Alison Simmons

Alison Simmons

Samuel H. Wolcott Professor of Philosophy and Harvard College Professor at Harvard University


Alison Simmons, a jury member for the annual Berggruen Prize, is the Samuel H. Wolcott Professor of Philosophy and Harvard College Professor at Harvard University. She received her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania in 1994.  Her primary area of research and teaching is early modern (17th and 18th century) philosophy, with a particular focus on theories of mind, the relationship between mind and body, the relationship between mind and world, and the way our understanding of those relationships has changed from classical Greek to contemporary philosophy.  She is currently writing a book entitled Beyond Dualism: Descartes on the Human Condition . She is also editing an interdisciplinary book on consciousness for the Oxford Philosophical Concepts series. Recent articles include “Leibnizian Consciousness Re-Considered,” “Sensory Perception of Body: Meditation 6.5,” “Cartesian Consciousness Reconsidered,” “Re-Humanizing Descartes,” “Sensation in the Malebranchean Mind,” and “Guarding the Body:  A Cartesian Phenomenology of Perception.” At Harvard, Professor Simmons was co-chair of the 2006-2007 Task Force on General Education, which drafted a new program of general education for Harvard College.

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.