pathways for what will come can be shared by more and more people. Intuition is not something that is necessarily more developed by experts, specialists, people who are very strong in some units of the discourse of science or sciences, plural or singular. Human intuition is, I find, the way that we can share experiences, metaphors, the elements you referred to, in a way that alchemy today takes another sense and is not put aside by the rationalist grid of science as it was for the most modern reasoning until late 20th century. So things are coming back. Of course there are also superstition, there are ways of reasoning, astrology that can perhaps not necessarily help people go through their weeks or months. I don't believe in all things about that. Actually my relationship to that is not of belief. It's finding it highly interesting as a form of human imagination that gives meaning to human experience. together with other forms of human imagination. So it does not privilege rationalistic reason, but it opens itself to a way to understand cosmology and to bring it in our intuitive understanding of dreams, of the way we project ourselves into the future, of the way we are related to our ancestors, who believed in other things than we believe in, but it doesn't mean that their beliefs are totally irrelevant or passé, you know, it's sort of obsolescent. So I find it more than interesting the fact that it's not chronological time, as in when people believed in a naive way, candidly, in scientific progress that is now the most strong and efficient but it's bringing all those ways of thought into a space And I don't have a model for that space. It's not a huge library. It's not the way space was thought throughout and distributed into what we could say a mandala structure or a pie where all parts are there in a circle or one already predetermined figure or form. But there is a specialization of experience so that people in their individual and collective experience can have access to other ways of thinking, other languages, other figures, other metaphors. While not such a long time ago, we were sort of bound by our ancestry and national language, genealogy and values. to be loyal to this. There is no treason of what I just mentioned, the first let's say genealogical memory, by the spatialized memory of, we know now that there is a kind of genetic inheritance of what has been already experienced by humanity is a big word but yeah forms of humanity the humanity that was previous to our personal ancestors and humanity elsewhere on the planet this is quite recent does the general public know and understand how beautiful is this genetic inheritance of human experience often it can be totally unconscious or in our subconscious but the elements and the archetypes that you can mention are in parts of us and at times I think they come sort of on the surface close to coincide to what we can experience in a daily casual encounter or moment in nature or urban landscape, virtual reality experience created, put into place by artists or scientists or people that are very able to bring this together. You know, it's kind of funny, but if you see the film The Motorcycle Diaries on Ernesto Che Guevara, his friend at the time, before Guevara became a physical doctor, called Guevara the fuser, which meant to create a fusion between fields of experience. Yes, I think this can be still relevant. This was before his politicization of experience. To bring continents of human apprehension, experience, knowledge, or have continents or subcontinents is already quite a challenge. We don't always have to refer to the whole planet or humanity as our main referent, which we know is endangered and we understand now that it's more much more fragile than we thought before and I don't generally say we like that but this is so people who are aware of that it's a huge number of people now that share this we
[00:22:44.145] Kent Bye: Yeah, and you had mentioned phenomenology and I'm just curious if you could kind of recount the biggest phenomenological philosophers that come to mind for you or are important for people within the VR community to know about their work and what they contributed into these different insights into the dimensions of the human experience.
[00:23:01.299] Nicolas Goyer: One who is extraordinarily important and was slightly overshadowed by others since then is and Munchusel, who created phenomenology. Now, Husserl came from a very, very scientific approach that we can call scientist, which means that he believed so much in science that it was his way to wish the highest scientific expression possible of philosophy around 1900. Husserl then had to write works throughout which he abandoned, I think for good reasons and happily so, highly scientific, highly rigorous, I mean some of Husserl's texts are, it's not an easy read. But if you read his meditations that are inspired by Descartes, If you read his works before his last works, this density of Edmund Husserl's works are previous to everything we call phenomenology since then. Now, at the end of his life, in 1935, Edmund Husserl published the text that we call in German, Kaisis, with a K. So, the crisis of European sciences. The crisis of European sciences show in 1935 in Germany that the humanities will be endangered by what's happening in the fields of experience in the 30s. So we're not outside history there. It's not a laboratory. Husserl was able to, with a lot of intuition and, again, a rigor that Nevin abandoned in his writing and thought, to say things that would become so important in the next decades. Now, only three other figures of phenomenology that were extremely important since Husserl. The best known of them is Martin Heidegger. Heidegger brought to a more existential focus Husserl's perspective. Heidegger was first and foremost the most promising student of Husserl. Husserl was his kind of symbolic father in symbology. Then Heidegger turned his back on him for political reasons, which is a very sad story in the history of phenomenology. Husserl was a Jewish thinker. Heidegger wrote Sein und Zeit, Being and Time, 1927. This is one of the landmark books in 20th century. Now from Husserl and Heidegger's putting into what we would call then existential philosophy, the main landmarks and modes of thought of phenomenology, Heidegger has been sort of translated in France by Sartre when Sartre wrote L'Etre et le Néant, Being and Nothingness. It is not being judgmental or over-judgmental on Sartre's important work to say that it was a kind of translation of Heidegger's Being and Time. Sartre did bring new things on the scene of human action. But the phenomenologist now that is considered more important than Sartre, an exact contemporary of Sartre, is Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote The Phenomenology of Perception. The Phenomenology of Perception, La Phénoménologie de la Perception, is rightly so very much referred to today, because the works on perception, it's one of the keywords of the virtual reality questions, debate, on the panels last year here in Montreal and this year, it was a few times at the fore, perception. Merleau-Ponty did not write the ultimate piece on perception. His main acknowledged work, The Phenomenology of Perception, in his own trajectory was probably not what he wrote as the kind of farthest expression he could in his own lifetime. Merleau-Ponty died at a young age for a philosopher, around 60 years old. But before his death, he was able to write the major part of his last important title, Le Visible et l'Invisible, the Visible and the Invisible, in your own presentation. And when you evoke the principles that have a subconscious part in us, like your iceberg model that you showed us, This is very close to Merleau-Ponty's last work because, of course, we all perceive that at times, and more than perceive it, we can think it thanks to intuition. We don't perceive the most that we can see. I mean, actually, now when we're talking, we don't perceive the major part of the Montreal urban life and Quebec province landscape, and Canada, and the planet, and the earth, and the solar system, and the universe, and etc, etc. So, in the visible and the invisible, Merleau-Ponty was re-reading Again, his master, his main mentor, Husserl, he was rereading Heidegger, who put in a more existential realm, the main axis, plural, of Husserl's thought in phenomenology. So what we call ontology was very important to Heidegger, who in a way