Memory+Place today

I won't be able to make today's meeting because of another meeting.

I think the group should consider developing something from the Lenay and
Steiner experiment. I see there being two layers to the experimental setup: 1) an elaboration of
their setup, which probes a minimal condition for encountering a space of
*multiple* identifiable objects, each with their own location, and does so
in such a way as to let us see how movement engenders locative space. So,
something like: three objects, each lit by LEDs of different colours, with
(say) different fingers being stimulated for each differently coloured
object, so as to get a sense of different identities/locations in felt
movement; 2) a felt constraint on the participant's moving relation to the
objects. I think the latter could be done by having little bump barriers to
impede movement of participants in rolling chairs, given that we might want
to have them seated, for safety, given that they are blindfolded. Or,
perhaps we could let them roam in the black box, and have a system that
monitors their location, and generates a felt sense of running into limits
by having a vibrating device (like a cell phone vibrate) going off on their
back or stomach when they approach virtual walls. I like this second idea
better. For safety, there are no barriers, and objects are on top of soft
foam cube tables or something like that. We have spotters who will tell
participants to stop. First, it lets us combine the virtual and the real, since participants are
really moving around with their real bodies, in a real space; it's just that
the salient aspects of the real space (the three identifiable objects, the
boundaries) are generated within the realm of the participants movement, via
interaction with the three objects, and the boundary generation system. Second, this lets us move the virtual walls as easily as we like, either
from static setup to static setup, or dynamically within a test, so we can
slowly grow 'doors' lengthen, halls, etc. as we like. This gives us
tremendous flexibility. Note we could also use different frequencies of
vibration to do Xin Wei's 'banding'--maybe approaching a 'wall' that slowly
ramps up frequency would feel like pushing through a sticky membrane. Third, it gives us an easy record of the person's position and velocity,
etc. over time. We'd record video of the experiment, and collect self-reports, which would
end up being, I think, on the genesis of space, room, object identity,
within space, etc. We'd want to give some very open ended direction that would conduce memory
issues, like "pick up the ball, move as far away from its initial location
as you can, then go back for the mug and move as far away from its initial
location as you can, and then go back and pick up he book and move as far
away as you can," where they start in a situation where the mug and the book
are far away from one another, in distinctive locations. We'd want to see
how well they remember where the mug vs. the book are, when coming back, and
see how this varies when they are doing it in an unbounded situation (the
whole black box), in a situation that is one long hallway (so move as far
away means going down a hall way), or when moving as far away means going
into another room, and then coming back through a doorway to the mug and
book as framed by a room as constraint, how it varies with picking up and
dropping things. In other words, testing the room effect where the testing
is in terms of felt movement, and the set up can be varied flexibly, and we
thereby probe minimal conditions.

David -----Original Message-----
From: []
On Behalf Of Sha Xin Wei
Sent: November-17-10 6:09 AM
To: Memory Seminar;
Cc: TML List
Subject: Memory+Place today

Dear Memory+Place:

Our next two meetings are today and Wednesday, December 1.

Today we carry on our experimental design. It should be helpful to review
Tristana's paper, posted to

See you!
Xin Wei

phenomenological method

Dear TMLabbers,

Tristana Rubio has generously shared her paper on phenomenological method, together with a literature review.
This can inform the TML's experimental design.

See also "poor theory"
- Xin Wei

Sha Xin Wei, Ph.D.
Canada Research Chair • Associate Professor • Design and Computation Arts • Concordia University
Director, Topological Media Lab •  •

A possibility for the Experiment

Excellent article, and beautiful experiment. I definitely think we should try this. I really want to experience this genesis of space for myself. What seems powerful about this experiment is, on the one hand, how minimal it is, and on the other hand, how open it is to being expanded and articulated into richer and more complex scenarios.

We've been talking about the minimal conditions of rooming and roominess; Lenay and Steiner may have devised something close to the minimal conditions for the genesis of spatiality. By giving the participant a new sense organ, she gets to experience and enact the genesis of space almost "from scratch" (and observers get to see her doing this). Space here shows up as a structure that emerges in and through the dynamic coupling of movement and sensory feedback.

By building on their minimal experiment, we might be able to witness the self-articulation of space into rooms, the tangling up of threads that generates a knot or node.

LOGISTICAL QUESTION: Are we meeting tomorrow, Nov. 17?


