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The Sensory Demand of Image is Replacing the Pursuit of Reality

produced by: Xiaoyi Hu


With the advent of digital practice from the era of screen reading, the real stimulation of image senses is replacing people's demand for reality. Through multispecies storytelling's method, I thought about the possible expression and development of nonhuman biological and machine images in conjunction with artworks. In the foreseeable future, digital technology may create a more unimaginable image space, and the visual fantasy potential of human beings will further break through the limitations of the real spectacle.

Part I:  The Sensory Demand of Image is Replacing the Pursuit of Reality

Kevin Kelly (2016:34), a scientific and technological thinker, in his famous book The Inevitable forecasts and explains the 12 kinds of "inevitable" scientific and technological forces that may change the development direction of human society in the next thirty years. Among them, the fourth force is named "Screening" (screen reading) in which Kevin Kelly describes the near future, the Screening will be "looking for answers, looking for friends, looking for news, looking for meaning, finding who we are and who we can be." [1] With the close strengthening of the relationship between the development of technology and human life, the importance of image in people's life is becoming more and more necessary, and even obscured the reality. The fundamental reason for this result lies in the discovery and continuous amplification of image replication. The replicability of images makes image production so convenient that it covers up the facts and makes people forget the existence of objective facts. Excess images force people to watch, people directly face not the things themselves, but the spectacle society formed by the images of things. In The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord point that, ‘the spectacle is not the accumulation of images, but the social relations between people mediated by images.’ (Debord, G. 2007:3) This grasps the root of the problem. The problem is not the number of images, but that images become a way for people to see the world. The emergence of television opened the era of screen images, this virtual image form makes people quickly get pleasure. Baudrillard even more developed the concept of ‘spectacle society’ to ‘simulative society’. The birth of the "Screening" era liberates the image from the representation, and the deep-rooted tradition of imitation and reproduction of photography may be completely rewritten by digital virtual technology. The new space for image production has been opened and everything has been dispelled. There is only a digital analog world. In this case, my view is that the demand for sensory stimulation of images that is easily available in contemporary society has gradually replaced people's pursuit of reality.

The image has become an inevitable intermediary between people and the world. When people only used to understand the world through images, images become what people believe to be true. In Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McLuhan claims that the photos are ‘the brothel without walls’ and points out that the world itself has become a museum, and the exhibits you have already touched in another medium. (McLuhan, M. 2015:249) As a result, people directly face the image, rather than the event or the thing itself. There is a new reality that people face in the era of highly developed media. In 1991, Baudrillard sensationally claimed that ‘the Gulf War did not take place.’ He did not deny the fact of the Gulf War, but instead, mean that the Gulf War we saw through television images was not a real Gulf War. What is presented to us with smart cameras and television broadcast systems is nothing more than an image war between the media. In Baudrillard's theoretical logic, ‘simulative society’ is the inevitable result of the further development of ‘spectacle society’, but there are vast differences between them. In the ‘spectacle society’, the dominant is the image and spectacle consumer culture, goods are transformed into visual existence for consumption. At this point, the object behind the image is covered up, but it has not yet disappeared. After entering the ‘simulative society’, ‘there is no connection between image and reality: it is just its own, pure simulacra.’ (Baudrillard, J. 2012: 289). That is to say, when the manufacturing and production of the image do not need to imitate the object according to a certain, it also does not need to take the similarity between the object and the imitation as the basis. More precisely, there is no object behind the ‘simulacra’. In other words, the original image must be based on its prototype, but the ‘simulacra’ breaks this hierarchical order, the production of the image does not have to rely on any reality.

I transprint a group of Collodion process photos I had taken before this holiday, and the protagonists of these photos are some of my realistic Captain America toys. In the early photographic transparent support (glass) technology all the workmanship was done manually and the insurmountable darkness was caused by immature technology. It is because of these shortcomings that the images are exposed for a long period of time. These long-term exposures are different from the momentary images we see today, but a multi-memory continuation image that prints the multi-dimensional space-time image in a two-dimensional plane. There are subtle differences and repeated images, after repeated development to deepen and overlap, so that the details more abundant. It is different from the coincidence of our contemporary "decisive moment", it is to photograph the inherent continuity of the subject and get closer to reality. (Di JinJun) In my opinion, this kind of authenticity makes fictional characters seem to exist-can it be called another kind of reality? What will I get if I erase the figurative form of the toy?


After erasing the image, the image becomes a form of nonhuman image. The nonhuman image is a conceptual stimulus that challenges the anthropological discourse around the image. Specifically, it does not belong to human beings, nor is it created by human beings, nor is it an image created by human beings. What I am trying to deal with is some concept of replacing human position, so that human beings no longer play the narrator of history, no longer play the important role of history. I also want to understand images in the framework of so-called "deep time" and think about photography and geology, fossils and other deep time marks on the surface.

