[ISEA2020] Paper: Alexandra Bal — Sentience as The Antidote to Our Frenzied Mediated Selves


Keywords: Sentience, Sensorium, Colonization of the senses, Sensory literacy, Anthropocentric culture, Indigenous self, Spatial communication, Rewilding, Universal Recycling.

How did we become a species willing to poison the environment that sustains us? Perhaps, the answer lays in a long history of anthropocentric cultural narratives, that gradually drove many westerners towards sensory and somatic illiteracy, and deeply disrupted our relationship to sentience. Sentience is a form of sensory awareness that is deeply embedded within our bodies. It simultaneously facilitates internal, social and spatial non-verbal communication, allowing awareness of one’s self, others, and of natural sentient eco-systems. Born a sentient being that thinks, feels and senses through the body, westerners are acculturated to become rational beings that ignore their sentience. This article explores some of the ecosophic dimensions of sentience. It retraces how anthropocentric culture, which developed at the intersection of multiple histories and forms of cultural colonization, has progressively remapped sensory perception with mediated simulations, and profoundly altered our perception of reality. In this process, we grew increasingly blind to the complex needs of our natural sentient environments. As simulation and data supersede sentient reality, we are becoming disembodied frenzied selves, unaware of the toxicity we bring to our environment. Sentience seems to be the antidote to the internalized western techno-anthropocentric norms fabricated over millennia of sensory oppression.

  • Dr. Alexandra Bal is an associate professor in the RTA School of media, at Ryerson University. Toronto, Canada. She has done funded research focused on the impact of social digital media on children and youths. She now researches the impact of western culture on the senses and how to create decolonized sensory literacy. Her digital photography focuses on creating nature vivante photographs, portraits that celebrate nature’s sentience. She also participates in ecological art by decolonizing land. For the last 16 years, she has helped a forest regain its sovereignty over farmland.