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Hijacking Experience September 25, 2007

Posted by olywood in psychology.
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Without experience, you’re quite literally nowt – ‘I think therefore I am’.
Experience allows us to function as the dogged survivors we like to romantically think of ourselves as.
We use our experience to synthesise reality into a chronologically driven survival-matrix, converting raw reality into a huge smelly, noisy, blinding phenomenal-factory of potential resources.

In fact if evolutional psychologists are to be believed the only reason we even have consciousness and phenomenal experiences in the first place is so we can effectively recognise and exploit the natural resources around us.
These days however (unless your name is Ray Mears) instead of using experience to exploit the available natural resources, we now spend the majority of our public and private lives plumbing the available artificial resources of tabulated and archived information – lacing daily experience with information we believe will give us the edge tomorrow.

As a species now forever hooked on perverting and stretching the capabilities of our own minds. We’re probably no different from the programmer ‘hacking’ the software or the musician ‘circuit-bending’ the instrument in order to realise new possibilities beyond the intended purpose.

The pioneer circuit bender Reed Ghazala’s philosophy of circuit bending can in fact be applied just as easily to our periodic data-mining as it can to the fringe art of diode and transistor swapping.
“The role of hardware hacking in EM is – evolution. It is the force of speculation upon constants, a survival tactic as well as a special poetry. Bending the norm equals progress, and that is life.”

In other words – he who sees the new possibility in the hardware takes the next leap in evolution.
And as a species we’ve been riding the momentum of that high-jump ever since we first learnt to use our vocal chords to express ideas.
The discovery that those same ideas didn’t even need to be orally passed on, but could simply be recorded and preserved in natural materials that we would have previously only thought to use for shelter or warmth, was a further leap into that evolutionary ascent.

In preserving our concepts and ideas we’ve in fact managed to turn a ‘natural’ physical resource into a psychic ‘artified’ one.
The resourcefulness of an inscribed stone tablet doesn’t lie in the material itself – as it once would have done. It lies in the codified information inscribed upon it.

The power rests in the words, or rather in your ability to re-encode those words onto the medium of raw human experience, this is the essence of ‘experience hijacking’.

Efficient Informers

As members of modern society we exploit our collectively constructed world of information in more or less the same way our ancestors did.
The only difference now of course is choice, or more specifically; the huge, seething, unrelenting amount of choice we now have at our frankly worn-out finger-tips.

Everyday we wake up and mentally call-up the phenomenal experience we managed to hijack the day before with  information we might have lifted from books, television, film or the internet.
We litter our own narrative past with clues to our potential future, always hoping we’ll be able to mentally locate the material in the years to come when a new problem presents itself and say – “i know what fits here!” And then masterfully select the appropriate ‘thought-shape’ from our psychic junkyard of tv-clips, magazine cuttings, and internet blog sites.
We’ve worked out the trick of experience and with the sort of adaptive ingenuity we love to boast about, managed to turn or ‘bend’ experience into a tool of our own specified learning.
We of course still have to play it natures way though – crowbaring knowledge into formats that our phenomenal experience will accept and digest as ‘reality’.

For instance, using the eye’s natural proclivity to dart around within a scene (microsaccades) we tend to place our invented symbols within (but rarely outside of) a shoulder’s width visual space – as you can see for yourself simply by opening the nearest magazine, comic, or book.
These carefully restricted parameters allow our eyes to comfortably move back and forth for extended periods of time without becoming tired or fatigued.
Similarly the pc monitor directly in front of you now, never usually any wider that the width of your shoulders; provides the dimensions most likely to transmit information to your neo-cortex without your mind or body rebelling against you or the artificial reality you present to it.

We always have to take into account our own physical and mental plumbing when engineering the format, like the circuit bender we only have a product of limited potential to tinker with, we can’t engineer from the ground up, at least not yet anyway.

We’ve conceived film & television in a similar fashion – taking into account the same constraints on experience that we had to acknowledge when inventing the parchment manuscript and more recent paper-back.
With film and television reality-scenes are recorded and played back at the frame rates and audible frequencies most likely for our brains to mistake for reality.
We can then use the tv’s talking heads as personal assistants to help us hijack our own databank of experience with useful (and admittedly sometimes useless) information.

The talking head is if anything a ‘format-translator’ – the presenter is plyed with information from the television producer in the form of the oldest sensory hoaxer – the written word.
The talking head then retro-engineers this information back to us in the even more familiar and ancient form of the human voice.

This translation of printed word into speech and non-verbal cues which goes right back in history to the Greek plays of Aeschylus. Id suspect is an unconscious admission that the information that carries itself most faithfully along the lines of ‘real experience’ is the information most likely to be digested and accepted.

For example, you don’t really remember the experience of reading a book, you only really remember the content you extracted from it.
While you can extract a hell of a lot of content from a book, you’re still relying on your own internalisation and visualisation of the words rather than an actual 3D experience, which incidently your brain is far more likely to adopt as a memorable ‘event’.
Books are still invaluable of course, it just comes down to how well you as individual can viscerally create those all important visual-scenes.

Being a better ‘bender’

J.Pryor knows all about subverting the visual mind, he’s discovered one of the most successful methods in recent times for tricking the senses into uptaking and recalling information.
Via a system called mnemonics it seems people can recall information much more effectively when using a process of ‘story line visualisation’ – i.e. memorising numbers in specific fonts and colours as opposed to simply memorising them as purely numeric, abstract entities – which our minds seem far less predisposed to.

While people like J. Pryor have created stark consensus-shifts in our cognitive understanding, its still very likely that we haven’t really explored the full limits of this class of knowledge.
For instance, associating an idea or ‘experiential scene’ with a smell might work wonders for our ability to recall; auto-association while we’re aware of it, is still a hugely untapped mental resource.
If we’re to evolve we need to continually seek and find new ways to spike our senses and piggy-bag information onto our daily experiences.

What ever the media or medium however we will always have to work within the limits that nature will allow, we can hijack her but we cant take the piss completely
I’ll give a perfect example of this.

The other day I over-ambitiously attempted to hijack my own experience – using my pc to play an audiobook on risk probability while coding a website amd while also chatting to a friend over msn.
Nature quickly let me know id reached the upper threshold limit of experience by giving me one of those sharp stabbing headaches behind the eyes that makes you want to swallow your own face.
Interestingly the audiobook i was listening to at the time re-counted the life of a scholar called Pierre Daniel Huet who was attempting his own (far more successful) experience-hijack.
Always aware of time and its constant procession away from his youth, he enlisted the help of a servant to follow him round during the day and read him extracts from the latest scholarly works while he performed mundane yet necessary tasks.
This way the chronic book-botherer could ‘read’ as many books as he felt his intellect required, even when the parts of his body usually quite necessary to reading were otherwise engaged.
For this academic, experience wasn’t just something to pepper with information from the human-well of knowledge. Experience was there to be brute-forced with as much data as the very laws of cosmos and social standing would allow.

I doff my hat to this true hijacker of experience, I wonder how he dealt with the headaches though

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