Björn Franke

Mind Hygiene

“The human is not born but made,” claimed Erasmus of Rotterdam. Following this claim, the human subject arises through education and through cultivation of ones individuality. The self is not a biological condition but must be created. Since the self and the human have to be made, created or designed, I would like to ask, what kind of selves and humans are made today? And how are they made?

The making, transformation, and transcendence of the human being have long been subjects of philosophic inquiry. The discussion about the design of humans, however, is mainly centered around the body—the cyborg or the genetically engineered designer baby. Rather than investigates the bodily design of humans, this project investigates the psychological design of humans.

The current scientific and technological advances, especially in the neurosciences, may allow one to manipulate, control, and test the self far more effectively and instantly than earlier technologies would have allowed. Progress in the scientific understanding of human cognition and behavior, as well as the potential modification of these factors, challenge long-held beliefs about responsibility, autonomy, and free will. Technological developments in the fields of artificial intelligence, human/ machine interfaces, and implant technology further blur the boundaries between human and non-human. These changes challenge moral and ethical concepts, human identity, and agency, and may gradually transform the human into what might be called the posthuman. These new technologies of the self do not require one to work on oneself anymore, but have become instrumental turning humans into technological selves. In a neuroscientific world, the self is produced less through introspection and training, than through neurotechnological testing and manipulation.

The project Mind Hygiene (2009–ongoing) is an inquiry into these new possibilities of self-making. It consists of three devices for testing and changing the self.

Empathy Scale. A sequence of images is presented to the test subject. The empathic state is measured by analyzing the micro–gestural responses to the images on the screen. In the case of a low empathic response, the images become more brutal; in the case of a high empathic response, they become gentler.

True Love. Two subjects stand on the apparatus facing each other. On pressing the button, a gas flows through the outlets. This gas activates the production of a pair-bonding neurotransmitter in the brain which will create a permanent bond between the subjects.

Mirror Stage. The response to one’s own mirror image is measured through a neurofeedback device, which analyzes the subject’s brain waves. If the subject is in a euphoric or tranquil state, the image stays clear; if the subject is in a disturbed or upset state, the image becomes blurry. The device thereby aids the development of a positive self-image.

See also Frieder Nake’s essay, Semiotic Animal | Semiotic Machine: Machinizing the Work of Our Heads—A Feast for the Inhuman Human.

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