Storytelling Card Barberry Carpet

Stephanie Moran

Symbiont Encounters: Ecological Fictioning and Networked Media (University of Plymouth) 2018 -

Symbiont Encounters is a project that explores the literary device of ‘mind-modelling’[1] as a means of imaginatively accessing the unimaginable of nonhuman cognition through a group storytelling art practice. This project asks what tools and methods have been developed by specialists in a range of related fields (biologists, ethologists, posthumanists, philosophers, computer scientists, cyberneticists, artists, multispecies ethnographers, shamans and writers of speculative fiction, that explore nonhuman perceptions) to try and mind-model nonhuman beings. The project will produce a compendium of methods that will be repurposed to create a science-fictional role-playing game. The game will be designed to function in a contemporary art and museums context.

This project responds to two observations about animals in technology and the reordering of species predation hierarchies. First, that drawing on research in animal behaviour and cognition, scientists have been incorporating more and more attributes based on animal perception and behaviour into media, a process that has been intensifying since the beginnings of Modernism, from steam engines to AI (Lippit, 2000; Parikka, 2010). Second, that Modern Western humans have gradually been becoming aware that they are not apex predator on the planet; nonhuman agents (or hyperobjects) such as the climate and AI are now taking that place.


The project considers how an understanding of what it is to be human might be altered by reversing the technologised relationship, taking up Jussi Parikka’s challenge to “reframe the natural” as a “viable dynamic machine for the technological” (Parikka, 2010, pxxi), rather than a “storehouse of invention” (Parikka, 2010, pxiv) for human tools. It addresses Gregory Bateson’s cybernetic ecological project of thinking about ourselves as part of a shared ecosystem and considering the embodied experiences of other species that share our world but inhabit very different experience-worlds. It aims do this through addressing the problem of what may be translatable, communicable, or imaginable beyond the human through group storytelling from animals’ perspectives and mind-modelling.


[1] I’ve borrowed this term from cognitive poetics. It describes the capacity to attribute mental states to (real or fictional) characters.


Supervision Team:  Dr Hannah Drayson (Director of Studies), Professor Michael Punt and Dr Phil Ellis