What I'm thinking is that probably all human beings are nonhuman to some extent, and while we practice our own "individualism", we are also running the algorithms. If not, why do most people's food or wedding photos look the same on Instagram? This is also some kind of excitement. It makes people think about the way we produce culture, how we think about machines, and how we think with machines. Did the machine make us? Do machines impose certain decisions on us? To some extent, are we all machines? I am not saying that we should abandon reason or free will completely, but we should realize that our free will is always bound to some extent.

Then I begin to wonder whether machine could do the same thing as people. The machine has no thoughts, but the photos generated by it could have psychological interaction with the viewers. I used the Python language and OpenCv module to make a small program that can automatically synthesize pictures. These surrealistic images can overlay 9 pictures at a maximum and form a new picture automatically. We are conscious when taking photos but there is no consciousness in this program. People are used to focusing on conscious things and are equally good at building a meaningful world. For the pictures, meaning corresponds to people 's life, dreams, childhood, desires, etc. However, the image produced by the program language itself has become a neglected island away from the consciousness-building continent.


Part II: What is Consciousness—Multiple Drafts Tool Model

What is consciousness? From small to big, each of us has considered this problem more or less, and the interpretation is also rich and colorful. One of the most intuitive interpretations is that there is a small person (soul or some organ) within us who governs consciousness and controls our interaction with the world around us. 

For example, when I wrote down the words, I felt a voice talking inside, and then my hand was in charge of recording. This mode of interpretation is so intuitive that after long-term irrigation, it has been deeply rooted in our culture-myths, metaphors, movies, philosophy and so on. 

Philosophically, this mode of interpretation has a unified name-Cartesian theater. Descartes believes that the brain has a center: the pineal gland (the soul is here), which controls human consciousness. 

Although this explanation is simple and intuitive, it has problems in logic and phenomenon interpretation. Logically, if the pineal gland is the center of consciousness, then what is the center of the pineal gland? As a result, we encounter the trouble of infinite recursion. In order to overcome the logical bug, some people will honestly regard it as a black box, constantly peeling onions. In the explanation of the phenomenon, it is also easy to find out some inexplicable places, for example, the real picture seen by our eyes is different from that seen through the camera, if the picture recorded by the camera represents objectivity, then, what do we add to what we see with our eyes; Also, if we wear a camera on a big golden retriever chest, when it plays, the people behind the monitor will see violent shaking lenses and a series of cut-and-cut images. but when we run, jump, somersault, we don't feel this kind of shaking, what we see is a series of continuous images.

Therefore, what our consciousness "sees" must be processed, not a true "reflection" of the objective world. 

If the Cartesian theater model is a static centralized tool model, then the multiple drafts model is a dynamic decentralized tool model.



According to the multiple drafts model, the information entering the nervous system is not a static "objective object", but is in a state of continuous editing. This information will be added, combined, corrected and rewritten in a very short time to form a flow of information. Consciousness is born in this process. 

The Cartesian theater model needs a center to monitor the results of all the sensors, and it will judge those results, and finally, the center says, I know. 

However, the multiple drafts model does not need to have this center. A series of sensors receive information and decode it to form an information flow. The brain extracts the most important information according to the story framework (storytelling) of individual experience, and the extracted information is consciousness. Moreover, the story framework is not immutable, it will be constantly updated according to the new story experienced. 



It is difficult for us to understand and define a dynamic process from a static point of view. in the dynamic process, the only static thing is his past and the imprint (history) he left behind. In addition, we do feel some inertia in the process, but this is not fate and does not define the process.

Furthermore, the characteristics of, multiple drafts model decentralization will be more obvious if the interaction of the environment is taken into account. A series of editors of the sensor will form information, some of which will be grabbed by the mainstream narrative to form consciousness, while others will not be grabbed and form the subconscious. Both memories form memories, which in turn affect the editing process of the sensor.

In such a distributed sensor system with storage function, it is difficult to determine which part is the subject of consciousness. Because this system produces a series of decoded streams of information, our brains only extract some of them as the main flow of information to form consciousness; the rest becomes subconscious. It's like, we scooped a ladle of water from a big river according to certain rules. You can't say that the ladle is the subject of consciousness, nor can you say that the process of scooping is the subject of consciousness. We can do another thought experiment, get half a cup of blue slightly sour liquid and show it to different people and ask them to describe the main features of the image. People under different narrative structures will see different main features: some people see half a cup of liquid, some people see blue, some people smell sour.

In short, everything depends on the script-what is the story that the person is in, and the person is just grabbing information according to the script.


In general, we can get a different perspective to look at human individuals and human beings as a whole. It is not difficult to find that under this framework, multiple narration plays an important role, multiple narrative shapes individual character and consciousness, and multiple narrative shapes the culture of different ethnic groups of human beings. 

