Spontaneous sensations

Here are the outcomes from a simple experiment, superimposed from 8 participants. The experiment is described in the paper “the tickly homunculus and the origins of spontaneous sensations arising on the hands”  in which you focus on your hand while staring at it (convergent focusing) or divergent focusing (staring at red marker next to the hand you are focussing on) for just 10 seconds and report the sensations…

IMG_2184 (1)
In this experiment, many of the bemused participants described a tingling where the hand made contact with the table. They were bemused because I did this experiment in the context of our methods and methodologies discussion group – where I was attempting to present my project. I thought it would be interesting to experience, ‘first hand’ the type of phenomenological experiments I’m looking at, and ‘practising’…



Illusions of Invisible, alien hands, 3 arms, and shrinking bodies…

I have previously posted about the original ‘rubber hand illusion‘ in which participants are convinced a fake rubber hand is their own. A classic low tech experiment that can help us “understand how sight, touch and “proprioception” the sense of body position, combine to create a convincing feeling of body ownership, one of the foundations of self-consciousness  (Nature 1998, vol 391, p 756 )” Further to this research recent studies have gone on to experimentally induct of out of body experiences or create body swap illusions. [ Henrik Ehrsson and Olaf Blanke http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-08/ucl-foe081407.php ] Between these two experiments, several interesting versions of hand-related experiments also exist which demonstrate the plasticity of our body perception…

The Alien-Hand Experiment (Nielsen 1963;1978 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11097-005-5854-4]  

The Alien Hand Experiment first created in the 1960s predates the Rubber hand experiment, seems more ‘trick’ than an experiment, but the element of deception is necessary, participants are asked to draw a straight line while viewing their gloved hand in a mirror. Unbeknown to them, they are viewing the experimenter’s hand mimicking their own actions. This could also relate to the Alien hand syndrome [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4059570/ ] a rare condition in which a person believes their hand is controlled by someone else.

[Guterstam, Gentile & Ehrsson. 2013. The Invisible Hand Illusion: Multisensory Integration Leads to the Embodiment of a Discrete Volume of Empty Space. J Cogn Neurosci http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/jocn_a_00393 ]
The Invisible Hand Illusion is a version of the Rubber hand illusion which uses no hand at all as the fake hand, sometimes a handless stump, and as a control, a wooden plank. they found that participants could embody a ‘Discrete Volume of Empty Space’ a concept which personally I find too exciting not to try at the next available opportunity.

[Guterstam, Petkova & Ehrsson. 2011. The Illusion of Owning a Third Arm. PLoS ONE http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0017208]
This experiment uses a rubber hand placed next to the real hand of the participant. They found participants were able to feel as if they had two hands, as long as they were both the same hand [left or right]

Stelarc ‘Third Hand’

There is obvious resonance here with the work of Stelarc http://stelarc.org/?catID=20265  whos project ‘Third Hand’ as he explains “A mechanical human-like hand that is attached to my right arm as an additional hand. It is made to the dimensions of my real right hand.”

[van der Hoort, B., Guterstam, A., & Ehrsson, H. (2011). Being Barbie: The Size of One’s Own Body Determines the Perceived Size of the World 10.1371/journal.pone.0020195 ]
The project “Being Barbie: The Size of One’s Own Body Determines the Perceived Size of the World” Builds on the set up created for the body swap illusion and plays with body scale with fascinating results.

There are more but will have to wait for another post.

Rubber hands ‘feel’ touch that eyes see

The first report on the Rubber Hand illusion. Published in Nature in 1998 by Matthew Botvinick, and Jonathan Cohen of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh…

“We report here an illusion in which tactile sensations are referred to an alien limb. The effect reveals a three-way interaction between vision, touch and proprioception, and may supply evidence concerning the basis of bodily self-identification.”

“It has been proposed that the body is distinguished from other objects as belonging to the self by its participation in specific forms of intermodal perceptual correlation7,8. Subjects in our first experiment who referred their tactile sensations to the rubber hand also consistently reported, in both sections of the questionnaire, experiencing the rubber hand as belonging to themselves. Indeed, eight of ten subjects spontaneously employed terms of ownership in their free-report descriptions, for example: “I found myself looking at the dummy hand thinking it was actually my own.”






