Friday, July 20, 2007



Ali Riza SARAL

To my kind colleague Herr EHRENBERGER
who drew my attention to the importance of HCI
after viewing an airplane accident replay
at Karlsrue Upper Info Control Center in 1992;

Through our bodies we reach other people and the world. To speak with others, to help others, to work, to create, to love we use our bodies. We exist with our bodies. We feel our existance through our bodies…

“Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, stands a mighty commander, an unknown sage – he is called Self. He lives in your body, he is your body.” (Nietzsche, 1883, ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ from Learning Space – OpenLearn – The Open University).

We know our body by its abilities. We can turn our hand, open it, make it a fist, move our fingers one by one etc. We can also feel every movement our hand does if we listen it. We can feel it as a whole or its parts seperately...

If a human has a hand, he or she feels more or less the same abilities with his hand and similar basic feelings… But was the hand of Rembrandt the same as mine? Was the relation of Rembrandt’s hand with his mind the same as mine? Merlau-Ponty has written “I do not simply possess a body; I am my body” in ‘Phenomenology of Perception’. Rembrandt’s hand was not simply a hand, it was Rembrandt the painter’s hand… It was Rembrandt the painter himself.

“Phenomenological theorists distinguish between the subjective body(as lived and experienced) and the objective body (as observed and scientifically investigated). My lived body is an EMBODIED CONSCIOUSNESS which fluidly and pre-reflectively engages the world. As we engage in our daily activities, we tend not to be conscious of our bodies and we take them granted – body that is passed-by-in-silence (Jean-Paul SARTRE, 1943, Being and Nothingness)”.

“Embodiment is the process or state of living in a body.” All embodiments do not need to be the embodiment of living things… An existing thing can have a body and thus can be an embodiment of an identity that can be identified… For example, water is the embodiment of all the things that identify water. An aeroplane is an embodiment of everything that identifies it; it flies, carries goods, can stand difficult climate conditions, it has a speed, it carries an accumulation of expertise and experience, it has a history, it materializes the ambitions of many individuals both in the past and today…

All embodiments do not need to be simple or single embodiments… There can be composite embodiments in the world. Composite embodiments can and do exist. Composite embodiments form when simple embodiments of things mix and act together with a new and single identity, all interacting with each other and as a virtual self…

In 1996 I listened a piano concert at Darmstadt. The program was composed of a group of extremely difficult works by a single composer. The performer was not a single pianist as usual… The pianist was embodied by two seperate and different pianists… They had prepared collectively for this concert and played the series of pieces one by one in sequence. The pianist whose turn passes listened the other pianist performing.
Having prepared together gave them the ability to perform as if there is a single performer, with his single identity, feeling and so on… Using complex embodiment gave the two pianists the ability to do the impossible and achieve the extremely difficult.

Embodiment has the gift that enables us to achieve the impossible or extremely difficult things and create new things. A person holding a hammer is a composite embodiment. A hammer and a person are seperate embodiments. A hammer holding man is a different and composite embodiment… Moreover, the person that holds the hammer experiences knocking the nail as if the hammer is a part of his body himself… Because, he is aware that he is knocking the nail with the hammer… He is hammer using man… He is the embodiment of consciousness defined and required by nail knocking activity indicated by the affordance of the hammer.

“Embodiment is the process or state of living in a body”… Some of the composite embodiments form when we use a tool. “Prothestic devices stretch the boundaries of the body. They create a continuity beyond the limits of the skin”(Carolien HERMANS, 2002, Embodiment: the flesh and bones of my body). “A body schema works on a subconscious level. It registers shape and posture of the body(without coming to awareness). It makes a record of the momentary relative disposition of one’s own body parts”. “Prothestic devices can be absorbed in the body schema. Just as a hammer in the carpenter’s hand is incorporated into his body schema, any virtual body part or interface(keyboard, mouse, joystick) can become part of the schema in a temporary or longlasting way…”

"The driving of a car. We are intimately aware of how a particular car's gearshift needs to be treated, its ability to turn, accelerate, brake etc, and importantly, also of the dimensions of the vehicle. When we reflect on our own parking, it is remarkable that there are so few little bumps considering how many times we are actually forced to come very close. The car is absorbed into our body schema with almost the same precision that we have regarding our own spatiality. It becomes an "area of sensitivity" which extends "the scope and active radius of the touch" (Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1962). Phenomenology of Perception. C. Smith (translator). Routledge & Kegan Paul.) and rather than thinking about the car, it is more accurate to suggest that we think from the point of view of the car, and consequently also perceive our environment in a different way".(Reynolds, Jack (2002). Merleau-Ponty. Amsterdam: internet.)

