Dialog "Netzwerke und Versammlung"
Sibylle Peters & Arvind Kumar

Bei dem sich bemerkenswerte Parallelen zwischen der Arbeitsweise von Nervenzellverbänden, dem Theater und Demokratiebewegungen der jüngsten Vergangenheit ergeben. Für die Gesprächspartner wird Kontrolle zum zentralen Thema, wobei zur Debatte steht, ob man ein System erst verstanden hat, wenn man es kontrollieren kann, und ob man im Gehirn nach Instanzen suchen sollte, deren Rolle jener der Claqueure im bourgeoisen Theater entspräche. Auch wenn gemeinsame Begrifflichkeiten der Klärung bedürfen, liegt der Konsens nie fern, und beide Dialogpartner stimmen zu, dass im Theater wie auch im Gehirn erst eine Balance aus Liebe und Hass erfolgreiches Funktionieren erlaubt.
Das Gespräch wurde auf Englisch geführt.

1. Kapitel: Noise & Patterns, Network & Control

01:27 Blackout

Due to an electrical overload the fuses blew and everyting went black. Around 1'40" the problem gets fixed and the lights come back on.

03:00 Commentary on the beginning

A much easier way into the dialogue would have been to talk from the start about the moment of awakening. We shortly speak about it around minute 16. As I understood it, to investigate the moment of awakening has been a kind of initial for neuroscience, a paradigmatic scenario. If you want, to investigate the moment of awakening has been an awakening. The story I try to tell here is also about a moment of awakening, but in a social, political sense.

11:00 Commentary on the general dichotomy of neuroscience

When I learned about the major dichotomy neuroscience is operating with, the dichotomoy of excitation/inhibition, I thought that compared to the digital difference of I / 0 or other similar differences like active/passive the interesting thing about excitation vs. inhibition is, that it includes a temporal dimension. It says something about what happens next: the next node will fire or not fire. Of course, this produces temporal complexities like synchronicities and that which Kumar calls ‚temporal gating’.

2. Kapitel: Back To The Brain (Neurons vs. Persons)

15:55 Exkurs: Charles Scott Sherrington

Charles Scott Sherringtonwas an English neuroscientist who won the Nobel prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1932 for his work on how muscles are activated by collective activity of incoming neuronal activity. He is also known to introduce the term ‘synapse’ which is the chemical connection between neurons. He used the metaphor of a mechanical looming machine in which various shuttles moves (according to a certain rule) and weave a pattern. In the view of Sherrington, neurons in the brain also behave in a similar way. He authored the popular science book ‘Man on his nature’ in which he compared brain to the enchanted looms.

17:55 Commentary on Control Nodes

The term node refers to an element of the network e.g. in a network of neurons, nodes are neurons, in a network of airports, airport are the nodes and so on… These are crucial nodes, mainly defined by their connectivity to other nodes in the network, which upon their activation have a full control over the state of the system. These are also referred to as driver nodes because they can be used to drive/guide the network state to a desired state.

18:40 Commentary on Claqueure

I used this term to compare a certain phenomenon used in theatre to guide the applause during/after a performance. Claqueuer were the people planted in the audience who would initiate an applause at crucial points in the performance and lead audience into a certain ‘state’. In some way, the Claqueure were the control nodes of the network of audience.

3. Kapitel: (Self)-Control, Model-Building

22:20 Commentary on Plastic System (in Neuro, in Social)

Plasticity refers to a property of a material or system to changes its properties (e.g. shape) when a force is applied and does not return to its original state when the forces is removed. Elastic material return to their original shape when the forces is removed. Plasticity of the brain refers to the fact that the elements of the brain such as the neurons and the connections are not constant. Instead, properties of the neurons and connections (synapses) keep changing. Some of the changes are spontaneous, in other cases, properties of the neurons and synapses are changed because of their activity. In the last 50 years or so we have discovered a number of mechanisms by which plastic changes appear. On the behavioural level, plasticity means that the behavioural output of the brain can be altered by training and experience.

24:30 Commentary on Temproral Gating

This is a concept we introduced to explain selective communication between neuronal networks. When neurons are grouped in specialised modules, there need to communicate in a specific manner. However, connections in the brain are formed more or less randomly. How can we achieve selective communication in such a system. For that we introduced the idea of temporal gating in which a shadow inhibition (or inverse signal) is also communicated with the actual signal with a temporal delay. If the delay is too big everything goes through, for smaller delay one can filter out specific aspects of the communication. This is part of the general concept of ‘gating’ which also talks about the magnitude of the inverse signal.

4. Kapitel: Theatre & Brain: The Art of Being Many

29:00 Commentary on Polani, Granowetter, Travis

Karl Polanyi [Economist and Anthropologist] introduced the idea of ‘substantives’ which is very similar to the notion of embeddedness that Granovertter talked about.
Robert Trivers [Evolutionary Biologist] introduced the notion of weak and many social connections.
Mark Granovetter [Economist] introduced the idea of social embeddedness which describes who is connected in the social network and how such embeddedness affects the chances to get specific (novel) information from others. I was specifically inspired by the work of Granovetter and translated that to our models of neuronal networks and it does provide some very interesting insights. For instance, this idea meant that knowing the activity of neurons is not sufficient to call any neuronal activity meaningful for the animal behaviour. To conclusively attributed a certain neuronal activity to behaviour we need to know the ‘embeddedness’ of the neurons that are generating the activity.

35:15 Commentary on Brain Activity Map

Brain activity refers to the activity of neurons and neuronal populations. In addition, it also refers to the levels of different chemicals (such as the neurotransmitters and neuromodulators) that change according to the state of the brain. The brain activity map is a goal to achieve the activity of neurons and neuronal populations in different behavioural states of the brain. This idea is the main motivation behind the launch of the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative in the USA. In this initiative, a number of new technologies will be developed to read the activity of the brain at different spatial and temporal scales in multiple behavioural states. 

5. Kapitel: The Expectation of Technology

42:20 Commentary on the status of a rehearsal

Here I said that a rehearsal with the audience present can never be a rehearsal. Afterwards I wondered: Is this really true? This thought became actually quite important for THE ART OF BEING MANY. Together with geheimagentur collective I wrote a text about „Being Many“ in which I discuss if being many can be rehearsed and argue that yes, it can. You can read a short version of the text as a part of THE ART OF BEING MANY Magazine here.