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Intelligence Moves / SETI Institute AIR
Generously supported by SETI Institute Artist in Residence Program and The Lucas Artists Residency Program at Montalvo Arts Center, Nina Waisman’s 2015 research into non-human intelligences culminated in an intimate, 2-week think-tank in December 2015 at Montalvo, gathering NASA, SETI, Stanford, MBARI & NYU scientists together with artists, dancers and other researchers in intelligence.

Conceptual overview of thinktank, produced for fundraising


Intelligence Starts on a Small Scale
Intelligence Moves: Artists Statement

The Intelligence Moves think tank considered non-anthropocentric perspectives on intelligence and subjectivity, with a deep focus on embodiment and perception, and an eye to finding relationships between small scale movements (those of single cells and their components) and the so-called “higher” logics built upon those movements.

Both language and art-practice were used to move scientific and conceptual logics through multiple senses. Activities ranged from scientific presentations on astrobiology and the state of SETI, to panels considering microbial intelligence, to movement and vocalization based experiments in quorum sensing, spiced with site visits to NASA and the Lick Observatory, SETI Institute, California Academy of Science, etc. Texts by authors including George Lakoff, Rodolfo Llinas, Eshel Ben-Jacob, Laurance Doyle, and numerous astrobiologists, cognitive scientists and quantum theorists were circulated ahead of time.

Neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinas, in his book “I of the Vortex”, has written of subjectivity in the irritability of single cells. Many neuroscientists and cognitive scientists have found that our creative logics are literally formed from our memories of patterned, gestural acts. As we (and our cells) move, so we think. Digging deeper, quantum theory shows the nature and position of subatomic particles depends on our intent when we observe them…

“If you push novelty of language and metaphor far enough, you can end up with a new way of seeing [which] can in its own right make an original contribution to science.”  (Richard Dawkins)

The think tank incubated cross-disciplinary thinking and relationships, pointing the way towards collaborative artworks and further research among many of those who participated. The dialogues and aesthetic experiments will eventually become accessible at www.intelligencemoves.org.

See the “Background” section further down for more information on the think tank’s motivations.


Huge thanks to the SETI AIR program and Montalvo! More info about both is just below, here.

Think Tank Participants
(participants attended anywhere from 1-14 days)


Jill Tarter, Bernard Oliver Chair at The SETI Institute, President of California Academy of Sciences. More on Jill Tarter here.

Rodolfo Llinas, Thomas and Suzanne Murphy Professor of Neuroscience at NYU

Sharmila Bhattacharya, Principal Investigator at NASA

Sanjoy Som, Astrobiologist and Atmospheric Geologist, NASA and Director/CEO Blue Marble Space

Laurance Doyle, Principal Investigator at The SETI Institute

Bill Diamond, CEO of The SETI Institute

Kanna Rajan led AI at NASA Ames, and created the AI for Spirit and Opportunity. He now works on deep-sea AI exploration at MBARI

Saad Khan, Partner at CMEA Capital, expert in intelligence and incubators

Fathi Karouia, Senior Research Scientist at NASA

Glenn Bugos, NASA Ames Chief Historian

Alfred Spormann, Principal Investigator and Professor at Stanford

Tori Hoehler, Senior Research Scientist at NASA

Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute

Moriah Evans, dancer, choreographer, writer.

Flora Wiegmann, choreographer, dancer, educator

Jenny Donovan, multi-media artist, writer, educator, archivist

Felipe Zúñiga-González, artist, curator, educator

Candice Lin, artist, educator

Gabriel Boils, artist, educator, curator

Nina Waisman, multimedia artist, educator, think tank director

Juliana Snapper, opera singer, recitalist, live performance artist, experimental theater director and voice scholar

Nehara Kalev, performing artist, choreographer educator

Christine Lee, assistant to think tank and artist

Karl Yerkes, artist

Danny Bazo, artist

Nicole Peisl, former dancer with William Forsythe, educator, performer, choreographer

How does this connect to The SETI Institute’s Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence? Most astrobiologists agree that microorganisms similar to our earthly extremophiles are the most likely form of life we will encounter out in the cosmos. While astrobiologists generally study extremophiles to learn how they might pave the way for humans and other intelligent life to live elsewhere in the universe, Waisman is interested in the intelligence of the extremophiles themselves. If extremophile-type microorganisms are the life we will find out in space, and we are searching for intelligent life out in space, it seems a fascinating first step to search here at home for intelligent behaviors in our extremophiles. What can we learn from the highly adaptive physical behaviors and social communication they employ here on earth? Is there something special about their particular “subjectivity” that can help ours?

Extremophiles are primarily single-celled, bacterial organisms, able to thrive in extremes such as high radiation, buried under miles of ice for millennia, in lava, without oxygen, in sum, in environments found far more prevalently than our own, both here on earth and out in the cosmos. Extremophiles are also found in the extreme environment of our guts, where they are in intimate contact with our “second” brain - i.e. the 100 million gut-located neurons that deeply impact our moods and intelligences by controlling the other brain in our head. Waisman is interested in comparing communication channels exploited by extremophiles and by us, aiming to open our thinking about the nature of intelligence, using provocative, unusual approaches. 

Behind this focus is a belief that we have a lot to gain - aesthetically, sensorially, practically and politically - from approaching intelligence with a less anthropocentric view - considering intelligences in creatures with different bodies than our own, those without obvious cerebral structures, with different sensory apparatus than ours, living on different time scales than our own in different environments than we require.

About SETI Institute’s Artist in Residence Program
The SETI Artist in Residence Program facilitates cross-disciplinary artistic expression dedicated to exploring, understanding, and explaining the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. The Program fosters an exchange of ideas between artists and scientists, and encourages contemporary artistic practices that allow us to experience life on this planet and beyond in new ways. Learn more about the SETI Artist in Residence Program, here. Special thanks to Charles Lindsay, Denise Markonish, Nathalie Cabrol, Bill Diamond, Laurance Doyle, Glenn E. Bugos, Seth Shostak and Jill Tarter.

About SETI Institute
SETI Institute’s mission is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe, and to apply the knowledge gained to inspire and guide present and future generations. SETI has a passion for discovery, and for sharing knowledge as scientific ambassadors to the public, the press, and the government. SETI Institute is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research, education and public outreach. The Institute comprises three centers, the Center for SETI Research, the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe and the Center for Education and Public Outreach. Founded in November 1984, SETI Institute began operations on February 1, 1985. Today it employs over 130 scientists, educators and support staff. Research at the Institute is anchored by three centers, the Center for SETI Research, the Center for Education and Public Outreach and the Carl Sagan Center for the study of life in the universe. More information here.

About the Montalvo Art Center and Residency Program
The Sally and Don Lucas Artists Residency Program (LAP) is designed to offer artists from a range of disciplines an environment conducive to individual and collaborative creative practice. Seeking to stimulate an energetic exchange of ideas between culturally diverse Fellows and across varied artistic fields and scholarly disciplines, the residency has earned international recognition as a model of curato   rial practice supporting the development of new and challenging contemporary work.

The LAP welcomes sixty artists a year into the program. Residencies are offered in all contemporary artistic disciplines including the visual arts, design, literary arts, film, choreography, performance art, music and composition, and teaching artists. The LAP welcomes artist’s collaborators from overlapping fields, including science, technology, and other scholarly research. The Program is the first in the United States to offer an annual Culinary Artist Residency. For more information about Montalvo Arts Center, click here.  

  laborator for embodied intelligences