Pushing and Pulling

Hyphen Labs, PushMi PullYu, 2020

Hyphen-Labs on Free Will

Libertarians believe: Our decisions are not constrained by the determinist nature of the world. There is free will. Compatibilists believe: It doesn’t matter if our decisions are constrained by the determinist nature of the world, as long as they are our decisions and they follow what we want. There is free will. Hard determinists believe: Our decisions are constrained by the determinist nature of ›the world‹. There is no free will. Neuroscientists believe: Our decisions are constrained by the determinist nature of our ›brain‹. There is no free will.

Philosophers, scientists, psychologists, and thinkers thus have all pondered the question: Do we have free will? Answering this question will help to define and understand the rules of our universe, bind it by logic, and theoretically give us the tools to make predictions or, in science fiction scenarios, read our minds. This question can feel impossibly complex and by simplifying the context neuroscience is able to ask specific questions around when we make decisions. As there are different kinds of decisions there are also different experiences of free will. Professor John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist and Director of the Berlin Center for Advanced Neuroimaging at Charité Berlin, researches these questions. His experimentation reveals that in non-responsible decisions, brain activity is involved in decision making up to seven seconds prior to the point at which a conscious decision is made.

If an individual’s decisions can be predicted, what happens to our collective behavior? When a network of agents with pre-determined behaviors collides, can order or complexity emerge?

Our individual and collective consciousness gives us agency and awareness. But which part is responsible for all the decision making? Our brain? Our mind? The robots in our installation ›PushMi PullYu‹ represent the individual and collective but also the mind and the body. They swarm, make decisions, move within set borders, experience outside influences and have individual interactions. Their paths are based on arbitrary human decisions painting temporary canvases of collective thoughts on the wall. Depending on your position ›PushMi PullYu‹ represents two separate universes: one where the future is warped, constantly championing free will; or one that alters the present with the decisions of the past in a deterministic simulation. Who, then, is pulling? And who is pushing?


Hyphen-Labs: PushMi PullYu
12 SEP—23 NOV 2020
Opening 11 SEP, noon—8pm


You might also like this