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    Novelty in the modified body
    How do we come to understand actions that are beyond our experience? What happens when we watch an agent, human or otherwise, performs seemingly impossible tasks?

    This isn't the uncanny valley, it's the unwalked path, the unfamiliar and ideally we can expect to see more and more of it in the future.

    The neurological correlates of understanding difference and novelty is, broadly speaking, the subject of my friend Lei Liew's research at the USC Center for Brain and Creativity. In one study, Lei used fMRI to observe the brain activity of participants watching an actor performing familier and unfamilier gestures, respectively a thumbs up and the sign language for "the Netherlands." Among her findings, she discovered that the novel gesture activated more motor regions in the brain, suggesting that unfamiliar actions are first and foremost represented physically, and when people tried to explain the gesture afterwards, they tended to re-perform the action.

    "Just like birds, humans have to amplify their locomotion to get control and get familiar with their new body expansion—the Wings. In my conception this is something which is independent of any hardware or software problem."

    - Genius Dutch Filmmaker Florian Kayak


    Next she asked, what happens when you see an action that you can't perform at all. In this study, she had participants watch as someone performed actions with their hands, cutting with scissors, grabbing goldfish (the crackers), et cetera. Then participants were asked to watch these same actions performed by someone with congenital amputations.

    After only two minutes of watching the amuptee, Lei observed increased activity in the mirroror system in the the four limbed participants. The visual stimulation highly effective in helping create a motor map to correspond with the amputees.

    This work on how we acclimate to difference seems particularly relevant now, if as Joel Garreau suggests in his book Radical Evolution, humans begin speciating into differently modified creatures through the continuous integration of biotechnology, prosthetic implants, and stem cell technologies into the primordial soup.

    Assuming, for interest's sake, that such technological modifications do become increasingly commonplace and desirable, how we will manage to keep track of what a human is amongst the resulting behaviors, mannerisms, and visual landscape?

    Perhaps, it's the duty of visual artists to take the initiative to help acclimate the public to what our future companions, or maybe even our selves could look like. ET was a hallmark example of building this kind of tolerance.

    Maybe the next study in this line of research should test whether people who watch sci-fi frequently learn to identify with radically different physical traits than those who don't.

    Mon, Oct 15, 2012  Permanent link

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