about

Hi, I’m Emma, welcome to my website.

I’m a PhD candidate in ASPECT and instructor in the Political Science department at Virginia Tech. My research is interdisciplinary, spanning political theory, continental philosophy and STS. My dissertation addresses the epistemic impact of digital technology by exploring the use of qualitative, non-digital methods in psychedelic drug research.

A web-based version of my curriculum vitae is at this link.

I am also a freelance writer and musician. Sometimes I post original recordings and writings here.

Otherwise:

Here are links to select recent publications
My academia.edu homepage
Music: http://stamm.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @turing_tests
I like it when people put things here
This site has a blogroll! Yes, like it’s 2003. Check it
And you can contact me via email: stamm@vt.edu.

Thanks for visiting!

— Emma Stamm

writing warnings

[0] Fact: writing is made of words, not ideas.

[1] “Nothing is like an idea so much as an idea” — Bishop Berkeley

[2] Fact: writingideas, and content all refer to different entities.

[3] “I myself prefer an Argentine fantasy. God did not create a Book of Nature of the old sorts Europeans imagined. He wrote a Borgesian library, each book of which is as brief as possible, yet each book of which is inconsistent with every other. For each book, there is some humanly accessible bit of Nature [‘the natural’] such that that book, and no other, makes possible the comprehension, prediction and influencing of what’s going on” — Ian Hacking on Borges and Berkeley

[4] The writing I like cuts through the hell of sameness that is the digital space (and capitalism! Capital writ large)

[5] Sometimes it says nothing … (from John Cage’s book Silence)

[6] “All great writers are great deceivers” — Vladimir Nabokov

[7] Magic is stronger when it remains in the occult, and writers have to be careful as they pick from their spellbook. Like the joke about jazz, it’s what you don’t hear that counts.

////note that this post is old, stuck to the top of the site for ★ dark purposes ★

For what I really think about writing see Mark Fisher

 

I’m working on a précis of my dissertation. I also wrote an addendum which focuses on the benefits of this research to Critical Data Studies, my major field.

Here’s what I have so far:

On the purpose of my dissertation: I am a scholar in the field of Critical Data Studies (or CDS). My project interrogates Big Data as a source epistemic legitimation. I explore the epistemic predicates on which Big Data and the computational techniques it has necessitated, e.g. data science, are accepted as a priori sources of knowledge and facticity. I identify these predicates as a cohesive system which I name “the epistemic regime of data.” I offer that contemporary research on the use of psychedelic substances in psychiatry substantiates a critical intervention in the epistemic regime of data.

To position psychedelic science against Big Data, I examine the rationale provided for the use of non-digital methods by clinical researchers. I use studies from authorized psychedelic studies to articulate the logic by which digital methods are often expressed as insufficient in this field. These philosophical pretexts are incommensurate with those on which Big Data is invested with intellectual privilege.

As digital technologies proliferate, the presumptive epistemic authority of Big Data is a matter of growing social concern. Psychedelic science has been marginalized due to misinformation and disrepute. I am committed to it, however, because it is deeply useful toward a critical theorization of data’s epistemic regime.

Regarding how Critical Data Studies stands to benefit from my work: CDS investigates the cultural, historical and theoretical factors supporting the expansion of Big Data. The epistemic reverberations of Big Data in society constitute a major site of inquiry for CDS scholars.

Highly specific approaches are required to identify the therapeutic properties of psychedelics. Orthodoxy must be considered in light of these chemicals’ unusual effects. Methodological reflections in this field are robust and reflexive. Read as a body of literature, psychedelic science methodology compasses an immanent critique of the epistemic regime of data.

Studies on psychedelics flourished in the postwar era. These investigations withstood an idle period in later decades, but have been recently revived. During this latent spell, digital computation significantly expanded. It is productive to develop technology criticism through psychedelic studies. Deployed as a framework, psychedelic science has myriad unique benefits to offer CDS.

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Next stop is San Diego for the 2019 Western Political Science Association conference, and after that, Roanoke for Gender, Bodies, and Technology. At some point I want to write a post that clarifies some basic connections between the ideas that are central to these (quite different) talks. The red threads are there, and after multiple years of work, I still think they’re fascinating and beautiful 🙂

I’ll make that post when I have the time!

SPECTRA 7.1!

The latest edition of SPECTRA is now available online: https://spectrajournal.org/14/volume/7/issue/1/

SPECTRA is a peer-reviewed journal of critical, eclectic scholarship that crosses disciplinary bounds. 7.1 includes articles on algorithms and phenomenology, the changing concept of “failure” in neoliberal work environments, and state power after Max Weber. There is also an interview with political theorist Michael Shapiro and reviews of Wendy Brown’s Undoing The Demos and Christian Fuchs’s Digital Demagogue.

