Lecture at V2, Rotterdam
Microgravity Interdisciplinary Research (MIR) seminar, june 2003
by Ewen Chardronnet for the Micromega(s) Group (James Becht, Nicolas Bonnet, Ewen Chardronnet, Brian Holmes)
Traditional art criticism is concerned with evaluating autonomous forms, termed "works," isolated within a generic frame. The twentieth century saw many experiments destined to go beyond this extremely limited notion of autonomy, by producing situations where innovative forms and patterns of organization enter into evolving relations with human behaviour and communication, in the context of so-called "real life". However, time and again art criticism has worked to reinstate the barriers, isolating the "possible" from the "real", the "experimental" from the "practical". The well-known result has been to confine the traces of the most innovative practices to one of the more sophisticated and expensive versions of the "zoo" model of cultural confinement: namely, the museum.
Astrocritique is just another name for the recent, largely successful efforts to leave behind the comfortable floor-plan of the gallery-magazine-museum structure, to escape the "gravity" of the artwork defined by its autonomous form, and to come to grips with what the most interesting art of our time is really attempting: namely, the evaluation, by multiple and conflictive criteria, of the technological and organisational changes that are transforming the face of the globe and the character of the various human societies; and above all, the redirection and alternative usage of those technological and organisational changes. The MIR project is one more opportunity to bring a new type of criticism to bear, and to use exceptional artistic experiments as a springboard to ask the overarching question: what can the productive capacities of the "general intellect" do to make life better, rather than increasingly worse?
The MIR program as a whole, carries out alternative experiments within one of the major categories of techno-scientific experimentation operative today on a planetary and even interplanetary scale: the space programs. These programs are governed by state and military imperatives shaped according to strictly defined logics of economic growth and international confrontation. However, the evolution of each national society, and the wider evolution towards a world society, has raised questions about the viability of these older forms of techno-scientific logic, and has thereby opened windows on other possibilities. The MIR program is one such window. It is urgent to communicate these alternative views in such a way as to avoid cultural confinement, to make it clear that the artistic gesture is fundamentally a way of inviting wider reflection and exchange on the course that human development is taking. Thus, astrocritique aims to put a new kind of discursive platform into orbit: one where evaluation bears not on the contours of autonomous forms, but instead on the autonomy of human beings themselves, today, within society; on our capacity to think, feel, imagine and communicate beyond the normalized, gravity-bound precedents set by preceding institutional structures and coercive economic pressures.
To go to Star City is a great chance, for the flights and the Gagarin Training Center themselves, but also for the social impact by being artists going to this historical cold war place. To go there was part of the experience, and that was making it different for me like going to Toulouse with ESA for instance. I think it is really important to situate these experiences within a larger social and cultural frame.
We all looked at the ways our own projections and fantasies might alter our objectivity, and how could develop an artistic and literary perspective on the "dream of flight." Knowing full well that this first experience would have had uncontrollable effects on our bodies, we proposed with friends to carry out a serious study of "Space Motion Sickness", with research into its pharmacological treatment. Unfortunately this project was probably to difficult to realise in the context of MIR and Star City. The substances used by NASA and the CNES in this area are "scopolamine against space sickness, amphetamines to ward off sleepiness" (Dr. Vaida, quoted in Libération, September 9, 2002). It is important that astronauts remain mentally alert during the mission to perform the necessary tasks to safely reach the mission goals. For the treatment of space sickness, the amphetamine most often used is dexedrine, which, together with scopolamine, lends its name to the astronaut's drug, SCOPDEX. Scopolamine comes from the family of plants including mandrake, and thus prolongs an intriguing cultural history running from sorcery to shamanism. As for amphetamines, they are widely used today as narcotics outside the law. The substances prescribed to Russian cosmonauts, however, are not necessarily the same, nor are they used in precisely the same ways.
From the Ancient Astronauts to the chemically-assisted soldier
There are many substances capable of modifying cerebral activity. This modulation can affect the level of alertness, moods, or cerebral creativity. This is why man has always used different products issuing from the animal or vegetal kingdoms for their psychoactive properties (snake venom in Amazonia, cannabis in China, etc.). These uses traditionally form part of religious, shamanic, therapeutic or warlike contexts, and often of combinations of these contexts, where an alteration of moods, of auditory or visual perceptions, or an augmentation of alertness may be desired.
The use of alkaloids such as scopolamine partakes of this historical tradition.
Scopolamine comes from plants forming part of the Solanacee family, native to Asia. They are already known in Homer's Odyssey. Later, the use of alkaloids from the Solanacee family in magic and medicine is described by the American Indians. Closer to us, the datura plant was dubbed "Jimson weed" (a contraction of "Jamestown weed") by the British in North America, because of a case of food poisoning affecting their troops in Jamestown, Virginia.