deconstructed traditional ontology coming from Aristotle and Kant, So Heidegger has at the same time put back on the table as a major philosophical issue and web of significance ontology and said that we should free thinking and thought from what we call ontology as if ontology meant for instance only material things or the material world and then the soul or the animic world. Heidegger wanted to bring phenomenology and what he called then hermeneutics, because in hermeneutics we have to interpret phenomena, we don't just observe it and register its presence or absence, but we have to interpret the world, the other. So from Merleau-Ponty to today, there are two main figures And this is, without being Eurocentric at all, let's say to give two other figures of European phenomenology before it had its new extensions in the Americas, plural, and in Asia. Jan Patoška in Czechoslovakia was a student of Husserl and Heidegger. Jan Patoška, who wrote Plato in Europe, published by Stanford University, and heretical essays. Patoška thought throughout phenomenology and Heidegger's contribution to think it in the existential mode we live in. Patochka brought this back into the historical experience of what people could experience, for instance, in the First World War. When you say you're on the front line, it made me think of when Patochka refers to the experience of the front line. L'expérience de front. He literally means to be on the front line in the First World War. For Patoška, what happened in the 20th century was triggered first and foremost, more importantly, by the First World War instead of the Second, which has been much more commented and much more important in Western philosophy since then. Patoška is a very warm thinker. He was the mentor of Václav Havel, the dramaturgist and politician Václav Havel, who won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Václav Havel is one of the last people to have met Patoška when Patoška was in captivity, held in captivity in Czechoslovakia. Patoška gave private seminars. Some of his writings were unpublished in his lifetime. They were heroically translated by a few people in French and English and at the very least in French by a woman named Erika Abrams. It was not obvious to translate Patoška and to find publishers and this kind of thing. The end of Patoška's life was tragic. He died in detention. He was not literally killed, physically speaking, but he died in detention because of the hardships he endured here. I think that it is interesting, since some of his main writings are available in English, there is a realm of thought articulated by Patoška from Plato to today involving the consciousness of religions able to say and to articulate some historical or trans-historical realities. For instance, that the Greeks were pagan thinkers and then Christianity came in. So this thought throughout by phenomenologists and brought into the existential realm in which we live. One of the main concepts of Patochka was the world of life, le monde de la vie, the world of life. So this was already an intuition in Edmund Husserl's late work. It was translated into the French phenomenologist's work, Merleau-Ponty. Merleau-Ponty had a dialogue with the painters. He wrote a text about Cézanne called The Doubt of Cézanne, Le doute de Cézanne. You see, the doubt of Cézanne. So there's nothing too overly Certain, overly rigid in such a thesis implied in Merleau-Ponty's text, Merleau-Ponty was a philosopher of the ambiguity of experience, where can we draw the line between to touch and being touched? In the haptics research, Merleau-Ponty is an important thinker between Alois Hegel, the German or Austrian, originally thinker of haptics, and today, Merleau-Ponty is a key figure. So I evoke Patoshka, who with his world of life notion brings close to us issues and richness and texture of human thought that can encompass a lot, and never, I would say, it's not too much it's not too much of a survey over human experience patushka was close to down to earth human experience the last one but he's a kind of a runaway figure but i don't want to give a comical aspect to this expression, the thinker of the other, you might have heard the name of Emmanuel Levinas, or perhaps you read his name. Emmanuel Levinas was able to confront Heidegger in a way that he could say, without contradicting himself, for Levinas, Sein Unseit, Being in Time, has been one of the major philosophical works of 20th century. And it was a kind of, we say in French, livre de chevet. You know, the kind of book that you keep not too far away, like Pascal's thoughts, or for people, it's religious volumes or mystical works. So for Emmanuel Levinas, a Jewish thinker, the sort of pagan way of Heidegger to refer himself to Greece and to think ontology on new basis and then to deconstruct ontology, for Levinas there was one big problem with the whole approach of Heidegger to ontology and to human experience. It was the lack of the other. As a being coming, for instance, now at this very moment in the room and interrupting us, interrupting what we call ontology, this talk on the very being of things, the world and human existence. Levinas called this figure the Other, which was reinterpreted by many French philosophers. Derrida and others have also interpreted and written a lot about the Other, often with the major O, the Other. For Levinas, it was not far from the figure of God, which was important in its own perspective. Now, the Other in Levinas does not have to be taken into the exact religious perspective that made sense for Levinas. Levinas did everything he could to bring it as close to daily human experience as he could. I will give you just one concrete example. While in Heidegger's thought, the myth is still important in a way that being in the fullness of nature, well nature can be overwhelmingly but beautifully intense around us and or rhythm and a constructed experience where rhythm is tremendously and almost transcendentally important, giving form and structure to our lived experience. Well, Livinas said that in an urban building, or we can say a railroad station, or whether it be Grand Central in New York, or a subway station, when you cross somebody, when you see somebody, when you see the face of somebody, I mention the face because Le visage, the visage, was very important for Lévinas to give a sort of concrete expression to what he called the figure of the other. So to meet visage, visage, in any place that we encounter in our daily lives, for Lévinas was more important than to imagine beautiful, sort of cosmic, highly intense experience of the world as the nature or rhythm. Lévinas hence. gave new basis to what we call ethics. There are not so many new enterprises of ethics that have mattered in the philosophical domain in the 20th century as that of Lévinas. Lévinas' ethics, starting from the two books, Time and the Other, Le Temps et l'Autre, Time and the Other, and his first major work, Totality and Infinity. You see, philosophers are like that, being in time, bang, or totality and infinity. By this title, what Levinas meant to say, and he was able to pull it, I would say, in philosophical terms, is that in front of what was ontology, sort of re-actualized by Heidegger's thought, this was totality. He said, well, yes, Heidegger thought that he was destructing what we called before him being as this solidified sort of rigid structure as things already being there and creating a breach that Heidegger had new terms to call this breach for actual human experience. But Levinas wrote that still Heidegger would have been caught and phenomenology as Heidegger rethought its principles would have been still caught in Our schema of totality, while infinity for living us and for the, one might say, the three religions of the desert, the three monotheisms, Christian, Jewish and Arabic, the infinity comes with the face of the other, not an incredible experience of the world, the planets, rhythm, or of another mystical dimension of our lives, but just with the other. So this was a way to give new foundations to ethics with Levinas, and then hence pulling himself slightly outside of phenomenology, but still maintaining his dialogue with the major phenomenological works and contributions of Oussel and part of Heidegger's until the end of his life in the late 90s. Levinas is a very important figure for that and has influenced ethics almost all over the world, at the very least on two to three continents in the last four decades.
