Live from UXPA: Sartre and the lab monkey

Sartre and the lab monkey: What philosophy and neuroscience can teach us about UX, by Manuel Ebert

UXPAThe hammer is just a thing in the outside world.

When I pick up the hammer, I think of it as part of my hand. I don’t think of my hand manipulating the hammer, I think of the hammer hitting the nail into the wall. Same when I use a pen to write. Ready-at-hand. (Heidegger)

Affordances: the seat of a chair affords us to sit on it.

In other words, we’re all natural-born cyborgs. We incorporate objects into our movement – it’s what defines us as a species.

Study #1

The monkey is given a tool to get food. They measured the brainwaves to see how the monkey reacts. The monkey’s brain starts to think of the reach of the rake as though it were the arms, the second the monkey starts using the rake. However, it doesn’t when the monkey just holds the rake.

Study #2

If the monkey can see his hand holding a rake, the brain says it’s part of his body.

“The user is not just what’s in front of the screen.” – the cursor is part of them. It’s how they interact.

Tools of perception (like eye glasses) are equally part of us. Same with a watch, or other wearables.


  • Phenomenology rocks
  • What’s the user? (ask constantly)
  • We are cyborgs (tools are upgrades)

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