Friday, November 06, 2009
Technologically enhanced synaesthesia
“It was slightly strange at first,” Wächter says, “though on the bike, it was great.” He started to become more aware of the peregrinations he had to make while trying to reach a destination. “I finally understood just how much roads actually wind,” he says. He learned to deal with the stares he got in the library, his belt humming like a distant chain saw. Deep into the experiment, Wächter says, “I suddenly realized that my perception had shifted. I had some kind of internal map of the city in my head. I could always find my way home. Eventually, I felt I couldn't get lost, even in a completely new place.”
Then he brought out his SOES, a mesh of hard-shell plastic, elastic, and Velcro that fit over my arms and torso, strung with vibrating elements called tactile stimulators, or tactors. “The legs aren't working,” Schnell said, “but they never helped much anyway.”
Flight became intuitive. When the plane tilted to the right, my right wrist started to vibrate—then the elbow, and then the shoulder as the bank sharpened. It was like my arm was getting deeper and deeper into something. To level off, I just moved the joystick until the buzzing stopped. I closed my eyes so I could ignore the screen.
Finally, Schnell set the simulator to put the plane into a dive. Even with my eyes open, he said, the screen wouldn't help me because the visual cues were poor. But with the vest, I never lost track of the plane's orientation. I almost stopped noticing the buzzing on my arms and chest; I simply knew where I was, how I was moving. I pulled the plane out.
The topic just keeps coming up.
It's an interesting article about extending our senses into realms we aren't accustomed to, such as an innate ability to tell North, or feeling our way through righting an airplane. Forget about making our lives easier, the tools mentioned in the article give us abilities we don't even have! Tools? Crutches? Very hard to say.
And The Question gets deeper yet …