Con-fusion

I recently posted a review of the book Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy by Lawrence Hass. On two occasions Hass broke up a familiar word with a hyphen in order to make the word’s etymology more obvious. The first was “organ-ize,” which I posted about here. He pulled the same trick when writing “con-fusion”:

[The solution to a problem] doesn’t merely restate what is already given, but rather demands “crystallizing insight” through which some meaning-possibility suddenly “reorganizes” and “synchronizes” what was before a con-fusion of meaning, a problem to be solved. (l. 2285)

So what does it mean to be “confused”?

adj. 1a. being perplexed or disconcerted. 1b. disoriented with regard to one’s sense of time, place, or identity. 2. indistinguishable. 3. being disordered or mixed up (Merriam-Webster)

The history of the word confuse is, in a word, confused…. [The verb] confuse was derived c.1550, with the literal sense “mix or mingle things so as to render the elements indistinguishable.” In the active, figurative sense of “discomfit in mind or feeling,” confuse is only recorded from 1805. This activity could have been expressed before that by native constructions like dumbfound and flabbergast, or by confound. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

In the Wikipedia entry for Mental Confusion, someone has posted this image, in which there are indeed two distinct elements that are intermingled so as to render each one harder to distinguish:
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"The technical name was Perimeter, but some called it Mertvaya Ruka, Dead Hand."

It was built 25 years ago and remained a closely guarded secret. With the demise of the USSR, word of the system did leak out, but few people seemed to notice…. The system may no longer be a central element of Russian strategy—US-based Russian arms expert Pavel Podvig calls it now “just another cog in the machine”—but Dead Hand is still armed.

Somewhat tangential, I know, but I just couldn’t resist posting the image accompanying the article:

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Merleau-Ponty's philosophy

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“Yes or no: do we have a body—that is, not a permanent object of thought, but a flesh that suffers when it is wounded, hands that touch?” — The Visible and the Invisible

Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy by Lawrence Hass was the first full book I read on the great phenomenologist. If you’re fascinated by sensation, perception, synesthesia, metaphor, and flesh (and frankly, who isn’t?), please read it! It offers many wonderful revelations. I’ll briefly review the following topics from the book:

  • Sensation/perception is a false dichotomy.
  • Perception is “contact with otherness.”
  • Synesthesia is a constant feature of experience.
  • The concepts of “reversibility” and “flesh”

Read More

Nokia & the skin ego

In a new video released by Nokia about its vision of the future, we are introduced to a haptic/gesture-sensing wristband and a pair of augmented reality/eye-tracking sunglasses.

The plot is ridiculous: a pretty blonde is woken up by her phone’s alarm clock, only to be presented with explicit instructions from her boyfriend. Are you indoors? Move outdoors now. Are you outdoors? Wear sunscreen, “because I love your beautiful skin.” This is a creepy and unnecessary distraction in an otherwise interesting video.

Maybe it’s a reference to the famous “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen” video. Or is it a Finnish inside joke that we’re just not privy to?

"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.