art, neuroscience

"The modified modifier"

I recently found a mysterious and intriguing blog called Art Is Dead Long Live Art. The author, Erin Voth, explores transmutations of hand and touch.

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Hands are the chief organs for physically manipulating the environment. The fingertips contain some of the densest areas of nerve endings in the human body, creating the richest source of tactile feedback to the brain. The image of a human hand is automatically associated with the scene [sic] of touch. So what happens when an image of a human hand is manipulated, sliced up and rearranged?

The modified modifier invokes images of self mutilation, alteration and airbrushing.

The somatosensory system is a widespread and diverse sensory system comprising of the receptors and processing centres to produce the sensory modalities touch, temperature, body position, and pain. The sensory receptors cover the skin and epithelia, skeletal muscles, bones and joints, internal organs, and the cardiovascular system. While touch is considered one of the five traditional senses the impression of touch is formed from several modalities.

The system reacts to diverse stimuli using different receptors: temperature, mechanical and chemical. Transmission of information from the receptors passes via sensory nerves through tracts in the spinal cord and into the brain. Processing primarily occurs in the primary somatosensory area in the parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex.

At its simplest, the system works when a sensory neuron is triggered by a specific stimulus such as heat; this neuron passes to an area in the brain uniquely attributed to that area on the body—this allows the processed stimulus to be felt at the correct location. The mapping of the body surfaces in the brain is called a homunculus and is essential in the creation of a body image.

[James] Gibson and others emphasized the close link between haptic perception and body movement: haptic perception is active exploration. The concept of haptic perception is related to the concept of extended physiological proprioception according to which, when using a tool such as a stick, perceptual experience is transparently transferred to the end of the tool.

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