Notebook of Sand

• Recent Publications
• Recent Projects
• Conferences & Speaking
"Comparing Spatial Hypertext Collections"
  ACM Hypertext '09
"Archiving and Sharing Your Tinderbox"
  Tinderbox Weekend London '09
"The Electronic Nature of Future Literatures"
  Literary Studies Now, Apr '09
"The World University Project"
  St. John's Col. Cambridge, Feb '09
"Ethical Explanations,"
  The New Knowledge Forge, Jun '08
Lecture, Cambridge University
  Tragedy in E-Lit, Nov '07
Hypertext '07: Tragedy in E-Lit
Host for Tinderbox Cambridge '07
Keynote: Dickinson State Uni Conf
Upper Midwest NCHC'07: Speaker
eNarrative 6: Creative Nonfiction
HT'05: "Philadelphia Fullerine"
  Nelson award winning paper
NCHC '05:
 Nurturing Independent Scholarship
Riddick Practicum:
  Building Meeting Good Will
NCHC '04:
  Philadelphia Fullerine
  Lecture on American Studies
WWW@10: Nonfiction on the Web
NCHC '03: Parliamentary Procedure
ELL '03 -- Gawain Superstar
• (a)Musing (ad)Dictions:

Ideas. Tools. Art. Build --not buy. What works, what doesn't. Enjoy new media and software aesthetics at Tekka.

Theodore Gray (The Magic Black Box)

Faith, Life, Art, Academics. Sermons from my family away from home: Eden Chapel!

My other home: The Cambridge Union Society (in 2007, I designed our [Fresher's Guide])

The Economist daily news analysis

Global Higher Ed blog

• Hypertext/Writing

Writing the Living Web

Chief Scientist of Eastgate Systems, hypertext expert Mark Bernstein. (Electronic) Literature, cooking, art, etc.

Fabulous game reviews at playthisthing.

• Stats

Chapter I: Born. Lived. Died.

There is a Chapter II.

Locale: Lancaster County Pa, USA

Lineage: Guatemala

Religion: My faith is the primary focus of my life, influencing each part of me. I have been forgiven, cleansed, and empowered by Jesus Christ. Without him, I am a very thoughtful, competent idiot. With him, I am all I need to be, all I could ever hope for. I oppose institutional religious stagnation, but getting together with others is a good idea. God is real. Jesus Christ is his Son, and the Bible is true. Faith is not human effort. It's human choice. I try to be the most listening, understanding, and generous person I can.

Interests: Anything I can learn. Training and experience in new media, computer science, anglophone literature, education, parliamentary debate, democratic procedure, sculpture, and trumpet performance. Next: applied & computational linguistics, probably.

Education: Private school K-3. Home educated 4-12. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Elizabethtown College in Jan 2006. As the 2006 Davies-Jackson Scholar, I studied English at St. John's College, Cambridge University from 2006 - 2008.

Memberships: Eden Baptist, Cambridge Union Society, ACM, AIP, GPA.

Alum of the Elizabethtown College Honors Program, sponsored by the Hershey Company.

Milgram -- On Computers!
Wednesday, 27 Dec 2006 :-:

This is a response to an article in Nature which describes the findings of Mel Slater in "A Virtual Reprise of the Stanley Milgram Obedience Experiments".

The study states,

Our results show that in spite of the fact that all participants knew for sure that neither the stranger nor the shocks were real, the participants who saw and heard her tended to respond to the situation at the subjective, behavioural and physiological levels as if it were real. This result reopens the door to direct empirical studies of obedience and related extreme social situations, an area of research that is otherwise not open to experimental study for ethical reasons, through the employment of virtual environments.

This, it seems to me and my trusty sidekick Logic, is quite silly and rather dangerous.

** * **

It has been clear for a very long time that at is very real to us. It was as much a debate to Plato and Aristotle as it is to us today. Immersive environments are interesting precisely because they offer a different kind of correspondence to reality. It is both silly and illogical to suggest that

  1. this test is valid because it recreates the conditions of the original study
  2. this test is ethical because it fails to recreate the conditions of the original study

It *is* true that the more recent test measures something different than the Milligram test. It is an interesting result. But if the Nature article and the scholarly publication are any indication, the researchers seem to completely misunderstand what it is that they're actually measuring.

Jeremy Bailenson is quoted as saying that "What Slater's research is showing is if you make your virtual reality good enough, you can go back and ask all these questions".

This is silly. This is *not* what Slater's research is showing. The significant difference between Slater's research and the theatrical simulations of the past is not the fact that these are computer simulations. The difference is that Slater's research is not a double-blind. This is freshman stuff. Don't they understand this?

This simple logical failure allows them to mischaracterize the ethical question. The ethical question with in Milgram's study did not rest in the actors who pretended to be tortured. It resided in the double-blind nature of the test and its moral/psychological impact upon those whom the test encouraged to torture other people.

By telling subjects about the test, Slater ruined the results and destroyed any useful correspondence to Milgram's study. If his test is valid, then his results seem to indicate that even in the absence of a double-blind, people take this stuff seriously. This supports the argument that Slater's test was also unethical.

But we can't really know, because Slater introduced too many new variables. If he just wanted to test the double-blind effect, he would have used actors, as did Milgram. But he also introduced a virtual reality system. So his results have to do with the nature of double-blinds, but they also have to do with the believability of virtual reality.

Bailenson seems to think that virtual reality is believable enough to give us insight into human reactions in the actual situations simulated. But this is the central issue with Milgram's study: whether simulation is ethical or not. Replacing human actors with digital actors does not change the ethical problem. If it is someday established that humans react to certain digital environments in nearly-identical ways to physical reality, then the potential for unethical testing increases, due to the greater possibilities of simulation. Would it then be possible, for example, to recreate rape in a digital environment, measure the results, and claim ethical high ground since physical rape is not perpetrated? Of course not. The Milgram study provides a case of far better simulated realism than any computer will ever be able to create. And anyone with any basic understanding of Internet culture has likely read the 1993 case study, "A Rape in Cyberspace", which suggests that even textual encounters can have a significant psychological impact, a conclusion supported by Slater's research.

The popular misconception that videogames and televisions, by merit of their nature as simulations, are effectless, is dangerous and troubling. If they were truly nonexperience, they would not be popular. Each year, hundreds of computer games put millions of people in situations even more ethically questionable than that of participants Milgram's famous study.

IMHO, Slater is trolling. It's the good ol' funding and publicity garnering standby of "let's do X -- with computers! "(in space, underwater, with six foot tall dancing cockroach hobos, etc). The latest, most depressing variant of this is the Arden Project, which has almost nothing to do with theatre or Shakespeare's plays. Why can't people obtain a basic idea of the issues they're dealing with? And why do other people fund them? Sigh.

** * **

I'm just getting warmed up. Rest and further study have resulted in such gems as "Why Christians Need to Read The Communist Manifesto". But I'll let that wait for a future date.

Also note that I had the reprise on simulation and stimulation ready to go in my blog queue several days before I came across this issue. Weird, eh?