What Parapsychology, the Occult and Arduino’s Can Tell Us About Our Sensor and Neuro Aware Future?

I’m going to detail (at much more length than I imagined necessary) the rationale behind my forthcoming workshop at Apiary Studios at the end of this month, 25th of June (please come along, register your interest here). The workshop will sample the act of crystal gazing through the physical computing poster child Arduino. As you can tell from the post title this workshop aims to sit at the intersection of a number of aspects of digital existence.

Sensor Aware Samples & Abstracts As Any Model Must Do

Sensor aware environments hold the promise of more responsive environments and households via the machines ability to predict. Machine learning requires statistical analysis and database mining to infer what future behaviour might emit from our wetware. Sensor aware environments rationalise movements to infer potential future behaviour (on our part) by sampling the analog reality we inhabit. What’s important is that these oncoming sensor aware environments (which we will increasingly inhabit the more ubiquitous ubi-comp becomes) have at their root an abstraction from our reality.

Relational Databases Are An Engine Whereby Hithertofore Unknown Patterns Can Be Discerned And Put To Use

You may or may not know that I am interested in how new knowledge is produced by databases and data mining and I enjoy harking back to historical practices which developed to make sense of the fuzzy world that we inhabit. Like data mining such methodologies were prized for their ability to guide the individual or society consulting them. Oracles, soothsayers and diviners could open themselves to the unknown, becoming a conduit for forces that would instruct them as to what was yet to come.
To date I’ve focused on tea leaf reading but my initial interest in this whole area was sparked by scrying practices. The most famous example of object oriented divining comes from the British Isles’ John Dee, who enlisted a prolific crystal gazer to his research. Gazing at the crystal revealed intuitive visions and birthed the enochian language.

The Occult Is A Problem For A Rational Conception Of Psyche

Crystal gazing and speaking in the enochian language have since become part and parcel of occult practice. Elements of occult practice dovetail with phenomena bracketed under Parapsychology. Parapsychology encompass experiences which escape the rational & bounded models of the psyche inherent within psychology, they are anomalous and troubling and it was their inexplicability per available models that eventually saw respectable analysis of such phenomena wane and wane.

Before telepathy and other psi related phenomena which troubled the bounded self found themselves cast into the parapsychological wilderness they were subjects of fascination for many a respectable psychological scholar and philosopher of mind (including Henri Bergson and William James). The one area where a strong weight of the thinking from those models still finds articulation is within hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy and the suggestive mechanisms by which it operate are still something of a black box: even today the mechanisms of hypnosis confound the cutting edge paradigm (neuroscience) {link} used to probe the inner recesses of our brain (there is not scope to go into it here but Gabriel Tarde strongly believed in the primacy of hypnotic suggestion as the principle element of interaction between humans and society and so he must also be numbered amongst the distinguished lineage of influential philosophers who have approached this area)

Hypnotherapy was not cast into the wilderness alongside the other exotic parapsychological practices but one could contend that the practices are certainly of a similar ilk. Being part of the fold hypnotherapy was subjected to the rational tools available to the psychological sciences paradigms. In one such experiment Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) was used to ascertain the levels of trance which people descend into when undergoing hypnosis, in a seminal experiment by LJ West. GSR is a (relatively) recently discredited means of determining whether a subject is telling the truth, a mechanism where inner psychological traits were attempted to be discerned by an outer physical trace (link to anticipative story).

Interfacing With Trance

As part of my ongoing research into divination, databases and captology I’ve come to wonder whether the sorts of mental states induced by partaking in divination triggers a mild (or deep!) trance state. Hypnotherapy can plunge the patient into trance by a number of methods; the disciplines understanding of trance is broad, its simply a selective focusing of attention. But the key tenet of hypnotherapy (and hypnotic practice generally) is that when under trance you are more susceptible to suggestions. Something about hypnotherapy that will be doubtless unsatisfactory to most is the idea that the suggestions are planted to make one more amenable to the affordances of their environment: a subtle unconscious shift can align you differently to the opportunities which come your way for instance. Advocates of neuro linguistic programming practice conversational hypnosis where the power of correctly phrased questions can usher their target into a more receptive state. It’s just a conjecture of mine but I imagine that a novice to tea leaf reading, one who is guided by a practiced tasseomancer would descend into a mild trance state through the gradual drinking of the tea and would be further aided along that path by the questions posed (do you see a snail in the tea leafs patterns?). The way the Fortune Teller would relay the fortune back to the participant could carry all the potency of a hypnotic suggestion.

And The Point Is…

On one level this project simply aims to indulge in a bit of empiricism; can GSR determine whether crystal gazing plunges oneself into a trance state. But in order that all objects within the circuit of meaning making (human and crystal ball) are subject to computational mediation the crystal ball shall also be analysed. Both data feeds will be processed through an arduino and fed into a database. I like viewing the arduino as an easy window into what sensor aware environments constitute at a base level. The arduino is a crude computer and the granularity of reality it can sample is determined by whether reality can be registered in terms of voltage differences. A further abstraction arrives via breaking this voltage signal down into 1024 numerical values. Ultimately any computational modelling of reality will operate via this fragmentation of the analog (or analogically perceived) world with which our perceptual apparatus is most familiar.
Thus this workshop attempts to tangentially approach the first step to any database modelling, how the reality we know is modelled for a computer to receive, and how it is abstracted in order to best fit a database modelling. Similar abstractions such as these increasingly feed forward into other processes and systems which impinge upon and constitute our quotidian existence.

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~ by Stephen Fortune on June 10, 2011.

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