In the ARS (Artificial Recognition System) project that has been inspired by Freud’s topic model in psychoanalysis, the processing of information comprises a very qualitative approach. This is due to the fact that in the ARS model technically speaking »psychic energy« has to be implemented and programmed into the ARS simulator. When introducing a term like »psychic energy«, technicians need to take into account qualitative factors. Consequently, the ARS model therefore is more concerned with a qualitative descriptive approach of simulating the human psyche than with actual numbers in the back-end of the implementation process. The artifact designed in the course of our research project deals with symbol processing based on highly subjective data taken out of the environment. It is meant to focus on subjective information by capturing individual moves and making them accessible as potential output. On the contrary, a quantitative approach exists, if information or data of any kind is being quantified. Foremost, these approaches exist in the industry, but also in the context of design development. For example, in the mobile application of the project CO2GO a CO2 calculator measures the number of CO2 generated when moving from one place to another.[1] The user of the mobile application receives a simple number as output without any subjectively related reference. The only personal information in this context relates to the actual travel route one has chosen. The obvious disadvantage in the quantitative approach is the fact that the user may identify less with an abstract number on a screen because it does not contain individualized values. Furthermore, what is the meaning of a number if one cannot grasp its potential effects? Therefore an application like this may profit from a subjectively informing output, as to offering options to enter preferences at first use. One would have to carefully consider which option to choose, and final decision made would have to be fully respected and settings made accordingly. This way the user may identify much more with the application as such, because individual as much as a subjective statements can be created.

The homunculus argument

The study of human behavior is a difficult task,

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but at the same time it bears great potential to learn about human behavior. Already in historic times there was a strong urge to find out about human’s perception and behavior. Thus, a group of psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists developed the so-called homunculus in reference to a small human-like being located in the brain. In the course of early studies regarding the question of how the brain establishes a picture

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on the retina, the homunculus argument became popular: the complex process of generating an image was explained by means of a small helper viewing the content ›to be seen‹. In 1987, Richard Gregory introduced the homunculus argument as a phenomenological methodology to verify or falsify accompanying premises of newly presented scientific claims.[2] In the field of ›Theory of Vision‹ the homunculus argument falsifies arguments that do not come up with explanations for what is called ›projection‹, the experience which explains that the viewing point is separate from the things that are seen. Also in sciences such as psychology and philosophy this argument has been introduced for purposes of researching psychological or physiological processes. The notion of the homunculus has also been used in literature. For example in Goethes »Faust II«, the student Wagner created a homunculus, who carried out extensive conversations with Mephistopheles. The increasing progress in neurosciences and imaging methods (e.g. TMS, PET, and CT) made the homunculus argument less attractive for explaining unknown processes. The more a cognitive process becomes transparent and can be explained by other means than using a substitute, the less the help of the homunculus is needed. In relation to our research, the »homunculus technicus« stands for a technical artifact, which is literally carried by the user to explore public space. It aids to discard automated behavior, and instead, it encourages the act of listening, following or

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feeling. The device supports the user to pay attention to subjectively motivated perception opposed to strictly following adaptive mechanisms to socially given frameworks. The »homunculus technicus« is used to investigate the processing of certain stimuli in a public place.

Black box theory

The aim is to make research on how people experience public space, for example, what kind of personal or provided public resources have an impact on how safe one feels in public space (e.g. lightening, amount of people, narrow places). As the study by Jeremy Németh and Stephan Schmidt shows, there are twenty identified indicators to quantify public space, and the field of studying quality indicators of public space is constantly developing.[3] Our initial aim was to equip people with an artifact, a technical device, to collect data in a chosen public environment. This would allow to gather information in regards to what makes people feel safe or even uncomfortable while moving around in public spaces. First, instead of collecting information in regards to subjective experienece as retrieved by smethods of personal inquiry,

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we were trying to achieve objective qualities of space by means of logging data. So instead of

