Human Machine Addiction

•March 18, 2013 • Leave a Comment




Natasha Schull’s article “A Human-Machine Addiction,” highlights some essential components that influence online gambling game addiction. Schull outlines the different points of view of various key players, starting from the game designers and those who profit, to the addicts themselves who feel sucked into and trapped by the zone or trancelike state, and which has caused many to become dependent on the game as a means to cope with or escape their real-life issues.

Adicción a internetUsually when people think about gambling addiction, or the subjects that are addicted to gambling, I assume the common response would be to place blame on the individual’s lack of strong will or, as mentioned in the article as solely an issue of an addict’s having an addictive personality, perhaps as a result of genetics, or rather their “psychological profiles and life circumstances”(17). Placing the blame on the addicts and their possible addictive genes is both easy and profitable for many. It benefits and protects the game designing companies and their profitable products and is much easier than looking at and admitting the fact that we as a society have a new form of gambling addiction issue that we need to help fix. Further, the pathologizing of such an addiction doesn’t really expose the core of the issue being “the interaction between people and things” (17) as Schull outlines. Schull’s article points out that research has shown that when it comes to certain kinds of repeated activities, the same neurological pathways are stimulated as the ones that drugs stimulate. Regardless of that fact, “the substanceless nature of so-called behavioural addictions has led to a lopsided focus on addicts (their genetics, psychological profiles, and life circumstances) by scientists and the public alike”(17)

images_063While I find it fascinating that companies and corporations don’t feel somewhat responsible for this issue that has affected so many lives I can’t say I’m completely surprised.  We live at a time when our priorities are not about maintaining and preserving human life, happy homes and healthy planet but about profiting by any means necessary, I’m not shocked to hear about the lengths big corporations and greedy millionaires are willing go to just to get their wallets filled. As an article that I recently came across that addresses similar addictive issues with food points out, big corporations who were aware of their responsibility in making food products addictive, and thereby contributing to obesity and other health issues, turned a blind eye to the whole thing, and took advantage of the weak, simply in order to profit.

The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food  (Click on link)


When it comes to the actual designers of the online sites, as Connie Jones, from the article explains, “Our game designers don’t even think about addiction—they think about beating Bally and other competitors. They’re creative folks who want machines to create the most revenue.” It seems to me that they have successfully disconnected themselves from the harmful effects their designs and products have on their consumers.

It is outrageous to hear that the American Gaming Association used the famous NRA slogan of “Gun’s Don’t Kill People, People Kill People,” as a way of deflecting any responsibility from the game providers, or the Association and placing the blame of addiction on the people who use their products. My outrage comes from the many times this same tone has been used to deflect any responsibility from say, rapists, and placing the blame instead on the victim for dressing too sexily. Blaming the victims of rape, of gun and domestic violence and of addicts is not, in my opinion, an effective way of dealing with societal issues. It is never as simple as either the victim, or the perpetrator.

As Latour describes it, there is a relationship between an object and subject that influences the dynamic of any situation, and that is “…why objects are never “simply inanimate”: You are different with the gun in your hand; the gun is different with you holding it. You are another subject because you hold the gun; the gun is another object because it has entered into a relationship with you… neither guns nor people kill; killing is an action they can only produce together, each mediating the other.” 20

bliss-sean-o-brien fb-addicted


Optical Illusions

•March 15, 2013 • Leave a Comment


Depending on which cultural lens one is looking through there are many ways of seeing. As Robert Desjarlais’ article (from last semester) “Lives and Deaths among the Nepal’s Yolmo Buddhists” which talks about 27 ways of seeing highlights, in the Yolmo Wa culture seeing goes beyond the eyes themselves. It is rather the deep interaction between the observer and the observed; and everything is also respectively communicating back. One of the metaphors used to describe this interaction is how seeing is like a flashlight bringing to light and awareness objects and people in darkness, like that of an extending arm touching with the eyes what was being observed.

This is similar to Laura Marks’ Haptic Visuality: Touching with the Eyes as a mode of seeing the world as if we were touching it. Through this mode of interacting with the world, we can begin to understand our world as part of us and minimize the powered gaze between the observed and the observer. In this entangled space of mutual interaction between the observed and observer in a state of great vulnerability and openness, the possibility of effecting and being affected increases immensely. Imagine all that can be gained and experienced in this moment and time of giving up control in the hopes of experiencing something new. I know it’s easier said than done, as just the thought of giving up your power and gaze that asserts your position can be a scary thing.