I’ve been part of the SPECTRA crew for a year and will step up as co-editor for 7.2. As soon as it’s ready, the call for papers will be posted to the site ( & I’ll also post here ofc )

I’ll be speaking at six conferences this spring. These talks are all based on my dissertation. In chronological order:

1. ASPECT Graduate Conference, 21-23 March. Talk title: “Algorithmic Determinacy and Interpretative Psychedelic Science.” Date/time of presentation: 22 March, 11AM-12:45PM

2. Theorizing the Web, 12-13 April. Talk title: “The Electric Kool Aid Turing Test: Psychedelics, Phenomenology and Automated Intelligence.” Date/time of presentation 11 April, 1:30PM-2:45PM

3. Western Political Science Association, 18-20 April. Talk title: “Machine Learning and The Algorithmic Cancellation Of The Future.” Date/time of presentation: 20 April, 10-11:45AM

4. Gender, Bodies, Technology, 25-27 April. Talk title: “Acid Feminism: Psychedelic Dimensions of Gender Performativity ” Date/time of presentation: 26 April, 1:15-2:45PM

5. Society for Philosophy of Technology, 20-22 May. Talk title: “Abducting Intelligence: Psychedelic Research Methods and The Epistemic Limits of Machines.” Date/time of presentation TBA

6. Computer Ethics-Philosophical Enquiry, 28-30 May. Talk title: “Psychedelic Science, Digital Automation and Risk.” Date/time of presentation TBA.

Here are the abstracts for 2, 3 and 4:

— “Psychedelic Science and Algorithmic Governance”

In this paper, I argue that justifications given for the use of qualitative and non-digital methods in psychedelic drug research can be leveraged toward a theoretical critique of artificial intelligence. I draw from scholarship that uses non-digital techniques, and in particular interpretative phenomenological analysis, as hermeneutic devices for verbal data produced by psychedelic psychiatry research. I also invoke the machine learning functions of induction, generalization and classification — described briefly and without needless jargon — to explore the problems of subjecting data from non-digital psychedelic science to processing by A.I. systems. This in turn indicates how the rationale for non-digital frameworks in psychedelic science envelops an immanent critique of the notion of automated and/or artificial “intelligence.”

I begin by stating that the psychedelic renaissance, i.e. the current resurgence of medical research on psychedelics, includes an emerging paradigm which emphasizes interpretive and self-reflexive methodological frameworks in evaluating verbal “trip reports” given by human research subjects. This reflexive approach recognizes a certain Gestalt characteristic of psychedelic therapy, wherein the whole of the experience is felt to supersede the sum of any discrete and/or computable research variables — factors that might be reductively expressed as digital (i.e. discrete) data and/or machine learning classifiers. This, I contend, makes information from non-digital psychedelic research resistant to effective processing in A.I. systems. It furthermore means that a comprehensive picture of the medically effective properties of psychedelics must include information made by non-automated and non-digital methods.

I proceed to offer that my argument for the limits of digital automation techniques in the arena of psychedelic drug research can be extrapolated to a more general critique of A.I. Here, I return to my claims regarding the epistemic shortcomings of inductive, classificatory and probabilistic reasoning, functions which are enshrined in machine learning and A.I. Extant literature on psychedelic science indicates novelty and pattern-breaking as central to these drugs’ psychiatric effectiveness. In other words, the therapeutically active qualities of psychedelic drugs cannot be expressed by knowledge-production functions based on inductive reasoning (as in A.I.). This in turn indicates that psychedelic science can be leveraged toward a general theory of knowledge which cannot be produced or informed by A.I.

— “Machine Learning and The Algorithmic Cancellation of the Future”

In this paper I explore the impact of machine learning algorithms on the data they process. I make a two-part argument. First, that the inductive basis of machine learning functionality forecloses their capacity to produce outcomes with no ancestral relation to their training data. This has a protracted winnowing effect on content, which is a political concern due to the growing presence of machine learning algorithms in various facets of communal and individual life. I maintain that the a priori restrictions placed by algorithms on data constitute an emerging hegemonic order. Second, that an intervention in this scenario can be staged through an examination of non-digital, interpretative and self-reflexive methods in empirical science. The restrictions of machine learning, I offer, are drawn into high relief by exploring scientific studies in which it is deemed methodologically insufficient. This reading indicates predicates of intelligence which allegedly “intelligent” automation fails to self-generate.

