[Excerpts:] Parsing the neuronal sensorium is already to dismantle through analysis that which we imagine to be a comprehensive totality. If our sensorium is the sensing package that constitutes our participation in the world, then it follows that this assemblage of sensory inputs defines our boundaries, making the world present to us and by subtraction making us present to ourselves as beings in the world. This package can only seem to do this if it disappear-if it works invisibly, silently, quickly, and reliably.

All circuits take time, and in that time is anticipation (eagerness and prediction) and apprehension (anxiety and under- standing). Is the signal true or false? The specific structure of anticipation and apprehension is the subject or psyche of the circuit. Each splits internally into affect and rationality.

Every gap is a proto-subject, every neuron-transponder ina sea of gaps is a proto-subject, and every neuronal interaction introduces interpretable delay. So each group of neurons, any cut or isolated circuit can be thought of as a subject with relation to the rest. And the form of that cut is psyche (or subject)–with its own sensorium, its own affect. Change a portion of the sensorium, change the timing, and the form of life is different.

This kind of neuroexistentialism (as I call it) counters all of those in cognitive psychology who presume to know already the “normal” programs of the brain/mind. The functioning machine is the model for such views of cognition, but if the machine itself is neurotic, we end up in a very different place. Machines always “work”–the question is how we might understand this “working.” McCulloch’s machines generate mysteries that are comparable to human ones–humans in all their neurotic, pathological, wily strangeness. He doesn’t bother with defining differences between humans and machines, but looks at kinds of circuits. His question is not: “Is man a machine?” but more productively, “Which machines are neurotic in ways that some people are neurotic? Which people get sick the way that some machines get sick? Which machines remember the ways that some people remember?”



“Neuroexistentialism,” chapter in Abecedarius of the Sensorium, Exhibition Catalogue, Caroline A. Jones, ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press


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