Intelligent explosions: performance philosopher Jason Silva.
An alert mind.
“Existential Bummer”, his latest video, received more than 2 million hits in just two weeks. Among the viewers is Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon, who just joined the ranks of Jason’s 58,000 strong Twitter fan base. The big break into mainstream media came with a gig as presenter for National Geographic’s “Brain Games” television series. And that’s just the beginning. With his Venezuelan-rooted boundless energy he is set to go off on even higher tangents. We meet up with Jason on a freezing cold Sunday afternoon at the Hotel Americano in Chelsea, New York, to talk about awe and getting lost in mind-space.
Your videos have turned philosophy into a totally mind-blowing visual experience. How did that happen?
I’m a movie fanatic. The cinema has always been a place for transcendent ecstasy for me. I literally wanted to have an orgiastic affair with the feelings that the film was eliciting. There was this desire to merge with the aesthetic work. An addiction to aesthetic arrest. Cinema also allows you access to the realm of the subjective. My stuff is improvised, steam of consciousness philosophical beat poetry. But for me it’s just thinking out loud and then hyper-mediating my thoughts – with visuals, editing and music so you get to be in my head – which is fun.
From movies to philosophy.
Did film naturally lead you on to philosophy?
There was definitely an interest in heavy ideas, to deconstruct what was happening here. I am a fan of exposition in film. I like it when there is voice-over explaining the ideas. I like films like “Inception”, that also have a philosophical background, or “Vanilla Sky” and “The Game”. When I was a kid I made music videos with my brother which turned into a love for documentation. I loved documenting ecstatic conversations that I would have with my friends when doing a salon, drinking wine and talking about ideas. I would really enjoy watching the videos afterwards.
It was an interesting encounter with myself. That grew into a desire to take these revelatory moments and edit them to music. I wanted people to feel what I was feeling.
Philosophical espressso shots.
You describe your “Shots of Awe” as philosophical espresso shots. What are they?
My philosophical espresso shots explore the co-evolution of humans and technology. How are we using these accelerating technologies to extend our minds? How do we use these tools to tell better stories? How do they transform narratives, how do they transform what it means to be human? I think what people are resonating with is the intensity, passion and wonderment that I am packaging in these videos. As Kierkegaard said – I’m butchering the quote – “don’t talk to me of wealth and power, talk to me about a sense of the possible”. I kind of thrive on that.
“It is all networks.”
How do you remember all those quotes from Kierkegaard, Jung, Freud, etc. Do you have a photographic memory?
I read in pockets. I have these books that I read multiple times and that I revisit, they are kind of poetic and trigger a connection to 50 other sentences. Words resonate. Mathematicians see equations – when I see sentences and words, I see a network of connections. The manic geometry of associational thinking is probably the best description how my brain works. It is all networks. Ideas are networks.
Technology as a second skin.
How much will technology play a role in this?
It has to! Technology is our second skin. This smartphone for instance is mind – technology is our mind, it is the scaffolding that extends our thoughts. The brain is the most complicated object in the universe, it is also very, very limited. We can’t see the very small, so we create a microscope, we can’t see the very far so we create a telescope. “We create the Hubble space telescope and all of a sudden we create the extension of our retina that floats in space and that allows us to mainline the whole of time through the optic nerve” as my friend Wes Anderson once wrote. The mind can perceive on many, many more wavelengths and dimensions that were ever possible before.
Is that going towards the idea of singularity which you are a big believer in?
Absolutely. Think about how much of our time is actually spent in mind-space. When you lose yourself in front of the computer, you lose all sense of time. It’s just mind working in mind-space. If you lose yourself in social media on your smartphone it’s all mind in mind-space. When you watch a movie or a play you are in the landscape of mind. The boundaryless synesthetic space of our imagination. We have always daydreamed to transcend the here and now. When the smarter-than-human minds will come up with possibilities we can’t even imagine it’s called intelligent explosions. People get freaked out because they think it is some mindless robot. It is actually a mindful robot. It is all mind. Just when we invented languages and the smartphones, it was all us.
“I am very profilic in being productive and efficient.”
Who are your favourite thinkers?
I am big fan of Ray Kurzweil; Erik Davis, he wrote “TechGnosis”; I really like Janet H. Murray, author of “Hamlet on the Holodeck”; Richard Doyle who wrote “Darwin’s Pharmacy”; Kevin Kelly, “What Technology Wants”. These are my references. I love Timothy Leary and Carl Sagan. These are my heroes.
Do you wake up “thinking awe”?
I do awe myself. I wake up, have my coffee, go through my phone to check what I need to do that day. And I am very prolific in being productive and efficient. I doesn’t escape me that no matter how outrageous one’s flights of fancy are, you do need to apply that kind of focussed laser brain to get the stuff done. We still live in a world where we’ve got to get food. All the things will be automated eventually. And we’re moving into a universe of our own construction.