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Anth 207: Senses

Prezi for lecture in Psychological Anthropology on human sensory variation, updated for 2015.

Greg Downey

on 5 October 2015

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Transcript of Anth 207: Senses

Anthro 207
including some you don't have...
Greg Downey
Department of Anthropology
Macquarie University
Attention matters.
Training required to assemble sensations into 'image.'
Senses require confirmation (social or practical).
Variability because large amount of information is disregarded.
Ben Underwood
Daniel Kish
World Access for the Blind
Extraordinary cases
help us to see "normal" more clearly.
Comparative approach
(crucial in anthropology but also in psychopathology & clinical psych).
Perceptual system
James J. Gibson
Ecological psychology
Anthropology of the senses
How does our understanding and valuing of the senses affect the way we perceive things?
How can we use our senses to do better anthropology, including helping to describe other sensory realities?
Neuroanthropology of the senses
How does our understanding and valuing of the senses affect the way we perceive things?
A developmental niche can 'enculture' even if unintentional.
living in an
(life world), one perceives practically & directly
our senses do not work in isolation, but in constellations with motor capacity and other senses.
perceptual systems includes all structures that make this possible.
for vision, it would include muscles in eyes, ears which orient the system,
Could peripheral vision actually change?
Visual perception
400 millisecond trajectory; 7 millisecond margin for error…
Bat is 21/4” in diameter; Ball is 3”…
Photo: Anna Gislén, Lund University
(available from several online locations including www.unesco.org
Vision under normal conditions.
Refraction caused by differences in density of media when light strikes at oblique angle.
Seeing underwater
Moken children’s vision under water
More about this case in:
Gislén, Anna, Marie Dacke, Ronald H.H. Kröger, Maths Abrahamsson, Dan-Eric Nilsson, and Eric J. Warrant. 2003. “Superior Underwater Vision in a Human Population of Sea Gypsies.” Current Biology 13 (May 13): 833-836.
On land, Moken children's eyes in same range as European children.
Several people have asked me whether this could be genetic changes behind their ability. Of course I cannot rule them out. But I think it’s mostly about learning…

All children should theoretically be able to accommodate this much. The Moken do not do anything superhuman—they simply use the eye to its limits. I think it would be possible for all human beings to see better underwater, provided you practiced…
We are training Swedish children to see if they can learn. [Replicated in 33-day training regimen.]

Quoted in Mark Hortsman “Asian child divers see better underwater” News in Science 20 June 2003 (www.abc.net.au)
Anna Gislén
David Howes
Sarah Pink
Paul Stoller
Constance Classen
Kathryn Linn Geurts
Building image must be assembled without awareness.
How does experience tune up system & facilitate neurogenesis?
Vision consists in two separable visual circuits: dorsal (motion) and ventral (object) streams.
Possibility of 'blindsight'.
Perceptual learning
Why is experience different to observable effects?
Case: The Moken of Southeast Asia
In water…
children constrict pupil to 1.96 mm (20% smaller than European children).
lens accommodation (squeezing to thicken) approaches limits of human performance.
according to Gislén et al. (2003), vision is more than twice as acute as European children.
Counter to automatic “reaction”…
less light under water would normally lead to pupils dilating.
Case: the changing place of olfaction.
Sensory niche
photo by Greg Downey
‘...throughout life, the body undergoes processes of growth and decay, and that as it does so, particular skills, habits, capacities and strengths, as well as debilities and weaknesses, are enfolded into its very constitution — in its neurology, musculature, even its anatomy.’
Tim Ingold (1998: 26)
Today's lecture shows what Pink & Howes are arguing about: the effect of considering the senses.

The methods I've focused on today are concentrated on biocultural or neuroanthropological cases.
Image from http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3328/3589817709_844fe9a01c.jpg
Shift in psychological anthropology?
The equilibrium system
Visual equilibrium strategy
The gymnastic handstand
Image from Getty Images
Sensory communities place distinctive sensory-motor demands on the nervous system, leading to ‘deep’ cultural differences.
Case: the end of darkness.
Case: Jahai olfactory vocabulary (tutorial)
Case: the bananeira
How do sensory practices and environments affect the physio-psychological functioning of our senses?
'Sensorium' is both the sensual environment and the way we are encouraged to actively perceive.
James Fodor:
Equilibrium is the best current candidate for being a 'module.'
A 'module' is a fixed, domain specific, special purpose mental tool, set by evolution.
developmental, but may be unintentional.
The five senses model is really a 'folk' understanding, not a scientific account of perception.
Shift from oral to visual culture.
Some anthropologists point to a visual sensory bias in Western culture (literacy, ocularcentrism).
link to 'hygiene'
The senses are both a primary channel of enculturation and, at the same time, themselves subject to variation, training & development.
one key trait is redundancy to resolve ambiguity)
sensory hierarchies
The senses
perception is a
'bodily' activity.
At least thirty different cortical areas participate in visual perception.
Forms of vision we take for granted are also 'skilled' developments:
face recognition
recognising classic cars, in experts
'Fusiform face area' (FFA)
recognising birds, in experts
place recognition
emotion reading
plant & animal recognition?
Are WEIRD brains misleading us about senses?
Sensory anthropology as topic v method (v. biocultural skill?)
sensory order
a change in the moral valence of sensory experience.
technological change that affects perception, experience & even automatic bodily systems.
Marshall McLuhan
Whole series of other changes: film, epidemic of hearing loss, myopia, end to deafness, shoes & balance problems...
Others argue that there are changes in form of looking.
WEIRD sensoriums?
Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.
Three basic types of senses:
Exteroception, Interoception, Proprioception
training effects
sensory behaviours
sensory norms
sensory values
sensory milieu
Equilibrium as trainable system
Not just how you interpret sensory experience but also how you train sensory systems.
The use of sensory system trained to find affordances (including in one's own body).
Over time, behaviour and values has biological impact.
One goal of research is to find how these systems are built up and thus how they can vary.
e.g.: darkness-free environment and 'carpentered-world hypothesis'
e.g.: shift from oral to visual culture with literacy based on technology & values
e.g.: banishing of strong aromas.
possibly 2-3% of world's women
7-10% of men
<1% of women
other examples: 'perfect pitch', perfume testers, Braille readers, synesthesia, eidetic memory, 'supertasters'
(four types of cones in eyes)
Psychological Anthropology
Missing variation, mistakes phenomenology for psychodynamics & ignores intero- or proprioception.
am I a tetrachromat?
maternal relatives with colour blindness
Robert Adair, physicist at Yale: “Clearly impossible.”
expanding Gibson in order to account for cross-cultural variability.
sensory categories
'cultural construction'
form of adaptation
Greg Downey 2014, 2015
Made available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY 4.0)
Full transcript