Sensorial Weather-Journeying: On Feelings and Senses of Techno-Organic-Bodies
From January 19 to 22, FIBER hosted Part 4 of its Reassemble Lab: The Weathercapes Lab. The Lab broadly explored how the weather works; from the relationship between weather and climate as well as the relationships between weather measurements and the development of contemporary forecasting models and computer technology, and more. In conversation with weather monitoring stations, Laura Papke and Jan Christian Schulz reflect on the interplay of both sense- and sensor-mediated weather phenomena that inform us about the past, present, and future, exploring their effect on our state of bodily feelings.
Sensing Bodies [Feeling of Presence]
I get off the bus to the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), look up, and see huge snowflakes falling on top of my nose. They immediately melt on my warm skin and run down my cheeks as thick drops of water. I feel like a child as I try to catch them before they get blown into my face. I pause for a moment and recognize that by now, the ground is covered with white snow, muffling the sounds of the nearby streets. With crunching steps, I walk past the numerous instruments and enjoy the beauty of the landscape.
[Wind Sensing Bodies of KNMI Station 260: De Bilt (Utrecht)]
# STN LON(east) LAT(north) ALT(m) NAME
# 260 5.180 52.100 1.90 De Bilt
# DDVEC: Vector average wind direction in degrees (360=north; 90=east; 180=south; 270=west; 0=windless/variable)
# FHVEC: Vector mean windspeed (in 0.1 m/s)
# FG: Daily mean windspeed (in 0.1 m/s)
# FHX: Maximum hourly mean windspeed (in 0.1 m/s)
# FHN: Minimum hourly mean windspeed (in 0.1 m/s)
# FXX: Maximum wind gust (in 0.1 m/s)
# STN, YYYYMMDD, DDVEC, FHVEC, FG, FHX, FHN, FXX
260,20230120, 132, 14, 31, 40, 30, 70
I feel strangely diminutive and secure in the chaotic order of the snow turbulence that embraces me. My body feels porous, almost like an interacting part of the freezing environment as the tingling cold air flows into my lungs and enters my metabolism. A look at the sky and I lose the dimension of space, almost losing my balance in the flurry of countless softly gleaming snowflakes falling down on me and the other participants. My body experiences joy, excitement, and wonder when realizing that our organic bodies find themselves walking within another sensing body: a fragmented technological one, consisting of single sensors and monitoring stations that also perceive the current weather.
The human body can be thought of as a self-contained ecosystem capable of synthesizing sensory input into a comprehensive understanding of its environment. However, it can be challenging to perceive data in isolation from the rest of the organism, as one sensation often leads to a number of emotional and physiological responses that affect the body as a whole. Just like the human body, weather-information systems rely on gathering data from various sources, such as meteorological instruments. Their design has a biological paragon and reveals the close kinship to the human’s organic sensory system. Likewise bodily sense-organs, sensors work as electronic devices attuned to register physical input and detect changes within environments. The incoming weather data is transmitted through cables or antennas functioning like the receptors in an organic sensory transduction process. However, contrary to human senses, their technological relatives typically operate independently and cannot provide a comprehensive view of the weather conditions just by providing the data. Most weather stations tend to be stationary and lack the ability to incorporate topographical features or capture data from a dynamic perspective. These sensing bodies cannot account for the emotional perception or contextual factors that our organic senses do to shape our experiences — still, the data transmitted by these technological sense-extensions can activate certain feelings in our organic bodies, when we receive and read their information.
