Tele-Synaesthesia: the Telematic Future of the Senses
by Dr. Hugo Heyrman
"Art & Computers: an exploratory investigation on the digital transformation of art."
Doctoral thesis, Universidad de La Laguna, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 1995.
Lecture at the Royal Academy of Science, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium.
Department of Fine Arts, on December 17th 1997, Palace of the Academies, Brussels.
Published in 'Cyber Flux News', July 1997, and in the 'Encyclopedia of Postmodernism',
Victor E. Taylor, Charles E. Winquist, London and New York, Routledge, 2001.
The new media and the Internet enable us to experience different
kinds of information which are of a specifically telematic nature and for this
reason effectively differ from the usual forms of communication. By linking
the concepts tele and synaesthesia to each other, we deal with the fact that
the transmission of data creates a synaesthetic effect: tele-synaesthesia, synesthetes
are in some sense, people of the future. At the end of the 20th century, the
practicable units of time have become digitalised, magnified, and incredibly
accelerated. The modalities of our sensorial perception become interactive by
means of electronic mechanisms of control and selection. A tele-culture is emerging,
subjecting both the perceptual and the conceptual to strictly speaking
Keywords: Synaesthesia, Telecommunication, Multimedia, New Media, Sensorial experience, Net.art, Interactive art, Internet, Cyberspace, Tele-culture, Telematic culture.
computer is a spiritual machine" UMBERTO ECO
In the course this lecture, we propose the formulation of a hypothesis: namely tele-synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is derived from the Greek words 'syn'(together) and 'aisthèsis' (perception). Up to a certain degree, everybody is slightly synaesthetic (to perceive = synaesthetic and synoptical). Synaesthesia is a sensorial faculty which refers to a blurring of the normal differences and borders between the senses: image and sound intermingle, at times feeling and taste intermix, in short: all sensorial interrelations are possible. Tele (also derived from the Greek) stands for 'far' and for occurring at great distance. The hypothesis we are testing here boils down to the following assessment: our consciousness, our body and senses will be confronted with new experiences, with synaesthetic qualities that are instantaneous and above all multi-sensorial as a result of the new media (the proliferation of informatics and of knowledge).
content of a medium is the previous medium", Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)
wrote. A necessary consequence of this principle entails the fact that a person
who searches for a deeper inner meaning is bound to invariably end up with the
|||In the case of writing, this means speech.|
|||In the case of photography this would be painting and the graphic arts.|
|||For the radio, it is both the narrative and concerts.|
|||For film, it is both photography and theater.|
|||For interactive media, this would be opera, theater, film, television and the 'Gesamtkunstwerk' (total work of art).|
At present, the concept of synaesthesia is connected with the time-honored notion of the 'Gesamtkunstwerk', the category of the theatrical, the attack on the sensorium commune (the central point of convergence of the nervous system). We know that one stimulation of the senses automatically leads to another by means of association. Therefore, synaesthesia is an important factor in every creative act and each form of interpretation. The same goes for mediums, but, in this case, it takes place on a meta-level: Cybermedia. They blur the boundaries between internal and external spaces (a quintessential point of this concise thesis, is the postulate that this blurring of boundaries can be considered as a question of subtle synaesthetic graduations) and, because of the blurring of differences (between what is here and what is there), our senses become tele-senses. Virtual worlds have already emerged in a great many divergent domains. As of yet, one could find applications in the field of the arts, scientific visualisation, virtual universities, cinematographic animation and simulation, teleconferencing, tele-jobs, virtual voyaging, virtual museums, virtual sports, virtual robots, teleshopping, tele-medicine, tele-studying and the like. Virtual reality does not only make the inconceivable quite conceivable, but equally makes it functional. The latter in order to demonstrate that these new media do in fact bring about a synaesthetic effect.
M. McLuhan and B.R. Powers offer an explanation for this phenomenon in their publication: Global Village: "If man is able to transpose the workings of his central nervous system into electronic circuits, he will be on the brink of externalizing his consciousness in the computer. One could conceive of consciousness as a projection of internal synaesthesia towards the outside world, which in general coincides with the traditional description of common sense. Common sense is this specific human ability to translate one particular kind of experience towards all other senses and to present the result of this process as one global mental image." 
are the telematic and synaesthetic characteristics of digital art? Stricto sensu,
the very term of Cyber art (interactive art, digital art and/or net.art) is
a provocation in and of itself. For, in general, art is defined as craftsmanship,
spontaneous, honest, original, etc., but, by the same token, these very descriptions
are at the same time predisposition's against the computer as a machine. One
thing has become clear, however, the changing relationship between art and computer
technology reveals itself as a permanent creative challenge. Quite relevant
to digital art is the possibility and the potential of worldwide diffusion via
the WWW (World Wide Web). At the same time, interactive art implies embarking
on an adventurous journey and exploring immaterial spaces. By browsing and freely
navigating through Cyberspace, virtual worlds are within reach. Experiencing
the world by means of computer technology; to see, hear, feel and interact and
to share these experiences with others is the very essence of Virtual Reality
(VR). And, at the same time, this entails that by means of the inter-media,
and especially via VR, age-old dreams of artist about synaesthesia’ resurface...
