Light Thought Experiments

Jeroen Peeters

The past has seen many interesting experiments and debates concerning the weight of the soul, but has anyone ever posed the question: how heavy do our thoughts in fact weigh? Or consider this: if we walk around with heavy thoughts, does our head actually weigh more? This bizarre and fascinating question is the point of departure for the playful performance piece How Heavy Are My Thoughts by Croatian-Dutch artist Ivana Müller. The classical auditorium in Leuven, STUK, offered the perfect framework for an examination of thought itself and its physical manifestations.
How Heavy Are My Thoughts takes the formal shape of a lecture demonstration, a stage-managed lecture in fact. This is not only an up and coming new genre, it’s also a form that allows for the manipulation of specific registers: the relationship between thinking and communication, the aura surrounding scientific research. The Brit Bill Aitchison presents in a PowerPoint presentation a series of documents elucidating Müller’s quest. In the performance, Ivana Müller is referred to as I.M. for short, read: I am. With a nod to the maxim “cogito, ergo sum”, as conceived by the philosopher René Descartes, a series of experiments and discussions with scientists commences. The question then becomes intermeshed with the ramblings of I.M. and the involvement of Aitchison.
Although the experiments may seem absurd sometimes, I.M. treats them with a certain seriousness: How Heavy Are My Thoughts is a large-scale undertaking in which metaphors are taken literally. Just say that objects contain thoughts, would these thoughts remain floating around in space once we removed the objects? And are people receptive to these object-thoughts? In the same vein, I.M. puts her head on a weighing-scales, has her brain scanned, tries to separate light from heavy thoughts using a trampoline, or gorges on vodka. All of this is meticulously observed and documented. The interviewed scientists go quite far with her in this game, for instance physicist Prof. F. Siemsen, who quickly finds a solution in Einstein’s theory of relativity. If thinking and brain activity causes the energy in the brain to increase, then the brain mass must also increase. That sounds perfectly logical, doesn’t it?
How Heavy Are My Thoughts is not merely light-footed and astute, it is also, as a production, meticulously formulated and highly self-reflective. For the transmission of thoughts a medium is needed, but what about the process of thinking itself? There is no better setting to examine the imbedding of thought in space and time than in the theatre. This localising of thought, within the body, in a narrative connection, in a broader context, isn’t that choreography? Müller is also happy to poke fun at the debate on ‘conceptual dance’ in this piece. At the beginning, Aitchison apologises for the absence of Müller, the reason the ‘dance performance’ has been hastily substituted for a lecture. But if I.M. is, in the Cartesian sense, present at the delivery of her own thoughts, can she not then be simultaneously present in the theatre?

published in De Morgen, 2003 and at

translated by Mark Verschuur