What is consciousness made of? That's not the kind of question that can be answered here—it's not exactly the kind of question that can be answered after over 2000 years of human inquiry, either. But as the subject of London-based artist Marios Athanasiou's interactive, sensor and screen-based installation Omega Point, it's still a question worth pursuing.
The Athens-born Athanasiou says he based the concept for the installation on a 20-year-old theory of consciousness called Orch-OR, which was developed by mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff in the 90s. "According to this theory," explains Athanasiou, "consciousness exists as quantum information everywhere in the universe; we are merely the receivers of it rather than the creators. Recent discoveries in neuroscience seem to support this controversial theory. Consciousness does not emerge from complex computational activities inside the brain, as it was previously thought, but rather it emanates from quantum vibrations inside the microtubules."
In his work, Athanasiou likes to explore the ways in which digital technologies affect and challenge human perception. "[Omega Point] invites the participants to perceive themselves as part of a cybernetic universe of infinite quantum information feedback loops," he explains. The title takes its name from the idea that consciousness is evolving to a maximum level of complexity, the omega point, what Hameroff calls "proto-consciousness."
"The closest concept I can think of that could describe the transition from the human consciousness to the proto-consciousness that Stuart Hameroff talks about is death," says Athanasiou. "A moment where our consciousness passes from the human realm into another realm that is undetectable by human senses. Different reports of near death experiences report a tunnel-like, yellow light that is accompanied a very loud unharmonious sound and Omega Point was modeled around these reports."
The results of this inquiry is an experience that allows you to confront death and consciousness through the medium of a Kinect and some graphical programming software. "I imagined it to be quite a personal, meditative experience similar to a psychedelic drugs experience, death, sleep, or meditation," notes Athanasiou.
"However, on the day of the show the participants were not given any directions on how to interact with the work. They had to discover it by exploring and interacting with it. Some understood how it worked straight away and started playing with it by creating shapes. Some participants tried to push the program to its limits to see if they could crash it. Some participants did not even interact with it but just sat on the side for hours just watching other people interacting with it."
So is it the interactive model that will finally give up that elusive answer? Or a microcosmic metaphor for what is arguably man's most futile pursuit? Head over to Omega Point's website to learn more.