Technologically mediated perception

Jack Goldstein, UNTITLED (ECLIPSE), c.1980, Google Image

Ted Krueger is the founder and director of the laboratory for Human-Environment Interaction research, working on a project to fabricate synthetic senses for humans at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Krueger describes “Synthetic Senses’” as „a class of devices interfacing manufactured sensor technologies to the body enabling percepts that are not available to biological sensory modes“. His paper “Mediated Perception: Towards an Experience of Extreme Environments“, presented during the 2007 conference “MutaMorphosis: Challenging Arts and Sciences” in Prague, addresses several important ideas on the general topic of technologically mediated perceptions.

According to the author, uncommon images such as a photo of the Earthrise over a moonscape or the fading of the blue planet into a background of stars in the first voyage to Mars, though giving us a sense of profound isolation are extremely valuable for our culture. Krueger underlies how these images have the quality to shape our understanding of ourselves in new ways.
The idea that extreme environments – usually life threatening – require interrogation by robotic and remote sensing techniques rather than by human exploration and habitation is a commonly accepted one. Though much of what can be learned about extreme environments derives indeed from the use of technology, the fact is that technology sort of prevents us from having a direct experience. Even if in the end we can only experience hostile environments through our technological bubble, Kruger argues for “the irreplaceability of human presence in extreme environments on the grounds of human experience“. Assertion which leads Kruger to question: “can technologies be developed to open extreme environments to experience rather than shielding us from such environments?“.
In this paper, Kruger concludes that “Perceptual prostheses (..) will enable the direct perception of hostile conditions from with in the technological womb” and “may become a key enabling technology for the habitation of extreme conditions in addition to providing the principle justification for a human presence in them“.

His own research and activities in creating devices which explore the electrical and magnetic fields, has led him to question to which degree the mediated experience of extreme environments accurately represents the ‘real’ conditions of that environment. Though, we typically assume that our perceptions are of reality, the truth is that our membranes are only sensitive to select portions of the available spectra. According to Krueger, authors such as Varela, Thompson and Rotch (1991) have proven that the sensitivity of different species to light varies considerably. We can only perceive a small spectra of what is available, and even this partial perception is „dependant upon artifacts of our biological constitution“. Kruger writes: „Our perception is already ‘mediated’ by our biological makeup“. On top of this we construct our reality based on our experience (Glanville 1999 quoted by Krueger), which is not only influenced by our sensory flux but is also a product of our socio-cultural activity.

As a conclusion, to the paradox of technology both enabling and preventing our experience of extreme environments, Krueger interestingly says„In the end the verisimilitude we seek is a function of the degree to which coherent patterns can be built. The implication of this may be that we can only perceive and believe those things that cohere for us, that certain kinds of disorder may simply not be available for our apprehension“.

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