THE UX OF Telesthetic Prehension | Collaborative Unit

Yiwei Han (David)
6 min readMar 25, 2021

01/02/21–05/02/21 (1 intense week)

📃Brief: Design a digital & physical object that prehends its surroundings.

🤝Group Members: Eda Erdal, Jinsong Liu (Sylvester), Shiwen Shen (Svaney), Yiwei Han (David).

👨‍🎨Guest Lecturer: Tyler Fox An artist, researcher, technologist, and educator who interested in theories of posthumanism, relational ontology, process philosophy, assemblage, non-humans, emergence, technology and more.

Want to know how this rose came about? Read this article : )

Last week we learnt about theories from Somatics, a perspective that focuses on the internal subjective perception and experience of people. This week we need to broaden our horizons and remove human subjectivity by looking at the relationships and experiences of entities throughout the universe in a bigger picture.

First “Prehend” Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) & Prehension

During the workshop and the first day with Tyler, we were exposed to two important theoretical concepts — OOO & Prehension.

OOO: Graham Harman coined the term “object-oriented philosophy” in 1999 and then Levi Bryant rephrased it as “object-oriented ontology” in 2009. Ontology is concerned with the nature of being. Object-oriented is an attempt to understand the being of objects without imposing the subjectivity of human perception.

“The world is not the world as manifest to humans.” — Graham Harman.

OOO is an explicit critique of the thinking of “anthropocentrism” and breaks the finitude of human representation of objects. It is perhaps more expansive than Donna Haraway’s Tentacular Thinking, emphasizing not only the equality and relationship between living beings but also adding inanimate entities or non-entities. It attempts to flatten the hierarchies of all matter in the world and bring brand new “outside perspectives” to designers.

“Reality consists of processes rather than material objects.”

— Process Philosophy of Alfred N Whitehead.

Prehension: This term is the most fundamental concept of Whitehead’s process philosophy and created by dropping the first syllable from “apprehension.” It is an operation in which an actual entity “grasps” some other entity and makes that entity an object of its experience. Prehension is a “concrete fact of relatedness.” It involves a subject (the prehending actual entity), an object or datum that is prehended, and a subjective form (which need not be conscious, actually most prehensions are not) (Anderson 2002).

For example, You (subject) who are reading this text are pretending the words (datum) I have written and receiving an experience. The spine that becomes curved due to gravitational forces in a long, sedentary period is also a prehension that we are not conscious of.

😃But the more interesting question was, how does the electronic screen you are using now or my electronic text Prehend you? And how does gravity Prehend our spines?

There are positive prehensions and negative prehensions. Negative prehensions “eliminate” their data, so that these data do not contribute positively to the experiences of the subject. Therefore, Tyler states that design is a process of intensification, where we should selectively focus on the positive prehension and intensity it, and toss the negative to the side.

Back to the brief, I kept asking why do we need to design one when there are millions of prehension exists and happens all the time? Perhaps we want to express something? How should we do it? With such questions in mind, our group moved on to the practical phase.

Getting down to practice: Brainstorm

As time was short, we had a quick meeting to discuss possible ideas and directions. This time one of our group members, Eda, was working with us remotely from her home in Turkey. So we took this as an opportunity to brainstorm about how we could express our connection through the prehension of one certain object. What do London and Turkey have in common? So we came up with four directions:

1. the network of balloons (between London and Turkish hot air balloons)
2. the migration of Flowers/Tulips (in relation to Turkey’s cultural history)
3. the printer (an electronic device that we all have)
4. the moon and the tides (which we all share)

Quick Artefact Analysis of these four ideas (Made by Group).

We thought that each direction had some potential, but due to time constraints, we had to make a quick decision. We all agreed that the flower (plant) direction was the most accessible option.

The Prehesions from Plants

Sylvester and I decided to go out on a field trip to explore the prehension of plants and to shoot some video footages. During the expedition, we discovered plants live in environments created by humans, and that they were forced to prehend a range of actions that humans do to them (People give different meanings to plants and commercialise them). But we were confused about what they were prehending. Is it anger? Are they happy? Or they don’t even care? We express our doubts and contradictions through this video.

Interview with Plants (Made by Group).

We considered the commercialisation of plants by humans to be very egotistical and heartless. So we wanted to critique commercialisation and cause people to reflect on their own behaviour by showing the “painful prehension” that plants suffer in the process.

Then we were going to use the Arduino to externalise and intensify these fake prerehensions, even though we didn’t realize that we had mistakenly added human emotions to the pure prerehensions of the plants.

First Prototyping (Courtesy of David).

We decided to use different coloured light effects to express the changing emotional state of the plant, and decided to add variations of different sounds and even words!

First Prototype version (Courtesy of David).

Remove superfluous stuff

After showing Tyler our ideas, he approved of our critique of commercialism but suggested that some meaningless interpretations shouldn’t be there; we should remove the human emotions and keep the pure prehension. he thought we had a good start, we just needed to lean back a bit.

We then removed the redundancies and refined our ideas. We ended up with this final idea: Using abstract light effects to show a rose’s dynamic prehensions of different surroundings based on the journey of its commercialisation.

Storyboard of the commercialisation of a rose (Draw by Svaney).

The original plan was that four of us would show in different stage, based on a storyboard. But space got in the way and it had to be done by me alone. Sylvester and I made some material tools to aid the presentation (a bowl of clay, delivery box, price tag, an empty cup) and found four different scene backgrounds to rehearse a few times in the zoom.

Presentation

Final Presentation (Courtesy of David & Sylvester).

Fortunately, everything went relatively smoothly with few little bugs. The students gave us positive feedback and Alaistair commended us for the successful reorientation of concept and vivid presentation in a short time. He also suggested that we could finesse those lighting patterns if we had more time, money & Arduinos, etc, to explore more ways of communicating those changes and make it more oblique.

Video version: A rose’s journey to commercialisation (Edited by David).

Reflection

It was an intense two weeks in the collaborative unit and we did have some difficulties in terms of teamwork, but I think we did a good job overall because each of us played to our strengths (creativity, drawing, coding, prototyping, presentation, etc.) and contributed to the team.

On the other hand, theoretical learning was more challenging. The time constraints and the depth of the concepts made it difficult for us to put them into practice without really understanding them. Instead, it was more often a case of revising our understanding by doing. Learning about ‘Somatics’ and ‘Prehension’ has given me a sense of the boundaries of the human mind and driven me to struggle to go beyond them.

📚Reference

Anderson, A. (2002). Prehension. [online] ppquimby.com. Available at: http://ppquimby.com/alan/prehen.htm [Accessed 29 Mar. 2021].

Lindley, J., Akmal, H.A. and Coulton, P. (2020). Design Research and Object-Oriented Ontology. Open Philosophy, 3 (1), pp.11–41.

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Yiwei Han (David)

MA User Experience Design - University of the Arts London