Indeed, all the plants of the Solanacee family present the same so-called "anticholinergic" properties. The clinical effects are: dilation of the pupils, redness, flushes, increased body temperature, reduced secretions (both of the skin and the mucous membranes), constipation, urinary retention, delirium, hallucinations, myoclonic jerks, coma, respiratory arrest, and rarely, convulsions. Their effect on the central nervous system can also lead to the appearance of psychosis or delirium.
Hallucinations are reported in 83% of cases, most often in the form of simple visual images. The symptoms generally last 24 to 48 hours, but cases lasting as long as 2 weeks have been reported. Intoxication can provokes the paralysis of organs innervated by the parasympathetic system.
The misuse of scopolamine derives from its consciousness-altering properties (visions and hallucinations, anterograde amnesia, disinhibition, chemical submission). Hence its reputation and use as a truth serum, rendering people disoriented and loose-tongued. This misuse justified its withdrawal from over-the-counter sale in the USA in 1968.
For the amphetamines, the common ancestor is the alkaloid of ma-hang, a plants that has been used for several millennia in China. Ephedrine was extracted from this plant in 1895; its virtues as a stimulant led to its therapeutic use as early as 1931. Ephedrine would also be used as a model for the synthesis of benzedrine, the first in a long series of amphetamines: dexedrine, methylamphetamine, etc. At the time, doctors prescribed these substances as a substitute for cocaine, because of their similar effects, but also for the treatment of asthma, narcolepsy, obesity and other rhinologic conditions.
Soon their power as stimulants was also used to overcome fatigue. In 1939, a report from the Society of Nations estimated that they improved the working capacity of a tired, somnolent subject by up to 30%. Laborers, teachers, doctors, soldiers, truckers, lawyers and students are all socioprofessional categories which use and abuse these substances, sometimes to the detriment of their lives.
This early infatuation quickly led to many health problems. The products were cheap and easy to obtain: in France, they were sold over the counter until 1955. From 1942 onward, in Japan, soldiers, sailors, aviators, nurses and factory personnel received doses of methamphetamines, under more or less forced conditions. And it was in Japan at this time that the first epidemic of methamphetamine dependency broke out, with a sharp increase in cases of psychosis. In Europe in the 1960s, the success of these stimulants in the sports world was so great that the complications linked to their abusive consumption became common coin.
In other human activities, outside any therapeutic aims, amphetamines pursued their career. Particularly with the military, which continued using them for their stimulating properties. During the first Gulf war, 65% of American pilots admitted to using amphetamines, and among these users, almost 61% judged their consumption essential to the outcome of the operations.
Despite the possibility of addiction and potential side effects that include hypertension and depression, such drugs are needed, military officials believe, in order to stay alert and focused -especially on long-range bombing missions. Such flights can mean nine hours or more alone in expensive, high-performance aircraft.
According to military sources, the use of such drugs (commonly Dexedrine) is part of a cycle that includes the amphetamines to fight fatigue, and then sedatives to induce sleep between missions. Pilots call them "go pills" and "no-go pills."
Amphetamines follow a pattern that goes back at least 40 years to the early days of the Vietnam War - further back if one counts strong military coffee as a stimulant. But they're also part of a new trend that foresees "performance enhancements" designed to produce "iron bodied and iron willed personnel," as outlined in one document of the US Special Operations Command, which oversees the elite special-operations troops that are part of all the military services.
Indeed, the ability to keep fighting for days at a time without normal periods of rest, to perform in ways that may seem almost superhuman (at least well beyond the level of most people in today's armed services), is seen by military officials as the key to success in future conflicts.
"The capability to resist the mental and physiological effects of sleep deprivation will fundamentally change current military concepts of 'operational tempo' and contemporary orders of battle for the military services," states a document from the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). "In short, the capability to operate effectively, without sleep, is no less than a 21st Century revolution in military affairs that results in operational dominance across the whole range of potential U.S. military employments". What's called for, according to DARPA, is a "radical approach" to achieve "continuous assisted performance" for up to seven days. This would actually involve much more than the "linear, incremental and ... limited" approaches of stimulants like caffeine and amphetamines. "Futurists say that if anything's going to happen in the way of leaps in technology, it'll be in the field of medicine," says retired Rear Adm. Stephen Baker, the Navy's former chief of operational testing and evaluation, who is now at the Center for Defense Information in Washington. "This 'better warrior through chemistry' field is being looked at very closely," says Admiral Baker, whose career includes more than 1,000 aircraft-carrier landings as a naval aviator. "It's part of the research going on that is very aggressive and wide open."
