I just watched Chris Milk’s recent TED talk about virtual reality. He calls virtual reality the ultimate empathy machine. I see the vast potential of virtual reality – its use in therapy for psychological conditions like PTSD, gaming, education, and as a tool to help people create beautiful experiences. But I have to admit, my gut also has told me that virtual reality has more costs than benefits, more risks than payoffs. Perhaps I’ve read one too many future dystopia sci fi novels, but I have often thought that the temptation to reside in an artificial, constructed world of our own choice and design is too tempting for most of us; that eventually, when virtual reality is sophisticated enough, it will keep us from engaging in the “real” world in the ways we need to in order to have have substantial and lasting happiness. Think the creepy, organic virtual reality game consoles called “game pods” from the 1999 David Cronenberg film eXistenZ, and that’s where my mind goes.
But Chris Milk might have just convinced me to question my gut, to think more of the artistic and humanitarian potential of virtual reality. Watch the talk to hear more about the amazing work he’s doing with the UN to vividly portray the plight of refugees to policy makers and the public through virtual reality. He also showed a film of the interactive art installation he created called The Treachery of Sanctuary. A boy stands in front of the piece, becoming a bird on the screen that he is viewing ….until all of sudden he takes flight to join the flock. I have to ask myself, why did that bring me to tears? Chris Milk believes that virtual reality is a machine that makes us more human. Perhaps the benefits could outweigh the risks.
Posted by Psyche's Circuitry on April 30, 2015
What is going on in this picture? I’m the one on the right.
Well, I was having a special moment with Shifu Shi Yan-Ming, a master of the Shaolin Kung Fu tradition. Our conversation was part of the Rubin Brainwave festival. I was fascinated to hear about his life, from the age of 5, as a Shaolin monk, training in the most rigorous Kung Fu discipline. The title of our conversation was “Discipline as Art” and as was obvious from his demonstration on stage, his physical prowess is impressive and beautiful. You can sense the focused energy he devotes to his art, the discipline of Kung Fu.
In many ways, my conversation with Shifu (an honorific indicating a master in martial arts) was an action meditation, an illustration of how he thinks about his place and relationship with the world.
Me, asking about his feats of Kung Fu training: “Why did you learn to break a brick with your head?”
Shifu, with a laugh: “Someone asked me to!”
Me: “How do you talk to your students about overcoming obstacles in their life, about dealing with emotional challenges?”
Shifu: “I tell them to just do it!”
Like Kung Fu, his philosophy is action-oriented and full of focused energy. When facing obstacles in your life – just do it. Nobody changes you, you change yourself.
Posted by Psyche's Circuitry on April 9, 2015
Science has serious PR problems, and at their root are scientists themselves! We scientists often don’t know how to communicate with non-scientists without a whole lot of jargon and obscure words. Brevity is also difficult for many of us, so the art of effective sound bites and elevator pitches remains a mystery. Yet, those of us who go into academia are, despite first impressions, passionate people. We are in love with ideas, with teasing apart mysteries. So, we have the potential to be incredibly powerful advocates for science, translating the knowledge we generate in our labs into real world applications. If only we could stop putting our audiences to sleep…
Then, along comes Alan Alda, who for decades has been a curious, charming, and enthusiastic advocate for the popularization of science. He excels at translating how fascinating science can be to a wide audience. I just discovered that he founded The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science back in 2009. The Center teaches scientists media communication skills and how to boil down your research findings into understandable take-home messages and engaging stories. And he teaches them improv! Perhaps this is some of the most important work the Center does, because improv allows scientists to practice being present and telling a human story. Here is a clip of what improv for scientists looks like.
Picture taken from http://www.centerforcommunicatingscience.org/improvisation-for-scientists/
Thank you, Mr. Alda. If you can cultivate and empower even a few scientists to communicate more effectively and compellingly, the positive impact of our research could reach a whole new level.
Posted by Psyche's Circuitry on March 9, 2015
Picture by Helen Weinstein
A great essay from the Wall Street Journal on the promise and challenges of the smartphone revolution in healthcare – from mobile physical exams, to merging day-to-day health data from wearables with medical records. A key – and underdeveloped – innovation here will be to integrate health tracking with mobile therapies. This transformation of healthcare – both physical and mental – is going to happen, and it is up to us, as patients and professionals, to make sure that it is done right, with the privacy and well-being of the individual as top priorities.
I’ve been interested in some emerging companies, like Mana Health, that are on the cutting edge of this revolution because they are solving the problem of how to effectively merge clinical data with health data collected in the daily lives of patients, and directly empowering patients to have a clear voice in their healthcare and greater collaboration with doctors.
Posted by Psyche's Circuitry on January 20, 2015
I had a great time talking with David Shriner-Cahn of Tend Strategic Partners about making the most of a stressful day and putting your emotions to work for you!
Posted by Psyche's Circuitry on November 18, 2014
A smart commentary on the limits, promise, myths, and challenges of big data.
Posted by Psyche's Circuitry on October 16, 2014
An interesting post from the MIT Technology Review about the challenges and opportunities in medical data – both Big Data and on the individual level, becoming more empowered patients.
Posted by Psyche's Circuitry on July 22, 2014