Archive for September, 2009

The Rest of ‘Em

SmithTo commemorate my dinner with family and impending in-laws on the eve of my wedding, I simultaneously logged my galvanic skin response (GSR) and which way I was looking using a three-axis accelerometer mounted on my glasses (overkill, I know), which involved having my computer in my lap while wearing wired glasses and trying to carry on eleven conversations at once! It was a bold plan to discover whether I responded predictably (and differently) to my own family and my wife’s and it seemed to be working until three minutes in, an over-enthusiastic waitress howled at a joke nearby, which made me jump and pulled the wires out of my GSR sensor. Without a hot glue gun, I was helpless to continue, so I closed up the computer, resolved to continue next week, and enjoyed my beer.

Please note that my accelerometer and ribbon wire matched my shirt. Because that’s how I roll.

Click for a sample of the data I logged.

My glasses with accelerometer:


My trusty Arduino, wired up to lie flat:

My homemade GSR sensor:


doorDoorSob is a door that doesn’t want you to leave a room. A Processing sketch allows the playback on a screen of a human face’s progression from ecstatic happiness to utter misery to be controlled by a potentiometer activated by turning a doorknob. Depending on the state of the face (and by extension, the potentiometer), a voice repeats either “yes” or “no” more or less emphatically. The volume of the voice and the brightness of the face are affected by the amount of ambient light falling on a photoresistor. My intention is to install the photo sensor next to a doorknob so that when someone puts their hand on the knob, it blocks the light and brightens the screen so that the video is visible and the sound is audible. The pot is moved by the knob, so that as a person starts to move the knob to open the door, it reacts, getting more and more distraught the closer the person is to opening the door (and leaving the room).

A week reading about the location of consciousness (apparently behind the eyes according to most people with a minority locating it in their upper chest) and our dubious awareness of our own perceptual and cognitive shortcomings has left me scratching my head. I haven’t done huge amounts of reading in the cognitive sciences, but I’ve done enough to feel that Julian Jaynes’s arguments against the necessity of consciousness in “Origins of Consciousness” and Dan Ariely’s TEDtalk about the limits of free will are a series of cleverly erected straw men. I’ve never heard anyone claim that consciousness is as ubiquitous and constant as implied in Jaynes’ refutation, nor do I buy Ariely’s claims that people’s laziness and susceptibility to influence constitute proof of sensory and cognitive deficiencies. The self-awareness and introspection that these men refer to as consciousness seems to me a response to complicated social structures. It’s essential not to the survival of the individual but to the survival of the group. It’s no wonder then that it tends to lag a little when considered in conjunction with the senses.

And it was thinking about the conniving, scheming, backroom dealing, weighing, and planning to which consciousness presumably emerged as a response that I started thinking about all the unconscious social and physical cues that US Weekly body language experts and NLP practitioners are constantly harping on about. We like it when people laugh at our jokes and praise us, we don’t for the most part like making people unhappy or getting yelled at. How would we feel if everyday objects called our attention to the actions we perform unconsciously?