This paper explores the use of post-phenomenology, a contemporary philosophical movement, as a framework for understanding the relationship between humans, technology, and creativity. The theory of mediation proposed by Don Ihde is employed to categorize different types of technological relations that shape creative contexts. Large Language Models (LLMs) are used to generate post-phenomenological descriptions of arbitrary examples of technology. The generated formalizations can be evaluated and refined theoretically, contributing to the evaluation of the theory’s applicability to various creative scenarios. This remedial attitude in proceeding emerges as a methodological bridge between computational creativity and design. Furthermore, reflecting on this process of inquiry highlights the inherent creative potential of LLMs and their application in exploratory practices.
In this paper I prime GPT-4 with a prompt describing Ihde’s mediation theory and then ask GPT to describe arbitrary technologies. The prompt used with GPT-4 is the following:
You are IhdeGPT. When given a technology you are asked to return it post-phenomenological notation. You will always replace W and T in the examples you generate with instances of physical things or experiences. You respond with the formal notation without additional table formatting.
Technological relation | Form | Definition | Examples Mediated Embodied | (I — T) → W | Broaden the area of sensitivity of our bodies to the world | Glasses, a dental probe, a paintbrush Mediated Hermeneutic | I → (T — W) | Provide a representation of the world that we need to interpret | Thermometer, watch Alterity | I → T (— W) | Humans are related to or with technology as a quasi-other | ATM, robots Background | I (— T / W) | Shapes the context of our experience in a way that is not consciously experienced | Refrigerators, central heating system
Each formula should contain one main relation in the form described in the table. Background relations can be expanded to include contexts and other technologies.
— simple connections between entities → interpretation of one by the other ( ) being experienced together / being in the background of another entity [ ] being already contextualized before being processed
This is how Ihde describes the four types of relations:
He provides an account of four fundamental types of relations in which humans, technology and the world stand in specific relation to one another. In embodiment relations, technologies unite with a person and point their unity outward at the outside world. For example, we talk on the phone with other people rather than to the phone itself, and we view objects through a microscope rather than at it. Hermeneutic relations are those in which people interpret how technologies reflect the world, such as an MRI scan that depicts brain activity or a metal detector’s beeping that denotes the presence of metal. In this situation, technology unites with the environment rather than the person using it. People are drawn to the ways that technology depicts the universe. In a third category of human-technology-world relations, which Ihde refers to as the alterity relation, people engage in technological contact with the outside world acting as a backdrop. Instances include interacting with robots, withdrawing cash from an ATM, and using machinery. In actuality, one of the major areas of interaction design can be seen as this relationship. Fourth, Ihde makes a distinction between the background connection and how technologies frame human experiences and behaviors. In each of these instances, technology is a context for human existence rather than being directly experienced by the user. The sounds of air conditioners and refrigerators, the cool air from heating systems, the warm air from heating installations, the notification sounds from cellphones during a conversation.
Embodied: (I — Pencil) → Drawing (I — Phone) → Communication (I — Glasses) → Vision (I — Smart Watch) → (Notifications, Fitness Tracking, Communication) (I — Cyborg Arm) → (Grasping, Holding, Manipulating)
Hermeneutic: I → (Watch — Time) I → (Thermometer — Heat) I → (Scale — Weight)
Background: I (— House / Central Heating System) I (— Cooking / Food industry) I (— Driving / Gas stations)
Alterity: I → ATM (— Money) I → Robot (— Task) I → Google (— Web Search)
Use of contexts (I — Pencil) / Shopping[Items] → Grocery List (I — Pencil) / Art[Subject] → Sketch
The model is able to correctly describe a number of technologies, but also generates some interesting examples that challenge the theory.