#73 Amplificatory and reductive structures of consciousness

Technics and Praxis by Don Ihde, pages xv-50

So much to potentially unpack in Ihde’s text. One thing I really like and that I learned in school is the invariant feature he noticed from a phenomenology of technology perspective, that being, the amplification—reduction structure of consciousness when users interact with technology. In short, what this means is that a technology can either amplify one’s experience of the world while at the same time also reduce aspects of said experience. For example, he says that the dentist probe, the metallic tooth picking-probing instrument, amplifies the dentist’s sense of touch when s/he prods at the hardness or softness of the tooth. Such an amplification of the tooth experience through the probe also reduces some experiences, for example, the wetness and temperature perhaps of the tooth upon touching it with one’s finger (Ihde, 1979, 18-23). He goes into much greater detail than what I highlight here, but the above is a good gist of one of the important points of his book thus far.

The next point I really enjoyed was his concept of mono-dimensionality of experience through a technology. The mono-sensory device such as the telephone, according to Ihde, gives a mono-dimensional experience, for example, merely an auditory experience. Compared to face-to-face conversation, the phone only provides an auditory experience of the other, i.e. one’s interlocutor. So, the phone amplifies the presence of the other person to me, perhaps on the other side of the world, to be experienced through the phone, but simultaneously reduces the experience of the other to an auditory experience; my other senses of the other are blocked because the phone doesn’t permit it. Bear in mind, Ihde published these comments in 1979. In 2020, we have video calls that permit auditory and visual perception of the other. In 2060, we might have holographic telephony that allows my other senses to experience the other.

Ihde also notices, however, there is a reduction of the primary reduction, meaning even though only one sense is catered to that this one sense is a reduced or partial version of the interlocutor’s actual in-person voice. I don’t feel the other’s vocal vibrations of the air being pushed through his/her mouth; I don’t smell the mint candy on the person’s breath; the phone limits the tone of the other’s voice; etc. “[T]he reduction is not only a reduction to a mono-dimension of the other, a voiced presence, it is also a reduction of the mono-dimension itself” (Ihde, 1979, 25).

As I was reading this, I wondered how psychedelics amplify and reduce one’s senses that allow one to experience their world or Other Worlds. Do some psychedelics amplify visual perception, while others amplify touch, smell, taste, or audition? Psychedelics are known for their visual perception enhancement, or, one could say distortion/perturbation; what about the other senses? How would we even test this? As I write this, I was thinking of my friend who recently got Covid-19. She said she lost all sense of smell and was surprised when she stuffed her face into a just-opened bag of fresh coffee and smelled nothing. How does this happen? What is it about this kind of virus or other bacteria that “turn off” one of the body’s senses?

Likewise, I’m interested in the idea of psychedelics allowing one to perhaps smell more than ordinary olfactory capabilities. Let’s try this “imaginative variation” (as phenomenologists would say): what would happen if we gave a psychedelic to someone who couldn’t smell, either from a temporary virus or flu, or, defect from birth? Do you think they would miraculously smell something? I don’t know, I never thought about this before. Or consider this one: I heard since blind people have one less sense, their other senses are amplified or more capable than sighted people’s. What would happen if they took a psychedelic? Would their sense of smell be on par with, for example, a dog’s sense of smell?

And what about reduction, how would psychedelics reduce aspects of one’s experience of the world? If certain aspects of one’s experience are amplified, what does this amplification reduce in the experiencer? A sensorial example isn’t coming to mind, but cognition does. For example, after a high dose of magic truffles, I realized that technological artifacts did not make sense to me. I struggled to use my phone or find a document in my computer. My taken-for-granted user experience of these daily artifacts broke down. I really had to focus, even talking myself through the task. As well, some things seemed plain silly to me in the intoxicated state, i.e. why do I have a password on my computer when I’m at home? One thing is surely reduced by psychedelics: common sense and the experience of automatic, habitual activities. With that said, it could be argued that uncommon sense and thoughts and novel activities while on psychedelics afford new dimensions of experience hitherto unbeknownst to the experiencer. Thus, one could ask whether the psychedelic amplifies sober reality or amplifies a latent dimension of experience that is always already at the ready. Or is the Other World amplified while the sober world reduces? These questions demand more attention at a later date.

Ihde, D. (1979). Technics and Praxis. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

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