and become true. In this context, we speak about:
|||Optimising the modalities of experience|
leads us to the point where we can reflect in some more detail upon the impact
and the consequences of the thesis of tele-synaesthesia we established above:
|||Interactive multimedia and electronic networks create uncharted possibilities of interconnection, thus enabling us to expand the reach of our sensorial perception.|
|||The new interactive relationship between consciousness, body, senses and our techno-culture consists within and of the human experience as a purposeful subject/object that can be designed as a virtual body.|
|||It is the start of the exploratory expedition of the (enhanced, extended) human senses (tele-senses) in cyberspace; consequently, tele-synaesthesia will constitute a new global challenge.|
is apparent that we can retrace synaesthesia in all artistic disciplines. In
keeping with these considerations, we can establish and confirm that synaesthesia
has always constituted a basic principle underlying all aesthetic experience
of art. With the emergence of new media, however, the very concept of
art itself has become tele-transmittable, extensive and responsive, as cybernetic
space offers a new type of perspective: telecontact and interaction. The dissolution
of the familiar time and space coordinates leads us into a virtual world. We
experience a return to the assessment of being totally unprepared, a condition
which implies that both the perceptual and the conceptual are, strictly speaking,
subject to continuous modification. This leads us to a first formulation of
|||Tele-synaesthesia: virtual interactions between the tele-senses, developed by means of new technological means in order to overcome the constraints of the human senses.|
In his publication "Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses", the American neurologist Richard E. Cytowic states his definition of synaesthesia: "The word synesthesia means common sensations. To begin with, perception is not a linear process. Information is not only being processed into the brain, but rather into the entire body as a whole. It is a sort of trunk, of radix, in which all sensations originate... It is the very seed that spawns sensations." 
In the above, Cytowic concludes that synaesthesia is part of the multiplex model of the brain. According to him, natural synaesthesia might be some sort of fossil cognitive remnant, a condition in which corrections and rectification's are being hindered and hampered and in which sensation consequently stands closer to what the essence of perception means.
With regard to our hypothesis, we can deduce from the above that perception is contextual in its inceptive stage and that this content can be considered as an activity. The quintessential difference between natural synaesthesia and tele-synaesthesia lies with the fact that electronic media are extensions of ourself, allowing for synchronisation and corrective interventions, thus bringing about a change/modification of our sensorial system and conceptions. In this respect, a processual, interactive approach to reality can be directive, since meaning is not a static data, but rather a type of activity.
leads us to the last argument to buttress our thesis. In the opinion of the
philosopher and phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1907-1961), synaesthesia
stood for: the natural way of perceiving the world. In his Phenomenology of
Perception, he wrote: "Synaesthetic perception is the rule, and we are unaware
of this fact for the sole reason that scientific knowledge shifts and displaces
the epicenter of our experiences, in such manner that we have been conditioned
not to see or to hear any longer, or to feel in general anymore." 
We have assessed that the hypothesis of tele-synaesthesia is based on the fact that synaesthesia is a natural uninhibited impulse-condition of the senses and of intelligence: the very fundamental principle that underlies our aesthetic sensations. Synesthetes are in some sense, people of the future. The hypothesis consists of this; a new kind of digital telecontact emerges: tele-synaesthesia -- it is as if Einstein and Magritte were to meet each other in a virtual environment. These are advanced applications of new types of human experience. And the digital (r)evolution continues: hyper-networks result from the fusion of telecommunication with multimedia. We are witnessing a process of continuous technological integration, such as for instance Fuzzy Logic (vague, blurred logic) , and Artificial Intelligence (AI).  We could summarise the tele-synaesthesia hypothesis as follows:
|||Tele-synaesthesia is the synaesthetic principle that is expanded and extended by means of the new media: the traveling senses.|
|||Tele-transmission of images, texts, sounds, data, graphic and of other types of signals (tele-haptic experiences, speech recognition and emotional computers are at present being developed).|
What we aspire to is a human(e) world with optimum quality information, communication and quality experience, which will enhance our abilities to make better choices. In this way -- and linked with an alert self-awareness and sense of responsibility the digital era will be able to optimise the quality of our life. And this future is already with us; only, it has not been distributed and divulged to just proportions, as of yet.
the final instance, we need to be aware of the need for and necessity of a vision,
for critical reflection and a clear insight into these ultra-rapid developments.
The dictum that living equals growing is of the greatest importance for the
fields of art and of technology; in other words, the sole limitations to scientific
and artistic research are the boundaries of our dreams and of our imagination.
Dr. Hugo Heyrman,
painter, new media researcher
professor, Royal Academy for Fine Arts
Antwerp - Belgium
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 The notorious Belgian Pattie Maes (Associate Professor, MIT Media Laboratory) developed a new form of cloning: virtual software agents which are able to defend your personal desires and interests in Cyberspace. They constitute a sort of digital alter ego which can act in your name, as well as it can protect you against yourself.
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Dr. HUGO HEYRMAN "Art & Computers: an exploratory investigation on the digital transformation of art. Tele-Synaesthesia, presentation of a hypothesis". Doctoral thesis, Universidad de La Laguna, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, 1995.
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