BRC to Be Site of Groundbreaking Study to Determine if DJs Are Sentient


For decades scientists have debated whether DJs display signs of intelligence.  This week researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that they will attend Burning Man in 2018 to conduct groundbreaking research that could finally find the answer.

“There’s no question that DJs have exhibited increasingly greater levels of complexity,” said lead researcher Dr. Jennifer Meisenthal, Director of the Dubstep program at the Stanford School of Ethnomusicology.  “During the 50s and 60s, Jane Goodall’s pioneering work in local radio had many researchers convinced that DJs were making intelligent music choices, and even using language. But new research has cast significant doubt on that theory, suggesting instead that they’re only pushing buttons in a mechanistic, and ultimately pre-determined fashion.”

Dr. Richard Hapswick, of the Harvard School of Jazz Botany, agreed, adding that “frankly, after Coachella 2016, the idea that DJs are capable of deductive reasoning, let alone cognition, is essentially untenable.”

But Dr. Cynthia Rankitesh, who lectures on circuit parties at Duke University, said that this view is short-sighted, and even myopic.  “DJs use tools, have a complicated social hierarchy, and appear to genuinely grieve when their dealer can’t make it to their set. Frankly it’s social taboos, not science, that keeps us from recognizing them as a sentient life form.”

Burning Man is a participatory arts event and civic experiment held annually in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.  It was selected as the research site, Dr. Meisenthal said, because DJs there are plentiful and easy to capture.  “Their population has been expanding at a frankly unsustainable rate for a number of years, and our expectation is that if we remove a few from the city, no one will miss them, and no damage to the environment will be done.”  She rejected notions that Burning Man had been chosen because its DJs are the ‘illest.

Researchers will use a combination of fMRI studies and stimulus/response tests to see if DJs have the capacity to learn from mistakes, recognize the emotional needs of others, and utilize contextual clues to reach decisions.

“We know they respond to blinky lights,” Dr. Hapswick said.  “But is that really a sign of intelligence?”

If DJs are found to be intelligent, it would be an enormous upheaval for society.  But Dr. Rankitesh prefers to focus on the positive aspects. “Once we’ve determined they’re intelligent – and I’m confident we will – we can educate them.  Help them find a productive use for their talents. Maybe even expose them to the arts. It’s an exciting possibility, and could lead to a much better world.”

The team is expected to publish their findings in February of 2019.

Cover Photo by Jamen Percy

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

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