Oct 18, 2014
Brain networks in two behaviourally-similar vegetative patients (left and middle), but one of whom imagined playing tennis (middle panel), alongside a healthy adult (right panel). Credit: Srivas Chennu
People locked into a vegetative state due to disease or injury are a major mystery for medical science. Some may be fully unconscious, while others remain aware of what’s going on around them but can’t speak or move to show it. Now scientists at Cambridge have reported in journal PLOS Computational Biology on a new technique that can help identify locked-in people that can still hear and retain their consciousness.
Some details from the study abstract:
We devised a novel topographical metric, termed modular span, which showed that the alpha network modules in patients were also spatially circumscribed, lacking the structured long-distance interactions commonly observed in the healthy controls. Importantly however, these differences between graph-theoretic metrics were partially reversed in delta and theta band networks, which were also significantly more similar to each other in patients than controls. Going further, we found that metrics of alpha network efficiency also correlated with the degree of behavioural awareness. Intriguingly, some patients in behaviourally unresponsive vegetative states who demonstrated evidence of covert awareness with functional neuroimaging stood out from this trend: they had alpha networks that were remarkably well preserved and similar to those observed in the controls. Taken together, our findings inform current understanding of disorders of consciousness by highlighting the distinctive brain networks that characterise them. In the significant minority of vegetative patients who follow commands in neuroimaging tests, they point to putative network mechanisms that could support cognitive function and consciousness despite profound behavioural impairment.
Study in PLOS Computational Biology: Spectral Signatures of Reorganised Brain Networks in Disorders of Consciousness
Dec 02, 2013
Rehabilitation Psychology - Vol 55, Iss 3
Dezutter, Jessie; Casalin, Sara; Wachholtz, Amy; Luyckx, Koen; Hekking, Jessica; Vandewiele, Wim
Purpose: This study aimed to investigate 2 dimensions of meaning in life—Presence of Meaning (i.e., the perception of your life as significant, purposeful, and valuable) and Search for Meaning (i.e., the strength, intensity, and activity of people’s efforts to establish or increase their understanding of the meaning in their lives)—and their role for the well-being of chronically ill patients. Research design: A sample of 481 chronically ill patients (M = 50 years, SD = 7.26) completed measures on meaning in life, life satisfaction, optimism, and acceptance. We hypothesized that Presence of Meaning and Search for Meaning will have specific relations with all 3 aspects of well-being. Results: Cluster analysis was used to examine meaning in life profiles. Results supported 4 distinguishable profiles (High Presence High Search, Low Presence High Search, High Presence Low Search, and Low Presence Low Search) with specific patterns in relation to well-being and acceptance. Specifically, the 2 profiles in which meaning is present showed higher levels of well-being and acceptance, whereas the profiles in which meaning is absent are characterized by lower levels. Furthermore, the results provided some clarification on the nature of the Search for Meaning process by distinguishing between adaptive (the High Presence High Search cluster) and maladaptive (the Low Presence High Search cluster) searching for meaning in life. Conclusions: The present study provides an initial glimpse in how meaning in life may be related to the well-being of chronically ill patients and the acceptance of their condition. Clinical implications are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)
Jul 05, 2012
When we think about video games, we generally think of them as computer programs designed to provide enjoyment and fun. However, the rapid evolution of gaming technologies, which includes advances in 3d graphics accelerator, stereoscopic displays, gesture recognition, wireless peripheals etc, is providing novel human-computer interaction opportunities that are able to engage players’ mind and bodies in totally new ways. Thanks to these features, games are increasingly used for purposes other than pure entertainment, such as in medical rehabilitation, psychotherapy, education and training.
However, “serious” applications of video games do not represent the most advanced frontier of their evolution. A new trend is emerging, which consists in designing video-games that are able to deliver emotionally-rich, memorable and “transformative” experiences. In this new type of games, there is no shooting, no monsters, no competition, no score accumulation: players are virtually transported into charming and evocative places, where they can make extraordinary encounters, challenge physical laws, or become another form of life. The most representative examples of this emerging trend are the games created by computer scientist Jenova Chen.
Born in 1981 in Shangai, Chen holds a master's degree in the Interactive Media Program of the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. He believes that for video games to become a mature medium like film, it is important to create games that are able to induce different emotional responses in the player than just excitement or fear.
This design philosophy is reflected in his award-winning games "Clound" "flOw" and "Flower". The first game, Cloud, was developed while Chen was still in college. The game is the story of a boy who dreams of flying through the sky while asleep in a hospital bed. The player controls of the sleeping boy's avatar and guides him through his dream of a small group of islands with a light gathering of clouds, which can be manipulated by the player in various ways.
