Can two people share a mind?

This article is mind-blowing: there’s no hard proof, but a lot of intriguing evidence that two little girls are in some way sharing each other’s consciousness.

Born with an extremely rare (the rarest- there are no other cases in medical history) form of conjunction at the head (craniopagus), Krista and Tatiana Hogan seem to share mental and physical experience through a thalamic bridge.  Their neurosurgeon hypothesizes that when either of the girl’s bodies experiences sensory input, the signal passes to both brains.

It’s hard not to speculate on the big questions this medical anomaly engenders: on the nature of the self, and on the nature of consciousness.  And these big philosophical questions are ones that Krista and Tatiana have to negotiate continually at a very practical level: what pronoun should the girls use to refer to themselves, and what does it mean?  What if their connectivity extends beyond basic sensory input, to higher-order thoughts and preferences?  There are some good links in the article to philosophers and neurobiologists who had been thinking about these kinds of problems before the extraordinary case of Krista and Tatiana.

Bodily contact from afar

Like-A-Hug sketch from designer Melissa Kit Chow

The Internet has been abuzz in the last couple days about this social media vest, though some have taken it as more technological and less artistic than the original intent.  PC Magazine has a good summary:

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a vest that lets Facebook users hug each other, from any distance.

The fashionable technology, dubbed Like-A-Hug vest, is being touted as “wearable social media” – it inflates to embrace wearers whenever Facebook friends “Like” items they post on the network, according to the website of designer Melissa Chow.

She worked with Andy Payne and Phil Seaton at the MIT Media Lab to build the puffy black vests, which, according to Chow’s website, allows the wearer to “feel the warmth, encouragement, support, or love that we feel when we receive hugs.”

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about virtual embodiment lately and don’t want to write my capstone paper here on the blog, but consider this for a moment. There are a lot of reasons why someone may not be in physical proximity with those who could supply a needed hug.  Is the tactile sensation of “warmth, encouragement, support, or love” important? Could a product of this sort be therapeutic? I can’t help thinking of Harlow’s monkeys or Temple Grandin’s squeeze machine.

What does it mean when a machine takes the place of human contact? Continue reading

What kind of artefact is the lived body?

I found the description of the theme of this conference and the questions raised to be thought provoking and worth sharing:

Practices and their Bodies. What Kind of Artefact is the Lived Body?

  • Transdisciplinary Conference, April 25th-27th 2013, University of Mainz (Germany)
  • Keynote Speakers (confirmed): Chris Shilling (University of Kent), Annemarie Mol (University of Amsterdam), Paul Stoller (West Chester University), Gesa Lindemann (University of Oldenburg) und Martin Dinges (University of Mannheim).

The human body as the subject of research still sits very firmly in the grasp of the natural sciences. Nevertheless, cultural studies and social sciences have put forward two fundamental insights on the body vis-à-vis established biomedical knowledge. Firstly, both anthropological and phenomenological approaches have delved into the inner perspective of our inhabited bodies by viewing the ‘lived body’  as the foundation of all cognition and as the fundamental site of sensory perception, personality, and subjectivity. Secondly, ethnological and historical semantic studies have shed light on the extreme variability of ‘the body’ subject to societal knowledge regimes. Human bodies span an infinite plurality of cultural classifications and historical discourses – a bundle of linguistic categories, medical imaging, interpretation and explanation patterns. Our natural scientific knowledge of the body is part of historically and culturally specific ethnosemantics.

This conference proposes a third fundamental sociocultural way of viewing the body, namely as a component of material culture. In recent years the term practices has oftentimes been used to express this perspective – a conception of human action and behaviour that places controlled bodily movement at the centre of social life. As a part of material culture the body is without doubt an artefact. It has limited capabilities, is practically shaped by food, medicine, and socialisation, and wears out through practical use. However, it is a special material thing: it can learn, i.e., through usage it is materially (re)shaped, disciplined, and is impregnated with habits, and it can specialise in body techniques: instrumental music, handicraft, sports, martial arts, and sex, to just name a handful of such specialisation possibilities. Continue reading

Lecture on concepts of embodiment in Appalachian women

Mark your calendars for this lecture! (via News at OU)

Friday, Oct. 12
Noon to 1 p.m. in Oakland Center Gold Room C

Between the River and the Railroad Tracks: Speaking Marginal Bodies to Central Spaces in Appalachian Ohio

Using life history research, Dr. Rebecca Mercado-Thornton, assistant professor of communication, will examine the scarcely told experiences of Appalachian women living in Appalachia, Ohio. Focused on the life histories of three women, the talk will trace the ways in which these women resist and undermine traditional conceptions of embodiment.