Imagine a being capable of living here
What do you predict you will see?
Scene 3. Prosthetic in Origin: We were asked to picture a body, not one composed of inert matter, but buzzing with activity
We were told that the brain is predictive, Bayesian, and so began to imagine a body that forecasts itself into being: where it is in space, even how it looks from the outside. From this perspective the location of our epidermal boundary is a guess, of sorts. Any boundary is provisional, just one Markov blanket to protect against the cold
Our bodies reach out, extend, incorporating their tools: keyboards, touchscreens, digital icons. The logic of prothesis is the origin story for this body, for all bodies it seems. The one we were tasked with designing – of imagining into existence – was to use this prosthetic truth to its advantage, generating a being capable of travelling to other planets
Scene 5. Objectivity has a History: We were warned about the dangers of imagining the body, of turning it into a representation beset by assumptions. We were schooled in the ways that previous images of this kind, even those produced by science, had altered over time. The objective image has a history
Its epistemological standards have shifted, even qualitatively. Alternate images-of-objectivity have been periodically swapped-out, one for the other. We have, it seems, passed through several regimes: Truth to Nature, Mechanical Objectivity, Trained Judgement, most recently coming to rest in an episteme called Seeing is Being
We were told many cautionary tales. One concerned Bernard Siegfried Albinus, professor of anatomy at Leiden, who in his Tabulae Sceleti et Musculorum Corporis Humani (Tables of the Human Body) visualised according to the principle Truth to Nature. He worked with trusted draftsman and engraver Jan Wandelaar to compile the definitive anatomy atlas. The extraordinary images that followed, enlivened by "exotic" backgrounds are, undoubtedly idealised, adopting elegant classical poses no less
The perfect figure is also male, understood to be European. This was an idealisation not figured as contra objectivity, but in the service of this task. In other words, Albinus saw his studies as perfect, that is ideal, and just, that is true or exact. For him there was no contradiction in simultaneously committing to principles of idealisation and veracity. We were asked to imagine how our images would be judged by future aesthetic-engineers, what value-incompatibilities, or straightforward prejudices would be obscured from us, whilst clear to them?
Coda: Welcome to the Institute!