Anthony Enns on Apocryphal Psychotechnologies

A recent piece, “Apocryphal Psychotechnologies,” published in Continent may interest AHP readers. Contintent is “a platform for thinking through media. text, image, video, sound and new forms of publishing online are presented as reflections on and challenges to contemporary conditions in politics, media studies, art, film and philosophical thought.” As author Anthony Enns writes,

Apocryphal technologies are particularly interesting for the study of technological imaginaries precisely because they blur the boundaries between the legitimate and the illegitimate or the plausible and the implausible. For instance, it is often difficult to distinguish apocryphal technologies from real technologies because they tend to be based on the same underlying principles and assumptions. The aspirations that inform apocryphal technologies can also inform real technological innovations by serving as a springboard for new ideas or by anticipating the development of new inventions. The combination of fantastic effects and apparent plausibility also makes apocryphal technologies particularly suitable for conspiracy theories, which similarly encourage a belief in the impossible by imposing a veneer of truth and veracity. Unlike imaginary technologies, therefore, apocryphal technologies can promote faith in technological progress as well as fear of technocratic control. The following paper will explore the desires and anxieties that inform apocryphal technologies by examining a series of electronic devices that allegedly influenced (or were influenced by) the mind. While the claims made about these machines were not supported by scientific research, they were all based on a common understanding of the mind as an electronic apparatus that was subject to modification and manipulation, and they reflected a shared desire for a perfect mind-machine interface, which was imagined as a source of either unlimited power or complete powerlessness. At the same time that these psychotechnologies blur the boundaries between the legitimate and the illegitimate or the plausible and the implausible, therefore, they also illustrate the uneasy tension between utopian aspiration and dystopian paranoia—particularly with regard to the future of humanity.

The full piece can be read online here.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.