The second game, flOw, is about piloting a small, snake-like creature through an aquatic environment where players consume other organisms, evolve, and advance their organisms to the abyss. Despite its apparent simplicity, the game was received very well by the audience, attracting 350,000 downloads within the first two weeks following its release. One of the most innovative feature of the flOw game is the implementation of the Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment process, which allows adapting the difficulty of the game to the player’s skill level.
In the third game developed by Chen and his collaborators, Flower, the player controls the wind as it blows a single flower petal through the air; approaching flowers results in the player's petal being followed by other flower petals. Getting closer to flowers affects other features of the virtual world, such as colouring previously dead fields, or activating stationary windmills. The final goal is to blow the breeze that carries color into every part of the gaming world, defeating the dinginess that surrounds the flowers in the city. The game includes no text or dialogue, but is built upon a narrative structure whose basic elements are visual representations and emotional cues.
Chen's last brainchild is Journey, where the player takes the role of a red-robed figure in a big desert populated by supernatural ruins. On the far horizon is a big mountain with a light beam shooting straight up into the sky, which becomes the natural destination of the adventure. While walking towards the mountain, the avatar can encounter other players, one at a time, if they are online; they cannot speak but can help each other in their journey if they wish. Again, as in the other three games, the scope of Journey is to provoke emotions and feelings that are difficult to find words to express, and that are able to produce memorable, inspiring experiences in the player.
Chen’s vision of gaming is rooted into Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's theory of Flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is a complex state of consciousness characterized by high levels of concentration and involvement in the task at hand, enjoyment, a positive affective state and intrinsic motivation. This optimal experience is usually associated with activities which involve individuals’ creative abilities. During flow, people typically feels "strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities. Both the sense of time and emotional problems seem to disappear, and there is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence…. With such goals, we learn to order the information that enters consciousness and thereby improve the quality of our lives.” (Csikszentmihalyi, M. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991).
The most interesting aspect in Chen’s design philosophy is the fact that his videogames are based on established psychological theories and are purposefully designed to support positive emotions and foster the development of consciousness. From this perspective, Chen’s videogames could be seen as advanced “transpersonal technologies”. As suggested by Roy Ascott, a transpersonal technology is any medium that “enables us to transform our selves, transfer our thoughts and transcend the limitations of our bodies. Transpersonal experience gives us insight into the interconnectedness of all things, the permeability and instability of boundaries, the lack of distinction between part and whole, foreground and background, context and content” (Ascott, R. 1995. The Architecture of Cyberception. In Toy. M. (Ed) Architects in Cyberspace. London Academy Editions, pp. 38-41).
May 21, 2011
Recently, I came across an intriguing book that brings a new, thought-provoking perspective on how the Internet is shaping our lives and culture. The title of the book is You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto and the author is Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and musician who is best known for his pioneering work in the field of virtual reality.
The leitmotiv of the book can be summarized in a single question: are new technologies really playing an empowering role, by increasing people’s creativity, control, and freedom? As can be expected from the title, the author’s answer is more negative than positive. To construct his argument, Lanier starts from the observation that the evolution of computing is not as free of constraints as one might assume.
As a key example, the author describes the evolution of MIDI, a protocol for composing and playing music on computers. This format emerged in the early 1980s and was immediately recognized as an empowering tool for musicians. However, as more and more people adopted it, it became a rigid standard that limited the expressive potential of artists because, as Lanier points out, it ‘‘could only describe the tile mosaic world of the keyboardist, not the watercolor world of the violin.’’ For the author, this lock-in effect can be seen in other fields of information technology. For example, certain features that were included in the early versions of the UNIX operating system are now deeply embedded in the software and cannot be modified, even if they are considered obsolete or inappropriate. Once an approach becomes standard, it tends to inhibit other solutions, thereby limiting the potential for creativity.
Lanier goes on to demystify some of today’s most popular Internet buzzwords, such as ‘‘Web 2.0,’’ ‘‘Open Culture,’’ ‘‘Mash-Ups,’’ and ‘‘Wisdom of Crowds.’’ He maintains that these trendy notions are ultimately pointing to a new form of ‘‘digital collectivism,’’ which rather than encouraging individual inventiveness, promotes mediocrity and homologation. By allowing everyone to offer up their opinion and ideas, the social web is melting into an indistinct pool of information, a vast gray zone where it is increasingly difficult to find quality or meaningful content. This observation leads the author to the counterintuitive conclusion that the introduction of boundaries is sometimes useful (if not even necessary) to achieve originality and excellence.
Another issue raised by Lanier concerns the risk of de-humanization and de-individualization associated with online social networks. He describes the early Web as a space full of ‘‘flavours and colours’’ where each Web site was different from the others and contributed to the diversity of the Internet landscape. But with the advent of Facebook and other similar sites, this richness was lost because people started creating their personal web pages using predefined templates. On the one hand, this formalism has allowed anyone to create, publish, and share content online easily (blog, video, music, etc.). On the other hand, it has reduced the potential for individuals to express their uniqueness.