[00:39:49.142] Kent Bye: Awesome. Yeah, that was very helpful. I'm in the process of rereading Richard Tarnas's Passion of the Western Mind, which is, in a single book, tries to trace the evolution of Western thought over the last 2,500 years. And to a certain extent, he cast it as this dialectic between Plato and Aristotle of how they sort of junk back and forth between you know whether or not there's this sort of transcendent realm of ideal forms and that there's this potential way of interfacing with that in order to get insights into the fundamental structures of reality and You know Aristotle had some complaints around some of that and I guess he had a little bit more of a empirical approach towards things but he still had four different types of causation he had the formal cause which would be to some extent a preservation of that platonic form of like the blueprints of reality and that there's a bit of an open question as to how mathematical objects may or may not interface with reality if they do exist in a transcendent realm of ideal forms but there is a blueprint for what the design is and then you have the final cause which is what the purpose of it's almost like the intentionality of what is the purpose of this thing that you're going to create if you're creating a table then it's to be able to hold up this computer or to eat at, that could be the final cause. But then the material cause would be all the actual concrete materials that we require to actually build it. And then the efficient cause would be actually the people that are building it, the carpenter in this case. And so he had these four different types of causation. And I feel like, you know, and just being here at the Symposium IX, there was a documentary of the ecology of mind by the daughter of Gregory Bateson, Nora Bateson, who was the opening keynote here at Symposium IX. But It seems as though that there's a little bit more systems thinking and thinking of things in terms of processes rather than direct causality of looking at the ecosystems. And when you look at things in terms of ecosystems, it's less about linear causality. And I feel like in a lot of more archetypal cosmologies and other systems thinking, there tends to be a going beyond the reductive materialistic direct material causation of reality. having other forms of causality there. And so I'm just curious if, you know, there's any people that come to mind in terms of philosophers. I know there's Alfred White Northead that was talking about process philosophy, and then Gregory Bateson seems like somebody who's starting to look at the relationships between things rather than just as concrete things, but thinking in terms of mind as a process that's evolving and growing. And then, of course, there's lots of transpersonal psychology in the work of Jung and his work with symbols and So I don't know if there's other philosophers that are really kind of breaking out of the more reductive way of looking at causality.
[00:42:28.220] Nicolas Goyer: most of contemporary French thinkers that have been called post-structuralists or neo-structuralists, for Deleuze, whitehead was tremendously important. So Deleuze is one good example of a rigorous philosopher who read whitehead alongside Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bergson, I mentioned earlier on, in a way that definitively Deleuze at an early age abandoned the models of rationalistic or rationalized causality. And even though there's an interesting exception, whose name is Cornelius Castoriadis, perhaps because he was Greek, remaining in a dialogue with Aristotle all his philosophical life. And it's just one brief parenthesis. Castoriadis was the thesis advisor of Pierre Lévy here. Pierre Lévy here that we heard here. And when I figured out that, I would say, before his own philosophy, Pierre understood very well enough Western philosophy so that in between offices in Ottawa in 2003, he could tell me something coming from Aristotle. And I told myself, hmm, he's a true philosopher. I don't necessarily have to follow his own thought on things. I think that collective intelligence is very important and it corresponds to what I would like to think throughout today as the Mexican anthropologist, the exo-brain, but these things should be developed. I'm just closing this parenthesis with the thought of Aristotle, potency is a capacity, that is totally from Aristotle. La puissance c'est une capacité. told me Pierre on the threshold of my office at University of Ottawa in 2003. So potency is a capacity. This already is not a simplistic causality thing. So there are things in Aristotle's thought that have more potency than one might think. So coming back to contemporary thinkers, Deleuze, Derrida, all those important figures in the contemporary arts and comparative literature today, have thought things in terms of process. Before those contemporary philosophers, Whitehead and Schelling, the German philosopher, both thought things being as becoming before it became more of a common intuition in our times and shared by many artists and composers in the 20th century modern and then contemporary music works, expressions of their work and artworks. So thinking things in terms of process, it is a way that was very familiar for Chinese thinkers a long time ago. A more recent figure in French thought, who's very well translated in the world now, is François Julien. François Julien comes from a hybrid background of Sinology, the science of Chinese civilization, and psychoanalysis, since he followed Lacan's seminar in the 60s. François Julien, the first book I read, his title is Process or creation. Process or creation. Process or creation. So, in that mindset, the Chinese classical thinkers were thinkers of the process of things, with beautiful figures as earth and the sky, and they can do a lot with these two processes without being binary, because the most important thing is the flow of changes, of transformations, of metamorphosis.
[00:46:14.473] Kent Bye: That's just the I Ching and the Yang and the Yan and the Book of Changes.
[00:46:18.196] Nicolas Goyer: Yes, this is an extraordinary work. So to think in terms of metamorphosis as a kind of dramaturgy within what we call process is very interesting in the arts in understanding what's happening today in a way that we should not be afraid of what's happening because it is not only transformation as modifications which is a kind of a more neutral word that I use myself in different contexts. It was very interesting and important that opening this symposium, Nora Bateson mentioned context, to think things in their context. And if we pull them out of their context, to put them back in, which is quite a challenge. This is present in her documentary on the on the new ecology of man inspired by her father's work. So things thought throughout in terms of process and what one might say with the dramaturgy that can be implied since a process is not always like the ocean tides. What I mean by that is already an ocean tide it can caught up on somebody on a few places on earth and be dangerous. But a human complexity and a complexity we can find in nature when spring arrives in Quebec province, it can be almost dramatic within a week or within 10 days, as John Ashbery said for the New York State phenomenon of spring, when it sort of explodes like shells, you leave the city for 10 days, you come back and nature has exploded as an expression and all this greenery. So metamorphosis is of course not only, it's not an anthropocentric concept, but it's a way that things can happen. The process has nuance, it has a gradation, it has degrees. It does not have, of course, a unique cause. There are also writers in the 20th century who were familiar enough with what we call epistemology to rethink things in their own literary works, as Robert Mouzil was able to do in The Man Without Qualities, his huge narrative work, his huge novel that he could never finish. We see enacted in this novel what he wrote about in his master thesis on Ernst Mach. You know, Mach 1, Mach 2 of the plane speed, it comes from the German thinker Ernst Mach. So he came from science and psychology. Robert Moussil has a thought of the multiple causes. for phenomena occurring in his very interesting novel on many cognitive levels, The Man Without Qualities. So I think to put these things on a puzzle today in a way that we would not be too puzzled, but we are in an interrogative process. It's an open interrogation. I'm not saying this politically correct manner. What I mean by this is remaining loyal to Spinoza's investigative mind, remaining loyal to the main part of what was published by Melopontine, Le Visible et l'Invisible, The Visible and the Invisible, with those fantastic notes that come with this book, the notes that were found after Melopontine's death. The main part of that book is called l'interrogation philosophique, the philosophical interrogation. I hear this in your own perspective on things, in how the virtual reality and the augmented reality processes can be approached and understood as much as possible in not transparent terms, because these things are not overly transparent, but in a way that is less and less opaque and shared by a few to more and more people. Many good films in the last two decades show things as happening in terms of process and not only of a unique causality. Of course, if thrillers are based on a murder or on things like that, it can be a bit basic in terms of causality, but I myself can enjoy these films. It depends on when and where, you know.
