Mind Reading als Cultural Technique: A Retrospective Approach to the Imaginary of Digital Media


In parapsychology, the ability to gain information about others’ thoughts through extrasensory perception is called mind reading. Since this term was introduced in the second half of the nineteenth century, however, it has been employed in very different contexts, too. In particular, mind reading has become synonymous with a body of technologies and strategies that produce inferences about a subject’s mental state through the elaboration of physiological indexes, background information, and records of previous behaviors. In the field of computer science, technologies programmed to understand and react to people’s emotions and mental states are often described as "mind reading computers." Likewise, algorithms that allow to anticipate the behavior of users and consumers and provide them with tailored offers and services—for instance, in Google ads or in Amazon’s "anticipatory shipping"—have also been assimilated to mind reading. Why is the concept of mind reading associated to such different phenomena and perspectives? How can we explain this complex intertwining between technology and the occult? How did mind reading as a cultural technique influence the development of digital media technologies? Employing archival-based historical methods, this project addresses these questions by investigating the intersection between science, the occult, and digital technologies. It investigates the association between digital media technologies and the imaginary of mind reading from circa 1880, when the concept of mind reading was conceptualized in the field of parapsychology, to the development of cybernetics and Artifical Intelligence in the 1940s-50s, when researchers such as Claude Shannon started to present computer programs as "mind reading machines." By addressing mind reading as a cultural technique, which anticipated certain technologies and practices from computer science and digital media long before they were established in these contexts, the project will provide a strong contribution to the genealogy of “new” digital media. Particular emphasis will be given to the study of the relationship between digital media and the imagination, as well as of the impact of occult theories and knowledge in modern and contemporary societies. The proposed research will employ a strongly interdisciplinary approach, addressing issues that are at the intersection of fields such as media studies, computer scienceIn parapsychology, the ability to gain information about others’ thoughts through extrasensory perception is called mind reading. Since this term was introduced in the second half of the nineteenth century, however, it has been employed in very different contexts, too. In particular, mind reading has become synonymous with a body of technologies and strategies that produce inferences about a subject’s mental state through the elaboration of physiological indexes, background information, and records of previous behaviors. In the field of computer science, technologies programmed to understand and react to people’s emotions and mental states are often described as "mind reading computers." Likewise, algorithms that allow to anticipate the behavior of users and consumers and provide them with tailored offers and services—for instance, in Google ads or in Amazon’s "anticipatory shipping"—have also been assimilated to mind reading. Why is the concept of mind reading associated to such different phenomena and perspectives? How can we explain this complex intertwining between technology and the occult? How did mind reading as a cultural technique influence the development of digital media technologies? Employing archival-based historical methods, this project addresses these questions by investigating the intersection between science, the occult, and digital technologies. It investigates the association between digital media technologies and the imaginary of mind reading from circa 1880, when the concept of mind reading was conceptualized in the field of parapsychology, to the development of cybernetics and Artifical Intelligence in the 1940s-50s, when researchers such as Claude Shannon started to present computer programs as "mind reading machines." By addressing mind reading as a cultural technique, which anticipated certain technologies and practices from computer science and digital media long before they were established in these contexts, the project will provide a strong contribution to the genealogy of “new” digital media. Particular emphasis will be given to the study of the relationship between digital media and the imagination, as well as of the impact of occult theories and knowledge in modern and contemporary societies. The proposed research will employ a strongly interdisciplinary approach, addressing issues that are at the intersection of fields such as media studies, computer scienceIn parapsychology, the ability to gain information about others’ thoughts through extrasensory perception is called mind reading. Since this term was introduced in the second half of the nineteenth century, however, it has been employed in very different contexts, too. In particular, mind reading has become synonymous with a body of technologies and strategies that produce inferences about a subject’s mental state through the elaboration of physiological indexes, background information, and records of previous behaviors. In the field of computer science, technologies programmed to understand and react to people’s emotions and mental states are often described as "mind reading computers." Likewise, algorithms that allow to anticipate the behavior of users and consumers and provide them with tailored offers and services—for instance, in Google ads or in Amazon’s "anticipatory shipping"—have also been assimilated to mind reading. Why is the concept of mind reading associated to such different phenomena and perspectives? How can we explain this complex intertwining between technology and the occult? How did mind reading as a cultural technique influence the development of digital media technologies? Employing archival-based historical methods, this project addresses these questions by investigating the intersection between science, the occult, and digital technologies. It investigates the association between digital media technologies and the imaginary of mind reading from circa 1880, when the concept of mind reading was conceptualized in the field of parapsychology, to the development of cybernetics and Artifical Intelligence in the 1940s-50s, when researchers such as Claude Shannon started to present computer programs as "mind reading machines." By addressing mind reading as a cultural technique, which anticipated certain technologies and practices from computer science and digital media long before they were established in these contexts, the project will provide a strong contribution to the genealogy of “new” digital media. Particular emphasis will be given to the study of the relationship between digital media and the imagination, as well as of the impact of occult theories and knowledge in modern and contemporary societies. The proposed research will employ a strongly interdisciplinary approach, addressing issues that are at the intersection of fields such as media studies, computer scienceIn parapsychology, the ability to gain information about others’ thoughts through extrasensory perception is called mind reading. Since this term was introduced in the second half of the nineteenth century, however, it has been employed in very different contexts, too. In particular, mind reading has become synonymous with a body of technologies and strategies that produce inferences about a subject’s mental state through the elaboration of physiological indexes, background information, and records of previous behaviors. In the field of computer science, technologies programmed to understand and react to people’s emotions and mental states are often described as "mind reading computers." Likewise, algorithms that allow to anticipate the behavior of users and consumers and provide them with tailored offers and services—for instance, in Google ads or in Amazon’s "anticipatory shipping"—have also been assimilated to mind reading. Why is the concept of mind reading associated to such different phenomena and perspectives? How can we explain this complex intertwining between technology and the occult? How did mind reading as a cultural technique influence the development of digital media technologies? Employing archival-based historical methods, this project addresses these questions by investigating the intersection between science, the occult, and digital technologies. It investigates the association between digital media technologies and the imaginary of mind reading from circa 1880, when the concept of mind reading was conceptualized in the field of parapsychology, to the development of cybernetics and Artifical Intelligence in the 1940s-50s, when researchers such as Claude Shannon started to present computer programs as "mind reading machines." By addressing mind reading as a cultural technique, which anticipated certain technologies and practices from computer science and digital media long before they were established in these contexts, the project will provide a strong contribution to the genealogy of “new” digital media. Particular emphasis will be given to the study of the relationship between digital media and the imagination, as well as of the impact of occult theories and knowledge in modern and contemporary societies. The proposed research will employ a strongly interdisciplinary approach, addressing issues that are at the intersection of fields such as media studies, computer scienceIn parapsychology, the ability to gain information about others’ thoughts through extrasensory perception is called mind reading. Since this term was introduced in the second half of the nineteenth century, however, it has been employed in very different cont


Spokesperson
Kassung, Christian Prof. Dr. phil. (Details) (Cultural Techniques and History of Knowledge)

Duration of Project
Start date: 05/2016
End date: 09/2022

Research Areas
General and Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies

Last updated on 2021-04-01 at 17:43