In a memo outlining technology objectives, the US Special Operations Command notes that the special-forces "operator" of the future can expect to rely on "ergogenic substances" (such as drugs used by some athletes) "to manage environmental and mentally induced stress and to enhance the strength and aerobic endurance of the operator." The memo continues: "Other physiological enhancements might include ways to overcome sleep deprivation, ways to adjust the circadian rhythms to reduce jet lag, as well as ways to significantly reduce high altitude/under water acclimatization time by the use of blood doping or other methods."
But military officials, as well as medical experts, warn that the use of amphetamines can clearly have its bad side.`
The flight surgeon's guide to "Performance Maintenance During Continuous Flight Operations" (written by the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory in Pensacola) mentions such possible side effects as euphoria, depression, hypertension, and addiction. There's also the possibility of "idiosyncratic reactions" (amphetamines can be associated with feelings of aggression and paranoia) as well as getting hooked on the "cyclic use of a stimulant/sedative combination."
"The risk of drug accumulation from repetitive dosing warrants serious consideration," the guide notes. The "informed consent" form that military pilots must sign notes that "the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of Dexedrine to manage fatigue."
It's not just the "go pills" that can cause problems in certain individuals. "No-go pills," used to induce sleep, can have dangerous side effects as well including the possibility of what's called "anterograde amnesia ... amnesia of events during the time the medication has an effect". "For the military aviator, this raises the possibility of taking the medication, going to a brief, taking off, and then not remembering what he was told to do," according to the lab's report. But researchers say such symptoms "are primarily dose related and are not expected with 5-10 mgs of dextro-amphetamine (Dexedrine)" - the amounts given to pilots in the Gulf War and in Afghanistan.
As the US moves into an era in which national security is likely to mean wars fought from the air - using attack aircraft and small, specially trained units flown long distances to the battlefield - the issue of performance-enhancing drug use by US military personnel is likely to escalate. "The real story here is the ever-extending reach of air power, "As asymmetric threats such as ballistic missiles become more available to our adversaries, we are going to stand even farther back," "That means that this problem [i.e., the need to combat pilot fatigue] can only grow.
Space missions are also a good playground for these studies on medication. I would first like to remember you the various prevention and treatments possible for Space Motion Sickness :
- Prevention & Treatment #1 is prediction
If could predict, benefits would be:
Allow for early treatment
Methods tried: questionnaires, parabolic flights, biochemical tests, etc.
- Prevention & Treatment #2
Training -- only limited success
Sensory systems/conflict training
Parabolic flight, T-38 aircraft, rotating chairs, etc.
DOME (Device for Orientation and Motion Environments)
Autonomic response training (Autogenic Feedback Training, AFT) = Biofeedback
Preflight adaptation trainer
Dome & 2 projectors
Rotating chair & hand controller
study of eye movement & SMS
- Prevention & Treatment #3
Load suits - create tension
Neck pneumatic shock absorber - put load on neck & limit movement
Electrical - electrodes to foreheads
Some success on Earth
- Prevention & Treatment #4
Others with No Benefits Proven
- Prevention & Treatment #5
Possible protection; not mandatory
Vertigo & blurred vision
Reaction time; reasoning
Patch can irritate skin
May interfere with adaptation
Do give drugs after onset (promethazine, IM) Scopolamine/dextroamphetamine
Many studies have been undertaken about the use of SCOPDEX. You can find many of the results of these studies on the NASA Life Sciences Data Archive. And I will give you few elements.
After a parabolic flight some have compared their feeling in microgravity to the use of drugs, mentioning mushrooms, extasy, heroin. It is probably linked in a way to a combination of adrenalin, serotonin and dopamin liberation. A feeling of pleasure is usually linked to Serotonin and dopamin liberation when people take drugs. We only have a limited amount of serotonin transmitters, around 10 000 and if you lose 90% of these transmitters you reach the point of Parkinson disease.
Temperature regulation, fluid volume and water intake, calcium metabolism and the neuromuscular control of movement are altered under microgravity. Such adaptations to microgravity may be mediated by corresponding changes in brain neurotransmitter dynamics.
Since the pineal gland is an important link to the environment, it is conceivable that exposure to space flight might alter the function of this gland and, in turn, affect various physiological functions including the circadian timing system and reproduction. Given the link between microgravity exposure and perturbation of calcium metabolism, and that the pineal is apparently one of the only "soft tissues" to calcify, some studies examined pineal calcium content, along with Serotonin metabolism.