Thinking about the stakes in particular modes of observation, I was reminded of what Beau Lotto in his Ted Talk presentation on “Colour and Perception” stated that ‘no one is an outsider observer of nature and each of us are defined by our ecology’. Therefore everyone sees through their situated knowledge lens—the experiences that have shaped who they are, what they’ve experienced and learned throughout their life. One’s experiences are therefore limited by the lack of better articulation and being able to distinguish between reality and illusion until one learns to do so.

As Beau Lotto explains, optical illusions show us how we see the world and throughout human evolution, what humans see is based on what’s been useful to see, creating the reality we live in that gets passed down from generation to generation. This reminded me of the most fascinating thing I learned in my sensation and perception class last year, which was how much information our brain fills in from previous experiences. Like the in class demonstration on optical illusions, (such as the turning top with a half circle), while doing the experiment I felt confident that I knew the answers, but afterwards I realized how easily I was fooled and confused and that what I saw wasn’t always true. Somehow my brain (influenced from early life experiences), filled in the information that wasn’t there because what I saw was only half of the information. Optical illusions as discussed in class, rupture our expectations. They are a wake up call to the fact that there is more to what we see and we need to start asking questions about our sensory perceptions and in how and why we see and experience what we do.

However there are situations where optical illusions are useful in other ways, such as  virtual simulation for pilots or astronauts, and three-dimensional video games that allow for the feeling of immersion to be part of the game. These can provide knowledge about the reality of our world or realistic interpretations of our world. In this way we have access to a different channel that wouldn’t normally be accessible in reality.

Since the day we come into this world, our lives are constructed and entangled with our environment, the people in it and socializing agents like our parents, schools, friends, and government can attribute meaning to everything we interact with. These ultimately create the realities that we live in.

In Virgil’s story from Anthropologist on Mars, a man who lost his sight from young after many years gains a functioning eye after surgery and is expected to see the world through his new-found sight.  He fails to do so because the world he had constructed after being blind for many years has been through touch. Virgil, who lacks the experience (or good articulation) of creating meaning through his newly functioning eye, struggles to see the world as a sighted person and experiencing the world through time and space.

The world he learned to live in had until then consisted of people and objects that existed only after contact either through touch or sound. This was the reality and truth that he had lived in. This may not be the reality a sighted person lives in but it was still true to his world. Like the creator of the Truman Show stated in the movie, “we accept the reality of the world which we are presented.”

Throughout history, images, language, text and the world have become entangled in the way we understand them and give meaning to the things that we experience. We have learned how to attribute meaning to sensory information and behaviour, which informs us of the reality we live in.

Images have strong powers that awaken our senses, sometimes causing physiological responses to what we see and, depending on our individual experiences, the meanings we associate with images can vary. As highlighted in Bruno Latour’s article on Iconoclasm, throughout history, the act of breaking and destroying images has been motivated by self-righteousness and in the interest of domination especially in the religious context as a way to assert one’s position and power over another.



Response 2

•March 15, 2013 • Leave a Comment


In response to Sonya’s article on the Egg and the sperm blog, I think that awareness is but the first and empowering step in the process of deconstructing and de-naturalizing the social constructions of gender stereotypes within the scientific realm, which is usually afforded great merit for its accuracy and presenting what’s true and natural.  It seems to me that those who sit in the position of power and have throughout history have had the upper hand in constructing and defining the world we live in today. I think that it’s important to look at history and understand the origins of such social concepts and ideologies of gender and stereotypes, but also how much they have changed throughout history to serve the people who define it as fixed and natural.

Knowledge is power, borrowing a quote from Maya Angelou, “if we know better, we do better.”  I feel that if the status quo and the dominant narrative and message that informs our behaviour as to how to act like the ideal male and female isn’t questioned, we are no better than those who set the dominant narrative into a fixed state and calling it natural and biological.

Silence and ignorance is just as bad reinforcing the ideals of the dominant few.  We as individuals have the choice to respond differently in our own lives in ways that can challenge the dominant imageries of masculinity and femininity.  I think people forget how much power they hold in their interactions with their environment and the people in it. Sometimes it’s much easier for people to put the blame on others and relinquish their power of being able to change and question anything and everything.

Throughout history science has been used to marginalize people of color saying that they were biologically inferior to whites and were made to be slaves.  Many people have died believing this to be the case. Just like current science has disproved this notion, science can also be used to disprove the notions of gender stereotypes by becoming aware of the implications that imagery and representations of gender ‘norms’ through science, media and institutions, and question why and what can be done differently.