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following the classic sociological approach, we decided to refocus on the impact of objective input figures to understand objective stimuli that people are exposed to. Less for the sake of assuming a direct, casual relationship between stimuli and behavior, we were hoping to establish a system which would allow us to study appearing deviations in the overall normalized behavioral patterns of use in public space. In consequence, we started to become interested to understand what happens in the human brain when certain objective stimuli are processed. We learned that via sensual perception objective stimuli are being delivered to the brain where they become reformatted to trigger a certain concrete action. Although we have to acknowledge that there is no linear causal connection between external stimuli and behavior, as a subject of study and concern we do assign a certain ›indeterminable‹ relationship between external stimulus and behavior. Therefore the human being takes on attributes of a so-called black box, and less the artifact itself. Thus the artifact serves the purpose to absorb information of the urban context via sensors and to translate them into audio and vibrating signals emitted by actuators, while also single input information by the actual user (input button) is being processed. In addition to the conventional spectrum of perceptions in public space the artifact exposes the user to intimate body-related experiences in the sensitive area of shoulder and neck. The selection of information resources had been consciously chosen by the team beforehand. Any human being can be considered as a black box as the person represents a constantly processing entity of stimuli perceived

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from the outer as well as from the inner world. A comprehensive description of a black box in these terms has been provided by M. Bunge.[4] By equipping the researcher with the »homunculus technicus«, we provide her/him with the opportunity to experience public space in addition to perceiving surrounding conditions subconsciously beforehand. The technical device helps to consciously focus diverse contents provided by the environment. The idea is to guide the carrier with given information that gets interpreted by the device in a second step of symbol processing. The subjectivity of a person can be seen as a constraint, similar to the number of sensors on technical equipment.[5] In regards to the black box theory another aspect needs to be emphasized: the black box can be seen from outside or inside. First, one looks at the input and the

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output of behavior, and cannot understand what’s happening inside.[6] Second, as it can be viewed in the Chinese Room argument, the black box is being understood from inside.[7] The Chinese Room argument is a mental experiment proposed by John Searle. Here, as one person is sitting inside a box that translates texts from German to Chinese based on syntax and semantics, the viewer apparently knows what is happening inside the box. But the remaining question is, whether the man sitting in the Chinese room is able to understand the actual meaning of the words by translating each symbol using dictionaries and syntax rules provided to him. In order to answer this question, one has to achieve a greater understanding of what actually happens inside the black box. In our setup we refer to the »homunculus in the black box« in two ways: first, we make use of the metaphor of the little helper, and second, we see the human brain as it processes information in multiple, for us incomprehensible ways, as the black box. The »homunculus technicus« as the wearer him-/herself simultaneously represents the black box. That’s why the term »homunculus technicus« refers to a prototypical artifact that represents a not fully adapted self, and enables the carrier to experience external stimuli under conditions of de-familiarization, as if one was able to subtract experience from customized perception.

Adaptive and non-adaptive behavior

Adaption in biology means a reinforcement of behavior that can either be a sensitization (a form of non-associative learning) or a habituation, both are basic biological, learning principles that have been studied by E. Kandel and his colleagues.[8] Both mechanisms have been explored for the sea slug, aplysia californica, where neuroscientists have stimulated the siphon of the aplysia, which

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in consequence showed a

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withdrawal reflex. They discovered further a short-term habituation, if the siphon is stimulated several times in a short interval (of one minute). The stimulation in consequence leads to a habituation that lasts for a couple of hours. Long-term habituation occurs, if the stimulation is continuously up to four days in a distinct interval. In such case the habituation on the side of the aplysia will last for three weeks. Sensitization for example is a warm sensation, by continuously rubbing one’s arm, whereas habituation stands for the decrease of a certain reaction followed by a repeated stimulus. Meaning, the more often we are exposed to a stimulus the more we become conditioned by it and the less it will be irritating or exciting. It means over time we get used to a certain stimulus until we hardly notice it anymore. The connection to the »homunculus technicus« may be drawn as in this approach adaptive behavior should be overcome or at least reduced for the time carrying the device, or one step further, one could even imagine to condition adaptive behavior. We talk about habituation when we repeatedly do something we are used to. It is a stimulus-specific orientation response, for example, passing the door of a colleague quickly we don’t want to meet, or being shocked due to a stimulus of a noise of crashing cars. However, what we want to achieve is to minimize this habituation. If the person always avoids passing a door the »homunculus technicus« should encourage him/her to extend the focus to more incoming stimuli so behavior can adapt to more then ›not entering this door‹, and therefore smoothening some of his/her adapted behavior strategies. Another approach can be to even initialize adaptive behavior. For example the »homunculus technicus« can be parameterized to pass a certain door, to customize behavior in making the person follow distinct patterns of sensual input like sound. In the later case we induce an adaptive behavior by using controlling