Going back to the hammer example… The person holding the hammer does not feel he is holding it when he is knocking. The subjective body of the composite identity focuses on the knocking process. Holding the hammer is not very different from moving his arm and using his muscles to produce force. The hammer has become part of the body schema of the nail knocking man… If something wrong happens and this process is interrupted, then the nail knocking man becomes aware of the hammer that he is holding and changes its direction etc… The hammer becomes the objective self of the nail knocking man.

My questions are: what happens when an accident happens while a human uses a tool, device or vehicle? What happens when an executive air traffic controller is over-loaded? What is the effect of stress on the embodiment of a large system operator like a nuclear reactor? What are the psychological effects of a complex software development tool such as Rational on a large systems software developer who has to work one year on the same difficult project?

Let’s think of a race car driver… He studies the race road before the race. During the race he must maximize his speed at every and each turn or straight part of the road. He tries to adjust and catch the max speed according to the road piece he faces and the status of his car… Actually it is the road and the car that orders him to change the gear and press the gas pedal as such… The driver has the ability to set the initial and previous conditions of the car, his choices determine the past and the cumulative effect of the past determine his effectiveness on the future… This intertwining can be seen in simple holding hands also:

"If I touch with my left hand my right hand while it touches an object, the right hand object is not the right hand touching: the first is an intertwining of bones, muscles and flesh bearing down on a point in space, the second traverses space as a rocket in order to discover the exterior object in its place" (Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1962)

If the driver forgets himself and begins to act only according to the messages he gets from the road, this may cause disaster. If the driving man identity is lost and the car which has become part of the man’s body schema takes over the control, the driver enters a turn with a speed which may be impossible for the car…
Forgetting the abilities of the system or misinterpretting them is also explained as a ‘mental model’ mistake which leads to an accident. Embodiment can explain accidents better as it provides more on the psychology of the operator and the intertwining between the environment and him.

Accidents happen because of anomalies in the embodiment of complex identities. A mistake in the embodiment of the car, and the human, such as a failing tire or a physical anomaly of the human(alcohol) will cause an accident. If the complex identity, the driver becomes too dominant, such as the drive to achieve a goal as a driver, and causes the abilities of the car and the driver as seperate embodiments to be forgotten, also accidents happen. Mistaking identities or losing, forgetting them causes the failure of the complex identity.
The successful operator is the one who can find the ultimum balance between the identities of the complex embodiment, namely the simple selves and the complex itself with in the prenoetic limits.

Driving a car or operating any system requires the operator to arrange his priorities… His priorities to take care of the simple embodiments as the car, its status, gas, oil etc… As the human being, tiredness, sleep, etc. as the complex embodiment, the driver, cruising speed, road status, possible obstacles etc…. Driver, the complex embodiment has to create a special consciousness to be successful. This conscioussness has to be subjective… You can not do all of these continiously with full concentration.

If we go back once more to SARTRE;
“Phenomenological theorists distinguish between the subjective body(as lived and experienced) and the objective body (as observed and scientifically investigated). My lived body is an EMBODIED CONSCIOUSNESS which fluidly and pre-reflectively engages the world. As we engage in our daily activities, we tend not to be conscious of our bodies and we take them granted – body that is passed-by-in-silence (Jean-Paul SARTRE, 1943, Being and Nothingness)”.

The danger in this is, our bodies have the tendency to execute their body schemas, namely to exist, subjectively. We try to do things automatically after we repeat them for a while. An experienced driver tends to do things automatically and forgets the rules after a while…

Hence a safety related systems operator such as an air traffic controller(ATCO) or a pilot, must rise above its complex identity as an embodied consciousness of the human and the system and foster a special awareness of things existing around in the cockpit or the control board. This is called situation awareness by a few ‘mortals’.