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Tuesday, 8 February 2005

controversy - Hacking Humans

Person who I forgot to ask if I could quote her said

i don't understand your reply to my comment in your journal where you said "creepy? you think the idea of me wanting to use possibly dangerous methods to put people in suggestible states and program them is creepy?"

like, i don't think that most people would get quite how creepy that is, but if you're flat-out saying that you're using possibly dangerous methods to put people in suggestible states and program them and that (if i read you correctly) that *is* creepy, then... why would you do it? i mean how would that be okay?

This in reference to my idea to use 10Hz waves to put people in alpha states and then expose them to ideas of peace, love, joy, togetherness, etc. Morality in art is a good discussion to have. I saw an installation L.A. that used real bits of endangered animals. I heard the artist say the point was about vegetarians who wear leather shoes. I felt like killing endangered animals for so little reason was profoundly immoral. so is it wrong for an artist to experiment on people using methods she's used on herself? I want to make clear that the "danger" here is the possibility of seizures from strobe lights. Every dance club I've frequented on the east coast has had a strobe.

I asked my questioner: if I gave participants copies of my research, explained my methods, provided them with printed copies of all text first and experimented on myself before allowing others in, would it be ok?

She said no, you can't give informed consent to something you haven't experienced and furthermore, some things, like recreational murder, cannot have the concept of informed consent.

I don't think I agree. First of all, I can't try murdering myself and then go murder you after seeing how it went for me. The non-consentability of murder has to do with the finality of it and that it is universally recognized as harmful. People consent to potentially harmful things all the time, like bungee jumping, or even things that are supposed to cause them pain, like kinky sex (everyone who has done it has consented without personal fore knowledge once). Furthermore, it's not my intent to harm anyone. So, like bungee jumping, maybe there's risk (but not risk of getting flattened under a bridge), but the goal is a positive experience. There's some things floating around online that claim that "there is ample evidence that some [altered states] bring about extremely pleasant feelings and can profoundly affect personality." (

Well, is it immoral? I don't think I'm going to have time to do this by April anyway and certainly not in any sort of super-master-hypnotist level. I like generating controversy, though. I wonder who would participate if they thought it might hurt them? Why would they? What role would peer-pressure play? Why do people go to Survival Research Labs events? Are they immoral? This is profoundly useful for distracting me from writing chapter 2 of my thesis.



Jesse said...

a really neat live artist named doran george was visiting rpi today. some of his pieces are quite intense and have occassionally been very disturbing to witnesses. so, one thing he talked about was having audience members sign actual legal contracts.

it turns out, in fact, that a ticket (say to a free wesleyan new music event) is a legally binding contract entailing consent to attend the event and sometimes certain other things (which may be specified in small print on the back of the ticket), but doran wanted to make this explicit in his work while simultaneously being more communicative about what visitors might experience by specifying in the contract what would happen in the artwork.

i don't think what you're proposing is immoral at all. i think it is radical, but in a very particular sort of subtly critical way. plenty of people have done pieces (especially performance, endurance, and live artists) that are much creepier, more dangerous, or more manipulative.

i do think that some people would be interested in participating in a piece that might hurt them. giving people the opportunity to explicitly contract in to the experience might help clear up any issues about whether folks were knowingly making such a choice, and might also help clarify the issues of the piece in the minds of participants.

Crinis said...

But, but, but, Tammy is a vegetarian and she *doesn't* wear leather shoes. QED (What did I just prove?)

Marek said...

Doesn't a lot of art put people into suggestible states and program them? E.g., go to Joan Baez show, hear beautiful song, walk away opposed to war. Art is supposed to affect people.

Funny to see legal terms like "informed consent" pop up. What if an installation were to, randomly and without warning, blast 440hz at 125 dB at people, causing pain but not damage. Would that be OK?

Les said...

I'm using SM terminology around consent because it seems to apply. You might feel pain, but you consent knowing that you can stop it at any time.

Hypothetically speaking, if you could blast people with very loud sound and somehow arrange it so that their hearing would not be damaged (this is now in sci-fi land, because if it's loud enough to cause pain, it's certainly damaging your hearing), I think that would be ok if they knew ahead of time that they might experience sudden pain. "People who have heart conditions should not participate." Roller coasters do scary things all the time. There used to be an exhibit at the exploratorium where you could put your fingers on two metal plates and your "friend" could crank a generator to give you a mild shock. ouch.

another thing I saw at the exploratorium, which was very interesting, was a handle that was wrapped in heat conductive material. there were two starands next to each other, one hot and one cold. So if you you looked at the top of the handle, hot and cold material were alternating. If you grabbed the handle, hot and cold would be right next to each other, setting off the nerve endings in the same part of your hand. when you feel that, you experience it as pain. it hurts! but it's not actually harming you, except for the stress caused by the sensation of pain.

they had a little sign explaining what it was and that it was supposed to hurt. a user could chose to try it or not try it. that museum is aimed at kids. If it's ok to give kids warning that an activity will cause them the sensation of pain and then they can proceed or not, it must be ok to do the same thing with adults.

i've sometimes wondered about incorporating this non-damaging pain into something. It's like that box in Dune that the main character must stick his hand into that hurts like crazy but does not harm his hand. What does it mean to ask people to endure pain for the sake of nothing? This is outside the scope of this project, however.