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instances of it.

The technical installation

Input – The technical installation or framework consists of several external sensors perceiving information on sound, distance, activity and location (GPS), and wireless network density and a button press. Processing: Symbol Generation – The processing unit has the function of generating a meaningful symbol. First a symbol is constructed from sensor input that is translated from a sensor value to a feature symbol, second a subunimodal symbol is generated. Third, a unimodal data set consists of several unimodal symbols. Finally several unimodal symbols form a multimodal dataset. Then a form of pattern recognition called clustering takes place and according to similar features a new symbol is created. The process developed by Velik is adapted in our case only using the last two layers.[9] In the last processing step the symbol is being evaluated. Evaluation can be done based on rules that decide how to interpret a symbol. For example depending on the numerical occurance of certain patterns within a set timeframe, the actuator sends out a specific amount of vibrating signals.[10]


The black box refers to the processing of incoming information in the brain that is always individualized as we have personal experiences from the beginning of our life. However, by carrying the artifact we have the chance of exploring unconditioned realm of experience. What is to be recognized is the actual existence of two black boxes connected to each other: one defined by our own conditions, that we can only reflect upon, the other inhabited by the »homunculus technicus«. We allow the device to guide us based on objective measurements and evaluations, thus the device can be seen as a parrot sitting on our shoulder or a »Wünschelrute« as well … in overcoming personal routines as well as internalized regulating instances temporarily, other kinds of information will be able to be perceived by us, which eventually allow us to indulge in public space with unknown degrees of curiosity.


[1] Kloeckl K., Maniloff, D., Manzon, V. & Ratti, C., »Transportation mode identification and real-time CO2 emission estimation using smartphones«, in: SENSEable City Lab, Cambridge, (Massachusetts, USA): Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2011

[2] Richard, L. G., Auge und Gehirn: Die Psychologie des Sehens, 4. E-D, Princeton: Princeton Universitätsdruck. 1990

[3] Németh, J. & Schmidt, S., »Quality-of-Life Community Indicators for Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management« in: Social Indicators Research Series, Volume 43. 2011. pp. 41–66

[4] Bunge, M., »How does it work? The search for explanatory mechanisms« in: Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34. 2004. pp. 1–29

[5] Pylyshyn, Z., »What’s in the Mind:

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Constraints on Mental Structures«, in ESCOP/ECONA Talk. 1995

[6] Richard, L .G., Der Oxford Begleiter zum Verstand, Oxford: Oxford Universitätsdruck. 1987

[7] Searle, J., »Minds, Brains, and Programs«, in: Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3. 1980. pp. 417–424.

[8] Hawkins, R. D., Castellucci V. F. & Kandel E. R., »Interneurons involved in mediation and -modulation of the gill-withdrawal reflex in Aplysia. II. Identified neurons produce -heterosynaptic facilitation contributing to behavioral sensitization.« in: Journal of Neurophysiology, The American Neurophysological Society 2012. 1981. Available at:, (Accessed on: 10 April 2012)

[9] Velik, R., Bruckner, D. & Palensky, P., »A Bionic Approach for High-Efficiency Sensor Data Processing in Building Automation« in: Proceedings of IEEE IECON. 2009

[10] Bucci, Wilma, »Psychoanalysis and Cognitive Science«, in A Multiple Code Theory, Denver: Institute Adelphi University, USA. 1997. pp. 8–14. Available at: (Accessed on: 10 April 2012)

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