Forecasts & Mediation [Feeling of Future]
[Precipitation Sensors of KNMI]
Data of Humidity/Fog/Rain in the upcoming days
# STN LON(east) LAT(north) ALT(m) NAME
# 260 5.180 52.100 1.90 De Bilt
# DR : Duur van de neerslag (in 0.1 uur) / Precipitation duration (in 0.1 hour)
# RH : Etmaalsom van de neerslag (in 0.1 mm) (-1 voor <0.05 mm) / Daily precipitation amount (in 0.1 mm) (-1 for <0.05 mm)
# RHX : Hoogste uursom van de neerslag (in 0.1 mm) (-1 voor <0.05 mm) / Maximum hourly precipitation amount (in 0.1 mm) (-1 for <0.05 mm)
# STN,YYYYMMDD, DR, RH, RHX
I open my weather app, and freeze; a whole week of snow and rain. Somehow I can feel the cold, humid air filling my lungs and the rain drenching my clothes, weighing me down with a palpable heaviness. My initial plan to go for a walk dissolves into thin air, replaced by a yearning to cocoon myself in a cozy blanket, despite the weather outside being dry and surprisingly mild. It’s unsettling to realize how easily my mood can be turned upside down by a simple piece of digital information, altering the course of my day in unexpected ways.
On my way out of the house, I hear a fragment of a voice from the radio: “…heavy rain in the upcoming days,..”. I step outside, the air is dry and the sun flickers, covering my skin with a warm layer of heat.
Unimaginable. This information does something to me. There’s a feeling about the weather, about the future. A feeling that my body would not be able to feel and believe — or even predict — when looking at the clear sky today. It’s a strangely mixed feeling, produced by my organic senses mingling with the knowledge from our technological sense-extensions.
As vital sense-extensions, monitoring stations make the invisible world perceivable to the human body. They play an essential role in constituting the subjective reality for those who connect to them through daily weather forecasts. Increasingly saturating the planet, these electronic multisensorial bodies consist of combined sensors that continuously forward the registered environmental stimuli to the worldwide communication networks — ending up in the palm of our hand as a forecast in our weather app.
Being exposed to a vast array of images, sounds, and information from various digital sources, most notably when talking about the weather, these media not only provide us with new ways of experiencing the world, but they also shape and determine our perceptions of it. Every such medium acts as a filter between humans and the phenomenological world, and compresses the complexity of the phenomena into an abstract version of it, comparable to how semantics scholar Alfred Korzybski describes the map-territory-relation, with the words: “A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness”.
At the opening of FIBER’s Weatherscapes lab, Janette Bessembinder, who teaches climate literacy at the Amsterdam University of Applied Science and works at the KNMI as senior advisor of climate services, pointed out that images of weather(-data) can result in misinterpretations and false impressions, particularly when it comes to climate forecasts that are subject to a wide range of variables and therefore difficult to predict with certainty. When looking at the weather app on our smartphone, we may react to predictions of upcoming weather phenomena that have not yet occurred or may never occur, while at the same time limiting the body’s ability to fully perceive and experience current atmospheric conditions. These shifts in perception have the potential to manifest in short-term and long-term effects, potentially leading to emotional appearances such as ecoparalysis, the inability to take effective action towards global climate change, or climate anxiety, characterized by feelings of distress and concern about the future.
Therefore, it is essential to understand how media and technology shape and influence our senses and experiences as it could enable us to make more informed decisions about how we engage with the world. If we look at ourselves as so-called techno-humans or even cyborgs, we may create a more integrated understanding of our human body and our experience as inseparable from the external world. Peter-Paul Verbeek, philosopher and expert in the ethics of technology states: “We have always become the humans that we are in interaction with the technologies that we work with.” Therefore, our feelings are not only mediated by our organic senses but are also a product of and affected by the information-mediation of our technological sense-extensions.
Remembrance Bodies [Feeling of Temporo-Spatial Perception]
In 1842 the American meteorologist and naval commander Matthew Fontaine Maury asked the captains of the United States Navy to record meteorological information in their logbooks. In exchange, they got Wind and Current Charts, created from their data, facilitating navigation and mapping out potentially dangerous areas on the sea. During the FIBER’s Weatherscapes Talks, Robert Jan Wille, a VENI-postdoc researching the history of meteorology at the Freudenthal Institute in Utrecht, discussed the emergence of weather information infrastructures such as the First International Marine Conference in Brussels, held in 1853. At this conference, a standardized form of an “abstract log” was introduced, to manage the exchange of international weather data by collaboratively recording and storing comparable information on weather conditions. Using measuring devices such as wind vanes, thermometers, and barometers, the quantification of the environment began and laid the foundation for a remembrance body of sensing experiences by capturing data about the atmosphere’s transformation in numbers and charts.