I substantiate the first part of my argument with work from three philosophers of digital media. Antoinette Rouvroy writes on “algorithmic governance,” the automated retraction of possibility from probability in digital content. Matteo Pasquinelli argues that machine-learning-based systems, including A.I., cannot be intelligent, as their inductive functionality does not compass the creativity constitu genuine intelligence. Adrian Mackenzie applies a Foucauldian framework to algorithmic determinacy, highlighting the role of contingency in knowledge production. These thinkers provide me with materials for the second part, in which I use cases from experimental psychiatry to theorize potential sites of resistance to the algorithmic cancellation of the future.

— “The Plastic Flowers of Perception: Psychedelics, Gender Identity and Performance”

What can psychedelic science bring to our understanding of gender identity? In this paper, I merge insights from the burgeoning field of psychedelic psychiatry with classic notions of aesthetic and gender identity performance. My argument is that psychedelic psychiatry is well-positioned to affirm and extend the project of “troubling” gender norms, although this will only be achieved through a critical approach to methodology.

I open by noting that research on psychedelics suggests a relationship between their therapeutic efficacy and their tendency to subvert concrete notions of self — including that of a static and context-agnostic identity. I then invoke transdisciplinary writings on psychedelic drugs to remark on their capacity to dissolve hardened subjectivities in a more general sense, challenging the precepts of mainstream psychiatry. Scholars Byung Chul Han, Christopher Letheby and Nikolas Rose have critiqued the tendency of psy- disciplines to reify and constrain subjectivity; Letheby specifically connects this intervention to new findings from psychedelic research. Meanwhile, medical anthropologist Nicolas Langlitz has demonstrated a connection between the “unreal” phenomenological character of psychedelic therapy and theories of alienation in theater and art performance, particularly Bertolt Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt. I explore Langlitz’s argument that the sense of unreality shared by the psychedelic and theatrical experience contains the potential to loosen the notion of the concrete, isolated subject which rules over the popular gender imaginary.

I proceed to summarize and supplement the aforementioned thinkers as follows. Psychedelics, I argue, work against the sense of over-determinacy and inevitability that pervades mainstream psychology, and can be used to designate gender as a space of construction and aesthetic play. This potential, however, rests in the the technique of researchers and practitioners. I conclude by stating that if methodological orthodoxy and conservatism are not challenged here, psychedelic drug treatments may fail to provide its subjects with radical perspectives on identity.

##

In September, I’ll be giving a talk on non-hegemonic, non-digital epistemologies at 4S in New Orleans. And I am crossing my fingers for Breaking Convention, the world’s largest psychedelic conference, which is happening this August in London.

I won’t be doing a lot of conferences throughout the fall. The idea is to have a complete draft of the dissertation by the end of the calendar year. It’s a more achievable goal if I stay put.

In non-conference news: I have some ~freaky~ prose in the Spring 2019 edition of Tears In The Fence. Here is an online version of my piece. To read the others you’ll have to throw them some money, which I recommend because they are international and indie and they publish fabulously strange stuff. It’s got to be hard to keep that business up.

And SPECTRA 7.1 should be out soon.

These conversations unfold across a variety of registers, from dedications, quotations, and direct address to visionary conjurings of another poet’ s presence. Here is one such nexus, extracted from Mara Larrosa’ s poem ‘For Mario Santiago’ and Santiago Papasquiaro’ s untitled poem beginning ‘Mariana Larrosa appears’

##

Larrosa: We have all been calling each other with the noise of totally open mouths believing that each one of us from the outside in were 10,000 men.

Santiago Papasquiaro: 1 branch of dates hangs between her mouth & mine / 1 hammock of crayons / ready to color 1,000 throats

Larrosa: Serving myself tejocote fruits, streams of skeleton, mute knots of street bodies newborn to an Iron Age.

Santiago Papasquiaro: you can barely jump over you can barely approach on your hands & knees the barbed wire fence covered in arrow signs pointing to the closest post-mortem hotels

Larrosa: That’ s why we first set out to buy sweets waiting to find other things and of course we never found them; we set out to see the stone, elbows bare to the sun, we licked everything, they licked. It was a different love…

Santiago Papasquiaro: the honeymoons or chewing-gum moons or moons of stuffed squash that say they blossom & become presence

Larrosa: …to love a life that we ourselves might make with our own liquids.

