Document (#28886)

Author
Burnett, R.
Title
How images think
Imprint
Cambridge, MA : MIT Press
Year
2004
Pages
253 S
Isbn
0-262-02549-3
Footnote
Rez. in: JASIST 56(2005) no.10, S.1126-1128 (P.K. Nayar): "How Images Think is an exercise both in philosophical meditation and critical theorizing about media, images, affects, and cognition. Burnett combines the insights of neuroscience with theories of cognition and the computer sciences. He argues that contemporary metaphors - biological or mechanical - about either cognition, images, or computer intelligence severely limit our understanding of the image. He suggests in his introduction that "image" refers to the "complex set of interactions that constitute everyday life in image-worlds" (p. xviii). For Burnett the fact that increasing amounts of intelligence are being programmed into technologies and devices that use images as their main form of interaction and communication-computers, for instance-suggests that images are interfaces, structuring interaction, people, and the environment they share. New technologies are not simply extensions of human abilities and needs-they literally enlarge cultural and social preconceptions of the relationship between body and mind. The flow of information today is part of a continuum, with exceptional events standing as punctuation marks. This flow connects a variety of sources, some of which are continuous - available 24 hours - or "live" and radically alters issues of memory and history. Television and the Internet, notes Burnett, are not simply a simulated world-they are the world, and the distinctions between "natural" and "non-natural" have disappeared. Increasingly, we immerse ourselves in the image, as if we are there. We rarely become conscious of the fact that we are watching images of events-for all perceptioe, cognitive, and interpretive purposes, the image is the event for us. The proximity and distance of viewer from/with the viewed has altered so significantly that the screen is us. However, this is not to suggest that we are simply passive consumers of images. As Burnett points out, painstakingly, issues of creativity are involved in the process of visualization-viewwes generate what they see in the images. This involves the historical moment of viewing-such as viewing images of the WTC bombings-and the act of re-imagining. As Burnett puts it, "the questions about what is pictured and what is real have to do with vantage points [of the viewer] and not necessarily what is in the image" (p. 26). In his second chapter Burnett moves an to a discussion of "imagescapes." Analyzing the analogue-digital programming of images, Burnett uses the concept of "reverie" to describe the viewing experience. The reverie is a "giving in" to the viewing experience, a "state" in which conscious ("I am sitting down an this sofa to watch TV") and unconscious (pleasure, pain, anxiety) processes interact. Meaning emerges in the not-always easy or "clean" process of hybridization. This "enhances" the thinking process beyond the boundaries of either image or subject. Hybridization is the space of intelligence, exchange, and communication.
Moving an to virtual images, Burnett posits the existence of "microcultures": places where people take control of the means of creation and production in order to makes sense of their social and cultural experiences. Driven by the need for community, such microcultures generate specific images as part of a cultural movement (Burnett in fact argues that microcultures make it possible for a "small cinema of twenty-five seats to become part of a cultural movement" [p. 63]), where the process of visualization-which involves an awareness of the historical moment - is central to the info-world and imagescapes presented. The computer becomms an archive, a history. The challenge is not only of preserving information, but also of extracting information. Visualization increasingly involves this process of picking a "vantage point" in order to selectively assimilate the information. In virtual reality systems, and in the digital age in general, the distance between what is being pictured and what is experienced is overcome. Images used to be treated as opaque or transparent films among experience, perception, and thought. But, now, images are taken to another level, where the viewer is immersed in the image-experience. Burnett argues-though this is hardly a fresh insight-that "interactivity is only possible when images are the raw material used by participants to change if not transform the purpose of their viewing experience" (p. 90). He suggests that a work of art, "does not start its life as an image ... it gains the status of image when it is placed into a context of viewing and visualization" (p. 90). With simulations and cyberspace the viewing experience has been changed utterly. Burnett defines simulation as "mapping different realities into images that have an environmental, cultural, and social form" (p. 95). However, the emphasis in Burnett is significant-he suggests that interactivity is not achieved through effects, but as a result of experiences attached to stories. Narrative is not merely the effect of technology-it is as much about awareness as it is about Fantasy. Heightened awareness, which is popular culture's aim at all times, and now available through head-mounted displays (HMD), also involves human emotions and the subtleties of human intuition.
