THE SHOWDOWN BETWEEN IN-PERSON AND CYBERSPACE RELATIONSHIPS:
SENSORY INTEGRATION AND INTUITION

by John Suler, Ph.D.

Rarely in IPR do we connect to the other person by one sense alone. At the very least we see and hear simultaneously. During more intimate relating we see, hear, touch, smell, and maybe even taste. The complex and subtle interactions among all that sensory input far exceeds the interpersonal meaning we can extract from any one of them alone. Mother nature was pretty clever in giving us eyes, ears, skin, noses, and tongues -- all interconnected in marvelous ways that science still doesn't fully understand. Those clusters of sensations make for relationships that are highly robust in emotion and meaning.

As Internet technology improves, auditory and visual sensations will be more effectively coordinated with each other. But even with unlimited bandwidth and highly imaginative code, we'll never see all five sensations integrated as in IPR. In CSR the five senses tend to be dissociated... and that's a double-edged sword. On the one hand the rich interpersonal qualities afforded by the five senses is lost, resulting in human encounters that may run a bit on the stale side. On the other hand, extracting out some sensory modes -- like vision or voice -- creates unique ways to interact with others. E-mail and typed chat can be rather fascinating styles of developing a relationship. The sensory limitations can fuel the imagination and lead to creative patterns of communicating that are not found in IPR.

Sometimes we humans connect to each other in ways that seem to defy the traditional laws of sense impressions. Call it telepathy, empathy, or intuition, we seem to know what others are thinking or feeling without being aware of just how we know it. Some people think that we reach those conclusions based on an unconscious detection of subtle qualities in voice, body language, or things said between the lines. If that's the case, then sensory information indeed is influencing how we experience the other. We just don't realize how exactly we're being subliminally influenced.

Curiously, people report that even in the stripped down sensory world of CSR -- like text-only chat -- others sometimes sense what you are thinking and feeling, even when you didn't say anything to that effect. Did they detect your mood or state of mind from some subtle clue in what or how you typed? Are they picking up on some seemingly minor change in how you typically express yourself?

Or does their empathy reach beyond your words appearing on the screen? Perhaps they are in tune with your mind via some pathway that neither psychology nor computer technology can fully explain. If that kind of intuitive connection really exists, then the differences between IPR and CSR become rather insignificant. On that mysterious level, human relating transcends sense organs and micro chips.

09/13/98

John Suler, PhD, is Professor of Psychology at Rider University and a practicing clinical psychologist. He has published on psychotherapy, mental imagery, and eastern philosophy. He currently maintains several web sites.

 

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