Sign of the times: Can hugging machines solve the touch crisis?

As the American loneliness epidemic reaches alarming new heights, one artist theorizes on what connection might look like in the future.

Photography: Scottie Cameron
  • The Compression Carpet is a machine created by Los Angeles-based artist Lucy McRae that simulates a hug to a person craving intimacy.
  • Research indicates that nearly half of Americans lack daily meaningful interpersonal interactions with a friend or family member. This loneliness epidemic is accompanied by a touch crisis.
  • McRae's art and neuroscience suggest that it is affectionate touch that we are deprived of in our increasingly touch-phobic society. New sensory technology seeks to solve this problem.
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We're looking at death all wrong. Here's why.

Can a shift in the way we treat death and dying improve our lives while we're still here?

  • These days, for the most part, the concept of death is consumed by health care and medicine.
  • However, as humans we need to view death as more than just a medical event. It takes into account our psychology, spirituality, philosophy, social worlds, and personal lives.
  • This reconsideration should also apply to the way we treat people who are dying. Life is in the senses, not just our physical capabilities.
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Truth vs Reality: How we evolved to survive, not to see what’s really there

Take the circumstances in your life seriously, but not literally. Here's why.

  • Galileo was quite controversial, in part, because he argued that Earth moved around the sun, despite people's senses deluding them that the world was static.
  • Evolution may have primed us to see the world in terms of payoffs rather than absolute reality — this has actually helped us survive. Those who win payoffs are more likely to pass on their genes, which encode these strategies to get to the "next level" of life.
  • It's important to listen to people's objections because they may bring something to your attention outside your ken. Learn from them to make your ideas sharper.
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If reality is a data structure, can the simulation theory hold up?

Exploring the idea that objects we perceive in everyday life do not reflect objective reality.

  • Professor of cognitive science Donald Hoffman presents his theory that the world we perceive is a virtual reality. Hoffman has tested this theory by running successful computer simulations that suggest there is no objective reality.
  • When it comes to Nick Bostrom's simulation theory, Hoffman agrees with parts and disagrees with others. Hoffman argues that, while space time and physical objects do not correspond with objective reality, conscious experiences like the smell of garlic and the feel of velvet cannot be produced by the simulation.
  • "You can't start with unconscious ingredients and boot up consciousness," Hoffman says.
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Did we evolve to see reality as it exists? No, says cognitive psychologist Donald Hoffman.

Cognitive psychologist Donald Hoffman hypothesizes we evolved to experience a collective delusion — not objective reality.

Image: Rendering of "St. John the Baptist" by Leonardo Da Vinci, 1516.
  • Donald Hoffman theorizes experiencing reality is disadvantageous to evolutionary fitness.
  • His hypothesis calls for ditching the objectivity of matter and space-time and replacing them with a mathematical theory of consciousness.
  • If correct, it could help us progress such intractable questions as the mind-body problem and the conflict between general relativity and quantum mechanics.
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