Friday, December 29, 2017

An Intellectual History of Media Psychology

Premodernity, Modernity, and Postmodernity
In intellectual history, the history of ideas and systems of knowing, we typically discuss three periods of historical contexts. To discuss the difference between premodernity, modernity, and postmodernity, it is most helpful to look at the transitional moments first. We begin with the transition from premodernity to modernity

The year 1650 is typically used as practical demarcation of the boundary between what we call premodernity and modernity. The First World War is typically used as the event (concern) to demarcate the boundary between modernity and postmodernity. Let us sketch the picture of these three worlds.

The terms premodernity, modernity, and postmodernity make modernity central. Thinkers within the premodern Weltanschauung (worldview) could not view themselves as somehow premodern, because they were themselves speaking from the modern -their modern. This is essential to understanding the distinctions between these Weltanschauungen. To repeat we refer to the premodern as those who come from before the modern, however, to those living and thinking at this time, from within their World they are of the modern. The events (concerns) that occur within the years leading up to 1650, are culminations of the thinking of Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, and worked out through the 1600s by Isaac Newton. This is what we call The Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment movement that allowed for its coming forth.

The convergence of Cartesian cogito, the Baconian empiricism, and Newtonian mathematical models served as the event that shifted the ground of the premodern into the modern. The belief of the Enlightenment, expressed through the Scientific Revolution, is that through logic and mathematics absolute Truths can be established. These absolute Truths (big T Truths) are "discovered" thourgh systematic, empirical, research. Empiricism is the ideology that holds that all information comes through the senses and can be observed and measured. 

What is essential here is to understand the significance of the intention of the modern Weltanschauung, namely that all cause and effect relationships can established through science. The idea of causation is central to the Newtonian view of science (as expressed in classical mechanics). The overriding ideology of this age was that through logic, mathematics, and empiricism, those mysteries and woes of nature will understood and conquered. Think about the intention of the [scientific] psychologist: to describe, predict, and control behavior and mental processes.

In the premodern Weltanschauung it was not possible to clearly observe and measure  a stimulus's cause and the responsive effect in the modern sense. Rene Descartes established the core concept that is essential for an objective science to take place -the Subject/Object Split (S/O). What was revolutionary with Descartes is fundamentally assumed today. One never questions the idea that we are subject observing objects. That an object exists outside of ourselves, independently, from our own subjective position. The project of science has been to separate the subject from the object, and to arrive, through the scientific method the objective (real) object in itself. Decartes was like a mirror to the infant, before self-recognition (becoming the object of one's own subjectivity, what we call the me), there was not the distinction of independent object. The premodern understood reality in a less disconnected way, as can be understood in most spiritual, pantheistic, and holistic worldview from antiquity through the 1500s. Descartes' S/O split is the essence of the dead-end modernity encountered which sought a ghost/machine, nature/nurture, and subjective/objective fallacy. By the end of the Nineteenth Century the belief that science would be the answer to all problems was about to fall into shambles.

The symbiotic relationship between science and technology became so strong that the distinction between the two endeavors were blurred for the vast majority of people. To this day technological examples are given as evidence for the success of science. This misunderstanding and misuse of each individual projects of science and technology, and the questioning of the belief in their grand claims of arriving at ultimate Truths and conquering nature, came to a head during World War I.

The Great War of Europe (1914-1918) was the first to introduce new science and technology into warfare. Chemical warfare, mechanized artillery, armored tanks, and the machine gun brought over 17 million deaths. In the aftermath of this most devastating wars, and in the prelude to the Second World War, which would introduce mass aerial bombing, jet fighters, and the atomic bomb, thinkers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger began a tradition of questioning the celebration and belief in "the new metaphysics" of science and technology. By "metaphysics" Heidegger  meant that, like religion, the intention of science was ultimate truth, a metaphysical endeavor -the defining characteristic of the modern Weltanschauung. The irony of modernity is that in its reaction against metaphysics, the methods and systems that it championed were merely old metaphysics in new bottles.

Postmodernity dismisses the privileging hierarchies of knowledge that result in paradigmatic, political, power structures of knowledge commodity (think knowledge is power). Instead it examines the chaotic, independent happening of information that we ground into a multiplicity of systems. At times a given system will take on a political position of power. This is known as a dominant paradigm that is eventually displaced by another paradigm (Kuhn).

Another defining characteristic of the cultural studies tradition is its rootedness in continental philosophy. The postmodern critique of modernity was first presented by a philosopher in the 18th Century -Emanuel Kant. Kants' Critique of Pure Reason presented the argument against Empiricism (as presented by Hume). Kant is one of the essential thinkers for the Cultural Media Studies perspective.

Like Kant, G.W.F. Hegel is essential to the cannon of Cultural Media Studies. Hegel is best known as the first historian, the first to take knowledge as contextualized within a dialectical system. Dialectics (later expressed by Marx as material dialectics) is another essential aspect of Cultural Media Studies. Hegel's dialectical unfolding of the Zeitgeist of history is expressed in his Phenomenology of Spirit. Historic Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis of the the Zeitgeist is the opening to Husserl's phenomenology.