So much can be gained by being open to understanding the world having access to power and strength but also intuition and feeling. By categorically limiting what men and women can do, we have hurt ourselves and the world. Too many kids have committed suicide because they didn’t act according to their gender, the way society expected them to. Within the scientific realm there is a need to label and pathologize behaviours to fit society’s expectations and traditions. What if we were to let everyone be themselves and not try to fit into a narrow unattainable box, wouldn’t we have fewer issues to fight about?




Response 1

•March 15, 2013 • Leave a Comment

images_065In response to Sabrina’s “Redefining what it is to be human” blog, I have to say that I agree that most people are obsessed with the idea of faces and human-like characteristics attributed to things that normally wouldn’t have those characteristics. This is the case, not just in the scientific world but also in our everyday environment – whether it’s cars, household appliances, images of God and so forth. I strongly believe that this process allows us humans to feel some kind comfort in making everything look or act like something that is already known to us.

When it comes to robots and artificial intelligence, I find it fascinating how there is this need for robots to act and look like us.  I wonder if it’s just a benign obsession for human faces and comfort or the obsession to create life itself in a mechanical way.  The thing that makes robots today seem harmless is that they are not independent from their programming or the human hand and don’t really have emotions or the ability to think for themselves. There is something exciting and scary about the possibility of one day engineering a robot to do just that, be a free agent in the world.

As a psychology student, I can’t help but question how far down the rabbit hole are scientists and engineers willing to go? And will it ever be too much or enough? Who’s power does it serve to manufacture such technology and what would be the trade offs and the consequences to human life and non-human life.

It might be that I have seen too many sci-fi movies, but what will happen when the robot expects to be treated equally to humans, will there be a robot revolution for equality?  Within the psychological and scientific paradigms, we have just scratched the surface in understanding human behaviour and the brain and emotions yet we are trying to recreate this unknown entity. We have made rapid progress in androids that look like us but have we humans evolved as much as the technologies we are creating?

In thinking about Freud’s approach of human behaviour being governed not only by the conscious but also by the unconscious, if we become too successful at engineering human like robots with the ability to do what we can, what will be the outcome of its unconscious motivation and behaviour ? Can it be controlled? How will the robot feel about the idea of being controlled?

Just the other day as I was telling my boyfriend about some of things I was learning in class pertaining to gaming, he brought up this concept of “uncanny valley.”

As defined on Wikipedia:

“The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotics and 3-D computer    animation which holds that when human replicas look and act  almost, but not  perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of  humans as a function of a robot’s human likeness.”

It seems that some people are really freaked out by the idea of robots looking too much like humans while others are fascinated and plan to push the boundaries of creating life through technology.


•March 15, 2013 • Leave a Comment










In reading Anna Gibbs’ article “Sympathy, Synchrony, and Mimetic Communication”, I found it interesting how the idea of mimesis has been in the past attributed to the primitive or to children.  It seems to me that acquiring knowledge outside of cognitive reasoning and higher intellect is considered too emotional and primitive and therefore invalid.

Gibbs’s article takes the approach of, “drawing creatively on different forms of knowledge to ask what if one conceived the world in this way? What then becomes possible in the space opened up by such a “passionate fiction,” (189), demonstrating that a great deal can be learned by using a different mode of acquiring knowledge or really the interaction of all the senses working at once.

I took a class on “Infancy” last semester that also covered mimesis and Meltzolff’s idea of how infants come into this world with the innate ability to transfer perceptual information across the senses and communicate mimetically which enables them to perceive that another person is like them. In this class, I learned that infants imitate actions they cannot see themselves make, without having had experience with these behaviours. But as discussed in my infancy class, Meltzoff argues that at birth, infants store the information of the different sense modalities in an abstract form so that it can be picked up and understood by the different senses, which means, that, “information is represented in an abstract form that is accessible to all senses.” (Meltzoff, 1981) I found this to be fascinating especially because we all have this ability right from birth, which has helped us develop into fully functioning adults. Similar to what emotional ecology is, some things are written in our genes and rewritten into our culture. We are biologically equipped to survive in our environments.

