Simulation Politics: Persuasion and Possibility
From the earliest man who used forms of ‘predictive modeling’ of future predators to plot their next movement, to contemporary epidemiological simulations that predict our movement en masse, we have always been embedded in acts of simulation. We need to be able to predict future actions – and affective responses – to be able to survive physical threats, and complex social settings. We simulate constantly; we use simulations to model hurricanes and stars exploding; we create long-lasting public policy and law based on predictions that are taken as truth, despite being virtual evidence. Simulation helps determine how warm and cool air masses will move; how to train in battle and space flight; how humans will respond to fear and an unknown quantity; how water levels will rise, and then, how people will leave a flooded city. Simulation dominates our shared cognitive and computational landscapes, but is, strangely, still obscurely understood as a science in wider culture.
As a result, narratives of simulation as truth, or near-truth, come to dominate culture. As this year has demonstrated, simulations strongly guide and overdetermine individual choices for navigating through scenarios with big Unknowns. Simulations actively shape reality; they build worlds. How simulations are communicated – can dangerously flatten necessary complexity and nuance in favor of scalable prediction, which tends to create devastating real-world consequences. Further, the story of simulations as representations of good-enough or near-truths about what’s to come, abrades the public’s ability to see possible points of intervention, debate, and contestation.
In these seminars, we will dig deeper into simulation: as science, yes, but further, as mental and cognitive strategy, as a powerful collaborative tool for negotiation within complex settings. We will examine a few dominant simulations and models, in order to understand them as persuasive tools as much as statistical ones. What happens to our engagement with simulations when we understand them as rhetorical tools which convince us of a kind of reality? How does our relationship to simulations change when we understand how their embedded assumptions produce reality?
By engaging with philosophers and theorists of simulation, cognition, and rhetoric, we venture to explore simulation as collaborative practice. We will examine forms of simulation, mapping, and modeling that predate computation, like semantic walking maps, and early forms of simulated sound and movement. Working within a larger landscape, we will examine the messiness of simulations, as wild, collaborative compromises between conflicting perspectives and worldviews. Simulations reveal themselves as rife with conflict and choices between competing worldviews and ideologies, a necessary diversity that helps us maneuver through a world of uncertain knowledge and emergent complexity. As we find our day to day shaped by competing predictions of our behavior, choices, and movement, we might brainstorm collaborative practice of simulation and predictive thinking. Throughout, as we look at modes of world-building, through short prompts and guided exercises, we will together debate, unpack, and attempt to design some of our own rough models and simulations as a group.
- Questions we’ll probe:
- If we understand arguments for the brain as a simulator, constantly predicting and strategizing in relation to virtual evidence, what methods of revision and reevaluation should we consider using actively?
- How might we think critically about simulation as a mental strategy, and a mode that we constantly enact in order to survive?
- How can we learn to sort between competing simulations to make the best model for our own ethical action?
- How do simulations embed cultural fantasies and narratives – such as the frontier, or the blank slate? How do techno-utopian or technocratic ideals find their way into ‘objective’ simulations?
- How do we make simulations that allow for clashing personal and social histories?
- Who do we (culturally) predict and imagine living well into the future?
Mon, Nov 30, 20206:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Tue, Dec 1, 20206:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Wed, Dec 2, 20206:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Nora N. Khan is a writer of criticism. She is on the faculty of Rhode Island School of Design, Digital + Media, teaching critical theory, artistic research, writing for artists and designers, and technological criticism. She has two short books: Seeing, Naming, Knowing (The Brooklyn Rail, 2019), on machine vision, and with Steven Warwick, Fear Indexing the X-Files (Primary Information, 2017), on fan forums and conspiracy theories online. Forthcoming this year is The Artificial and the Real, through Art Metropole. She is currently an editor of The Force of Art along with Carin Kuoni and Serubiri Moses, and is a longtime editor at Rhizome. She publishes in Art in America, Flash Art, Mousse, 4Columns, Brooklyn Rail, Rhizome, California Sunday, Spike Art, The Village Voice, and Glass Bead. She has written commissioned essays for exhibitions at Serpentine Galleries, Chisenhale, the Venice Biennale, Centre Pompidou, Swiss Institute, and Kunstverein in Hamburg. This year, as The Shed’s first guest curator, she organized the exhibition Manual Override, featuring Sondra Perry, Simon Fujiwara, Morehshin Allahyari, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Martine Syms. Her writing has been supported by a Critical Writing Grant given through the Visual Arts Foundation and the Crossed Purposes Foundation (2018), an Eyebeam Research Residency (2017), and a Thoma Foundation 2016 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art. Her research and writing practice extends to a large range of artistic collaborations, which include librettos, performances, and exhibition essays, scripts, and a tiny house.
Jenn Frank, “Diablo III Deconstructed from Above,” published in Unwinnable.
Francis Tseng, “The World Any Other Way: Simulation and the Expansion of Political Possibility.” From Time, Forward!, published by The V-A-C Foundation, for the 58th Venice Biennale. Essay on the counterfactual politics of simulation, inspired by radical cartography.
Secondary (meaning, to be skimmed if you have time):
Alain Berthoz, The Vicarious Brain, Creator of Worlds. Chapters 1 + 2. Publisher: Harvard University Press.
Aimee Roundtree, Computer Simulation, Rhetoric, and the Scientific Imagination. Excerpts: Chapters 1 and 2. In Chapter 3, please skim section titled “The Case of the Bumblebee Flight Simulation,” on pp. 24-27, and “The Nature of Virtual Evidence,” 34 – Chapter’s End. In Chapter 6, “Simulations in Hurricane Planning,” 94-101.
Lecture: Mitu Khandaker on Social Simulations, GDC 2015
Lecture: Lars TCF Holdhus: Variable World: A Symposium on Simulation
Tertiary (supplemental references used in exercises/talks, no required reading):
Alvin Goldman, Simulating Minds: The Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience of Mindreading
Hito Steyerl: In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective.