My original contributions to knowledge
This post is a somewhat condensed version of the Conclusions chapter of my thesis, listing and summarizing the original contributions to knowledge that my thesis provides. I’ve got nine such contributions, which for a PhD is rather a lot, but the examiners didn’t object to that number and so they stand as written.
Original Contributions to Knowledge
The research I present in this thesis makes nine original contributions to knowledge. These contributions cover both of the fields my research bridges: seven apply to my “home” field of design for user experience and two apply to transcendent experience (TX). My contributions to design cover both design fiction and techno-spiritual design.
Contributions to Knowledge — Transcendent Experience
My research contributes to the knowledge of transcendent experience in two key ways:
- Recognition of transcendent experience as phased and cyclical
- New thoughts about the position of ineffability in transcendent experience
This subsection summarises these contributions.
Recognition of transcendent experience as phased and cyclical
Although previous literature has noted the largely sequential nature of TX components (Garcia-Romeu, Himelstein, & Kaminker, 2015), this thesis is the first to describe them as phases (Chapter 4). Additionally, I explicitly recognise that the effects and actions arising from a transcendent experience often include changes to beliefs or practices that formed part of the context of that experience, and that those changes sometimes facilitate further transcendent experiences. Although the cyclic potential of TXs can be inferred from literature on various types of transcendent experience, I have found none that states it explicitly. This thesis is the first work that combines the sequential nature of TX components with the recognition that a TX can be followed by changes in beliefs or practice, and depicts the top-level components of transcendent experience as a cycle of phases.
New thoughts about the position of ineffability in transcendent experience
The TX literature has long considered ineffability as one of the most common characteristics of transcendent experiences, but most of these works say merely that the experience is ineffable. Studies of mystical experience constitute an exception in that many of them assign ineffability to a position in the structure, placing it in either introvertive mysticism or the interpretive factor. My interview analysis suggests that ineffability falls within living the experience of TX — primarily in perceiving the phenomena and to a much lesser extent in reacting to the phenomena as the experience unfolds. All interview participants who struggled to put words to their experiences had trouble describing what they perceived. A small number also had difficulty in describing the emotions they felt while the experience was unfolding. This suggests that identifying an experience as ineffable requires attempting to put it into words — i.e., interpreting it.
Contributions to Knowledge — Design Fiction
My research contributes to the knowledge of design fiction in one main way:
- Proposal and exploration of three new forms of design fiction
My exploration of design fiction yielded the creation of three proposed new forms. The first two are variations on the imaginary abstract:
- Extended imaginary abstracts: longer abstracts that describe in greater detail the envisaged prototype, test conditions/procedures, and findings
- Comparative imaginary abstracts: co-ordinated variants on an idea, exploring differences in design, testing, and/or results
The third proposed new form does not summarise an imagined research paper but aims to convey a sense of the experience:
- Design poetry: poems written to convey ambiguous, subjective, and ineffable aspects of the envisioned user experience
[descriptions omitted for reasons of space]
It will be interesting to discover how these forms of design fiction might be useful to HCI research and design in general, beyond techno-spirituality.
Contributions to Knowledge — Techno-Spiritual Design
My research contributes to the knowledge of techno-spiritual design — in particular, design for transcendent experience — in five primary ways:
- A grounded theory of artefact-supported transcendent experience — transcendent user experience (TUX)
- Identification and analysis of a rich body of transcendent experience literature that very rarely appears in techno-spirituality work
- The Transcendhance game, which elicits speculative, generative TUX design ideas that explicitly draw on aspects of the target lived experience
- A framework for mapping artefacts and design ideas to components of my grounded theory of TUX
- An understanding of design fiction’s benefits to techno-spirituality
The remainder of this subsection describes these contributions.
Grounded theory of transcendent user experience
My grounded theory of transcendent user experience provides an in-depth understanding of how artefacts support spiritual practices and transcendent experiences, and supplies insights into what people value about those experiences and what they desire in the way of enhancements and specific artefact support for them. This knowledge can aid designers in identifying needs for techno-spiritual products. It also provides a set of attributes of transcendent user experience that can support techno-spirituality research and design.
Identification of transcendent experience literature on which HCI can draw
In Chapter 2 I showed how very few studies of experiential techno-spirituality cite any literature on transcendent experiences or define the experience of interest beyond the vague “spiritual experience”, despite the common UX practice of describing target experiences and the abundance of TX literature on the nature of transcendent experiences. The experiences themselves thus remain elusive to HCI research and design. My review of extensive literature on the nature of transcendent experience reveals a rich source of descriptions of such experience that HCI researchers and designers can use to understand the nature of the experiential aspects they are studying or for which they are designing.
Transcendhance game for eliciting speculative, generative design ideas
My design game, Transcendhance, provides an oblique approach to generating design ideas for artefacts intended to facilitate experiences that are tricky to define, difficult to discuss, impossible to anticipate, and thus challenging to design for in a direct manner. Even with the aforementioned rich description in the TX literature, these ineffable experiences remain elusive and difficult to imagine, especially for designers who have not had one themselves. Using insights from interviews in a congenial atmosphere of imagination, fun, and play, Transcendhance evokes design ideas that not only address the components of transcendent experience and respond to expressed desires for enhancement and artefact support, but can generate further ideas when considered in light of relevant research.
Framework for mapping artefacts and design ideas to components of my grounded theory of transcendent user experience
The Transcendhance workshop analysis presents an initial mapping of the generated ideas to the phases and subcomponents of transcendent experience, furnishing insights that could help facilitate design for transcendent user experience. This may allow for more specific tailoring of designs to address TX components that researchers or practitioners wish to support, and it lays the ground for a more detailed mapping following further research.
An understanding of the benefits of design fiction to techno-spirituality
In exploring design fiction for techno-spirituality research and design I have observed that, by virtue of its position as imaginary, design fiction offers the opportunity to tap into Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief”. Design fiction thus allows us to suspend disbelief not only about the narrative and the diegesis, as we usually think of such suspension, but also about the spiritual and religious beliefs that the fiction portrays and the fictional artefacts support. In this way, design fiction can help us envision and even become engaged with artefacts to support spiritual and religious practices involving beliefs that we do not ourselves hold. This additional suspension, I argue, can aid us in designing for people who hold such beliefs.
Contribution to Knowledge — Peripheral Design
My final contribution to knowledge draws on contributions 3 and 6, above:
- Peripheral design as a synergy of the Transcendhance game and design fiction
Transcendhance game can use imagination, fun, and play in a non-competitive environment to elicit generative ideas for artefacts aimed at enhancing transcendent experience. New forms of design fiction can help in building on ideas by increasing detail, by varying certain characteristics, and by conveying envisaged experiences in poetry. These methods take a sideways approach to techno-spiritual design, drawing on unconscious contents via playfulness and “indirect metaphors that refer to something without explicitly naming anything” (Robins, 2014, p. 4). Both are peripheral, oblique approaches, I argue, and I call the combination peripheral design.
Garcia-Romeu, A., Himelstein, S. P., & Kaminker, J. (2015). Self-transcendent experience: a grounded theory study. Qualitative Research, 15(5), 633–654.
Robins, S. F. (2014). Expressing the Ineffable in Performance Poetry. Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, 10(3/4), 1–27.