The strive for survival and well-being

Having identified that the sense of ‘being-here’ and the sense of ‘being-there’ are merging, the notion of presence needs to be (re-)considered. How can the essence of presence be formulated to include being there and being here in merging realities?

In 2004, inspired by the work of Antonio Damasio, Riva with Waterworth and Waterworth introduce a neurobiological perspective on presence (Riva, Waterworth & Waterworth 2004) that does not depend on technology and allows for understanding presence in the context of merging realities. This neurobiological perspective on ‘presence’ claims that the strive for well-being and survival, or what Spinoza referred to as ‘the conatus’, is the essence of presence (Damasio 2004). Sensations, emotions and feelings inform us of the direction in which well-being and survival can be found. We steer towards sensory sensations, emotions and more complex feelings of solidarity, compassion and love, and we steer away from pain, hate and unpleasantness (Damasio 2000). We ‘perform’ presence (Butler 1993). When touching a burning stove, we retreat immediately. When entering a place with a bad smell, we walk away. When meeting a big angry looking man in a dark alley, we run. When an atmosphere suddenly turns into dispute and fights, we prefer to leave. And vice versa, when we see other people do good and nourish the sense of solidarity, we are inspired to do so as well.
Damasio also suggests that it is likely that the steering towards one’s own survival and well-being includes the well-being and survival of others as well (Damasio 2004). Seeing pain of others hurts, aggressive behaviour leads to unsafe situations and people will turn away. When transposing this suggestion to a network reality new questions arise. Is it likely that when we think of mediated presence in which one does not have to confront physically the consequences of one’s actions, that an individual would develop feelings of compassion or solidarity? How can consequences of our actions be felt in mediated presence? This is, for example, a major issue in training pilots using a flight simulator. Most of today's pilots have played with flight simulators in games in which the notion of ‘crashing’ implies restarting the game. Such considerations are related to the notion of presence as a value for design.

CN , Frances Brazier