I remember when I was conducting my ethnographic account of the St. Lawrence Market last semester, whereby I was to experience my environment only using my vision, I found it challenging to separate my other senses from interacting with my vision. As Gibbs points out in her article, vision “… rarely operates in isolation from the other senses and its dependence on them indicates the important of sensory cross-modalization or synthasia in mimesis.” (202)

In thinking of mimesis as cross-modal communication, as highlighted in the article, the effect is not only on our physical bodies like morphing our color (blushing) or movement (smile) but also how we relate to what is seen and our ability to morph ideas. This is similar to our in-class demonstration of students acting out a scenario while others pick up the affect. It’s interesting how Gibbs puts it that, “At the heart of mimesis is affect contagion, the bioneurological means by which particular affects are transmitted from body to body”. (191)

Through the interaction of our sensory modalities in a mimetic sense, science, which is usually removed from the human hand, using affording the eyes as a means to acquire true knowledge can begin to openly understand the benefits of acquiring knowledge through a cross-modal channel like learning from nature and its ability to adapt and be transformed from its mutual interactions with its environment.

Watching Janine Benyus’s Ted Talk on “The promise of biomimicry” I was fascinated how simple her message and idea was. As she reminded us all, the thing that we have long forgotten, is that we live in a competent universe that has met its needs while at the same time making this planet its Eden. As she further explains, in talking about life’s genius’s referring to the organisms that have lived here on earth for thousands of years, they know their priorities and have them in order to ensure that their genes and offspring have a safe place to live in the future.

Janine’s work in biomimicry is getting people to remember that other organisms are doing something similar that has allowed them to live on this planet gracefully ensuring a place for their offspring. By borrowing what nature has done for so long, through mimicry, humans can begin to communicate with the environment and can learn to emulate nature in a conscious and empowered way. As Michael Taussig explains in Gibbs’ article, “The question of nature versus nurture is an artificial one, once we recognize the complex ways in which the human organism and its environments are “mutually enfolded and enfolded structures” and are each recomposed in and through their exchanges.” (190)









Giving up one of my senses!

•November 28, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Ignorance is Bliss!





Making a decision about giving up one of my senses (from the five senses model) is proving to be a difficult process. The world that I live in today is comprised of all my senses working together to create the reality that I have known for many years. So to give up one sense would mean not to experience this life the way I do now.  After reading Virgil’s story in Oliver Sacks’ An Anthropologist on Mars (about a man who lost his sight when he was young who then gets an operation and gains sight at the age of fifty, after forty years of being blind) I realize the process of losing the world I know is not as simple as I had imagined. I’m currently taking a psychology course at York on Infancy, which covers what infants are capable of understanding and knowing right from birth.  I’ve learned that while a great deal happens before birth, after birth our brain is constantly developing as well, connecting all the proper neurons to the right places and establishing some genetic blueprint to write our experiences on. As we get older and have more interaction with our environment and the people in it, our neurons are either strengthened by repetitive actions or pruned by the lack of them. Basically, neurons that fire together wire together.  In Virgil’s case as Oliver Sacks explains, because he was blind for so many years, the neurons in his visual cortex over time got pruned while the neurons for tactility strengthened and took over other parts of the brain to compensate for his inability to see.  I’m somewhat reassured that my brain would do what is necessary to help me cope with the world around me if I was to lose one of my senses. I’m also reading The Brain that Changes Itself, a book about neuroscience, which uses some of the new discoveries about the plasticity of the brain to tell personal stories of triumph and what I love about it, is how much we can influence our brains’ wiring. The personal stories are mostly about people with some kind of disability and the scientists who pushed the traditionally held assumptions of the unchanging brain in developing coping methods and approaches to help them regain some of their brain’s lost abilities.

In deciding what sense I’d give up, I think about the experiences I’d be devastated to lose. Losing my sense of taste for example, would mean losing my ability to experience different cultures through food and flavors. Food for me is not only a necessity–it’s a way for me to experience the world. And because the sense of taste and smell are strongly associated, giving up my sense of smell is out of the question. So that leaves me with sense of hearing, touch and sight. Music feeds my soul in ways that I couldn’t express. I strongly believe that it has some kind of healing powers. Hearing is also more than just music. Hearing is also hearing others talking and using that as a way to connect with people. Hearing also creates a sense of depth for my visual experiences. Without hearing I wouldn’t experience the layers of sounds in the world, the richness or timbre of sounds, it would be a difference of experiencing something two-dimensionally versus in 3-D. I think all in all I will use Virgil’s story and experiences to make my decision.  His world as a blind man consisted of living in time only, where for sighted people it was living in time and space. Although he wasn’t able to see with his eyes, he was still able to see with his hands, by touching and attuning his sense of touch to everything he came across. Even his cane became an extension of his body, like extra receptors to help him navigate through the world.  As someone who can see, and has seen beautiful, scary, amazing rich experiences in the world, I’d feel that these experiences wouldn’t be as rich and fulfilling without my other senses playing a big part in experiencing my reality.  I don’t know what life as a blind person would be like nor how losing this sense would feel especially after knowing how much I’ve gained and experienced through seeing.  I’d be hopeful that my brain over time would compensate for my lack of sight and learn to get my other senses attuned to my new world. As stated in Sacks’ book, one has to die as a sighted person to be reborn as a blind person.  Although difficult to imagine and actually give up, if I had to choose I would choose losing my sight.