Tristana's Phenomenological Protocol Paper

Here is Tristana's paper and lit survey for the Memory+Place seminar.
Thanks to Tristana! (We miss you!)
Xin Wei

Sha Xin Wei, Ph.D.
Canada Research Chair • Associate Professor • Design and Computation Arts • Concordia University
Director, Topological Media Lab •  •

A possibility for the Experiment

Some quick thoughts that might move us along:

1) Some theoretical points:

Our hypothesis all along has been that the memory place relation is rooted in body-world movement, where habitual dimensions of that movement mean that the past is in play in the “I can” of movement; further, because body-world movement is inhabited by the concrete places in which it unfolds,  places inhabit our movement too, by limiting/facilitating and thence stylizing the I can in distinctive ways. Places we inhabit are thereby a sort of outer habit that calls upon inner habits, and thereby also liven a past in the present. (The inner-outer language here is insufficient.)

Some points about rooms in this context:

a) Last time Noah had us notice how rooms act as limits, constraints, on movements—but enabling ones that let us focus on things. (In MP terms, rooms are perhaps like an augmentation of the body/body schema as the third term in the figure-ground relation.)

Further conversation with Noah led me/we to the following:

b) Rooms are something like ‘knots’ in the ‘string’ of body-world movement: they tangle movement against itself, through boundaries and doorways; this provides a sort of stability by limiting movement in robust ways. (I am trying to capture the way that turning indeterminacy against itself can engender determinacy.)

c) But it’s wrong to say the room does this itself, as material object. (This is the issue about hallways, and rates of movement through places.) A hallway in which you stop and do things, in which *you let* your movements get tangled by your surround, is a room; a hallway as mere passageway is not. A tiny cupboard may be a room for a child playing in it, but not for the adult just taking things in and out. (Material) rooms are (phenomenological) rooms in relation to our movement, yet it is our movement that ‘rooms’ (using this as a transitive verb meaning “to make something into a room”) (phenomenological) rooms in relation to constraints of (material) rooms. To make a vast hangar a room, you probably have to bound it in some way, ‘nest’ in it.

Rooms are generated as rooms by our nesting behaviour. And nesting seems like a really powerful thing in the life of humans and other motile animals.

d) On the other hand, we don’t just nest in rooms, rooms nest our bodies and things: we feel at home, our bodies come back to themselves, when crossing the doorway into the ‘nest.’ And things are what they are when appropriately nested in rooms. Identities are nestled in places. Turrel’s lit ganzfeld removes all possibility of nesting, and so ‘de-things’ things inside the ganzfeld.

So, we could look descriptively at what’s at stake in nesting: the way we do it to make a room a room; the way nesting in a room arises from tangles in movements.

e) Rooms are recursively nested, rooms within rooms, with some ‘smallest’ point where we just have movement through some space, without the scale allowing ‘tangling’ (the cubby that only allows one thing to be dropped in it), and some largest point, beyond which tangling is not really an issue (the McGill campus, which, although it has doors, is really too open ended to tangle you up and focus you on such and such).

2) Two thoughts re experiments:

A) The article below (which I’m still studying) seems to give confirmation of some Merleau-Ponteian and phenomenological views of lived space, that I’ve also worked on quite a bit, and by very simple means. Basically, the apparatus is a light sensor on a finger, linked to a tactile stimulator on that finger, and a light bulb. The subject is blindfolded, and the experiment is to see how the subject orients to the light. Not surprisingly to those who are in to Merleau-Ponty, when given time to explore and move around, the subject eventually comes to see/perceive the light ‘through’ the finger, but crucially, not via feeling tactile stimulation in the finger—the subject directly perceives the light where it is. What we learn here (in my view) is how space is engendered in body-world movement. The advantage of the experiment is it really focuses on movement, since in the objective framework there is only a one dimensional points stimulus. I.e., this paradigm really lets us zoom in on body-world movement.

All we would need to do is multiply the targets that can be seen by the finger (e.g., different rates or kinds of stimulation, or stimulation on different digits) for different coloured lights. And let the subject move around more, but tangle their movement with boundaries, so as to create a room. For safety reasons, we might want to have the subject seated in a rolling chair, and we can mark out two rooms with bump boundaries, and then test for the room effect via the above paradigm. Importantly, we’d watch what they are doing via video, and have them give free form self reports (there are interesting ones in the article).

I recently had the opportunity to meet a psychologist who is doing experiments on the cognition as dynamically embodied. His most recent stuff has people selecting between two choices on a computer screen, where this is some cognitive complication about the choices; they do this using a wii controller, and what he’s really interested in is the dynamics of their hand movements in the time of making the choice, as revealing that choosing and cognition are dynamic and embodied phenomena. (Rick Dale, U of Memphis,,,5,6,7.) We could potentially use a Wii for this. Rick is willing to give us the software for hacking into it. Also, Rick noted that once you make an experiment into something like a game, or rather, once their whole bodies are involved and they’re not just pressing buttons on a computer, they really get into it, and become active participants in the experiment. I think we’d want this too.