[00:50:38.314] Kent Bye: Yeah, I tend to think of virtual reality not in terms of like when I hear virtual reality as a word, I think, oh, that's fake or not real. And so I think of it, less of it as a virtual, not real place and more of a symbolic or an archetypal reality so that it's more of getting to more of the ideal form or expression, but it's kind of dissociated from concrete reality to a certain extent, but we still can have a real experience. And I think that The nature of consciousness, I think, is probably one of the biggest open questions in science and philosophy because what I see is that there's these different silos of the philosophy of science, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of math, you know, phenomenology. There's all these different sort of branches that aren't necessarily talking to each other and I think that to some extent virtuality represents this opportunity to do this cross-disciplinary research into these different topics and questions and maybe at some point through this medium of virtual reality that will facilitate this interdisciplinary dialogue between all these different siloed branches of investigation. so that you actually do have like an empirical way to study human experience and be able to manipulate different variables and try to discern the fundamental nature of consciousness. But David Chalmers did a TED talk where he's basically making the argument that, hey, you know, like we could keep going down this path of reductive materialism of thinking that there's going to be some sort of emergent property of consciousness that we're going to find all the different signals and be able to connect all the dots to be able to say that our consciousness is emergent from all of our neurology. And it could be a matter of resolution and putting neural laces into the brain. Maybe at some point they'll be able to get a high enough resolution to crack the code of consciousness and say that it is an emergent property. Or they could find, and this is what David Chalmers is suggesting, that to adopt more radical philosophies of either like more Eastern philosophies or Chinese philosophies or Hermetic philosophies or panpsychism or these philosophies that say that consciousness is this either fundamental field that is a field of awareness and being that We haven't necessarily found any specific direct correlates to, although the work of Dean Redd and the Institute of Nootic Sciences would sort of lead to show that there's some early evidence, but that's on the fringe of frontier science and hasn't been replicated by the mainstream community yet, so that's still yet to be seen. But yet there's also these more animistic, primal worldviews of the panpsychism, or the anima mundi, or the world soul, where the consciousness and awareness of being is kind of infused into every single particle and proton and photon that's out there, and that there's these indeterminate natures of each of these particles that have this wave-particle duality that are at some point either making a choice to collapse or that they have some indeterminacy in their nature of their being that they could be making choices or they could be carrying information and so maybe consciousness to a certain extent is the ability to process information. So, I'm just curious to hear from your perspective, philosophically, you know, the nature of consciousness and whether or not, like, panpsychism, the evolution of that, because it's something that goes way back in terms of these Greek thoughts, actually. You know, you could argue a lot of those platonic thinkers and even Aristotle and all the people from the ancient Greece had a sense of the vibrancy of life in this anima mundi or the world soul. And where are we at in terms of the philosophical community about what is the nature of consciousness, where it's at, and what it all means?
[00:54:09.302] Nicolas Goyer: Without disappointing you, I will answer you in a way that is perhaps closer to living us ethics than to telling you what's been said very recently on the nature of consciousness in terms of, let's say, ontology or the very essence of things. But you'll understand in a snap that it comes from a mental image that you expressed, and it is a mental image. it's something that you said it is an image you said people are working in different silos and it's an image i don't have to see it on the screen it doesn't have to be produced by corporate or not artifact machinery assemblage it's your image and last year somebody recognized in the neighborhood where i don't have much time anymore to go to the one of the neighborhood cafes. A friend from some time ago, Jennifer, told me in French that exact expression, but referring to working with migrants in Montreal. That's until recently, people were working in different silos. So there was a lack of interaction between, say, one might call them the levels of Operation dealing with the migrants communities, understanding them on an individual basis, understanding the more potentially generalized issues and how governmental and have governmental instances, institutions can help them. So I'm using this mental image because just at the very opening of the symposium, and I want you, you can tell me how it should be spelled out in English the best way. Interpertinence, interpertinence or interrelevance.
[00:56:08.350] Kent Bye: Interdisciplinary, sort of the different disciplines is the word that I have, yeah.
[00:56:13.063] Nicolas Goyer: Yes, we've all used that, but Michael Bishop in Halifax, once in a conference, said interpertinence. You know, this is very pertinent or relevant. So, I've been listening to people coming from different fields, and I think that it's not just a surrealist way to catch up on some words, to say that when Jennifer said, referring to working with migrants today, and working with migrants means interrelating a lot of social and human phenomena. It's a very complex situation. I wrote my thesis on migratory experience focusing on South America instead of on all over the planet because it would have been a bit much as we say in English. So whether it be interpertinence something that would be inter-pertinent or inter-relevant between people talking together. What is the difference between what we call in linguistics interlocution and dialogue? And the notion of dialogue is already, from Plato to today, is the very good positive assumption that it does work. Two logics become one in a way. There is a synthesis of two logics. in the human language. Interlocution is two loculars talking together. So, when a dialogue does happen between one and the other, between the other and one, and put into relation things that in one field mean something different. I don't mean to say that everything is in everything and oh it's all the same no no no the fact that uh between people coming from different fields i think that nora bateson is trying to work as much as she can with people from different fields who don't speak the same language in by language here i mean using the same logics of action and human experience so i cannot answer uh easily the new philosophical debate or horizon on the very nature of consciousness on a more personal basis. Since I'm a writer and I come from philosophy, the life of one's consciousness does not have to produce something material every day. It doesn't mean to be contemplative all the time, but there is something changing today in our understanding, plural, in our plural understanding of human consciousness. And it would take another stretch of time, with another elasticity of time, to allow myself to surrender, as you say, and to go into that. Else, I would find now that I'm talking about too many huge realms of human experience. Still, I can say that being a writer I'm not trying to be read by millions of people, so it's not the Bourne identity, Robert Ludlums or Tom Clancy's or whatever that interests me, but writers who do have an investigation on human experience, on human consciousness, on how we can learn from the other artistic and scientific expressions of our time, of before our time, of how this will change and consciousness being a multi-layered phenomena are integrated. the imagination is so important that whether it be more or less imaginative artworks or experiences that virtual reality propose to us or augmented reality, one's own consciousness can at times be not necessarily stimulated, inspired by new so-called, so complex works. At times these works are very complex and strictly technical. meaning, significance and are not so complex in terms of the life of the soul and what we call consciousness or awareness or other fields of experience of other dimensions of life, time, space and what we can call space-time. So yeah, that's just a very personal way to an individual way to answer your