Archive for January, 2008

Energy Studies

I bought a few books at the MIT Press Bookstore yesterday by Vaclav Smil, a professor at the University of Manitoba who does interdisciplinary studies of energy and the environment.  The first one, Energies:  An Illustrated Guide to the Biosphere and Civilization, is very much like the book I wanted to write about “Energonomics” insofar as it attempts to bridge the gaps in the sciences of modern energy studies:

Its basic idea is to offer a comprehensive and integrated survey of the energies shaping our world, from the Sun to pregnancy, from bread to microchips.  Naturally, such a sweep demands both a logical progression and selectivity.

So he begins with planetary energy flows, moves to plant and animal life, which leads to “human energetics” and then to energy usage throughout the history of society and culture.  While Smil focuses primarily on science, I am interested in bridging the science of energy flows with the social sciences and humanities.  For example, what is the energy value of a particular idea?  How do ideas (or “memes”) attract the energy of individuals such that they debate, fight, even die for them?  What is the science and sociology of such transmission?  So there might be a place for energonomics within this field.

19 January 2008 at 2:24 pm 1 comment


While visiting the MIT Press bookstore the other day, I picked up the “MIT Press 2008 Philosophy” catalog, and on the back is featured a book called The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World by Owen Flanagan, which tries to address the question of “How can we make sense of the magic and mystery of life naturalistically, without an appeal to the supernatural….if we accept the fact that we are finite material beings living in a material world, or, in Flanagan’s description, short-lived pieces of organized cells and tissue?”

His answer, according to this catalogue description, is in trying to achieve a life of eudaimonia — to be a “happy spirit.” Flanagan names his new area of study “Eudaimonics”: the inquiry into the nature, causes, and conditions of human flourishing. He draws on philosophy, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and psychology as well as non-theistic spiritual traditions (Buddhism, Confucianism, Stoicism, Aristotelianism) in trying to discover how we can enhance human flourishing and how to live a meaningful life.

This is very much in line with my study of energonomics and echoes previous posts on “positive psychology” and “psychoenergonomics.” Energonomics attempts to have us focus on managing energy flows that come into our bodies (from the food sources that we eat). One goal is to discover how we can manage energy flows in our brains to maximize human flourishing, in the words of Flanagan. This looks like a book to put on my long list of books to read.

18 January 2008 at 9:13 pm 3 comments

Embodied Cognition

Just a quick post to note that the Boston Globe ran a story today on “Embodied Cognition” titled “Don’t Just Stand There, Think.”  It mentions George Lakoff and Raphael Nunez’s book Where Mathematics Comes From, which I’ve blogged on before.

When I read about “the role that movement seems to play even in abstract thinking,” it made me think of my presentation for the Imaging Place Conference last February, the PowerPoint slides for which are available at (there are two parts).  In that talk I asked about how we might think differently given the use of 3-D virtual worlds.  Now I’m thinking that I should have said how we can enhance or engage our embodied cognition by thinking in 3-D worlds.

Here’s an example.  For a particularly abstract and complicated theory, we create an allegorical space in Second Life that allows the user to use his or her avatar to move through the space and thereby allow the engagement of embodied cognition (via mirror neurons) to facilitate comprehension of the subject.

13 January 2008 at 9:42 am Leave a comment

The Energonomics of Sensation

Last night I watched the movie Love is the Devil, about (20th century artist) Francis Bacon’s relationship with George Dyer.  The movie was incredibly powerful and impressed me (literally–pressed upon me, like I was a lump of metal being pressed into a coin) with its images.  The movie used images of blood and meat, pervasive in the paintings of Bacon, in combination with  eery music and strange camera effects, to express the pain of Dyer’s obsessive love for Bacon.

So I pulled out my Deleuze books this morning, for Deleuze devoted a whole book to Francis Bacon in developing his concept of the “logic of sensation.”   I settled on Jennifer Daryl Slack’s essay “The Logic of Sensation” in Gilles Deleuze:  Key Concepts (edited by Charles Stivale).  According to Slack, Sensation is “that which exceeds intellectual control and works directly on and through the nervous system” (135).  It is “force made visible, audible, and/or palpable, and is thus embodied.  For Bacon the challenge is to paint the sensation that makes invisible forces visible:  to paint pressure, contraction, elongation, a scream and so on” (135).  To experience Sensation in this sense, we must “‘enter’ the event, live the sensation in the body, become the sensation” (136).  Later, she speaks of entering the event of watching The Matrix and uses this as an example to try to show how the logic of sensation works rather than explaining it, rather than imposing a story upon it.  Here is what she writes about it:

I invite you to encounter The Matrix from within the space of these sensations: within what adolescence feels like. The film is not about adolescence, but for reasons I could only begin to guess at, the film transmits sensations of adolescence directly onto the nervous system.  They are enfleshed sensations that render visible the otherwise invisible forces that work in adolescence. . . (137-38)

This made me think of my concept of energonomics, the part of it that tries to explain the materiality of memetic transfer.  That is, the material process of how an idea can be conveyed (literally) from one person’s mindbrain to another’s.  While Deleuze is not here directly speaking of ideas or concepts but of sensations (what he would call “percepts” in What is Philosophy?), the mechanism of transfer is the same. The brain is part of the nervous system, so that is not too far from this transmission of sensations “directly onto the nervous system.”  It occurs to me that thought can be considered a sensation from this point of view–pure sensation, but of another sort than mere touching, tasting, feeling, hearing, or seeing.  Perhaps a condensation of sensual sensation, or a twining, or the memory of sensation, its storage for future recall–a result of evolutionary survivalism, but since we’ve created societies where survival is relatively assured, our memory is freed up.  Forgive me as I allow this thread of thought to ramble forth:

So how do we remember the things we remember?   I am thinking of two or three memorable moments that I would describe as “sensations.”  One was experiencing the finale to the Blue Man Group, with loud dance music, strobe lights, and flowing white toilet paper billowing throughout the theatre.  This is nothing that can be explained to somebody; it has to be directly experienced.  Another similar moment was the ordination of Karen Tse as a Unitarian Universalist minister, during which she had a Chinese Dragon dance accompanied by loud and persistent drumming.  Both involved heavy drum beats and intense spectacles.

I’ll have to think more about all of this, but I wanted to capture the connection between the logic of sensation as presented by Slack and the concept of energonomics as understood by Robert Aunger’s sense of the “electric meme.”

12 January 2008 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment

January 2008
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