Sensory Substitution and Non-Sensory Feelings

In Fiona Macpherson (ed.), Sensory Substitution and Augmentation. Oxford University Press (2018)
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One of the central limitations of sensory substitution devices (SSDs) is their inability to reproduce the non-sensory feelings that are normally associated with visual experiences, especially hedonic and aesthetic responses. This limitation is sometimes reported to cause SSD users frustration. To make matters worse, it is unclear that improvements in acuity, bandwidth, or training will resolve the issue. Yet, if SSDs are to actually reproduce visual experience in its fullness, it seems that the reproduction of non-sensory feelings will be of some importance. We offer a novel solution. Researchers can produce hedonic and aesthetic responses by eliciting these feelings artificially, pairing distal objects that should be pleasurable to pleasurable stimulus outputs from the SSD. We outline two strategies for accomplishing this: first, by means of a prefixed, hardwired, association of pleasant distal objects to pleasant stimulus outputs from the SSD; second, by means of a flexible, feedback-based association which creates associations based on a subject-directed matching of distal objects to patterns of stimuli from the SSD which the subject takes to have the corresponding hedonic properties. We evaluate some problems with both strategies, and we argue that the feedback-based strategy is more promising. Researchers can use this strategy to help the blind, allowing them to take pleasure in the objects they perceive using SSDs.
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