SENSORY EXPERIMENTS: THE ABSTRACT
–Words by DIAZ DAVIS

Image Matt Tambellini

We assert that at some point in modern times, as we gradually and irrevocably shifted our modes of interaction with the world through technological advancement, an acute imbalance in our sensorial perceptions occurred.

‘Being human begins with sensorial power[1], the vital energy supplied by the brain throughout the nervous system.’

Being human begins with sensorial power[1], the vital energy supplied by the brain throughout the nervous system. Its production and effects occur in rapid-fire physiological chain reactions. We receive environmental stimuli through our five traditional senses; this sensory information is transmitted through neural pathways to the brain. Sensory reactions to physical contexts are foundational of our conscious experience.[2] We responsively and concurrently feed back to our environment with actions, interacting with new stimuli, and the messages continue to discharge.


FIG I. Touch, Norla Dome Monday 11 March, 2019 4:20 PM Hayden Somerville.

Being human is also equally what we do with this understanding. How we cognitively and emotionally shape our individual worlds with what we know and what we feel. Each of the senses combine to create our own whole picture of ourselves, of others, and of the world around us. This picture has become interrupted, or distorted, by prioritising certain senses over others. The modern age, with its digital frameworks and consumption agenda, promotes, even requires, that we give primary import to visual cues. Next, perhaps, auditory. Gustation (taste), olfaction (smell) and somatosensory (touch) are not denied, however they are not afforded prime currency.[3]

‘We are not tasting our food, we are sharing images of it. We are not tapping someone on the shoulder, we are swiping our screens. We are not information-sharing through conversation, we are plugging our ears with high frequencies.’

We are not tasting our food, we are sharing images of it. We are not tapping someone on the shoulder, we are swiping our screens. We are not information-sharing through conversation, we are plugging our ears with high frequencies. We increasingly go about our daily activity as isolated automatons; our fundamental contextual connections are invisible threads characterised by 0s and 1s.

With full appreciation of the clichéd nature of our imperative: it is time to stop and smell the roses. To reconnect with what underwrites the human experience. Research has determined that feeling and appreciating a sense of connection to nature, and living in the present moment, is one significant, inalienable factor in achieving life satisfaction.[4]

‘We must encourage designing for the pleasure of holistic connectivity and the provocation of existing material values.’

How can design shape the future?[5] First, we must determine what we, as humans, want in that future and how we must live to achieve that. If it is life satisfaction, which is achieved through appreciation of our perceived contexts – both naturally occurring and man-made – then it becomes a need. We must investigate a human-felt future, where no hierarchy or imbalance between and within technology and the senses exist. We must encourage designing for the pleasure of holistic connectivity and the provocation of existing material values.

FIG II. Breathe, Norla Dome Monday 11 MARCH, 2019 4:29 PM Hayden Somerville.


To begin to establish a bridge between fleeting sensorial moments and a permanent awareness of the need to fully activate, interpret and feel our connections to self, others and nature, we present Sensory Experiments and the resultant Manifesto for Sensory Intelligence.

Such a manifesto would betray its intent if it were to rely solely on the written word. This document serves as an introduction to the Experiments. The Manifesto shall be created by all participants in the Experiments, through their cognitive, emotional and physiological interaction with the Three Hypotheses. In three distinct environments, the senses will be saturated with stimuli in varying combinations and guises. Creator-Participants will be provided with basic direction though may engage with full agency. Their sensory responses will be recorded and transmitted to the digital realm, where the Manifesto will be stored as an available reference in endeavours intended to shape a human-felt future.



Visit sensoryexperiments.com

[1] A precursory or analogous concept, the ‘spirit of animation’, which governed corporeal movement and psychological faculties in response to four faculties – sensation, irritation, volition and association – was proposed by Dr Erasmus Darwin, in Zoonomia, Vol. 1 Or, The Laws of Organic Life, 1796, London: J. Johnson.

[2] William James’s theory expressed in The Principles of Psychology, 1890, Cambridge: Harvard University Press remains consistent with contemporary thinking.

[3] There are further human senses, such as proprioception (awareness of the position of our body), nociception (feeling pain), thermoception (temperature) and puritic receptors (itch), as well as others less available to conscious awareness, that contribute to our perception of reality through a multilayered, parallel processing system, however, for the purposes of these Sensory Experiments we focus on the five traditional senses.

[4] N.S. Fagley, ‘Appreciation uniquely predicts life satisfaction above demographics, the Big 5 personality factors, and gratitude’, Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 53, Issue 1, July 2012, pp. 59-63.

[5] Inquiry initiated by Melbourne Design Week 2019.