Lanier reminds us of the importance of putting the human being, and not the machine, at the center of concerns for technology and innovation. For this goal to be achieved, it is not enough to develop usable and accessible tools; it is also necessary to emphasize the uniqueness of experience. This humanist faith leads the author to criticize the idea of technological Singularity, popularized by recognized experts such as Ray Kurzweil, Vernor Vinge, and Kevin Kelly. This concept holds that exponential increase in computing power and communication networks, combined with the rapid advances in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics, may lead to the emergence of a super-intelligent organism (the ‘‘Singularity’’), which could eventually develop intentional agency and subordinate the human race. Lanier’s opposition to this idea is based on the conviction that the ‘‘human factor’’ will continue to play an essential role in the evolution of technology. The author believes that computers will never be able to replace the uniqueness of humans nor replicate the complexity of their experience. Further, he considers the concept of technological Singularity culturally dangerous because it enforces the idea of an inevitable superiority of machines over humans: ‘‘People degrade themselves in order to make machines seem smart all the time,’’ writes Lanier.
However, Lanier is genuinely admired by the potential of the Internet and new technologies. This iswhy he calls for a new ‘‘technological humanism’’ able to contrast the overarching vision of digital collectivism and empower creative selfexpression. As a key illustration, the author describes the unique combination of idealism, technical skills, and imaginative talent that, in the 1980s, lead a small group of programmers to conceive the vision of virtual reality. This powerful new paradigm in human–computer interaction inspired in the following decades a number of innovative applications in industry, education, and medicine.
Beside the nostalgic remembrances of the heroic times of Silicon Valley and the sophisticated overtone of some terms (e.g., ‘‘numinous neoteny’’), the book written by Lanier conveys a clear message and deserves the attention of all who are interested in the relationship between humans and technology. The idea that technological innovation should be informed by human values and experience is not new, but Lanier brings it out vividly in detail and with a number of persuasive examples.
More to explore
- Jaron Lanier’s homepage: The official website of Jaron Lanier, which with its old-fashion style recaptures the freshness and simplicity of the early Internet. The website features biographical information about the author and includes links to a number of Lanier’s articles and commentaries on a number of different technology-related topics.
- Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence: Launched in 2001, Kurzweil Accelerating Intelligence explores the forecasts and insights on accelerating change described in Ray Kurzweil’s books, with updates about breakthroughs in science and technology.
- Singularity University: Singularity University is an interdisciplinary university founded by Ray Kurzweil and other renowned experts in technology with the support of a number of sponsors (including Google), whose mission is “to stimulate groundbreaking, disruptive thinking and solutions aimed at solving some of the planet’s most pressing challenges”. Singularity University is based at the NASA Ames campus in Silicon Valley.
- Humanity+: Humanity+ is a non-profit organization dedicated to “the ethical use of technology to extend human capabilities and transcend the legacy of the human condition”. The mission of the organization is to support discussion and public awareness about emerging technologies, as well as to propose solutions for potential problems related to these technologies. The website includes plenty of resources about transhumanism topics and news about upcoming seminars and conferences.
Jan 26, 2011
I stumbled over this site today: Do Nothing for 2 minutes.
The site presents the user with a very simple challenge: can you keep yourself from touching your computer for two minutes?
When the user enters the site a serene ocean view and the sound of waves displayed. The instructions ask to sit back and relax without touching your mouse or keyboard, and then a two minute timer begins counting down. If the user touches the mouse or the keyboard, a FAIL message appears, and the clock reset itself.
The site is very simple, but is gaining a lot of attention worldwide. In spite of its simplicity, I think that it includes interesting features: the provision of relaxing content “on demand”, the countdown, the feedback about compliance with task's instructions.
If any of you knows similar websites please post them in the comments!
Dec 10, 2008
sometimes I feel like the dog in this video... it is when I realize that reality is much bigger than my dream of it
Oct 13, 2007
In this thought-provoking article entitled "No more SMS from Jesus: ubicomp, religion and techno-spiritual practices", Genevieve Bell, a researcher in anthropology and director of user experience at Intel, discusses the use of information technologies in religious practices:
Abstract. Over the last decade, new information and communication technologies have lived a secret life. For individuals and institutions around the world, this constellation of mobile phones, personal computers, the internet, software, games, and other computing objects have supported a complex set of religious and spiritual needs. In this paper, I offer a survey of emerging and emergent techno-spiritual practices, and the anxieties surrounding their uptake. I am interested in particular in the ways in which religious uses of technology represent not only a critique of dominant visions of technology’s futures, but also suggest a very different path(s) for ubiquitous computing's technology envisioning and development
The article was presented at the conference Ubicomp 2006. Full text is available here
Jul 03, 2007
An excerpt from a paper by Mohammed Reza Rikhtegaran about the relationship between Technology, Man and Spirituality:
Is it possible to bring technology and spirituality together? Usually technology is referred to as an instrument of mass production related to profit and loss. But is technology merely an instrument? Regarding technology as mere instrument is correct but it keeps us from understanding the essence of technology and its relation with truth.
