Thinking the Float Tank
24.08.2023 — 26.08.2023

Thinking the Float Tank
Internationale conference

August 24 — 26, 2023

West Den Haag, Lange Voorhout 102, 2514 EJ, Den Haag, The Netherlands

€ 15 — 30
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Kirsty Allan, Irene Breuer, Elizabeth Brient, Callum Cooper, Randolph Dible, Graham Ellsbury, Andres Gomez Emilsson, Francesca Greco, James Guy, Akiem Helmling, Margaretha Hendrickx, Claire Ortiz Hill, Louis Kauffman, John Krummel, Timothy Lyons, Dermot Moran, Greg Moss, Carl Hayden Smith, Courtney Stephens, Ion Soteropoulos, Jerry Swatez, R. John Williams.

Thinking the Float Tank is an interdisciplinary conference in the framework of the group exhibition Gödel Escher Bach (May 19 – August 27, 2023). The conference is a float-tank think tank existing in a space devoted to the history and the continuing development of the science and philosophy of flotation. Thinking the Float Tank exists in a dimension altogether different from that of the ordinary academic conference.

What frame of reference is self-reference? The isolation of self-reference, the limit-experience of embarking upon the formless void, and the re-entry of the form into itself, are all key themes in the history and philosophy of flotation. These themes of self-reference, void, and re-entry, as well as space, infinity, awareness, completeness, reality, dimensionality, cosmology, eternity, and creation, are all powerfully operative in the frame presented by the float tank. The float tank, isolation tank, or sensory deprivation chamber, is a technology of the self, but also a means of phenomenological reduction. It can also be a vehicle or a portal.

Historical Context
Fifty years ago John Lilly and Alan Watts brought the mathematician Georg Spencer-Brown to the Esalen Institute in California for a conference called the American University of Masters Conference, or AUM conference. Audio recordings of the conference are available on SoundCloud here, and a recent publication of the transcripts can be found in the Journal of Cybernetics and Human Knowing here. The AUM conference, and the Form and Void conference series in the following years (1974 and 1975), marked a turning point in the history of cybernetics and systems science because it was the place where many luminaries gathered and received the wisdom of Spencer-Brown’s 1969 book Laws of Form. Alan Watts was already into Laws of Form, having written a chapter about it in his mountain journal Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown (1971), but it was John Lilly’s use of Laws of Form in the float tank as a guidebook to traveling between universes that established the AUM conference as the founding event of a new kind of scientific culture. This revolution knocked science of consciousness into the first person, and Lilly captured that spirit in the frame of the float tank.

Workshop: Reconstructing the “Void Method”
Thinking the Float Tank includes a workshop component dedicated to the reconstruct of Lilly’s use of Laws of Form in the float tank, which is what Lilly referred to as the “void method.” The workshop, led by the conference curator Randolph Dible and by one of Lilly’s original workshop participants Jerry Swatez, will aim to regenerate the essence of Lilly’s void method as well as a more robust cybernetic and phenomenological version of Lilly’s flotation science by harnessing advanced philosophical techniques that were not available to Lilly in the early days of flotation.

Our Very Own Flotation Tank, and a Publication
Tucked away from the exhibited art lies an isolated isolation chamber–our very own float tank–built by Lorenz and Nikolai Beckmann. This float tank exists for the purpose of granting spectators, participants, and tourists the profound experience of flotation in the context of the conference.

Presentations will be recorded and disseminated by the team of philosopher-artists at West Den Haag, and the philosophical-scientific texts resulting from this conference will be published in a special issue of the new journal Distinction: Journal of Form (the journal of the George Spencer-Brown Society, published by College Publications, Ltd.).

This conference is conceived and moderated by Randolph T. Dible.