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Hacking the Brain? Histories of Technology and Mind Control

16. Juni – 17. Juni 2022 

Hybrid con­fer­ence orga­nized by The Cen­tre for Health and Human­i­ties at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Groningen 

The world today is haunt­ed by dreams and anx­i­eties about tech­nol­o­gy and the brain, from the role of com­pa­nies such as Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca in elec­tions to hyper­cap­i­tal­ist visions of seam­less con­sumerism and con­cerns about the pow­er of ‘behav­iour mod­i­fi­ca­tion’ in a world ‘sur­veil­lance cap­i­tal­ism’. More broad­ly, pro­found assump­tions of tech­nol­o­gy as a form of stim­u­lat­ing ‘input’ lead­ing to emo­tion­al arousal in a com­put­er-like brain, a stim­u­lus-response mech­a­nism akin to an elec­tric charge, are at the heart of much of both the defence and cri­tique of the emerg­ing dig­i­tal world.

How­ev­er, fears about the pow­er of mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy to make human sub­jects into the pup­pets of unseen mas­ters to manip­u­late whole pop­u­la­tions are not a new phe­nom­e­non. Twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry anx­i­eties draw on decades of dis­course on dif­fer­ent types of tech­nol­o­gy as vehi­cles for brain­wash­ing, hyp­no­sis or mind con­trol tech­niques, adding a tech­no­log­i­cal angle to tra­di­tions of ‚mag­i­cal’ objects sup­pos­ed­ly able to ‚enchant’ oth­ers. In con­texts as diverse as Enlight­en­ment Mes­merism, psy­chi­atric diag­noses relat­ed to ‚Influ­enc­ing Machines,’ Cold War Behav­iourist mod­els of stim­u­lat­ed sub­jects, Crit­i­cal The­o­ry denun­ci­a­tions of the ‚Cul­ture Indus­try’ and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries about every­thing from TV to 5G net­works, the notion of tech­nol­o­gy as a means of mind con­trol has had a pow­er­ful attraction.

This con­fer­ence will exam­ine this shift­ing dis­course, look­ing at the role of tech­no­log­i­cal, cul­tur­al, ide­o­log­i­cal and med­ical fac­tors in fram­ing fears about cul­ture, tech­nol­o­gy and indi­vid­ual autonomy.

A full pro­gramme is avail­able now! The excit­ing list of speak­ers includes:

James Ken­n­away, Maarten Derk­sen, Bernd Boe­sel, Mike Jay, Rebec­ca Lemov, Natascha Dow Schull, Ken­neth White, Antho­ny Ems, Marc Tuters, Pas­cal Rousseau, Andreas Killen, Fleur Hop­kins and Jef­frey Sconce. There will be a num­ber of places avail­able for non-speak­ers to attend in per­son for a very small fee. Par­tic­i­pa­tion via Zoom will also be pos­si­ble, for free.

Please con­tact if you would like to join us.


16 June 2022

13:00–14:00 / Registration/lunch

14:00–15:30 Pan­el 1- British Mind Control

Mike Jay, “Mind Control’s Patient Zero: James Tilly Matthews and the Air Loom”

Rho­dri Hay­ward, (Queen Mary, Lon­don), TBA

15:30–15:45 / Tea and coffee

15:45–17:15 Pan­el 2 – Brain Control

Rebec­ca Lemov (Har­vard), “Just Because They’re After You: The Return of Brain Con­trol in Anti-Vio­lence Sci­en­tif­ic Cru­sades of the 1970s.”

Antho­ny Enns (Dal­housie), “Brain Con­trol: The Weaponiza­tion of Psy­chotech­nolo­gies in Cold War Science.”

17:15–17:30 / Tea and coffee

17:30–19:00 Pan­el 3 – Mind Con­trol and Capitalism

Bernd Bösel (Pots­dam), “The Spec­tre of Dig­i­tal Mind Con­trol: Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Sur­veil­lance Cap­i­tal­ism and its Critics.”

Natasha Dow Schull (NYU), “Cus­tom Mind Con­trol: Per­son­al­ized Volatil­i­ty in Dig­i­tal Gambling.”

19:15 / Din­ner – Bistro ‘t Gerecht

17 June 2022

12:00–12:15 / Lunch

12:15–13:45 Pan­el 4 – Control

Maarten Derk­sen (Gronin­gen), “Con­trol out of Control.”

Marc Tuters (Ams­ter­dam), The Con­cept of ‘Con­trol’ in Media The­o­ry and Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ry about the Internet.”

13:45–14:00 / Tea and coffee

14:00–16:15 Pan­el 5 – Cul­tures of Mind Control

Fleur Hop­kins-Lofer­on (Paris), “Par­a­site Cul­ture: Host Manip­u­la­tion in SF Imag­i­nary (1980–2020).”

James Ken­n­away (Gronin­gen), “Tech­nol­o­gy and Enchant­ment: Musi­cal Mind Con­trol in Con­spir­a­cy Theory.”

Ken­neth White (Bing­ham­ton), “Hyper­ven­ti­la­tion Syn­drome: Media Cul­tures, Con­trol Societies—circa 1970.”

16:15–16:30 / Tea and coffee

16:30–18:00 Pan­el 6 – Paranoia

Andreas Killen (City Col­lege), “Stro­bo­scope and the Para­noid Style.”

Jef­frey Sconce (North­west­ern), “Field and Stream in Para­noid Ideation.”