The Immersed Body
towards a history of immersion and its meaning for computer simulated work environments
Immersion, in general, describes the process of plunging, diving or dipping of bodies into an environment. In the cultural sciences, however, immersion is primarily understood as a specific mode of perception when someone plunges into the fictional world of a game, a film or an app, cutting ties with the outside world, mostly with the cognitive process of decoding signs, sounds and other attention-grabbing cues.
With the rapidly advancing digitalization of our environment, the public debate about social-media and game-addiction, the concept of immersion is increasingly discussed in the cultural sciences.
In this case the emphasis is placed, on the one hand, on the perception of the subject (and not on its body). On the other hand, the experience of immersion is conceived as primarily mediated through visual sensations – with all the other senses being of secondary importance.
In contrast, the major subject of this project is the investigation of a history of immersion that begins with the state of bodies being plunged into extreme or hostile environments. Far from being a product of the 21st century, I argue in this project that this concept of immersion can be traced back well into the 19th century where the mechanistic and vitalistic approaches of organisms collide with new transport-vehicles like railways and lifts. Consequently, the history of immersion refers to a rich scientific knowledge that constructs a virtual body-concept as a flexible and adaptable organism. To prove this claim, the project will, in a first part, examine case studies such as the experimental research on the organs of equilibrium undertaken by scientists such as Josef Breuer at the turn of the 20th century, or simulations of the bodily effects of the absence of gravity undertaken by NASA for the pilots of ‘Project Mercury’ in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the second part, it will be shown that his amount of data about organisms in hostile environments reappears today where questions of the bodily posture and their interaction with interfaces and with robotics become crucial for the proper setting of a computer simulated work environment (like in CAVE-Environments, Computer Animated Virtual Environments). As a consequence, the difference between interactive physical simulations and interactive computer simulations of immersive work environments opens up the question why a digitalization of the body is not equivalent to its dematerialization.
Dawid Kasprowicz graduated in media studies at Ruhr University Bochum with a thesis about the concept of Psychopower in the work of Bernard Stiegler. His research interests are media theories of embodiment, the media history of the brain and french media philosophy.