James Turrel – Light Reignfall

James Turrell’s Light Reignfall @LACMA – Andrew van Baal

James Turrell’s Light Reignfall Light Reignfall is a work from his series of perceptual cells, inside the participant is exposed to a uniform homogenous field of modulated light. A combination of sensory overstimulation, yet deprived of recognisable forms or space, hallucinatory effects are experienced.

“Assisted by an attendant, an individual viewer enters a spherical chamber on a sliding bed. A program of saturated light (operated by a technician) surrounds the viewer for twelve minutes, allowing the visitor to experience the intense, multi-dimensional power of light and the complex seeing instrument of the human eye.”

“James Turrell (b. 1943, Los Angeles), a key artist in the Southern California Light and Space movement of the 1960s and 70s. The exhibition includes early geometric light projections, prints and drawings, installations exploring sensory deprivation and seemingly unmodulated fields of coloured light, and recent two-dimensional work with holograms. One section is devoted to the Turrell masterwork in process, Roden Crater, a site-specific intervention into the landscape just outside Flagstaff, Arizona, presented through models, plans, photographs, and films.”


Notes on olfactory art

Olfactory art or Scent art has been growing over recent years, And I would agree with the premise, that ‘it has been long disregarded as one of the lower senses’ [scentart.net] I remember turning up for the opening of my own exhibition and discovering that along with the beverages, a selection of delicious snacks had been presented on tables placed inside the gallery space. The smell of the food filled the gallery and I felt at the time that this took away from the work. The smells that would have accompanied the work would have been, hot electronics and detergent. perhaps a hind of coffee from another experiment. Here are a few links to useful sites/research on the subject:

Image from http://dailyscents.tumblr.com  “the Baltan Laboratories,  a collaborative platform for future thinking that places art and design research at the core of its activities, in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, invited me to give a “smell” workshop in the context of their program Hack the Body.
It was an intense 4h afternoon were we review together the physiological aspects of smell, as how it related to memory, olfactory art examples, and the best, we conducted a distillation out of the 3-days-slept-in t-shorts of the participants.”

“The sense of smell has long been disregarded as one of the lower senses. More recently, however, the cultural and social relevance of the sense of smell is increasingly recognized” https://scentart.net/about/

“Baltan is both a network and a methodology: It sees the lab as a way of working and as a place where ideas are put into practice through projects in which freedom of thought, openness towards the unknown, experiment and playfulness are key.
Baltan stimulates a cross-disciplinary approach conducted in an open-minded atmosphere based on trust, empathy and mutual inspiration.”  http://baltanlaboratories.org/about

God Helmet

Neurologist Michael Persinger created the God Helmet, an actual helmet modified with electrical coils that can create electromagnetic fields in the wearer’s temporal lobes that induces “religious” experiences in the people who put it on. “This is a device to investigate whether religious, spiritual, and mystical experiences had a natural rather than a supernatural source. He speculates that we are somehow programmed so that they can generate religious experiences via our brain’s internal processes.” I was interested in this experiment because of its use of sensory deprivation and the fact it would be relatively easy to recreate [see my DIY neurostimulation attempt 2009] for my Enki project. My plan was to drive it with frequencies generated by my electric fish [a low voltage species].

Persinger noted ‘that there were many points of similarity between seizures experienced by some individuals who suffered from epilepsy, and the types of mental and spiritual experiences that St. Paul, Moses, and many religious mystics had reported. 3 Persinger wondered if visions, a sense of the immediate presence of God, and other mystical experiences could be artificially created in the laboratory by magnetically inducing changes in the temporal lobes of a person’s brain.”

Persinger vs Dawkins: The God Helmet from Tommy Decentralized on Vimeo.


Auditory illusion

Diana Deutsch developed some fascinating auditory illusions. These include the phenomenon of ‘speech to song’ whereby repeating loops of spoken word suddenly begin to sound like a song. In another illusion, ‘phantom words’ new words emerge from repeating fragments of words. To experience these all you need are headphones as the a stereo effect is essential, here is the link to her work.…

Speech to song http://deutsch.ucsd.edu/psychology/pages.php?i=212
Phantom Words http://deutsch.ucsd.edu/psychology/pages.php?i=211

“The McGurk effect” is a perceptual illusion that mixes a sound with the visual cue of a different sound, We see the mouth move and hear/see a mismatched sound, check out what happens… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFPtc8BVdJk

This page has some great interactive examples of optical and sonic illusions