Consciousness and Cognition
Volume 19, Issue 4, December 2010, Pages 938-952

Beyond the internalism/externalism debate: The constitution of the space of perception

References and further reading may be available for this article. To view references and further reading you must purchase this article.

Charles Lenay

, a, and Pierre Steinera


This paper tackles the problem of the nature of the space of perception. Based both on philosophical arguments and on results obtained from original experimental situations, it attempts to show how space is constituted concretely, before any distinction between the “inner” and the “outer” can be made. It thus sheds light on the presuppositions of the well-known debate between internalism and externalism in the philosophy of mind; it argues in favor of the latter position, but with arguments that are foundationally antecedent to this debate. We call the position we defend enactive externalism. It is based on experimental settings which, in virtue of their minimalism, make it possible both to defend a sensori-motor/enactive theory of perception; and, especially, to inquire into the origin of the space of perception, showing how it is concretely enacted before the controversy between internalism and externalism can even take place.

B) Nesting: we could just watch how people nest in a big room, i.e., make smaller rooms, and especially see if giving them some sort of memory demanding task conduces nesting. I.e., see if people spontaneously make rooms in order to remember things better. I bet they do: this what kids do, and what goes on in making shrines, I bet. Watching what happens, and listening to free form reports, might generate insight.

Andrew Forster to Memory Place: Thresholds

Given Andrew Forster's remarks it could be extremely useful to read Arakawa and Gins' Architecture Body, and understand what they mean by, for example, organism-that-persons, perceptual landing spot, and architecture body.  - sxw

Begin forwarded message:

From: Andrew Forster <>
Date: November 13, 2010 10:20:10 PM CST
To: David Morris <>, MEMORY + PLACE <>
Subject: to Memory Place: Thresholds

[can't post directly to posterous, here's some comments]

I'm slow brained, so I'm still reacting to Noah's note from prior to last time… some conjecture from that point...

When we think, in crude terms, we are loosing our memory or our ability to keep memory associations accurately ordered, are we in some way only loosing what we recognize as memory? In other words are we loosing our ability to consistently recognize, name and order things (the things of which we have built a world) OR are we, on a deeper level, loosing the ability to distinguish things, to constitute things, at all. These are possibly different thresholds (implicated in different kinds of memory…)

Likewise when we consider the threshold or edge condition of experiencing 'room-ness' there seem to be multiple thresholds at play. There is a threshold of anything contained, of a sense of containment or limit, which allows us to 'be' at a primal level. A turning away from 'no-place' to a sense of place with boundaries which in turn allows us to know we are 'here'. A space for our bodies to be in space. This space and its relation to our body-selves, we are constantly feeling out / constructing by whatever senses are available to us. Take away one sense, the others will step in. Here memory does not seem  to be about things in the usual sense. We are remembering limits, limits without which our own corporeal boundary can't have any sense. In this state we are floating, remembering dimension. The first project.

A higher threshold occurs when we recognize 'things' or when we identify 'rooms' in any particular sense, as part of any directed project (like getting in , or out, or settling down to sleep or work) we have already left this threshold of room-ness far behind.  Big memory seems to reside up here, on a threshold where things come into being. These are the memories we think we forget, because we learned we should remember them. Functional memory, poetic memory, and all the rest of our culture.

The experiments so far have provoked near the first threshold by throwing one of our well-understood senses into disarray (hearing, for example--but really it doesn't matter which), and we notice disturbing reverberations up in the second threshold of making sense. (Obviously its not realistic to talk about 2 thresholds in what we should want to be a continuity, but the thought is to point out the distance between them). The ring-walk proposal is likewise an experiment which disturbs on the very primal threshold of space-making but seems to want to observe effects on the higher threshold of thing-making. The I-pod app, or other conscious noting of room/non-room seems to function more on the thing-making plane, with possible interpretive insights into space-making. I wonder what kind of experiment could delve deeper, or in a more isolated way into this first ungraspable threshold. 

Makes me think of skin, which we typically think of as our boundary. Its not a room. Its our skin. Take a skin-tight suit and gradually expand it. At some point it is a tent. It billows into being a room. Then we are inside it, a world. We are we and it is it. At this point we can get on with being. Puts me in mind of Temple Grandin's squeeze box.

There is a connection here I have not thought through. In inversion, as an antidote to unbounded sensing, the enclosing 'tighter-fitting-than-room' of the squeeze box brings calmness, relief from the uninterpretable space-surround. Backing down a passageway away from a room.


