The Mystics and Magic of Latent Space

Becoming the Unseen

The Mystics and Magic of Latent Space

Becoming the Unseen

A visualization of handwritten digits, 0 – 9, generated by a variational autoencoder.

Bridging concerns from human-computer interaction (HCI) and media studies, this essay theorizes deepfake images in terms of their phenomenological implications: the extent to which they enfold the human viewer in a world of the otherwise unseen. Drawing on comparative phenomenology of Vilém Flusser and Louis Bec, we focus on variational autoencoders (VAEs). We contend that the processes underlying deepfake image construction, as much as deepfake images themselves, evidence a parallel, prosthetic, and computational phenomenology: a study of “that which appears” to a computer, and which appears secondarily to a user-human as image. We use the example of VAEs to argue for the emergence of a second-order, received phenomenology of the augmented human as we reside in an increasingly computational world. 

You must be a subscriber to view the main content of this page. Please subscribe to an option that fits your needs and get access to core content! If you are already a subscriber just sign in below. If you have purchased a subscription via Offline payment, the content will be unlocked upon receiving your payment.

The latest advances in cognitive computation are a move inexorably towards a shamanism of the machine, a magical phenomenology based on fanciful but effective latent structures that we lack either the capacity or the sensorium to interrogate.
Reading time: 18 min.


sign up

and get the latest news and calls for papers & projects

Our site uses cookies to improve our services. As an user you need to agree to the usage and accept our conditions. We are currently using only necessary cookies for normal web page functioning. For more information visit our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. For more information on the cookies that we use please check the list below.  

This cookie is native to PHP applications. The cookie is used to store and identify a users’ unique session ID for the purpose of managing user session on the website. The cookie is a session cookies and is deleted when all the browser windows are closed.

I consent to the cookie usage, agree with the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy and want to continue using the web-page.