One study focus the increase in 5HT1 receptor in the hippocampus may reflect altered neuromodulation in this area by serotonergic neurons. As it has been suggested that one major function of the hippocampus is to serve as a spatial map of the environment, perhaps the transition to microgravity may necessitate major changes in any spatial map of the environment. The 5HT1 receptor may play a role in such a modification. Similarly, the flight-associated marginal decrease in D2 binding in the stratum might reflect a down-regulation induced by heightened Dopaminergic activity in the nigra, associated with novel motor activity under microgravity.
Informations available about this issue are only in fragments. But to come back on Scopolamine side effects, evidence exists that the therapeutic effectiveness of some drugs, such as scopolamine, may change in space. Pharmacologic studies of therapeutic agents used by astronauts during space flight still need to be properly performed to compare drug bioavailability and effectiveness during weightlessness with those characteristics under 1-g conditions. So other possibilities are studied.
Astronauts can have difficulty sleeping during space flight. Most likely, a combination of factors contributes to these sleep problems, including the novelty and excitement of space flight itself, ambient noise in the close confines of the spacecraft and the absence of normal day/night cycles. The average person sleeps and wakes on a 24-to-25-hour cycle, synchronized with the rising and setting of the sun. In space, as the Space Shuttle orbits the Earth, the sun rises and sets in a mere 90 minutes.
The short days, coupled with the fact that Shuttle astronauts work at odd hours and spend most of their time in windowless, permanently lit rooms, make maintaining an internal biological clock virtually impossible. Most astronauts average an abnormally low five to six hours of sleep a night, and past studies show more than half of Shuttle crew members have depended on sleeping pills to help them get adequate rest. These medications, however, may have undesirable side effects on performance and mental alertness. Recent studies have demonstrated that melatonin, a pineal gland secreted hormone, administered as a sleep aid increases sleepiness and facilitates the onset of sleep, like a sleeping pill. Furthermore, it does not have some of the side effects as other sleep-aiding Drugs. Therefore, melatonin could offer a novel countermeasure to treat sleep disruption during space flight. Ground-based research indicates that melatonin may facilitate sleep, an attribute that is particularly important if astronauts are scheduled to sleep at a time of day when their bodies are not producing the hormone.
A recent investigation called “Clinical Trial of Melatonin as a Hypnotic” was to determine whether the use of melatonin improves the quality of sleep for astronauts during space flight, thereby improving their ability to perform the mentally challenging and physically rigorous tasks required of them. Aside from improving the sleep quality of astronauts during space flight, this research has direct application for many people on Earth. Sleep disorders affect a wide range of people - from those who perform challenging jobs involving night shift work, to the many Americans who often experience sleep disorders as they age. This investigation was the first to assess the effects of space flight on the sleep patterns of an older astronaut.
Another medication used against Space Motion Sickness that I mentioned before is a combination of promethazine (25 mg) and ephedrine. Ephedrine alkaloids are coming from Ephedra and are amphetamine-like compounds with potentially lethal stimulant effects on the central nervous system and heart. The FDA has received more than 800 reports of adverse effects associated with use of products containing ephedrine alkaloid since 1994. These serious adverse effects, include hypertension (elevated blood pressure), palpitations (rapid heart rate), neurophathy (nerve damage), myopathy (muscle injury), psychosis, stroke, memory loss, heart rate irregularities, insomnia, nervousness, tremors, seizures, heart attacks, and death. But Ephedrine is less aggressive than amphetamins in a way to your body.
Well, to conclude, we could train the future space explorers to be in a semi-waking semi-sleeping state of consciousness by kind of meditation practice. Up to this day, our space explorers have been trained to be more and more like techno-genetically modified drug-addicted trans-humans. In this perspective, the bright future elite of humanity will be something like chemically assisted bio-cyberpunks. But we could dream of an alternative, based more on human abilities that have yet to be developed, by the knowledge of occult and ancient practices, like body and consciousness control through dream concentration and meditation, which will lead us to a better understanding of the cosmic laws of nature, matter and energy, as well as how we are intimately linked to them, never escaping them, whatever we do by trying to techno-scientifically control them.
I believe that science does not only search for ergonomic adaptation of humanity to technological and economic needs. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, mainly through the modernist deconstruction of poetry, through suprematism and constructivism, and then through industrial culture, the arts have been teaching us that science is also opening new paths to the forgotten areas of our mind. The precedents run from the primitive languages elaborated by Khlebnikov and Schwitters to the absolute pictorial experience of emptiness by Malevich, from body control in Genesis P. Orridge's COUM Transmissions performances to Dragan Zivadinov's Zero Gravity Biomechanical Theater.