question without having followed these last 10 years the philosophical debate on awareness. I do believe, I think it's grounded, I think it's well documented that the physical sciences and the neurosciences have gained so much legitimacy that philosophy now is now in a dialogue with the neuroscientists. And at times neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio, I believe, said things in a bit of an awkward way because he said literally something very close to this in his book on Spinoza well Spinoza was getting pretty close with but we today like with our laboratories neuroscientists we really say how things work while Spinoza was on his way you know so well this is confusing different modes of investigating what is human consciousness potency of action understanding of human passions those are i'm not putting anything in hierarchy i think you can hear this in my way to relate to things generally speaking but i just saw yesterday that a french poet who's a mathematician has written composed because in his case everything is composed at the same time at the very least when he finishes a work It's as composed as it is written. He called it in French, and this is difficult to translate, I will say why, l'horizon, horizontal, or l'horizon, oui, l'horizon de l'horizon. So he works on the two Zs, horizon, it's the sound zon, but with an S in French. How do we say horizon in English? You see, I have a blank now. and horizon so a very good spoken word poet always takes into account the rhythm of every single syllable of every word he's pronouncing so what kind of examples thou mastering me god this is the way jared manley hopkins started his the wreck of the Deutschland poem. This is not totally out of the subject because Hopkins was a philosophical poet. He thought it was important to invent what he called sprung rhythm. He was a believer and the way he wrote, before I knew it by heart, by memory, we say de memoria in Spanish. so he has this rhythm he created so contemporary french poets mathematicians can create in a new way what has been shared by many poets throughout the Western development of things as a rhythm that for them is always connected to a kind of mystical awareness of the cosmological structures of things. Some poets want to reveal more the dissonant dimension of human experience, but more generally to reveal the harmony of dimensions has been the classical mega-pattern, one might say, of megalogics of Western poetry, and I believe of Chinese poetry also. So, yeah, it would be interesting to, in my case, I would not privilege the philosophical or metaphysical refreshment or actualization of the debate on awareness, nor would I privilege too much, demasiado, Antonio Damasio's and the neuroscientists approach. I just have a bit of a problem with the possible potential close to hegemony and a close to hegemony of a homogeneous way to think human experience and human consciousness today. When you say the word science in the United States, it has already like, it hits the score in terms of legitimacy. It's legit, you know, it's scientific. So for many, many people, it means it all. So I think this must be challenged by the arts and philosophy and also the human and social sciences. If I would mention one last title and the most modest of all that I thought about this symposium that could be interesting for you with this beautiful title, the American sociologist Richard Sennett wrote The Craftsman. You mentioned The Carpenter about quarter of an hour ago. And in that book, The Craftsman, interestingly enough, it was translated into French by Ce Que C'est La Main. This is the French character. They know, you know, what the hand knows. The hand knows. This is not exactly what Richard Sennett wants to argue and develops and elaborates and unfolds in his beautiful book, The Craftsman. He gives many examples, but he goes from Stradivarius, when we mentioned violins created by Stradivarius, and way down to Wikipedia, when people in the language created by the communes. So there is a way to contribute to a fellowship in the time of Stradivarius, Stradivari, as much as today. It's altogether different, but there are some parallels that Senna draws in a very interesting manner. The students of the maestro of the violins of that time, Stradivarius, Stradivari, they never could make they became makers too, like today's designers, Luc Courchene here, people creating in VR and augmented reality, Tammy Cotille, other people we've listened to are makers. I find this beautiful. So the makers that saw Stradivarius, Stradivari creating these violins that became paramount forever, they were never able to reproduce their master's craft. And in different kinds of ateliers, workshops throughout the ages, some were able to transmit, to transfer, we say today, their craft. What does that mean? They're not necessarily the best mathematicians or logicians of their own work, producing in always contingent contexts. We didn't hear the notion of contingency, but for Aristotle it was very important already and for empiricists contingency and to deal with it like Tanya that worked in the field in Afghanistan she was confronted to contingency all the time we one might say in a more intense or continuous way that we can be these days in in a symposium for instance the end of May and early June in Montreal. So in different workshops, ateliers throughout the centuries, there are ways to transmit to the new generation what we are doing and there are ways that are not as efficient as the ones that do perform something that is hard to calculate. what will go throughout generations or not. I think that this will be a challenge too for what is being done today by contemporary makers. Because I'm not too much concerned for the time being about what's going to happen in two or three centuries, in which time we're going to meet, because it should happen one day, some kind of extraterrestrial life. I think that on this planet for the time being we can be already enough concerned by what's going to happen these next decades or this next half century. So already I see humanists, the humanists I know older than me today, what we call the humanities, the humanists that have this memory and this richness of languages that spent so much time of their lives in huge physical libraries before being pretty good at finding things on the internet. The inheritance of the humanities is not only the digital humanities. At the end of his published works, Derrida, that died at age 74, had the time to develop a few texts on education, on what could become of the university. And I think it has been well translated into English as the future humanities, something like that. The future humanities are not only digital, it's also a perspective, a way to think things. We find with new tools, new digital tools, we find things, we put them together, we have new kinds, of interlocutors we create new dialogues people say that through internet through an email for instance we have a conversation for myself i always resisted this term of conversation you know writers and translators we still think that specific words are important so now we're having a kind of conversation with a artificial setup, it is an interview, it's not when it just naturally flows, even if we want it to be as close to our other conversations in this symposium. So through an email, through an internet interaction, I think that there are new ways of communicating I like to be in contact with people in Argentina and Uruguay. It's tremendously important for me when I'm in Montreal. My work brings me to be in contact six days out of seven on a very daily basis with Europe, so I have to live with many... in three languages, so it can affect our sleep, the way we interact in the city where we live. the need to go at times out in the country to take a break from this interconnectivity and to relate anew and afresh with the world giving itself. This was an intuition that Heidegger elaborated in a very philosophical manner, a complex manner, and that was shared by Merleau-Ponty. Without going in a totally religious or theological manner, in the expression although Heidegger did come from theology before thinking in terms of philosophy, es gibt means that there is something gives itself. I think that there's a way that in a way that I'm keeping it in my life coming from science, I'm keeping it in this kind of a... at the same time it's sort of neutral and it's beautiful the way the world comes to us and the way the universe, what exists, gives itself to us. So there is a kind of mysticism and this kind of intuition has been unearthed throughout generations of phenomenologists. It is contested by people like Levinas and Derrida when the other is or should be more important for us than the essence of the universe revealing itself to us.
