John Protevi send me this article today, showing how certain types of video games enhance women’s spatial skills, placing them on par with male spatial skills. Why is this important? There’s a common narrative in biology and neurology that certain differences between men and women (assuming it’s even appropriate to use these crude categories) that argues that we’re biologically hardwired to have certain talents. It is said, for example, that men are biologically hardwired to be more mathematical and to have better spatial skills, whereas women are better contextual, affective, and relational thinkers. We heard a variation of this years ago from Larry Summers, who suggested that money spent on women in the sciences and mathematics and wasted.
A study like this is important because it shows how these differences, in the case of spatial reasoning, at least, are developmental not innate. Here these differences would be the result of the morphogenesis of a body, it’s processes of individuation, not a predetermined code in the genes where genes are understood to function as a sort of architectural blueprint that predetermines what an organism will become at the level of its phenotype.
It is precisely this sort of developmental point, this point about the becoming of objects, that I try to capture in my distinction between virtual proper being, local manifestation, and regimes of attraction. The virtual proper being of an entity is the powers or potentials that a being possesses. The local manifestation of an entity is the manner in which it actualizes itself at a particular point in time. This dimension of objects is a manifestation because it is a way in which an entity becomes actual or takes on properties or qualities, while it is “local” because such manifestations refer to local conditions in which the entity exists. Finally, the concept of “regimes of attraction” refer to the relations an entity shares to other entities and that play a key role in how it locally manifests itself.
In the case of this particular study we’re shown that the virtual proper being is not “hardwired” to relate to space in a particular way. Rather, the female brain, like the male brain, is a field of potentials that can be locally manifested to form a variety of different spatial dispositions. The brain, as Catherine Malabou and Tom Sparrow both argue, is plastic in such a way that it can come to be formed in a variety of ways. Here, certain types of video games form a “regime of attraction” drawing the brain towards particular local manifestations or the formation of certain affects, where affects aren’t to be reduced to “feelings”, but rather are to be understood, following Spinoza and Deleuze, as powers to act and be acted upon. The body that plays with these partular sorts of video games forms a particular form of spatiality, of being affected by space, of thinking space, that other bodies do not have.
In this connection we get a Generative transcendental aesthetic. In Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, the transcendental aesthetic referred to an a priori form of sensibility that precedes any receptivity. Kant believed it necessary to introduce this concept to account for how it is possible for mathematics to be a priori (capable of being known through thought independent of experience), yet be universal and necessary. Kant’s thesis was that maths are really the thinking of time and space (forms of sensibility) and that the mind imposes these forms (to put it crudely) on the world. It is because these forms of sensibility arise from mind that the universality of maths is guaranteed. All things we experience will already be “filtered” through these forms of sensibility, thereby guaranteeing that the patterns I can discover in pure thought will also be found in the objects of the world that I experience.
To understand the difference between what belongs to the transcendental aesthetic and the empirical aesthetic, compare the difference between thinking geometrically and tasting a particular glass of wine for the first time. When I think geometrically I am able to discover certain spatial relations in thought alone, despite the fact that I’ve never directly experienced objects with these spatial properties. By contrast, I could never, through thought alone, discover what a particular wine might taste like. I have to have the experience of tasting the wine to know what it tastes like. The transcendental aesthetic is thus a form of sensibility that precedes any particular experience and that structures all experiences.
Now what is interesting in the study linked to at the beginning of this post is that we get the possibility of a genetic transcendental aesthetic. What this article describes is the formation of forms of sensibility through interaction with various entities in the world (in this case, video games). A new form of sensibility is developed by those who play these video games. A new a priori becomes available to these bodies. This generative transcendental aesthetic was the theme of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, where he constantly focuses on themes of learning (not knowing), where he argues that the two senses of the aesthetic (as a work of art or creativity and a form of sensibility, affectivity, or feeling) need to be reunited, and is the reason he engages in countless analyses of writers, painters, poets, and directors (he argues that they create new forms of transcendental sensibility or forms of a priori thought. We also find something similar in Bogost’s idea of an “alien phenomenolgy”. Bogost wishes to understand how other entities “experience” the world, whether those entities be bats, quarks, particular humans, or computers. What is it that an alien phenomenology investigates? It investigates the transcendental aesthetic structure a particular type of entity’s experience of the world.