You can consider these to be the notes to the workshop which we will hold this week in Cyprus. During the workshop we will create a manifestation of the ubiquitous body: the idea according to which our essence cannot be meaningfully constrained into our physical, analogic boundaries anymore, and to account for our relations with the environment, with people and with the infosphere, we have to take in consideration our multiplication and dissemination across time and space.
Note: these notes are fundamentally incomplete, and only account for the part of the investigation which we will be able to perform during the workshop. It would be great to extend the effort, in ways which are similar to the ones we followed for the BAOTAZ project. Stick around in these pages if you want to know more about how this initiative proceeds.
During the workshop we will try to explore this concept and we will exhibit the results.
Why is the concept of the Ubiquitous Body meaningful for La Cura?
To answer this question, we must first explain what we mean, in this context, by the term “Ubiquitous Body“.
During La Cura we have experienced what we have called the Ubiquitous Body: a distinct, identifiable sensation according to which individuals find themselves engaged within complex networks, provoking the fact that the effects of their actions become, for all relevant purposes, ubiquitous. It is a sensation of hyper-connection.
The sensation is empowering.
It is due to multiple concurrent causes: technologies, social networks, human relations, media, the effects of arts and creativity, the presence of conditions in the domains which we were addressing (hospitals, health, well-being, medicine…) which were mature and ready for transformative processes such as the one we proposed in La Cura. Multiple reasons.
But it happened: through technologies, networks and human relations, we were hyper-connected and our actions went beyond us: we became a platform for other people’s expression.
As for the times when it happened to us, it was, at the same time, the bringer of hope and sense of success, and the bearer of anxiety and sense of loss of control.
In the first instance, the fact that by referring to and acting through complex human networks (whether digital, analog or hybrid) our actions could go well beyond what would have been possible if we acted on our own, and the fact that the human network was not a static entity, but a very lively one, capable of suggesting, inventing, acting, achieving and more, was a sensation of complete empowerment. It was a sensation of extension, and augmented reach: through the network of friends, fellows, passers-by, and even anonymous which were acting through La Cura, it felt like pretty much anything was possible.
The sensation of the emergent character of te whole initiative augmented this feeling: we did not spend money on corporate communication campaigns; the people of La Cura assembled on their own, forming clusters, islands, equipes, groups, even conflicts and fights, but all in the same ecosystem, acting to reposition the “cure” in society, to redefine disease and care, to re-appropriate human dignity and to acquire joyful and responsible capacities for collaboration and participation.
On the other hand, it was a sensation of loss of control. It was as if this Ubiquitous Body could act on its own. Even potentially doing things which I would not have agreed to.
Which, of course, happened all of the time: people saying things which were not in the spirit of La Cura; starting commercial initiatives which were not in the “official” objectives; saying things to the press; and more.
This was, potentially, something which could cause anxiety, fear, shock. And which could also cause serious trouble (imagine, for example, the trouble which would be caused if someone would have “officially” stated that La Cura supported this or that other “magical cure for cancer”, and someone actually died because they took it).
The thing is that the breakthrough, disruptive potential of La Cura was exactly in this space, where there was “loss of control”. Where people could actually appropriate La Cura, make it their own and freely act, in collaboration and interaction with others, to make things happen.
La Cura was real when the Ubiquitous Body was real.
Why is the concept of the Ubiquitous Body meaningful for nEUROsis at NeMe?
For nEUROsis we want to investigate into an hypothesis.
We, all of us, are obviously not very good at experiencing interconnectedness, and in recognizing beauty in it.
When we say this, we mean the interconnectedness which we described while explaining the Ubiquitous Body: the ecosystemic interconnectedness, in which you are connected with the ecosystem, which includes difference and conflict.
We find ourselves in the peculiar condition according to which for the first time in human history deep, profound interconnection with human/non-human/hybrid ecosystems is possible.
The hypothesis is: what if we could experiment in acquiring a new sense, just like the other ones we have – sight, hearing, taste, tactility, smell –, but which makes us sensible to interconnectedness in this way? What if we could find a beauty through this sense? A beauty for difference, conflict and co-existence? A beauty of those things which are the ways in which ecosystems are strong and resilient?
What if we could use this sense of beauty that interconnects to build social capital and to diminish the asymmetry of power which is the driver to the current crisis, in all of its forms?
And, on the other hand, what happens when we avoid referring to this perception in a passive way – a passive beauty, something which you experience, and that’s it –, but, rather, in active ways? Something you can construct together with people?
In the end: what are we asking?
During these days in Cyprus we will investigate and discuss the Ubiquitous Body and we will try to pull out a collaborative artwork, which is the systematic attempt at answering these questions, or coming up with other interesting and meaningful ones.
So, let’s begin. Since the objective is to experiment in the creation of an augmented sense, one which is capable of letting us recognize and sense the beauty of interconnectedness in ecosystems, so that we are able to construct on this beauty and create social capital on it, we shall start from an investigation on the senses, and on how you expand/extend them.
In all of this we will use a metaphor: the Augmented Sense.
We’re not transhumanists. We don’t particularly aim at augmenting or transforming the human body and mind in any technologically relevant way.