[01:12:07.214] Kent Bye: And for you, what are some of the biggest open questions that are driving your work forward?
[01:12:14.543] Nicolas Goyer: In which way what I'm writing now is, and I say is and not will be, it's a question but I think it's coming through into action. Years ago it would have been will be or could be. So how what I'm writing is more connected to what we call nowadays collective intelligence. other ways of creating a prism for human experience, human interaction. our interface with the universe, this consciousness or awareness of the cosmos that I find beautiful in film. So my question is how it can relate hence more to what people experience nowadays in their daily or weekly, I would say, interaction with forms of art, art making, perception of socialized interaction here on other continents, in other cultures. How can my writing go further in that way? So that's a question. It did bring, I think, I hope so, another question which is enlarging outside of my own experience because this kind of big question. How can one single individual, Henri Michaud wrote a poem called The Thin Man, so how can an individual relate always better to others as much as to something that can overwhelm us? but that can bring us to bridge gaps between human spheres of experience and action. So when I mean action, the fields of action, from Anne Arendt to Tania's work in the field and then giving talks, all over the place and institutions I saw, including the White House. She probably briefed Obama's team and not the most recent team out there. So how can we as single individuals, and then it gets plural because it concerns more and more people aware of the question, We have the work we have to do, that we have to perform, to complete. And then the sphere of action is not necessarily, in the terms of Anne Arendt, does not mean the kind of work as like an artwork that we can make complete as a whole with entire aesthetic satisfaction. Human action in the human condition written by Anne Arendt relevant today too, is when we do something that we probably won't be paid for, that is slightly aside or on top of all the other things we have to do as our common responsibilities, personal, shared, collective, etc. Human action is when we step forward and contribute to something with or without dramaturgy, I mean in a more or less dramatic manner. The more people can do so to benefit social good, the less dramatic it will be. At times people have to do something more dramatic because nobody is doing it. So not to mention people who sacrifice their whole lives. In many countries examples could come up. And we can mention the example of Edward Snowden. I think that at a very early age he was able to understand that it would not be easy for him the next steps to be taken when he decided to change sides in a way, but I don't mean this in a political manner, but to leave his responsibilities that he was accountable for and then to reveal to the public space what could benefit democracy on a long-term basis that for which he had to pay. He's now living in another country, not the one he would have chosen, but the one that could let him in for a time. So this is a kind of bit of a dramatic example of human action. The big questions now is that there should be less and less whistleblowers and there should be more and more people. You've heard already a lot about most probably the community-based work, the grassroots movements, so people working on a local basis with a global awareness or consciousness. Already people like David Byrne and very involved people were saying these terms in the late 80s, so there's nothing so new about it. And centuries ago, in the Middle Ages, it was happening in villages and small towns and also people giving part of their time to contribute like that. So the new forms that this are taking now, it's a question that does not have a metaphysical or ontological resonance to it, but in the Western civilization where our first efforts after years and years of learning are supposed to go for what is being called career or careers. I was a bit surprised in this symposium the way some people presented themselves as if they're the way they achieve a career at times in this new field of virtual reality and when they achieve a career and their career achievements the way they named themselves is they are already these prominent figures that I think it's good to be proud but At the same time, in the cosmos, we're nothing. We're just a speck of dust. So I think that, yes, one big question could be to make a synthesis of these thesis and antithesis logics of thinking oneself, like, big time, as Peter Gabriel ironized in his 1986 So album, and thinking that somebody cannot do anything, cannot contribute at all to what's going on because high lucidity could mean in this century now in this decade and for the following decade to be pessimistic. Last year a filmmaker originally from Peru who has been living in Montreal with his family here since the 70s said last year that for the first time he could not be optimistic as he had been forever in his temperament. I feel this way and I found it interesting since this is a contingent experiment and experienced reality last year that this filmmaker living here, working in three languages, we share poetry in two languages. Having the children, I think that to have children is one way to be not too pessimistic because it's this fresh young life like springing in that he said that it was not as easy as before for him to be optimistic. So this is a question that it's an open question. I don't have any answer for this. I think that to be not monolithically pessimistic nor monolithically optimistic, we've heard a lot of optimistic enthusiasm here about new technologies, but when humankind invented the fork, the spoon, the wheel, and the sandwich, as Woody Allen wrote about, it was not each time a revolution that solved all the problems on the planet. And we say in French, it's a common say, to reinvent the wheel. Some people are really inventing things that will have consequences and impacts. plural manifold, and we say manifold in these multicolored realities that get new layers from what is being invented and also what is becoming more complex to many, many, many people that can understand how things are getting more complex. Now it's becoming, it's so common knowledge that to say that things are complex, it's not useful anymore in a symposium.
[01:20:31.341] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual and augmented reality and what it might be able to enable?