Unconcealedness and concealedness of Being are always together, and every stage of unconcealedness is related to its corresponding concealedness. The Greeks call this unconcealedness Aletheia, that is, Truth.1 It is quite strange that contemplation about the essence of technology brings us to considering and understanding the unconcealedness and concealedness of the truth. In other words the essence of technology is nothing technical, just as the essence of a tree is not itself a tree which can be seen among other trees.
The truth or essence of technology, is the disposing and dispossession of raw material for consumption through which mastery over the universe is achieved. In other words in the realm of technology, man is confronted with a sort of unconcealedness, based on which he uses things for the mere purpose of consumption and thereafter achieving the mastery. With this dispossession the relationality of man with things goes through a transformation and things turn into fixed stock. Dispossession is the essence of technology.2
The question is, how is it possible that technology — the basis of which is Western, and, worldly and is rooted in the left (wrong) dimension of human existence and the preoccupation of which is the domination of, and mastery over the material universe, be brought under the domination of the right dimension of the human existence? How to make it spiritually oriented and Eastern, while preserving it, and thereby sanctify it? It was mentioned that technology is based on a particular unconcealedness and a special relationality with Being. In other words, technology is itself a culture and considering its etymology culture is a kind of interpretation of earth. Thus, the very issue may be put in a different way, i.e., how is it possible to bring forth a union between the culture of technology and the culture of spirituality and at the same time retain both. The crux of the problem, therefore, is as to which cultural aspect we are to transfer the culture of technology, in other words, in which culture is it to be included. It is the question of the confrontation of the two cultures. It is the confrontation between the left (wrong) dimension and the right dimension of human existence. Therefore, there emerges the well-known confrontation between the East and the West. However, the very essence of the West and its culture which is the basis of technology, is earthly, whereas the essence of the East and its culture is the renunciation of this world. If technology is to be adopted by Eastern culture and knowledge, there shall be contradiction between the two. Thus a union between the two is not possible and the desire to have technology along with Eastern spirituality is wishful thinking.
I found two very interesting posts in Mauro Cherubini's blog about the use of techology in spiritual practice.
The first project - for this we pray - is an art installation inspired by the tradition of lighting candles during prayer.
for this we pray brings the experience of reflection to the everyday world of the jaded digital generation. Users select one of several prayer cards, and hold it close to a wall-mounted “shrine” reminiscent of a stained-glass window. The prayer card is recognized via RFID, and a light is turned on. As more prayers are "read" the shrine will fill with light.
the second post points to an article that examines how technology can be used in religious life:
Wyche, S. P., Hayes, G. R., Harvel, L. D., and Grinter, R. E. (2006). Technology in spiritual formation: an exploratory study of computer mediated religious communications. In CSCW ’06: Proceedings of the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work, pages 199–208, New York, NY, USA. ACM Press. [pdf]
This paper aims at explaining the use of technology in religious life. The author performed a series of intervies with Protestant Ministers. Most pastors responded with a list of duties including educating the laity, preaching, and communication. More in details they reported using thechnological means to organize Bible study groups, for the pastoral care of the laity such as reaching sick parishioners or conunseling those in spiritual or personal crisis.
A good part of the article focus on thechnological enhancement to preaching and presentation. An interesting reported finding is that altough Ministers reported using commercial products for their presentations such as PowerPoint or Keynote, they expressed their misgivings about the fact that these software were designed with generic purposes in mind and that they do not support the peculiarities of spiritual training or presentation.
Some pastors expressed their feelings about the fact that using technology is essential for the church to be ‘contemporary’ but at the same time it is a matter of negotiation: a tradeoff between ‘relevance’ and ‘reverence’, but also a tradeoff between connection and distraction, remoteness and actual encounters. E. G., for spiritual practices solitude might be important.
Finally the authors reported interestingly that parishioners used technological access to spiritual material at work. So, we observe an ‘infiltration’ of domestic life in working settings. This allowed them to practice during the week instead of waiting for Sunday.
On a critical note, focusing the study on a single religion might have somehow biased the results. It might be interesting to broaden the spectrum of analysis to see if the same results apply.
I am very intrigued by the potential of bringing together technology and spirituality. So I decided to create a new category "technology and spirituality", and I hope to find soon new examples of this approach