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Reflection 1: No Discipline Left Behind September 19, 2011

Posted by HSDC in Uncategorized.

The senses are more than individual receptors; they are intertwined and capable of being active even when not in direct use.  The two articles that were read for this week had great insight into the role that the senses play in the hard sciences. The Myers article showed how something as technical and regimented as protein modeling can actually utilize the senses a great deal. The senses work to intimately connect and entangle the modeler with the model.

Moreover the Latour article actually goes into how we should discuss the senses and what the body and mind actually are,  he uses a very simple definition for the body “an interface that becomes more and more describable as it learns to be affected by more and more elements”( Latour 2004: 206). I found this definition to be quite profound because when thought about it is quite remarkable, everything the senses do is to interpret a contrast and thus to learn and interpret it in one’s own way. For example within the article he discusses the training of the smell sense to measure perfumes more accurately, or in part activate the nose to new smells. In this example he explains how being able to contrast a broader range of smells somehow makes you a “nose”. I like this terminology because it makes a clear statement about society, how anyone that can use their senses to  a greater degree is somehow acquiring that body part.  Within the article he played with the idea of calling a person a “nose” but this extends beyond smell, people that taste wines have a more “refined palate” as if they have somehow acquired it, people are also said to have a “trained eye” however it is not the eye that is able to see with greater ability it is the brain that has learned to better contrast what it is seeing. New senses are not being acquired, we are simply learning as latour states “He has taught them to be affected, that is effected by the influence of the chemicals which, before the session, bombarded their nostrils to no avail-“(2004:207).

Interesting enough the Myers articles describes how when computer modeler’s actual acquaint themselves with the models over time they are able to feel as if the senses are being engaged even though they are only looking at a visual representation of the proteins being modeled.  The models are actually able to indirectly engage the sensorium “…over time and with the experience of constant interaction with the virtual objects, they eventually acquire a feeling for the tangibility of the digital media.” (Myers 2008: 178). Interesting enough the article goes on to describe the intimate connection the modeler shares with the model that is created “a postdoctoral researcher…expressed concern that his model would be regarded by others as a “static” structure’ rather than, as he described it, a ‘breathing entity’” (Myers 2008:191). I find this fascinating but in all honesty not hard to believe, when we look upon a piece of art, say the statue of David, we are somehow able to imagine the sculptors hand movements and precision, feel the persons soul within the creation. Then why is it so difficult to imagine that a modeler feels the same way about the protein models? Maybe it’s because of the use of computers or because the models all look so similar, I however think it may have to do with how much people are willing to extend the reach of their senses. When a sculptor uses a chisel to carve out a form, there is still close hand to substance contact, however when a scientist uses measuring apparatuses and computers as extensions of his/her senses the connection in our minds is lost somewhere in the mix and we disregard the “human touch”.  In summation the article worked well in conjunction to develop an understanding around what the body of senses really is and how the senses are not exempt from objective science.


works cited:

Latour, B. (2004) ‘How to talk about the body’, Body and Society, 10:2-3, Excerpts: 205-214, 224-229.

Myers, N. (2008) ‘Molecular Embodiments and the Body-work of Modeling in Protein Crystallography’, Social Studies of Science, 38:2, pp. 163-199



1. Anthropology of the Senses - September 19, 2011

I’m sorry but I don’t know how to get the time to show up, I posted around 6:40 PM

2. shineswhitelight - September 19, 2011

I really enjoyed reading your reflection, particularly the last part when you asked the question: “Then why is it so difficult to imagine that a modeler feels the same way about the protein models?” I never considered that question and I am glad you brought it up. Though I do not know the exact answer to your question I think it lies in the fact that we do not expect to feel about protein models the same as say a sculptor does towards his their work. Perhaps that expectation plays a role in our thinking and feeling. I feel like because we struggle to articulate the importance of the senses and feeling, we disregard its presence in all forms of art and modeling–such as with the protein models. I’m not sure if that’s the correct answer, but that is how I seemed to interpret your question with regards to your reflection and the Natasha’s article.

3. biggoalies - September 20, 2011


I read your reflection with high interest, and I would like to respond to some of your ideas. Obviously, I do not want to pretend I know the absolute ‘truth’. The following thoughts are mine, based on my interpretation of the readings and of your intervention.
Professor Myers’ article shows that crystallographers’ bodies, despite a partial-to-complete shift to virtual representation, remain actively and directly engaged with the proteins, and vice versa. The researchers’ sensoria are thus still fully participating, although differently depending on the media (Myers 2008:173). Myers proposes an example of this in Diane’s discourse about virtual model-building, as her language and gestures nonetheless describe physical (and sensorial) work (2008:178). As you mentioned, technological apparatuses work as extensions of scientists’ bodies (computer mouses, for example). I would add, however, that they do not replace them, a point made by Myers (2008) on page 185. The connection with “human touch” is not lost; it might instead even be helped, since the digital media allow researcher to manipulate proteins in a different and easier environment (gravity-free, etc). It is a dexterity that, however, has to be learned, or acquired, through a lengthy process, as we learn in the article.

On the circulation of models, and researchers’ anxiety, I must say I differ from your point-of-view. I would be careful to assume that average human beings interpret artworks similarly, and especially the artists’ embodied experiences through them. The crystallographers’ concerns come back to the notion that we all live in different sensorial worlds: the online database convey the scientists’ results, but hardly their embodied sensorial knowledge of them. The interpretation of the data is thus left to the external observer, lay or pro, which may (and will) not be identically affected by the protein (see Latour 2004). Moreover, I would add that since the acquisition of a body “produces at once a sensory medium and a sensitive world” (Latour 2004:207), protein models may, or may not, ‘look so similar’ to observers, depending on the sensitive world they find themselves in.

Julien C.
09/20/2011 00:02

4. biggoalies - September 20, 2011

* By “learn[ing] to be affected” (Latour 2004:205) by the proteins, crystallographers see differences and contrasts where my untrained eyes would see similarity. It cannot but justify their concerns.

Julien C.
09/20/2011 09:59

5. Response #1 « Beyond Sensoria - September 24, 2011

[…] This is the first response I wrote and posted on Harman Dhillon’s Reflection 1: No Discipline left behind. […]

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