[01:20:41.900] Nicolas Goyer: I think that to expand the limits of human consciousness, we are very aware of that now, and the human sciences do stretch our minds, I think in a fantastic, formidable manner. But to expand the limits of human imagination, I think that virtual reality and augmented reality are now potentially contributing to that. But I believe that it is much more in continuity of what has been done by extraordinary poets and other types of artists in eons, with every single one of them their own kairos, the way they could open what at times we can call also a crack in the system. I think that virtual reality and augmented reality are new ways to develop our modes of imagination, of imagining things. The way they can make it real in a fabricated manner, the way that we can interrelate, be the audience of those artworks or move within them as when you listen to music and you can move in between the instruments virtually played by musicians because it was registered before, because it's been synchronized as if they were human musicians. So it does not necessarily expand human imagination. Those are new ways to sort of put, as in a car, to put gas into our imagination and also social human imaginary of how culture surrounding us is changing down to the practical tools we will be using more and more. Still the question remains The actual director of IRCAM in Paris, or the penultimate one, Bernard Stiegler, was very disquiet a few years ago because of the following reason. Of what has been created in his published book on this matter, he refers to USERL, the way we keep in memory what can be called First, retentions. A retention, what is retained by our memory. This comes from first-hand experience. First or first-degree retention. The second-degree retentions are the ones that we retain thanks to industrial tools, human tools we have been using for centuries, that we develop further and further, and that we refine. Now, the danger comes with the tertiary or the third-degree retentions. Those are the ones that are produced on the Internet and that come into our brain, that are in our memory, that were not created by us and not necessarily with our agreement. with our consentment consent consent thank you so this bridges the little gap that just comes back to one question that is so important today i understand bernard stiegler's disquietness and i share it more or less i am less worried than he is i think i think that the danger In his case, in the case of other people, it is paranoia or a kind of paranoid way of thinking. But the fact that the personal subjective human imagination creates mental images and then puts them either on paper, in the computer, translates them, transfers them into virtual reality and augmented reality ways so that people can interrelate with them. It doesn't mean that we should abandon our own subjective ways to create mental images and to use our imagination without the retentions that are brought to us and that at times can be so invading because there are so many that can just go in front of our eyes, come into our ears. We don't necessarily agree with them. We know we can be manipulated into this. So again, the example I used, thanks to your expression, working or doing things in different silos, it is a mental image. It's interesting because there's something archaic in it, you know, silos. as in this type of before the industry working in the fields and then putting the old and grains in silos and you use it as a casual image. It's very interesting because the other kind of image I heard like this yesterday was by Mary Ellis, a 3D software brush painting like artist who with her new software is developing with a lot of grace in her gestures what can be created by users, more and more people will be able to use this new software, which was not as refined even five or six years ago. It was very rudimentary and hard to use 10 years ago. So she used the expression, and I heard it today too, of a pipeline. So the word of this industrial big material called the pipeline when petrol was found in Texas and it was brought to the sea. There's a film about this kind of character creating a pipeline throughout California down to the Pacific Ocean to put the petrol on boats, the oil. So a pipeline for animation. You see, you listen to a conference, then you understand that a pipeline is common term now these last years in this kind of language being shared. by many users and pipeline for animation. So this is almost poetry to me, because poetry is to bring together words that were not necessarily supposed to be brought together. This is one ways that we use in poetry as poieses, to make, to bring together and to make something new, I hope.
[01:26:57.865] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Nicolas, I just want to thank you for sitting down with me today to kind of cover a lot of the philosophical foundations and influences of immersive media. So thank you.
[01:27:08.395] Nicolas Goyer: Thank you very much, Kent.
[01:27:10.377] Kent Bye: So that was Nicolas Goyer. He's a philosopher and writer as well as a transdisciplinary researcher. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, This interview was packed with so many references that I feel like I had to go through and like make a bibliography listing off to all the different authors as well as books that they had. And the thing that I'm taking away is that there's a lot of really important phenomenological thinkers from Edmund Husserl to Heidegger to John Paul Sartre to Maurice Moller-Ponte as well as Jan Patoska, and a lot of it is, I think, is the phenomenological writings in terms of what does it mean to actually look at your direct experiences. And when it comes to direct experiences, direct experiences are not falsifiable. This is something that you are experiencing internally. And when it comes to reductive science, reductive science can only say that anything that could be falsified or replicated is ontologically real. So anything that you're experiencing as a first-person experience it's kind of separate. It can't be repeated and you can't falsify it. And so phenomenological experiences, these esoteric experiences that you go into virtual reality and maybe have this sense of presence, or maybe it's a transcendent mystical experience that you have on psychedelics, these are things that you can't necessarily like study on the rubric of science. Now, I do think that there are these bridges when it comes to finding different neurological correlates when you have these altered states of consciousness, and we're starting to get some deeper insights into that. But at the heart, there's these qualities of experience that are kind of beyond being able to actually reduce down into a number or fact. And I think this is where the debate between Drew Pearson and Sam Harris were kind of like butting heads, because in some ways, Sam Harris believes that all of these things can be translated down into facts. And Jordan Peterson is like, no, there's these like a priori structures that are these interpretive frameworks that looking at someone like Kant is saying that there's these Stories that we have that are at this sub symbolic level and I think that's an important point that I don't necessarily know if Sam actually got to the course of these debates with Jordan Peterson is that through the metaphor of machine learning, there's different aspects that are unexplainable. They're sub-symbolic. They're like detecting a table and being able to actually determine that this is a table. You can do that and you know it's a table and then when you do the same thing with computer vision and you try to actually break down like why did this neural network decide that this was a table, it starts to be at the sub symbolic level. And so this is the embodied experience that is kind of like this below this threshold of perception. And I think that's what more or less Marlon Ponte was talking about in the visible and the invisible is that there's these invisible structures of the way that we're constructing our reality. And so I think that Jordan Peterson was actually articulating a lot of this more phenomenological perspective, But at the same time, I think Peterson has a lot of other issues with postmodernism. And so I don't necessarily know if either Sam Harris or Jordan Peterson could give a similar type of overview of all these different thinkers and what they would say about each of them. But what I have realized is that every individual is going to have a different reading about all of these different philosophical thinkers. And so I'm finding that all these branches of phenomenology are rich with so many different connections and insights into the realm of virtual reality. Some other people that Nicholas mentioned, A.B. Wahlberg, the founder of the Wahlberg Library, which then became the Wahlberg Institute. James Hillman actually had a huge turning point in April of 1969. He was at the Wahlberg Institute, and he had this revelatory encounter with the tradition of classical polytheistic images and the larger Western cultural imagination, which helped inspire the birth of archetypal psychology. And so, this symbolic pregnancy that also earns Cassier this philosophy of the symbolic forms, being able to make all these various different connections between cosmology and these esoteric traditions and having these historical symbologies all made together, it just allowed him to make all these different connections about the philosophy of symbolic forms. So that's Ernst Cassier. But just this idea that there's this connection between the image, the action, and the myth, and that there's some ways that these immersive technologies, that all technologies, whether it's a novel or a poem or a film, Tarkovsky is somebody that Nicholas has mentioned a number of times in terms of creating these films that feel very experiential and very immersive. And I know that I talked to Doreen Eskandar back in episode 379 about time perception insights from filmmaking and cognitive science where she was actually looking at Tarkovsky's films and just remarking about how experiential they were. But just that there's this connection between the image and the action and the mythological meaning that's behind it that there's these deeper structures of meaning that are there that I think that that's what Heidegger was talking about when it comes to, you know, trying to deconstruct the traditional ontology and look at something that's called hermeneutics, which is looking at the interpretation of the