from code to cortex to cognition

As we endeavour to navigate the contemporary our reliance on the mobile device to mediate an interstice between our reality and our imagined environments has become more and more evident as we increasingly shift from an analogue interaction into a digital interface. Our new devices facilitate a transaction whereby they operate as the inputs and outputs to our everyday life. They function as both a gathering device and as the transmitters of information which not only manifests itself through the vast amount of data we consume but also through the treatment and proliferation of images in our contemporary media.

These new and disparate interactions result in a dichotomy of mind where we are consumed by the sheer volume of its existence yet simultaneously define its very being through our participation. It raises questions around the dissemination of knowledge, the displacement of traditional learning skills and how the physical world is questioned, engaged with and navigated. As everyday life increasingly becomes immersed within the digital environment how might our codification affect our visual perceptions, cognitive processes and our rationality within this new interaction? And will this type of assimilation exclude our ability to interpret those unseen spaces, those moments which are composed through a process of intuition and experiment, where the brain constructs the experience and defines the interpretation through a series of complex comparisons, narratives and the reliability and authenticity of facts? 

The digital device is changing the way our visual fields and our understanding of the world is being interpreted. It could be argued that through this interaction with contemporary technology a new way of seeing space, light, objects, colour, and events are beginning to be redefined. One, which is not only being framed by the screen of the device but is also expressed through a pattern of pixels, code, data structures, bits, bytes, algorithms and scripts. 

These new modes of seeing challenge our understanding of how we might define truth, in what we find important and where we place relevance in the hierarchy of comprehension; “some things, like events and occurrences might move from the core of our reasoning to the periphery of our understanding, where connections are marginal, where our synapses carefully choose which bonds to make, which modules should be inserted and which should be discarded”. These choices activate a process of classification and categorisation in terms of how we acquire knowledge, how we define experiences and how the pervasive nature of the ‘search engine’, which has seamlessly integrated itself into our daily lives, has become a ‘module’ for defining our observations and experiences.

Today the plethora of images, information and way finding devices point to a predestined juncture. Data validation techniques are methods most often used to verify accuracy, give meaning, provide security and check routines which are widely employed in software development, language programming and process modelling. However, these methods are also increasingly being applied to prove and validate reality and used as tools for decision making, comparative analysis and truth seeking. 

In this data saturated environment the static image struggles to hold interest as they flash past, through swipes and slides, left and right, up and down. Gerald Cupchik talks about the ability to grasp vast amounts of information in a short period of time and he has observed that humans are able to “discern the relative complexity and orderliness of paintings or patterns after only a single glance afforded by a 50 msec [millisecond] exposure...”. This complex interaction between the visual and cerebral is mirrored in the digital space where these connections continue to occur but at a far higher processing rate. This leads to a process of filtering information based on recognizable patterns mediated through a technology designed for immediacy and intimacy which encourages the mapping of images based on what is relevant, what is deemed necessary and personal, discarding those which sit at the periphery.

In this fast paced highly individualistic environment the dynamic image has superseded the quiescent contemplative object based image. This shift may be a result of complacency where logic is no longer relied on to interpret complex meaning. Or it could be that the increased repetition, pattern making and systematic visual clues of the digital interface has desensitized the meaning of images. The image has many roles within society as it acts as a bridge between desire and truth. In the digital realm it sits on a grid, next to other images in a competing and comparative ‘classist” way, forever being subjected to the discrepancies of taste and function.

Today, digital interactions are not just about effect, nor do they always represent the conformity of social obligations. They also constitute a declaration of being and express an unintended mark full of possibilities. In our innate drive to explain reality, an occurrence or a theory, technology is increasingly being relied on to act as ‘validators’ to our preconceptions. The mobile phone is one such technological device which has become an omnipresent object. A ‘smart’ phone none-the-less, with a small screen which possesses knowledge, identity, hopes and desires. A device which reacts to touch, voice and vision and proffers results for us instantaneously.

In the space which lies behind a series of polymers, plastics, glass, code and syntax, complex interactions are being enacted. These connections are mediated through the screen and this unseen space engineers a relationship between the act of looking and the gratification of retrieving. In navigating these networks a digital residue is left behind which not only unites the connection between people and events but also exposes the trace of this movement which in turn acts as evidence to an existence and forever implicates an action with validation. 

This validation creates a language or code which drives the interface and expresses itself as images which we consume and construe. These images are then personified through a process of comparing, collecting and categorisation which establishes a level of comprehension and expresses itself through the search engines of an attention seeking media saturated environment.

