Want to experience polydactylightenment without surgery, mutagens, or psychotropics? There's an art installation for that:
The "Augmented Hand Series" (by Golan Levin, Chris Sugrue, and Kyle McDonald, 2013-2015) is a real-time, interactive software system that presents playful, dreamlike, and uncanny transformations of its visitors' hands.
As one seven-year-old visitor succinctly puts it: "It's a box. You put your hand in it. You see your hand with an extra finger." More from the Augmented Hand Series site:
About twenty different transformations or scenes have been developed. Some of these perform structural edits to the hand's archetypal form; others endow the hand with new dimensions of plasticity; and others imbue the hand with a kind of autonomy, whose resulting behavior is a dynamic negotiation between visitor and algorithm.
The hand is a critical interface to the world, allowing the use of tools, the intimate sense of touch, and a vast range of communicative gestures. Yet we frequently take our hands for granted, thinking with them, or through them, but hardly ever about them. Our investigation takes a position of exploration and wonder. Can real-time alterations of the hand's appearance bring about a new perception of the body as a plastic, variable, unstable medium? Can such an interaction instill feelings of defamiliarization, prompt a heightened awareness of our own bodies, or incite a reexamination of our physical identities? Can we provoke simple wonder about the fact that we have any control at all over such a complex structure as the hand?
We know that the interrelations of hand, mind and identity are far from simple. Persons with alien hand syndrome, for example, have hands which move independently of their conscious will, as if they belonged to another person. By contrast, amputees suffering from phantom limb syndrome continue to feel their missing hand as if it were still there; their discomfort is sometimes relieved with a mirror box, which uses the virtual image of their intact hand to trick the mind and retrain the brain. Within this framework, the Augmented Hand Series can be understood as an instrument for probing or muddling embodied cognition, using a 'direct manipulation' interface and the suspension of disbelief to further problematize the mind-body problem. We see evidence of our instrument's powers in the actions of young visitors who, uncertain whether to believe their eyes, peek into the box to double-check what is (not) really happening to their hand.
Could I have been wrong about Dactyl Fractal Consciousness?
Instead of a physical transformation brought about through some sort of willful Lamarckian saltation, could the Dactyl Fractal manifest itself purely through the mediated experience of augmented reality -- the New Real? Might a polydactyl intelligence emerging from the digital Cloud rewrite the imaging sub-systems of our future cyborg eyes, to show us not such mundanity as dating profiles of random passersby or user ratings for Uber jitneys, but instead allow us to see a vision of our hands transcending their previous limits, free to wriggle with possibilities undreamt and undreamable? Would not such phantom phalanges be more tangible than the knuckled sticks of meat and bone we have been forced to grope with by the cruel contingencies of our ancestry, uniquely able as they will be to probe the contours of the infospace that will become our everything?
As we move our minds from the Old Real to the New Real and beyond to the Virtual, we might find the Dactyl Fractal waiting to greet us, ready to shake our multitude of hands forever.