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“Augmented perception and Transhumanist Art”

Dr Amon Twyman is a London-based cognitive scientist and artist. Amon’s scientific research has been conducted at various universities in New Zealand and the UK, most recently in the Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences at University College London, where he studies the role of conscious and non-conscious processes in judgment and decision making. As “Amon Zero”, he is the founder of electronic band Xykogen, which is concerned with using experimental electronic music and 3D computer animation to explore transhumanist themes. Related activity has recently included making all digital releases available for free download, and promoting the emerging “futurepunk” subculture in London.

Talk Abstract

A central tenet of transhumanism is that augmentation of human capabilities is desirable. One of the more technologically tractable forms of augmentation is that of the senses, as demonstrated by recent advances in the development of prosthetic hearing and visual aids. Advanced perceptual capabilities will not, however, simply be limited to improving the acuity of sensations presently familiar to humans. We already have machines which, like certain animals, can interpret signals outside the range of normal human perception (such as infrared or ultraviolet spectrum vision, or audio frequencies beyond human hearing). Application of such technologies to perceptual aids is a future development we might reasonably expect.

Even without taking Virtual Reality technologies into account, augmented perception should allow transhumans great control over their subjective perception of reality. Such engineered forms of consciousness should map at least as reliably, or adaptively, on to objective existence as does unmodified human sensation. To take things a step further; Certain interpretations of the anthropic principle suggest that we find ourselves in a reality with particular characteristics simply because they are the characteristics we are equipped to perceive. Perceptually augmented posthumans would be able to take advantage of aspects of reality that unmodified humans cannot, and may even find that apparently immutable aspects of the universe are in fact merely markers of the perimeter of human perceptual capability.

Science and technology clearly provide the necessary basis for such investigation of expanded perceptual capabilities and parameters of the human condition. The strengths of science, however, are generally derived from methodical procedure and adherence to strict rules. Once a new arena of exploration has been opened up by science, sometimes a more free form of experimentation can help to develop our understanding of the possibilities at hand. Art has traditionally fulfilled this role, acting as colonist to science’s pioneer, and artists are particularly well equipped for an exploration of new perceptual spaces. In this presentation I will outline some of the roles a truly Transhumanist Art may play in the future, specifically in relation to augmented perception and the anthropic principle, and give a brief demonstration of a current project which attempts to take a first step in these strange new directions.

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