phenomenon. So it's not just that it's a pure fact, but there's actually these meaning structures that are at this deep sub symbolic layer that is like almost like this archetypal layer of these meaning structures that are able to communicate wisdom across different generations. And so whether that is through art and culture and music and ritual, I think that religion has done that in terms of trying to convey a certain level of ethics through these different rituals and practices. And I think that was the big debate that Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris were trying to have, which is that you know, religions have this kind of mythic literal aspect where they're trying to read these literal interpretations and it can lead to these fundamentalistic behaviors that are very either ethnocentric or egocentric in a way that isn't necessarily all-encompassing with trying to relate to all the other people that either disagree with them or facilitate some sort of integration with these different insights from science. And so because of that, we're trying to figure out like, what is the process by which you're going to update these things that are transmitted across many different generations? They are able to communicate a certain amount of ethics and morals, then what is the process by which that you're going to update that? And if you just rip it out, then you create a void that then creates something that is worse. And I think this is the essence of what a lot of these different phenomenologists are talking about is, What are those deeper structures by which that we're able to facilitate these different meaning structures? And I think that image and myth and story and those different dimensions I think is what actually Jordan Peterson did actually a very good job of trying to articulate all of those different dimensions of how these different things get transmitted across cultures. So as very interesting to me, the Levinas time and the other just talking about this foundation of ethics. It sounds like a lot of his work is been applied to many different ethical traditions and ethics within the general culture right now is a hot topic. I mean, it's everything from computer science to morality and ethics. It's just everybody's kind of talking about these foundations of ethics. And so I think Levinas is somebody to dive in there if you're interested in that. So causality I think there's something that when you get into more of these Post-modern thinkers they can start to have a little bit more of like what is the model of reality? They have a little bit different ontologies there and I really look towards Alfred North Whitehead as somebody who is really innovating when it comes to this process philosophy and I think that that type of process philosophy is something if you look at Carlo Rovelli's and Relational quantum mechanics and you read the order of time and the reality is not what it seems It does have this similar theme that trying to pin down a concrete reality It ends up being like things being in relationship to each other So things are in relationship to each other and that they're in a process that is evolving over time and so it's a little bit more of the philosophy of organism rather than looking at something that can be reduced down to a reductive thing and that I When you look at that and when you start to dial down that deeply, the deeper you go, you start to get these relationships. And so it's almost like it's relationship all the way down or that it's story all the way down because it's the interrelationship for how these things are connected to each other. I think someone like Sam Harris likes to think that you can have facts all the way down, but I think that it's something that gets a little bit more tricky because there's these interpretive frameworks that are trying to make meaning out of that. And that's not something that is, necessarily reduced down to an objective fact. So there is this balance between the objectivity and the subjectivity and how do you bring those two together. And so you have other post-structuralists and neo-structuralists like Gilles Deleuze who was trying to abandon the models of rationalistic causality. I see Deleuze mentioned a lot as somebody who's kind of carrying on tradition of Alfred North Whitehead and see him quoted a lot in the different circles that I run. So looking forward to diving more into Deleuze. In that other thinkers that were mentioned in terms of Derrida and Schelling and Botkin's process thinking, Francois Jullien's process or creation, which is looking at the Chinese philosophy. And the Chinese philosophy is something that I've kind of independently been diving into. interesting to see these connections between the I Ching as well as the Tao Te Ching and looking at more of the Taoist way of thinking and how things are kind of flowing from process to how they're evolving over time and how that is matching up with Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy. But there's these bridges here between the Chinese philosophy and some of these process philosophies. And as someone that was coming up at the symposium, my ex was Gregory Bateson, and his daughter had created a work called the ecology of mine is a documentary that I saw there, which is also trying to look at things much more systemically and holistically rather than kind of reducing down and trying to take a more reductive approach. It was interesting to hear Nicholas's response to asking him about the nature of consciousness because it wasn't necessarily an answer that I was expecting, but it kind of took a much more mythopoetic way of looking at it, which was deconstructing this concept of silos and how migrants were moving between different places and how migrants in some ways are kind of forcing us to think more holistically because it's not an easy issue. These are very complicated issues that take much more complicated ways of modeling and understanding reality in order to actually deal with them. So I expect this to continue to happen over the next couple of years where there's going to be these different polarity points that are almost like these complete opposites, like the balance between closed and open is one example that we can just see through the issue of immigration. But one of the things that Nicholas said is that there's a power of dialogue and that there's this power to be able to come to some sort of understanding. And this is actually something that Plato had talked about in terms of one of the Platonic epistemologies. And so in order to get to a deeper truth, you engage into this Socratic dialogue where you're open to be able to discuss things with people. And what happens is that through the process of dialogue and being open into actually being able to engage into different perspectives, you're able to really empathize with that other perspective. And then if all goes well, you're able to actually expand your mind and to be able to be more encompassing of many different worldviews. And I think that With all my disagreements with both Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson, they were able to actually demonstrate that within this process of these four different debates that were about two hours each, well over like eight hours of this type of dialogue where they were trying to embody this type of dialectic where they were being open to each other's perspectives. And then finally, there was this thread of rhythm and poetry that Nicholas was talking about, you know, he identifies himself as a poet, and there's this sprung rhythm that he talked about, or just this cadence that can happen that when you start to speak in a more poetic way, you're actually speaking in images and metaphors. And it's through those images and metaphors that actually, I think, are engaging our consciousness in a completely different way, both through the images, but also through the rhythm at which you're speaking. It's through that rhythm that starts to engender a certain amount of trance states. And I think that with that rhythmic nature of the poetry, that that's actually tuning into these different dimensions of our consciousness. And just the way that I think about that is the cordovium, where there's the Pythagorean ideas at all is number and so just numbers arithmetic numbers in space is geometry Numbers and time was music and numbers in space and time was astronomy But it's that numbers and time as being music and rhythm There is something magical and mystical about that that is able to translate something that is quantitative But we're able to communicate some sort of qualitative aspect and feeling but there's something about music in general that is just an emotional medium and I to really explain that is something that kind of pushes the reductive science down to its limits because it's something that actually combines both holistically, but also the way that we perceive it. There's kind of like this magical dimension of music that is a bit of a mystery. And it's something that the jazz of physics has been using these different metaphors of music to be able to actually think a little bit more holistically when we look at the structure of the universe. And that's what the jazz of physics book is really trying to make this connection between music and the nature of reality. So there's so much more in this podcast. I mean, I did this interview and then like two weeks later, I talked about the philosophical foundations of virtual reality at another keynote in Toronto. And this was so dense that I wasn't able to digest it, but I was trying to in the keynote that I gave in Toronto. give a little bit of a framing between Plato and Aristotle and how there's this kind of dialectic between the believing in something like a transcendent ideal realm, which I think in a lot of ways Jordan Peterson was representing that in the debate. And then the more Aristotelian, like the only thing that is real is things that can be empirically proven and falsified. That's a little bit more of the Aristotelian tradition that I think that Sam Harris was representing. And so this is a debate and dialogue that I think is still continuing today. And in my keynote, I was trying to take a lot of these insights and kind of synthesize it into maybe a different meta framework to be able to understand and be able to dive into all these different philosophical thinkers. So that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member to the Patreon. This is a listeners-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.