Santiago Papasquiaro: with this movement this sweat this gesturet hat trembles smiles gets hot / for all I know I see her

Larrosa: I see you all along the open windows I see you all through the people who live as if there were no dancers…

Santiago Papasquiaro: Mariana Larrosa appears drummer of her own dance — hemp-sprung from her singular inimitable swing

##

(from this paper about infrarealist poetry)

I’ve been thinking about the rise of immersive experience as a commodity, i.e. virtual reality, music festivals, interactive theater, Meow Wolf, and the psychedelic renaissance. Maybe because psychedelic drug use has always been accompanied by a rhetoric of experience and immersion.

 

 

This is from Byung Chul Han’s book Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power:

“In contrast to experiencing (Erlebnis), experience (Erfahrung) is founded on discontinuity. Experience means transformation. In an interview, Foucault remarked that for Nietzsche, Blanchot and Bataille, experience has the function ‘of wrenching the subject from itself, of seeing to it that the subject is no longer itself, or that it is brought to its annihilation or dissolution.’ Being a subject means being subjected, being cast under, by a higher instance. Experience tears the subject out from subjection — out of its downcast state. It signifies the opposite of neoliberal psychopolitics of experiencing or emotion which only ensnares the subject deeper and deeper in a state of subjection and subjugation.

Following Foucault, the art of living may be understood as a practice of freedom, bringing forth an entirely different mode of existence. It unfolds as de-psychologization. ‘The art of living is the art of killing psychology, of creating with oneself and others unnamed individualities, beings, relations, qualities. If one can’t manage to do that in one’s life, that life is not worth living.’ The art of living stands opposed to the ‘psychological terror’ through which subjugating subjectivation occurs.

Neoliberal psychopolitics is a technology of domination that stabilizes and perpetuates the prevailing system by means of psychological programming steering. Accordingly, the art of living, as the praxis of freedom, must proceed by way of de-psychologization. This serves to disarm psychopolitics, which is a means of effecting submission. When the subject is de-psychologized — indeed, de-voided (ent-leert) — it opens onto a mode of existence that still has no name: an unwritten future.”

Immersive experience de-psychologizes us, reintroducing the possibility of newness and surprise.

This is a marketable quality in a technologically overdetermined (auto-predicted, statistically calibrated, rationalized) world. But there are few formulas for immersion, that is, patterns that can be followed and repeated generically to meet market demands. The molecular compounds of psychoactive chemicals may be the only blueprint for immersion that we have.

 

I’m also not sure that phenomenology gives us the best concepts for theorizing immersion-as-a-service. But that’s another story…

death fetish

Yesterday morning I came close to crying because I remembered a fond, long-lost item of clothing. A dark blue dress with tiny stars all over it. Spaghetti straps, waist tie, floor length. Hippie wear. I wore it a lot the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. I used to believe only good things happened to me when I had it on. It made me very sad to recall it now — along with the recollection came a certain feeling I as a grownup no longer can admit to. Nonsense and anticipation. The dress was a fetish.

I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way to talk about death without treating it like a fetish. No one knows what happens after we die. If fetishes are processes by which causality is inferred from desire as opposed to reason — Wendy Chun’s definition — I don’t think we can. There’s no way to be reasonable about death and causality. Who among us can say we don’t have some desire with respect to death’s causes and effects? Desire to ward it off, desire to go to Heaven, desire for a nice death.

To talk about death is always to express a fetish. But because death is always constructed by desire, because the thinking of death is always a function of wishing, the fetish is hardly detectable.

Andrei Tarkovsky may have come closest to de-fetishizing death when he said that it’s meaningless. But that’s still a guess.

A culture deeply interested in death is one in need of innocent or inconsequential fetishes. Our own death-obsessed culture is one example. Mediatization lets the fetish creep out everywhere. Death and warfare emanate from every screen. That’s been true at least as long as I’ve been alive; one of my earliest memories is watching the Bosnian war on TV. We indulge an irrational part of ourselves with every dead body we see.

In Germany I bought a garnet ring from a metaphysical shop. I imagine that the ring brought me months’ worth of bad luck. I stopped wearing it two weeks ago and haven’t had a shitty day since. I know this isn’t real. Correlation as causation is so obviously a function of desire in this case. I think an unreasonable thought every time I almost wear it and then think, no, better not.

Genesis — birth — is a fetish too, but most of us care more about the future than the past. The unknowability of how and why we got here is a much less interesting riddle than where we’re going and why we have to die.

Prometheus and Hades have a stronghold on the mind. But I try to care more about the mysteries of the everyday than the big stuff. Like I want to know where that dress went, and although it’s really pretty I won’t wear that ring again.