Interview: Jason Silva, Media Artist and Curator of Awe-Inspiring Ideas

Alessia Andreotti
October 4th 2013

The next guest in our interview series is Jason Silva, Venezuelan-American filmmaker, futurist, and media artist. The TED Conference called him a performance philosopher for his poetic, impassioned and inspirational take on scientific and technological advancements, his riveting on-stage delivery style, and his hyper-enthusiastic insights on creativity, innovation, technology, philosophy and the human condition.

His non-commercial series of short videos, named  Shots of Philosophical Espresso, explore the co-evolution of humans and technology and have gone viral with over 1.2 million views. Many have called Silva an “Idea DJ” and a poet, describing him as a re-vitalizer and remixer of optimism, and above all, a curator: of ideas, of inspiration, and of awe.

Here it is an example of his activity: Technium, a video from his Shots of Awe YouTube channel.

We recently talked with Jason Silva about who and what we are as we face big changes, the future and his creative practice. Here’s what he had to say:

Hello Jason Silva, who are you and what are you doing?

I'm a media artist, filmmaker and wonderjunkie. I'm obsessed with hacking attention, experience design, immersive media and bottling inspiration. I'm an ideas lover and spent my time creating media projects that engage the bodymind in a profound and transformational way. I'm interested in exalted states of consciousness and in engineering encounters with the transcendent. I'm interested in forging a path that offers secular people pathways to something akin to the numinous.

My videos are a form of self-medication: antidotes to existential despair

With your our Cinematic Espresso Shots you give people free food for thought, why do you do what you do? Do you see yourself as an activist?

My videos are a form of self-medication: antidotes to existential despair. They are a way for me to wrestle with and explore my obsessions and sensibilities. I like to believe I trade in the currency of inspiration. These videos are a way for me to "instantiate" my consciousness, my dreams and my rhapsodies in a tangible form. As Gene Youngblood wrote in Expanded Cinema: "cinema reflects mankind's historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind in front of his eyes". It's the same with my videos.

Which one of your works are you most proud of?

I'm in love with my video on Awe. It's a really moving piece that connects with a lot of people. I also really love my recent video Existential Bummer, which was tweeted by filmmaker Ron Howard, who has since become a fan of my videos.

Many concepts and themes of your practice are related to Next Nature philosophy. What is Next Nature for you?

A redefinition of the natural world, a realization that there is no real separation between the born and the made. A realization that technology "emerges" and by many accounts "self organizes". I like Kevin Kelly's use of the term Technium; the 7th kingdom of life.

Technology emerges and by many accounts self organizes

With your narrative activity you are carrying on a conversation about who and what we are as we face exponential changes, how would you answer these questions now?

Kevin Kelly once wrote "the verbs are verbing all by themselves without a need to introduce nouns". I believe we are a self-organizing process, the cutting edge of evolutionary design. We are the evolutionary process made self-aware. The thinking stratum of the universe. A way for atoms to understand themselves. We must steer the starship. We must provide greater story arcs for ourselves. We need epic contexts.

You have a background in philosophy, yet work more audiovisual than with text. Is this deliberate and why does this work for you?

I suppose it's a basic disposition for thinking out loud. I come alive during moments of exaltation. I enjoy expressing the ineffable and pushing language to its limits. There is a kind of ecstatic vocalization and empowered articulation that I try to summon. Rich Doyle talks about shamans as "doctors of the word", who employ "technologies of ecstasy", I always liked that description.

You talk about Turning into Gods. Although this is an appealing thought, how can we be gods if we cannot even solve traffic jams, financial crises or hunger in Africa?

There is an interesting duality to us. Ernest Becker wrote "with our minds we can ponder the infinite" yet we are bound by entropy and decay. We are gods with anuses. Yet we also build starships and magical devices that help us transcend time, space and distance. Our minds leap beyond our bodies and we can send thoughts across oceans of sky. Those problems you mention are a consequence of humans failing to realize that if we really put our popular will into it, we could solve all our problems.

In your opinion, how does our notion of nature change along with human culture?

Culture is yet another layer through which nature expresses itself. We are simply getting better at impregnating mind into matter. Taking materials of low organization and reorganizing them until they become transcendent. Just look and jet airplanes and iPhones. Without intelligence they are just metal and plastic.

Culture is yet another layer through which nature expresses itself

It seems technological change is speeding up. Is this really the case, or just a perception? Where will this go?

It's a fact. All information technologies evolve exponentially. Gene sequencing is now evolving 3 times faster than Moore's law. Biology has become an information technology. With Nanotech, matter becomes a programmable medium. The sky is the limit. Mind trumps matter.

Do you have a call to action? Something we should absolutely do or refrain from doing today? 

My aim is to use media to create ripples of possibility, to help minds engage in beatific visions of what might be. My work is a celebration of Steven Johnson's "adjacent possible", a willingness to dream bigger and see farther.

Why are we having this Next Nature discussion now, and not 1000 years ago or in 100 years?

Because the nature of exponential change makes it imperative to have this conversation now.

What are your big plans for the future?

To leverage the interest and impact of my short films and build relationships with other doers and thinkers and partner with them, eventually to make ripples that expand outward and inspire as many as possible. To make a dent in the universe!

Jason Silva 2
Thanks so much, Jason, for sharing your work and viewpoints with us!

Related Posts: Interview: Alexandra Daisy GinsbergInterview: Floris KaaykInterview: Rachel Armstrong, Interview: Arne Hendriks

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