Quintilian, on Simonides's memory palace

[Quintilian's famous story about Simonides's memory palace. - sxw]

Quintilian (~35-100 AD)

Institutio Oratoria

Book XI, Chapter 2

11 The first person to discover an art of memory is said to have been Simonides,57 of whom the following well-known story is told. He had written an ode of the kind usually composed in honour of victorious athletes, to celebrate the achievement of one who had gained the crown for boxing. Part of the sum for which he had contracted was refused him on the ground that, following the common practice of poets, he had introduced a digression in praise of Castor and Pollux, and he was told that, in view of what he had done, he had best ask for the rest of the sum due from those whose deeds he had p219extolled. And according to the story they paid their debt. 12 For when a great banquet was given in honour of the boxer's success, Simonides was summoned forth from the feast, to which he had been invited, by a message to the effect that two youths who had ridden to the door urgently desired his presence. He found no trace of them, but what followed proved to him that the gods had shown their gratitude. 13 For he had scarcely crossed the threshold on his way out, when the banqueting hall fell in upon the heads of the guests and wrought such havoc among them that the relatives of the dead who came to seek the bodies for burial were unable to distinguish not merely the faces but even the limbs of the dead. Then it is said, Simonides, who remembered the order in which the guests had been sitting, succeeded in restoring to each man his own dead. 14 There is, however, great disagreement among our authorities as to whether this ode was written in honour of Glaucus of Carystus, Leocrates, Agatharcus or Scopas, and whether the house was at Pharsalus, as Simonides himself seems to indicate in a certain passage, and as is recorded by Apollodorus, Eratosthenes, Euphorion and Eurypylus of Larissa, or at Crannon, as is stated by Apollas Callimachus, who is followed by Cicero,58 to whom the wide circulation of the story is due. 15 It is agreed that Scopas, a Thessalian noble, perished at this banquet, and it is also said that his sister's son perished with him, while it is thought that a number of descendants of an elder Scopas met their death at the same time. 16 For my own part, however, I regard the portion of the story which concerns Castor and Pollux as being purely fictitious, since p221the poet himself has nowhere mentioned the occurrence; and he would scarcely have kept silence on an affair which was so much to his credit.

17 The achievement of Simonides appears to have given rise to the observation that it is an assistance to the memory if localities are sharply impressed upon the mind, a view the truth of which everyone may realise by practical experiment. For when we return to a place after considerable absence, we not merely recognise the place itself, but remember things that we did there, and recall the persons whom we met and even the unuttered thoughts which passed through our minds when we were there before. Thus, as in most cases, art originates in experiment. 18 Some place is chosen of the largest possible extent and characterised by the utmost possible variety, such as a spacious house divided into a number of rooms. Everything of note therein is carefully committed to the memory, in order that the thought may be enabled to run through all the details without let or hindrance. And undoubtedly the first task is to secure that there shall be no delay in finding any single detail, since an idea which is to lead by association to some other idea requires to be fixed in the mind with more than ordinary certitude. 19 The next step is to distinguish something which has been written down or merely thought of by some particular symbol which will serve to jog the memory; this symbol may have reference to the subject as a whole, it may, for example, be drawn from navigation, warfare, etc., or it may, on the other hand, be found in some particular word. (For even in cases of forgetfulness one single word will serve to p223restore the memory.) However, let us suppose that the symbol is drawn from navigation, as, for instance, an anchor; or from warfare, as, for example, some weapon. 20 These symbols are then arranged as follows. The first thought is placed, as it were, in the forecourt; the second, let us say, in the living-room; the remainder are placed in due order all round the impluvium59 and entrusted not merely to bedrooms and parlours, but even to the care of statues and the like. This done, as soon as the memory of the facts requires to be revived, all these places are visited in turn and the various deposits are demanded from their custodians, as the sight of each recalls the respective details. Consequently, however large the number of these which it is required to remember, all are linked one to the other like dancers hand in hand, and there can be no mistake since they what precedes to what follows, no trouble being required except the preliminary labour of committing the various points to memory. 21 What I have spoken of as being done in a house, can equally well be done in connexion with public buildings, a long journey, the ramparts of a city, or even pictures. Or we may even imagine such places to ourselves. We require, therefore, places, real or imaginary, and images or symbols, which we must, of course, invent for ourselves. By images I mean the words by which we distinguish the things which we have to learn by heart: in fact, as Cicero says, we use "places like wax tablets and symbols in lieu of letters."60 22 It will be best to give his words verbatim:61 "We must for this purpose employ a number of remarkable places, clearly envisaged and separated by short intervals: the p225images which we use must be active, sharply-cut and distinctive, such as may occur to the mind and strike it with rapidity." T