Knowledge is power, how you acquire it, depnds on your experiences through your senses!

Gamelan and Javanese Dancing

•November 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Collective consciousness and social interaction

Felicia Hughes-Freeland’s ethnography entitled “Consciousness in Performance: A Javanese Theory” was somewhat difficult to follow. Her writing at the beginning was not as clear to me as some of the other articles I have read. I understand how challenging the process of writing ethnography is especially finding the right words to express an experience that is not language-based, however I felt that she used a lot of unnecessary jargon to get her point across.  In order to help me make sense of what she was saying, I ended up watching some Javanese performances on YouTube, and thanks to that I was able to see Felicia’s point of how dancing was the exemplary form of being Javanese.  The gracefulness and fluid movement of their bodies was captivating to watch. It looked effortless yet held a lot of power. I found it fascinating how much the Sultan’s court dancing embodies self-control and power over its citizens as moral practice. Before 1918, it was only accessible to the upper class and elites, possibly as a way of separating themselves from the commoners.  And now it seems to be also used to separate the Javanese people from the ‘other’.  The Javanese seem to want to identify themselves as separate from the rest of the Indonesian nation by emphasizing the way they dance, interact and carry themselves in their society.

Court dancing facilitates social interaction and is a means of acquiring knowledge and education about what it means to be Javanese. Anyone who is Javanese is knowledgeable about what it means to be Javanese and embodies self-discipline and control. The dancing of this is an internal experience that radiates externally and like the knower and known, it can’t be separated. It is a consciousness that moves the whole community in a harmonious fashion everyone moving to the same rhythm and tone of everyday life within their space, while anyone out of beat can be easily identified. Just like a gamelan orchestra, every note and beat work together to make and co-ordinate a cultural consciousness. If everyone is conscious of how their behaviour affects the whole group rather than focus on their own selfish desires, this
can ensure some kind of unity for society. In Western society we idealise the individual, and personal desires and self- interest define our lives, while the Javanese culture idealise collective socio-centric experiences rather than personal ones.

The collective effort reminded me of the ‘gamelatron’ video and the singing we did in class of the gamelan notes to create harmony.  The ‘rasa’ (which refers to a feeling that enters the whole body and soul), which is the sixth tone in the gamelan orchestra, reminded me of ‘seselelame’ of ‘feeling in the flesh’. As I was singing the notes and watching the film of the gamelan and the still images, I felt a kind of peace in my body that I couldn’t really explain.  Each note could be felt in certain and specific places in the body that suggested different sensations in the self-body experience. To be Javanese was to be trained and educated in the art of ‘rasa’ in internalizing and creating harmony between the influence of others and the experience of self-discovery.

By comparing Western dancing to Javanese dancing  (an expression of consciousness and mastering of one’s inner disruptive desires) Felicia Hughes-Freeman was making an unfair assumptions about western acting or performance as only being about showing off and expressions of emotion rather than restraint and the mastering of one’s inner energies. Is she a performer? Has she ever experienced what it feels like to be one? Has she been trained in
Western performance? I’m not sure but I know a lot of people who would disagree with her on this point.

I understand the need to be one with your own community and society as I was born into a collective society myself, one where the needs of the community were to be placed far above one’s personal needs.  The Javanese people have their own history and motive for identifying
themselves as they do and I respect that. But I can also see the dangers that this type of thinking can lead to. What happens when we don’t want to conform anymore because what may be moral and right to one person or the whole group is not for another? I remember watching a show about this young Japanese girl who was gay but had the hardest time coming out to her loved ones because, like in the Javanese culture, conformity was idealised and anyone who deviated from that brought great shame and dishonour to their family.  What of the many gay people murdered in Africa for being gay and not fitting in? Throughout history, many have been killed for the supposed greater good. Who gets to decide who is worthy of being a citizen or not? Where do we draw the line on conformity? (This reminds me of the Milgram experiment on obedience)