Can I Consider the Pong Racket as a Part of My Body?: Toward a Digital Body Literacy

Can I Consider the Pong Racket as a Part of My Body?: Toward a Digital Body Literacy

Stefano Di Tore (University of Salerno, Italy), Paola Aiello (University of Salerno, Italy), Pio Alfredo Di Tore (University of Salerno, Italy) and Maurizio Sibilio (University of Salerno, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/jdldc.2012040104


Up to which point can people consider as part of their body the Pong racket, or an avatar on the screen, on which do people exert direct motor control as well? When individuals move in a virtual environment, do the proprioceptors convey information about the location of which body? In which environment? How will the information contaminate each other? How does the temperature felt on the real environment influence the interaction in the virtual environment? This paper is not intended to answer these questions, it is rather intended to raise fundamental questions of perception and phenomenology in a digital context in which bodies “are not born; they are made” (Haraway, 1991). The work should act as a positio quaestionis, with the aim of affirming the urgent need for a necessarily interdisciplinary reflection on the overall design of the body - perception - cognition - technology perimeter; it also identifies in the Berthoz simplexity and Ginzburg evidential paradigms, and in the Hansen concept of mixed reality, the building blocks of a theoretical framework aimed to the solution of these questions.
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The purpose of this paper is to investigate how some lines of evidence from the hard sciences and some changes in technology affect the overall design of the body - perception - cognition - technology perimeter.

Topics covered include:

  • The evolution of the idea of body.

  • The role of body in nuis (natural user interfaces).

  • Perceptual and cognitive implications of the nuis.

  • The implications of nuis on the idea of body.

  • The emerging need of a digital body literacy.

The subject requires a theoretical framework which includes a definition of body, an historical excursus on the idea of body and on the relationship between body and cognition, a definition of interface in the context of an historical evolution of the interfaces, and a virtual and augmented reality environments definition.

In this scenario, this work has the preliminary nature of a positio quaestionis, which aims to put into context the questions which we will try to answer later in subsequent works, once the issues listed above have been addressed in a systematic and exhaustive way.


Res Extensa Vs. The Extension Of Man

The central role played by corporeity and body in the current cultural context is the result of two different lines, which have, throughout their history, large overlapping and contamination areas.

One line of thinking starts from the Mind-Body problem, from the husserlian perspective and Merleau Ponty's phenomenological perspective, going through the concept of embodiment and the studies of Varela, Maturana, Lakoff, gradually finding confirmation in experimental evidence of the “hard sciences,” which have on several occasions identified possible neurobiological basis of cognitive processes - we mention, above all, the research line on mirror neurons (Rizzolatti & Sinigaglia, 2006), progressively reducing the wasteland area determined by the distinction between res cogitans and res extensa.

The other guideline is purely technological, determined by modifications in bodily function, including both body extensions in the sense introduced by McLuhan (2001), both as tout-court modifications, such as the “intelligent” prosthesis systems that are interfaced directly with the synaptic circuits (on use of mind-controlled robots and on how people with tetraplegia use their thoughts to control robotic aids, see Hochberg et al., 2012).

The ability to the automodification of the body, a unique feature that the human species has by virtue of its peculiar cultural evolution, is certainly, on the theoretical level, a revolutionary element.

The machine, as vicar or amplifier of subject potentialities, would affect subject integrity and, as such, redefines subject identity.

This mutation of identity does not stop at the starting field, be it biomedical or mediatic one, but it involves, and occasionally overwhelms, ethics and politics, law and cognition, and arises as a matter pertaining, with full epistemic legitimacy, to philosophy.

In the intentions of this preliminary work does not appear certainly the ambition to establish whether or not the cyborg is our ontology, but, from the introduction reported, it is evident that, before proceeding in reflection, it is appropriate to try a functional definition of “body,” in the meaning that the body assumes in the common sense, in an attempt to distinguish what is “body” by what it is not.

In common sense, if I look and I move my hand; it is evident that it is part of my body. If my hand is amputated, it is no longer “body.” Therefore, the body, in its ordinary organic meaning, implies a continuity of biological tissues, cells, nerve endings.

This meaning, certainly reductive, is not functional for the purposes of this work.

Another instrumental meaning sees the body as that on which I exert motor control. A prosthesis definitely falls into this vision. It is not equally obvious, in this sense, to consider avatars used in sophisticated virtual or augmented environments.

For example, some latest generation neuroheadset allow control of objects or avatars in virtual environments directly via electrodes capable of intercepting the brain activity (Jackson & Moore Mappus, 2010).

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