The sixth chapter looks at this interfacing of humans and machines and begins with a series of questions. The crucial one, to my mind, is this: "Does the distinction between humans and technology contribute to a lack of understanding of the continuous interrelationship and interdependence that exists between humans and all of their creations?" (p. 125) Burnett suggests that to use biological or mechanical views of the computer/mind (the computer as an input/output device) Limits our understanding of the ways in which we interact with machines. He thus points to the role of language, the conversations (including the one we held with machines when we were children) that seem to suggest a wholly different kind of relationship. Peer-to-peer communication (P2P), which is arguably the most widely used exchange mode of images today, is the subject of chapter seven. The issue here is whether P2P affects community building or community destruction. Burnett argues that the trope of community can be used to explore the flow of historical events that make up a continuum-from 17th-century letter writing to e-mail. In the new media-and Burnett uses the example of popular music which can be sampled, and reedited to create new compositions - the interpretive space is more flexible. Private networks can be set up, and the process of information retrieval (about which Burnett has already expended considerable space in the early chapters) involves a lot more of visualization. P2P networks, as Burnett points out, are about information management. They are about the harmony between machines and humans, and constitute a new ecology of communications. Turning to computer games, Burnett looks at the processes of interaction, experience, and reconstruction in simulated artificial life worlds, animations, and video images. For Burnett (like Andrew Darley, 2000 and Richard Doyle, 2003) the interactivity of the new media games suggests a greater degree of engagement with imageworlds. Today many facets of looking, listening, and gazing can be turned into aesthetic forms with the new media. Digital technology literally reanimates the world, as Burnett demonstrates in bis concluding chapter. Burnett concludes that images no longer simply represent the world-they shape our very interaction with it; they become the foundation for our understanding the spaces, places, and historical moments that we inhabit. Burnett concludes his book with the suggestion that intelligence is now a distributed phenomenon (here closely paralleling Katherine Hayles' argument that subjectivity is dispersed through the cybernetic circuit, 1999). There is no one center of information or knowledge. Intersections of human creativity, work, and connectivity "spread" (Burnett's term) "intelligence through the use of mediated devices and images, as well as sounds" (p. 221).
Burnett's work is a useful basic primer an the new media. One of the chief attractions here is his clear language, devoid of the jargon of either computer sciences or advanced critical theory. This makes How Images Think an accessible introduction to digital cultures. Burnett explores the impact of the new technologies an not just image-making but an image-effects, and the ways in which images constitute our ecologies of identity, communication, and subject-hood. While some of the sections seem a little too basic (especially where he speaks about the ways in which we constitute an object as an object of art, see above), especially in the wake of reception theory, it still remains a starting point for those interested in cultural studies of the new media. The Gase Burnett makes out for the transformation of the ways in which we look at images has been strengthened by his attention to the history of this transformation-from photography through television and cinema and now to immersive virtual reality systems. Joseph Koemer (2004) has pointed out that the iconoclasm of early modern Europe actually demonstrates how idolatory was integral to the image-breakers' core belief. As Koerner puts it, "images never go away ... they persist and function by being perpetually destroyed" (p. 12). Burnett, likewise, argues that images in new media are reformed to suit new contexts of meaning-production-even when they appear to be destroyed. Images are recast, and the degree of their realism (or fantasy) heightened or diminished-but they do not "go away." Images do think, but-if I can parse Burnett's entire work-they think with, through, and in human intelligence, emotions, and intuitions. Images are uncanny-they are both us and not-us, ours and not-ours. There is, surprisingly, one factual error. Burnett claims that Myron Kreuger pioneered the term "virtual reality." To the best of my knowledge, it was Jaron Lanier who did so (see Featherstone & Burrows, 1998 [1995], p. 5)."
Theme
Information
Visualisierung
Form
Bilder

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