But it is not the image of the hyperreal, the over glossed, digitally manipulated or even the manufactured image, the image of false impulses as represented though television, advertising and HD desire which takes centre stage here. These images do not pretend to be anything other than that, representations of fancy and entertainment and crafted to lure emotive reactions. Images have intent and images have function. These are separate consequences which rarely engage to produce beneficial outcomes.

Instead, validation is rooted in a different reality, one that is represented by a conflicting image. One that is far more immediate and seemingly real; the video of hand-held motion, the phone filtered ‘snap’, the seeing eye of surveillance, the screen of the helicopter gunner, the pilot’s simulator screen, the augmented reality or the eye of the amateur photographer, that of the corrupted, the ‘glitch’, the subversive. Those moments captured by reflexes in situations of despair, in moments of revelation, nature enacting itself, humanity at its most fervent and passionate, the image of impulse or, as Hito Steyerl describes them “poor images [which] are poor because they are not assigned any value within the class society of images...”.

Today value lies in the certainty of facts, figures and statistics and when tragic events fill our browser screens and flood our digital devices we are confronted by a world which can no longer be explained through a series of data points, bits and bytes. As we watch our world events unfold through a process of collating images and data certain unsettling patterns begin to emerge. It is here where the power of the political image re-establishes itself with new meaning, embedded with alternative layers of intent. The images of hand shaking politicians, star studded general or the theatre of press conferences and orchestrated public appearances imply a sense of composure, establish order, define hierarchies and craft our augmented realities where language and image, meaning and intent are fraught with uncertainty, conceit and neglect.

The use of military imagery including planes, armed personnel, generals, the navy, operations room, the theatre of war, maps, charts and augmented realities crosses equally between two recent events. One might see these images as being incongruous in relation to the events, but in today’s post 9/11 world everything seems plausible. The immediate reaction by governments and authorities is to call in the military ‘experts’ and to assure its citizens that it is the military who posses ‘true’ knowledge with their access to ‘high-end’ technologies and rapid deployment of ‘future combat systems’. But these images can also be seen to represent a deflection of responsibility, accountability and complicity. They might also suggest that our mutuality on technology can also render us powerless as it can implicit us in falsehoods and that true power lies with those who control the institutions of war. 

As events become memories I wonder what happens to these collected, categorised and archived images? How will they act as evidence for our future generations? Recently, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has decided to grant users the right to remove links about themselves and in some cases official records are allowed to be dissociated. This “... so-called right to be forgotten, or erasure...” ruling has some far reaching implications in terms of right to privacy, access to knowledge and the miss-representation of identity and authenticity. It raises some questions in terms of how the internet is used to inform and how and where trust and validation should be placed. These two emotions are central to an understanding of the world; trust enables belief, it negates doubt and reassures humanity, while validation supports the concept of trust, it is used as a means of comparing and authenticating. Both of these concepts encompass how our relationships with institutions, governments, friends and families are defined. They form part of an intertwined, complex and unique system of connections which is relied on to establish and understand reality.

Typically, reality is based on our senses, those of sight, sound, touch, taste, etc, coupled with our understanding of time, memories, associations and emotion. These interactions are what allows us to formulate, compose and interpret the world around us. 

But what happens when the illusion of an external action – like ambiguity, augmentation or multiplicity of condition interjects with our understanding through an ability to reinterpret and manipulate form, subject and content? Does this disruption, through time-stretches, hyperrealities, cadence, colour, movement, layering, rhythm, concealment or abstraction, require us to shift the way our senses decode a situation, event, emotion or artwork? And does this ‘interjection’ force the brain to translate what and how it is sensing and ‘seeing’, allowing for a secondary reading, a double-take, a tangential acknowledgment which holds our attention and breaks the default cycle of pattern recognition, bringing the periphery back into the whole? 

Dr. Hans Gesser describes the augment realities of the digital sphere as “just a new step in the expansion of horizons of reference” and that “by harnessing empirically given sensory impressions” and adding them to the “pools of information” a richer understanding is derived from “what is heard, smelled, touched or seen and experienced”. This “supra-individual knowledge [...] is part of a collective culture” which is “intersubjectively shared” and that “more and more objects and locations [groups, individuals and institutions] will thus be endowed with ever expanding ‘information shadows’ that can be made visible (or left invisible) according to the preferences of users”... I wonder how these observations might eventuate as we navigate the networks of our code through our augmented cortex and redefine our cognitive states? (/)