But, on the other hand, we recognize that digital technologies and networks have already mutated our bodies, perceptions and behaviours. We are already cyborgs.
For this, we will start by exploring how technologies are able to influence our perception of the world, so that we can gain a broader understanding about the ways in which we will be able to gain a new sensoriality, new sense, a new way to perceive and to create meaning in the world.
Senses, phenomena and time
Brey, P. (2000). ‘Technology and Embodiment in Ihde and Merleau-Ponty.’ Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Technology. Research in Philosophy and Technology, vol 19. ed. C. Mitcham. London: Elsevier/JAI Press.
Glasses and hearing aid are not simply “objects” in the environment, but, rather, objects through which we perceive the environment.
This is the same also for a blind’s man cane: an object through which the environment is perceived and acted on.
Don Ihde defines these special relations with objects as Embodiment Relations, as these objects seem to become parts of our embodiment.
Other philosophers, such as Wittengstein and Anscombe, have argued that we have a specific way of gaining perception of the position of our body, beyond ordinary sensory perception, and we might hypothesise how embodied artefacts may participate in this understanding.
In Don Ihde’s theory of embodiment relations, the embodied technology retracts from our perception, and functions as a partially transparent means through one perceives the environment.
As Merleau-Ponty puts it, a new skill, or habit, is acquired, a new possibility for movement and action, altering the body schema, the perceptions about the potentialities for action.
Some of these skills involve learning how to use objects which are attached to our bodies, making, in a way, the object incorporated in our own body schema.
“When the typist performs the necessary movements on the typewriter, these movements are governed by an intention, but the intention does not posit the keys as objective locations. It is literally true that the subject who learns to type incorporates the key-bank space into his bodily space” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962)
The typewriter becomes the extension of the skilled typist’s hands. This does not happen for the unskilled typist, who has to search for each key in space, every touch becoming an encounter with the keyboard, not an act that incorporates it: there is a boundary at the end of the subject’s hands, and it does not incorporate the keys.
What happens when Merleau-Ponty’s embodiment relations deal with artifacts which become a medium through which our perceptual skills are expressed?
The technology we have in our hands changes our perception of the world not only by offering sensory feedback, but also by shaping the acts through which we perceive the world. We’re seeing through that hammer: the hammer shapes the acts through which we look at the world. When we have a hammer in hand, everything looks like a nail.
While this happens, these objects recede from view. For example, the entirety of Marshall McLuhan‘s work can be seen as an attempt to understand how all technology is media technology that alters our perception of the world.
We may also think to start from Merleau-Ponty, who writes:
“The life of consciousness – cognitive life, the life of desire or perceptual life – is subtended by an ‘intentional arc’ which projects round about us our past, our future, [and] our human setting ….”
“Intentional Arc” describes the ways in which our experience and perception is shaped by what we intend. By this, we mean that we are constantly interpreting reality, not simply registering as a fact. Perception is an active state, where interpretation takes place.
This fact implies that the work of perception-as-interpretation builds up over time as an assortment of “I cans” carried or remembered by our bodies. By perceiving/interpreting we form what we thing is possible.
This assortment becomes part of the background, or pre-understanding, that we bring to bear on new situations. And this is how our intentional arc “projects round about us our past, our future.”
“To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.”
How we perceive our environment is shaped by the mere presence of a tool in hand.
Aspects of the environment that would not have presented themselves as things-to-be-struck now do. Our interpretive perception interprets differently. Our seeing-as is altered. New possibilities suggest themselves. The affordances presented to us by our environment are re-ordered.
With camera in hand our environment presents itself differently to us: we see differently when we see with camera in hand.
Layers of sensorial perception
Massumi describes three levels which produce our experience of reality: exteroceptive senses, proprioception and interoception. Exteroceptive senses are vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Proprioception “translates the exertion and ease of the body’s encounters with objects into a muscular memory of relationality” (Massumi, 2002). Interoception (visceral perception) “immediately registers excitations gathered by the five exteroceptive senses even before they are fully processed by the brain.”
These layers happen in different time/space conditions: movement has to be stopped in order to be perceived by senses, for example by vision, to be transformed into an image. On the other hand, proprioceptive sensitivity exists through movement, in the “becoming”, in what Massumi calls the event, a concept of pure relationality and full of potential and transformative energy.
For all that we described, as all technologies, the “new-media” related techs which constitute such a large portion of our experience of the world interfere with our perception at all these levels: through our senses, proprioception and visceral experience. For this, our behaviour in physical space changes.
Hauntology is a neologism coined by Jaques Derrida in 1993 as a politico-philosophical
concept. Hauntology is a combination of the words “haunting” and
“ontology.” It refers to ghosts in that they represent a particular state of presence in nonexistence.
“Lastly, paradoxical logic emerges when the real-time image dominates the thing represented, real time subsequently prevailing over real space, virtuality dominating actuality and turning the very concept of reality on its head. Whence the crisis in traditional forms of public representation (graphics, photography, cinema..) to the great advantage of presentation, of a paradoxical presence, the long-stance telepresence of the object or being which provides their very existence, here and now.” (Virilio, 1994)
One simple example of this is the experience of walking in the street while engaging in a conversation in a chat session or on a smartphone. Annet Dekker (2009) observed that the use of mobile devices facilitates isolation in a private space, which is at the same time immersed in public space.