If humans are deeply technological and technology is part of our nature (D. Harraway, 1985) then our tools are cultural and material extensions of ourselves. The anthropogenic condition has proven that former design paradigm was driven by human first problematics often disregarding their impact on ecosystem. A post anthropogenic view on that going beyond the human centric should look at the way evolution occurs in ecosystem, hence, creating an evolutionary design paradigm. CMD relies on the data collected on these artificial ecosystems to provide information for genetic algorithms. In the future picture imagined by CMD, the ubiquitous and intertwined digital network will control the whole ecosystem and human society, and human behavior will also be regulated by this network. (CMD is the winner of the 2019 Bio Art & Design Award). 


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Benefit from the emergence of new media such as the development of the Internet, the sensory stimulation dominated by visual images has become increasingly rich and began to usher in a real heyday. The real demand for image senses is replacing people's demand for reality, the difference between reality and image has disappeared, which makes the audience strip it out of the context of everyday life in the way of perception, resulting in a kind of aesthetic illusion, and there has been a simulated world and post-modern culture. (Featherstone, M. 1991:98) The audience, out of a position of long-distance viewing, through the transparency and untouchable image of the screen, participates only by vision and spirit and is placed in an infinite space of imagination. This kind of viewing has the greatest presence and the greatest absence at the same time, and it is an input to the richness of the real world and the imaginary world. (Morin, E. 2011:72) With the advantages of image technology and Internet modern media communication, the charm of the image is even better than the reality seen by the eyes, which brings more attractive spiritual illusion to human beings than real life, a utopia constructed by image. 

To sum up, from the plane image of photography to the TV screen, the birth of the Internet, and then to today's digital virtual images, the world in nonhuman images is from static to active, from black and white to color, from blur to clear, from rough to delicate. On the one hand, it is more and more true-real enough to exceed the details we can grasp with the naked eye; on the other hand, it is more and more beautiful-beauty is virtual. Under the stimulation of this intuitive image, the ‘real’ demand for reality has been replaced. ‘Technology, like science, is the most vital and active factor, and no factor or force can stop the progress of science and technology.’ (Jonathan, C. 1993:1) At present, we are unable to judge how much change digital technology has brought to people's lives, change their psychological structure and their way of understanding, but what is certain is that with the development of science and technology, people are gradually surrounded by what Baudrillard describes as ‘hyperreality’, and the easier it is to get the sensory stimulation of the image. In the foreseeable future, digital technology may create a more unimaginable image space, and the visual fantasy potential of human beings will further break through the limitations of the real spectacle.


Annotated Bibliography


As a painter and critic, Minor White, in his discussion of early photography, said that the photos made by early photographers were done intuitively. These photos have the so-called mystery of White, instantly transcending the characteristics of time and space.

CMD by Michael Sedbon, the winner of the 2019 Bio Art & Design Award. Available at:

At the same time, individual narrative and group narrative are intertwined, and they show us the charm of distributed interactive systems-small systems construct large systems, layer upon layer superimposed. Then we can add the narratives of other species to build a cloud (earth). As information technologies get embedded in our everyday life, the performance of ecosystems systems relies on the collection of ever more and more precise datasets abstracting life, social interaction and economy into information points. As we get embedded in this self informing feedback loop, our perception of reality, as well as our agency on it, is hardcoded in the system’s rules (Deleuze, 1992; Baudrillard, 1994; Scott, 1998).

The rapid breakthroughs of synthetic biology in the last two decades (From the end the Human Genome Project, 2003 project to CRISPR-Cas9, 2014) has steered the field toward questionings extremely close to the one encountered through digitalism problematics (Calvert, 2012). The existence of Bio-Hacking community and the patenting of genomes as software (Venter, 2010) made us question the nature of life and its relationship to Information.

While recent developments in biological computing redefine the material nature of computation by trading silicone based hardware for carbon-based designs (Adamatzky, 2016), cybernetic forms of control are now getting incumbent to biological processes.

Deleuze, 1992. Available at:

Baudrillard, 1994. Available at:

Scott, 1998. Available at:

Calvert, 2012. Available at:'diverse_ecology'_of_the_open_and_the_proprietary

Venter, 2010. Available at:

Adamatzky, 2016. Available at:

D. Harraway, 1985. Available at:



Kelly, K.(2016) The Inevitable 2016:34. 

Debord, G. (2007). Comments on the society of the spectacle. London: Verso, p.3.

McLuhan, M. and Gordon, W. (2015). Understanding media. Berkeley, Calif.: Gingko Press, p.249.

Baudrillard, J. and Glaser, S. (2012). Simulacra and simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, p.289.

Featherstone, M. (1991). Consumer culture and postmodernism. p.98.

Morin, E. (2011). The stars. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p.72.

Jonathan, C. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the 19th Century Cambridge: MIT,1993: 1.