Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Human Husk, Remembered...




I wrote this article for Cakewalk Magazine in 2000. It was about the same time as my burgeoning yoga practice was deeply affecting my conscious experience (I wasn't teaching then.). And at the same time, it was just the first glimmer of major changes to come. It is over nine years later so it's cool to see that a lot has changed since then--in my thinking and in my general regard for my experience and the world. For me, this piece of writing is influenced a bit by what I was learning in yoga at the time: particularly the illustration I drew (shown above in the magazine layout). It was experiencing myself more fully than I ever had before with yoga coupled with sitting to watch lots of movies with my budding film critic boyfriend as well as sitting at desk jobs, and sitting to enjoy wonderful meals with the same boyfriend that helped me to see that the back-body is mostly ignored in everyday social activities. It is also permeated by other interests like art, technology and science fiction.

Maybe it was my first Yogic Muse. I gave the article to my yoga teacher at the time, wondering what he would think about it. After I handed it over I remember totally freezing, overwhelmed with feeling--I couldn't speak. My hand jerked back to my side. I think I was just so surprised that I was actually doing that. So I emailed him later telling him that I would really like to hear what he thought about it. About a week later, I remember asking in person if he had read it, and he had. He said something about how he thought it was interesting that I might question who could be inside the human form--or something like that...

Here it is--just for fun! Warning: I talk about alien life forms... So it's not your ordinary Muse.

Human Husk:
a proposal

It looks like the body but it's empty inside. It is the "Human Husk" a prosthetic machine that would allow aliens to experience taste, smell, sound, and touch the way a human body does. They don't have to be aliens actually; the idea here is that someone, any being, could enter the apparatus and feel, see, and navigate with a body of a totally different shape. I have no clear idea about the technology required for such a device; it doesn't seem important. Any creature can put on this thing and see as a person does: through two eyes about five feet off the ground. You know the experience.

When I first had this idea it was coupled with a fantasy that is best described as a episode of "Nova" from the future. It would be about how Human Husk technology has improved the experience of aliens by allowing them to feel what it is like on Earth as a human being.

For example, let's say the temperature on their home planet is much hotter than it is on Earth. A warm balmy day for us might feel uncomfortably cold to aliens. The problem is solved with senses filtered by he human husk; it would now be the perfect temperature for them too.

An important feature of the Human Husk is that it alters the mind's perception of body shape. If there are aliens out there, I think it is likely that they would have a different body shape than ours. Let's say the alien's body is one foot tall with a hard carapace like a lobster. This creature would not be tall enough to see the paintings at a gallery or to reach the card reader to pay for a ride on the subway. Its exterior would be way too hard to enjoy a soft bed. What kind of hospitality can we provide without the Human Husk?

By extension we could also use the Human Husk ourselves to see what it would be like to have a different body. What might it be like to be obese or gaunt, tall or short? A modified Human Husk could be constructed to feel what it would be like to have four arms. Or, this technology could be used to experience what it would be like to have a dog's body with a dog husk. It could be a new form of entertainment that would take role-playing to the next level.

I envision the Human Husk looking like the front half of a hollowed-out body, like a human envelope open in the back. The subject would have all of the frontal exterior experience of a body with none of the interior or dorsal: no feeling of wind across the back, no sitting on buttocks, no churning kidneys. To use virtual reality lingo, the subject would be "immersed." But rather than a VR experience, the subject would have a real experience, only through a machine. The immediate environment would be sensed through a tingling, sensor-coated enclosure. The only sensory information the subject would have access to would be provided through the apparatus. For this reason, the experience would be abstract, without groundwork in organic substance. It would be an art experience, and a cybernetic one.

Perhaps the interior of the shell would be lined like a plush carpet of sea anemone fingers. When a creature donned the device, the fingers would engage, extending and honing in on the analogous points of the user's body. The tips would instantly anesthetize the skin, gliding in and attaching themselves to the being's neural map, deadening the natural senses at the same time providing direct access to those of the husk.

From an entreprenurial standpoint the Human Husk would likely be used to modify bodies in ways that would make it easier to buy and enjoy products. This was not my original intent, but in order to get funding for a project of this scale, one would likely have to get backing from profit-pursuing interests.

The Human Husk, rather than being a new product proposal, actually delivers a mindset that is not so uncommon. Artists, for example, are sometimes expected to act as sensory shells momentarily removed from feeling, observers on the edge (a mental feat that simulates the Human Husk without the husk apparatus). From this perspective distant sensations can be perceived and remembered, and later presented or reinterpreted to convey meaning. The goal here is to have brought back some nugget of experience so vital that it mainlines into the viewer with great intensity.

What is it like to receive sensations from a machine? Are they shallower or more intense? How can we test the verity of the experience? It's sad but true that the machine is only considered successful if subjects begin purchasing the sponsor's products.

Originally printed in Cakewalk Magazine, Issue No. 4, Summer/Fall 2000



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