“Improvising Consciousness,” by Professor Jennifer Årnstay

Posted on Monday, January 25th, 2010 at 1:12 am

Professor Jennifer Årnstay


The IMPCON performative lecture purports to be a scholarly account of human cognition from 2.5M BCE – 3,000 CE. The lecturer is Jennifer Årnstay, Professor of Material and Analogical Eco-Cognition and recipient of the Zen Dyson Award for InterZonal Exploration, visiting from an unspecified time and place.

Professor Årnstay says, “Do you ever feel you can’t put the true richness of your thoughts into words? Do you ever wake up and find the solution to a nagging problem is suddenly in your head? What is really going on in our minds: hiding in there behind language? My lecture will explain!”

The lecture critiques existing theories that equate human intelligence with language, men, and rationality. Instead it focuses on analogical- and visually-based cognitive processes. With conscious paradox the lecture uses dramatic story-telling to make an argument that language and narrative distort and limit our cognitive capacities. Elegantly consolidating the past, present and future of humanity, the “Improvising Consciousness” lecture provides unparalleled insight to our current Aerea  (area/era) and to those of future generations, who will very likely have radically different minds than our own.

The Improvising Consciousness lecture is by turns creative non-fiction and cognitive science fiction. It is inspired by texts that stand outside the mainstream of psychological or cognitive theories. Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind posits an unconscious pre-historic mind in which the two hemispheres had radically different functions. He suggests that the creation of a spatial metaphor of the mind was a crucial step in the formation of consciousness as we know it. In When Rabbit Howls, (the troops for) Truddi Chase describe a long interior tunnel populated by multiple personalities, crazily expanding this spatial metaphor while suggesting the possibility of an even more radical distribution of cognitive function than a bicameral mind. A third influence was Carlos Casteneda, whose (real or imaginary) teacher Don Juan split Carlos’ consciousness, hiding part of his mind and the lessons taught to that part of the mind, from him.

Credits: Josephine Anstey wrote and designed the lecture and performs as Jennifer Årnstay.

** Related Events **

The Improvising Consciousness Lecture is still evolving. The lecture or lecture excerpts were performed at:

  • Creativity and Cognition Conference, Sydney Australia, June 2013
  • Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, Buffalo, NY, May 2013
  • As part of the Improvising Consciousness Medicine Show in July 2012.
  • The first version of the lecture was accompanied by Interactive Workshops in January 2012:

Jan 2012 Interactive workshop

The ABC’s of Love

Davian Bead Game


The Voice

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