Nearly 150 years after Maury asked the U.S. Navy captains to measure and archive weather data, in 1999, the journalist Neil Gross predicted the upcoming century’s future of sensor technologies, imagining that “planet earth will don an electronic skin [using] the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations.” While this electronic-skin is ubiquitously informing us about current and upcoming weather conditions, it is part of the maturing remembrance body — a continuously growing data-record allowing us to “feel” into the weather history and study the climate on a vast scale. Our technological sense-extensions became a globe-spanning sensing body that remembers and feels precise temperature differences, extending our perception of weather and climate transformations from the past into a seemingly predictable future, perceiving the Earth as an accelerating warming planet — a realization that might barely be detectable for our organic body within the temporality of a human lifetime.
Our comprehension of weather and climate is a constant multi-layered-feeling-product of sensorial inputs, be they organically or technologically mediated, stretching throughout time and overcoming our local experiences. Standing within the sensing body of the KNMI with all its precisely calibrated technological sense-extensions inspires one to pause for a moment, as it unfolds a space for reflection in which oneself notices that their own reality is only one within the countless situated perceptions of weather, woven into an ever-expanding web of techno-organic-interconnectedness.
[Temperature Sensors projecting maximum temperatures of The Netherlands]
SSP1–1.9: 2030/10.88°C, 2040/11.09°C, 2050/11.03°C, 2060/10.85°C, 2070/10.96°C, 2080/10.95°C, 2090/10.92°C, 2100/10.81°C
SSP2–4.5: 2030/11.09°C, 2040/11.17°C, 2050/11.56°C, 2060/11.73°C, 2070/11.90°C, 2080/12.02°C, 2090/12.20°C, 2100/12.53°C
SSP5–8.5: 2030/11.00°C, 2040/11.47°C, 2050/11.89°C, 2060/12.49°C, 2070/12.92°C, 2080/13.42°C, 2090/13.99°C, 2100/14.54°C
It feels almost as if there are meta-feelings of weather that mingle together with the one of my body. The winter sun rays a few days after the trip to the KNMI are warming my face, but they feel a bit different. My body gets excited about the warmth on my skin, but something in my mind reminds me of my technological sense-extensions, making me wonder about this warmth at the end of January: giving me a bit of a skeptical feeling, knowing that it is unusually warm for this time of the year. (#GlobalWarming.)
As I make myself comfortable next to the living room window, I bask in the gentle rays of the sun on my face, surprised by the unexpectedly warm and dry weather for a February day. My gaze wanders into the garden and lands on the towering bamboo tree, which houses a variety of birds in the summer months. Its leaves, now yellow and drooping, evoke a sense of unease within me as I recall the countless warnings about climate change that I have come across while scrolling through my Instagram feed.
Jan Christian Schulz is a designer, interdisciplinary researcher, and writer based in Germany and the Netherlands. Operating at the intersection of design and science, he investigates the emergence of ecosystemic relationships through technological media. He complements his theoretical work with the creation of socio-ecological interventions mediating a sensorial perception of environmental transformations and non-human worlds.
Laura Papke is an interdisciplinary designer and artistic researcher currently living and working in the Netherlands. With a keen interest in the intersection of ecology, culture, and mental health, her work investigates new perspectives on healing processes in a technology-driven world. Laura’s methodology incorporates performative design strategies and multidisciplinary collaborations, drawing inspiration from queer ecologies, techno-feminism, and shamanic practices.