Phenomenology as articulated by Hegel is developed by Edmund Husserl and is yet another  fundamental aspect of Cultural Media Studies. It was Husserl who first described the captivation-in-an-acceptedness that we fall into -a state in which we do not question the foundation of what we know (believe) to be taken-for-granted.

Karl Marx reading of a political Hegel ushered in the political and social critiques of Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the development of existential-phenomenology. This is where psychology and cultural media studies overlap, in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the psychological investigation of embodiment. Existential-Phenomenlogical Pyshcology is becoming one of the fastest growing challenges to the cognitive psychology paradigm. Collectively this is known as postcognitive psychology.

Cultural studies, including all mediated cultural artifacts, begins to question the political, economic, and cultural power and dominance of science. The Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK) develops the research established by Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend to understand science as an ideological power structure that creates a grand narrative. This critique drives a divide in the university that exists to this day. C.P. Snow described this hostile divide as the "Two Cultures" of science and the humanities.

The Gestalt Psychologists: A Bridge Between Psychology & Cultural Studies
In 1895 the first public exposition of the cinematographe happened in Paris. As the story goes, on December 28th  La Salon Indien du Grand Cafe, a cafe in the Place de L'Opera, hosted an evening of cinema by the brothers Lumiere. It has been told that the first film to be presented that evening was L'Arrivee d'un train in gare de La Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at the Ciotat Station). As the lights in the salon dimmed and the gas-lit projection of the image appeared on the screen, it is said that patrons that evening left their seats in panic, fearing that a train was actually crashing through the wall.

This understanding, that the rhetoric and grammar of language not only establishes the systems in which we ground knowledge, but that grammar itself grounds thinking, is an essential characteristic of postmodernity. Information, once ordered into a certain grounding, becomes a system of knowledge. In this way we do not have universal Truth, but rather, contextualized, grounded, truths that can only be considered true (congruent) within an established system of thought.

The postmodern questioning of modernity and the polemical investigation of media, technology, and the human condition was firstly developed at the Frankfurt School for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany. Known as Critical Theory, the project of the Frankfurt School was to examine culture, politics, psychology, sociology, media, and technology through Marxist economic/political theory and Freudian psychoanalytic psychology. The examination of the interaction and genesis of the political economy (Marx) with and through the libidinal economy (Freud) was the initial focus of Critical Theory. The Frankfurt School is often understood to be the starting point of what has come to be called cultural media studies.

The relationship between cultural media studies and the scientifically oriented media effects tradition remains one of contention and mutual disregard.

The Gestalt psychologist of Germany (Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, Kurt Kofka, Kurt Lewin, and Rudolph Arnheim) came from a German psychology lab at the University of Berlin. Whereas Wundt established a psychology on his views of physiological psychology, Karl Stumpf in Berlin was developing a more psychological psychology. His students included Wertheimer, Kohler, and Lewin. Meanwhile photography and and time-based media (film) were making an entrance into the public life. The Gestalt psychologists were interested not only in 3-dimensional representation on a 2-dimensional surface, but also the new time-based 4-dimensional representation on a 2-dimensional surface.

It was at this very time that the Gestalt psychologists were becoming increasingly interested in perceptual research, the precursor of precursor of virtual reality research.

It was at this same time that filmmakers began investigating the emotional interaction between time-based media and emotions. Russian auteur Lev Kuleshov designed a short film illustrating what would come to be known as montage. This experimental film is similar to the Gestalt perceptual experiments being carried out at that time. 
Kuleshov Effect & Montage

In his 1999 text Audiovisions: Cinema and Television as entr'actes in History, Siegfried Zielinski describes an early experiment in virtual reality (VR) research at the World Exhibition in Paris, 1900.

The Cineorama, invented by the French engineer Raoul Grimoin Sanson, invited the Exhibition's visitors to take an imaginary flight in a balloon. In order to take pictures of the entire surrounding scenery, a system was utilized that was rather difficult at that time. Ten cameras, weighing a total of 500 kilograms, were positioned in a circle in the in the car of the balloon and these filmed synchronously the balloon's ascent from the ground to an altitude of 500 meters. 'When these cinematographic pictures are shown, the spectators see the earth receding below them and they have the impression of ascending into the air. For the projection of this film, an auditorium was built which measured 30 meters in diameter with 10 screens, each 10 meters high, arranged in a circle. a concrete cylinder in the centre supports the audience stand which is designed like the car of a balloon. The bottom half of a balloon, fastened by ropes, floats above it and strengthens the impression of actually sitting in a free balloon. Projection is done from inside the concrete cylinder. It has 10 apertures through which the projectors protrude. Each projector  is fitted with an electric arc lamp of 10 amperes.'WIKI Page on Balloon Cineorama.