“Advanced mobile phones with integrated MP3 players allow people to move through cities with headphones on, thereby distancing themselves from what is going on around them. […] (With the arrival of modern mobile communication devices) while being in contact with distant others, people are distancing themselves from the people around them. These long-distances conversations that are made with portable phones reinforce the privatization of public space.” (Dekker, in Urban Screens Reader: 225)
Using a similar consideration, Clark declares that “the mind is just less and less in the head” (2001): the capacity to construct and work with higher complexity through networked systems seems possibly the single major factor which separates humans from other animals.
This could implicate that our minds become integrated into larger systems of interconnectivity, with machines, other human beings, other human beings through machines, the environment, the environment through machines, etc. Clark arrives at describing outsourced unwired organs of the human bodies.
A consequence to this trend would be a progressive decrease in the overall level in which we depend on our biological rhythms and constituencies, and the increasing level on which we depend on the machines we use. As we do more through machines, we could have the need to rewire ourselves and our energies towards the activities which are needed to complete the machine’s work.
One example of this could be represented by the transformation of memory patterns for the various generations of technology users, or on the ways in which our life rhythms are no longer completely defined by biology, but also by the socio-economically ones determined by electricity, and by its effects in terms of production of time.
In Paul Virilio’s analysis, new media have played a significant role in altering our perception of proximity. In digital terms, he observes, proximity is defined by time rather than by geographic distance. Therefore, he argues, architecture is no longer an architecture of space, but of time.
Virilio joins Munster in observing how speed is the way in which we identify distances in the world: close is when the response from the machine/person is rapid.
In the globalized 24/7 econonomy, we are led to believe that everyone and everything is always awake and active.
This condition expands what neurobiologists call the “umwelt”, the world that can be detected and perceived by an organism. This isn’t a new idea, as far back as 1969 Paul Bach-y-Rita showed just how far neuroplasticity let us expand our worlds.
The third-signal systems
And, for these next two sections, we drew from “New senses, electronically induced. How gadgets reshape the human sensorium“, by Andrey Miroshnichenko
Our experience for sensorial augmentations have been in the domain of being able to induce new senses, also in indirect ways, by piggy-backing our current ones (for example tactility or vision). We now meet for the first time the possibility for new signal systems.
This is related to Physiologist Ivan Pavlov‘s concepts of the first and second signal systems: sensorium is a first-signal system, speech is a second-signal system, in which cognitive reactions are evoked by transmitting symbolically charged and mediated signals.
We have set up the scene for the possibility for third-signal systems, which will allow the obtaining of cognitive stimuli via devices that induce our perceptions electronically and computationally, establishing a logical extension of McLuhan’s concept of the extension of man by electronic and digital media.
Are current social networks (with all the layers of bubbles, algorithms and filters shaping our perception and our possibility for perception, our perceptive space) third-signal systems?
Sensations of the first-signal system are space-biased, as they scan the physical environment for humans to manipulate with. Before certain steps in the gradual digitization of the environment, humans hadn’t even had a concept of time. Of course, any sequence of events is unfolded in time, but those participate are time-blind, they can not manipulate with time (maybe except creative and some other activities; “Man was able to arrest time,” wrote Innis in regards to Babylonian advances in astronomy and calendars.)
Sensation of the second-signal system (which is cognition) is space- and time-neutral, as speech and other symbolic mediums have untied the mind from physical leashes, putting the mind into Plato’s cave.
Sensations of the third-signal system will have to be space-ignorant, but time-biased.
Such a conclusion is based on an assumption that, in the digital environment, the space dimensions have to become simply irrelevant. We will have only one space characteristic – “here”, which will stand for “everywhere”. Space will collapse into “here/everywhere”; it has already been collapsing, when you are on the Internet.
This, of course, obviously includes a series of paradoxes, such as the ones which emerge when digital data/information/knowledge are situated, or relevant for specific places/spaces, in the multiple ways in which this is possible. These content are, at the same time, space-ignorant and space-conscious. What happens then?
- Privacy, control and surveillance implications?
- Algorithmic governance also on our sensory experience?
- interface/data biopolitics: how does this kind of solution represent an architecture of power? What are the power (im)balances?
Andrew Spitz, Ruben Van der Vluten, and Markus Schmeiduch created an iPhone peripheral interface called Blind Maps that gives a tactile map for sight impaired users that can be read with the fingertips.
German scientists have been developing a new device, the feel-space belt, which allows a wearer to feel the Earth’s magnetic field and be oriented in the four winds, just like birds and bats are.
“Lacking momentum, NeuroControl stopped selling the product. “The investors had expected that it would penetrate a much larger volume of the overall spinal-injury population,” says Geoff Thrope, who was NeuroControl’s director of business development. “We were able to make dozens of implant sales per year. You need to be in the hundreds, if not thousands, to have it make sense.”
Some Examples on AOS