In this short event at Encounters Film Festival, PhD candidate  Stephen Hinde and Iain Gilchrist from University of Bristol’s School of Experimental Psychology asked what the eyes can tell us about the way in which we watch and understand films.

Hinde began by outlining a short history of the field of psychocinematics, beginning with Munsterberg’s 1916 writing on ‘The Photoplay’ and moving through Eisenstein’s work in the 1940s towards theorising eye movements in film viewers. He discussed Hochberg & Brooks work in the 1970s on the Perception of Films and more recent work on film cognition, edit blindness and immersion.

Using a range of static and moving image examples, Hinde then demonstrated how our eyes interpret images and editing and how we build our understanding of story through this. He showed that our eyes do not necessarily work in the way we intuitively believe them to – we are largely unaware of where we are looking and what we see, as our focus is on the overall perception that we build from looking at a variety of points often in quick succession. With examples, he showed that when we are staring at one point, everything around it becomes visually indecipherable – a fact we forget in the day to day act of looking. In addition to this, Hinde Screenshot 2016-06-13 14.04.59showed how ‘saccadic suppression’ allows the brain to block visuals that are received during eye movements, only processing visual information received when the eye is settled and ‘looking’ at something.

Hinde also used the example of Joe Magee’s short film Modifried, screened as part of Encounters’ Depict! Award 2014, to demonstrate with eye-tracking software how the eye moves across the screen when watching a film. Magee, also speaking at the event, discussed how he as a filmmaker considers an audience’s visual and cognitive interaction with a film when storyboarding, shooting and editing.

The full film with audio can be viewed on the Depict! website, and below it can be seen in silent with eye-tracking data overlaid to show the way in which the eye is drawn to different areas of the screen throughout the film.

MODIFRIED with eye-tracking data overlaid 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hinde showed that as viewers our eyes are drawn to images of people, primarily to their faces and specifically their eyes. We are also drawn to follow movement – a fact that all film editors must instinctively know.

Screenshot 2016-06-13 11.56.34Screenshot 2016-06-13 11.56.44


Screenshot 2016-06-13 11.56.14Screenshot 2016-06-13 11.56.20







Hinde discussed how the quality of a viewer’s immersion could be measured, including the measurement of ‘presence’.  A high level of presence would mean that perceivers feel that they are “in the situation” depicted on screen, while low presence indicates a feeling of merely observing the events unfolding on screen. However, presence can be difficult to measure scientifically. It is usually measured in a questionnaire after the viewing experience, which means that it can be difficult to get reliable and detailed data. Another approach is to ask participants to provide a series of marks throughout the viewing experience to indicate their varying levels of presence throughout.

Hinde’s presentation was followed by a Q&A, where he was joined by Prof Gilchrist and Joe Magee, who brought their perspectives on the subject.

Stephen Hinde is a Film and vision psychologist with a polymath background in physics and computer science. Academic qualifications include:  a  BSc. in psychology from the University of Bristol, an MA in Buddhist Studies from the University of Bristol, and a BSc in Physics from University of Sheffield. Industry experience in USA, France and UK in  high performance Cloud computing sytems for media processing  as a researcher at Hewlett-Packard Research Labs, and Operating System design at IBM. Hinde has worked for Bristol-based film and media companies such as Watershed, Aardman Animation and South-West Screen. He also worked as a Research Collaborator in the School of Experimental Psychology with Professor Tom Troscianko at Bristol University before enrolling in the same school to undertake a doctoral course.

Further reading:

  • The Photoplay: A Psychological Study (1916) by Hugo Munsterberg. Freely available as an e-book on The Project Gutenberg.




War Book


War Book + Politics & Persuasion Panel


On a sunny Sunday afternoon in early August, Rich Pickings presented the British feature film War Book at a special event at London’s Picturehouse Central. The event included a panel discussion exploring the personal and political themes in the film – themes of persuasion, judgment and decision-making in groups.


The film, which was written by Jack Thorne and directed by Tom Harper, takes place over three days as nine civil servants gather to participate in a policy-shaping role-play scenario. They are there to imagine Britain’s reaction to an international nuclear attack. At first the participants are casual, playing out the scenario against a backdrop of their own petty squabbles and personal ambitions, but as the scenario escalates the group begins to address the breakdown of civil order and witness the repercussions of their theoretical decisions. When personal politics crash irrevocably into the room, each is forced to look closely at what they really believe, and how much their decisions are actually worth.



After the screening we were joined by three panelists, each with a different area of expertise and a different perspective on the film and wider themes.


Professor Peter Ayton

Prof Ayton is Associate Dean Research & Deputy Dean Social Sciences in the Department of Psychology at City University, London. He studies behavioural decision theory. Specifically, his research investigates how people make judgments and decisions under conditions of risk, uncertainty and ambiguity.


Sue Einhorn 

Sue Einhorn is a Group Analyst who became a psychotherapist after many years as a youth worker, community development activist and lecturer. She is particularly interested in how the social context lives in our unconscious and how each person then shapes the social world around them.


Jane Kinninmont 

Jane Kinninmont is a political analyst and economist. She is Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House and is an occasional contributor to The Economist, Guardian, FT and Foreign Policy.


The panelists discussed the film, focusing on the structure of the environment portrayed and the dynamics of the group of civil servants. They also talked in more depth about judgment, war games and different methods for creating an environment suited to rational decision-making in groups. Outlined here is some of the ground covered in the discussion.


Peter Ayton


Q: As a psychologist you specialize in theory of decision-making. Can you explain a bit more about what we are doing when we make decisions?


My favorite definition of a decision is ‘an irrevocable commitment of resources’. Most people use the phrase ‘decision-making’ in a colloquial way and think they know what it means. You commonly hear people say: “let’s not decide that now” or “let’s wait and see”.  That of course is in itself a decision. You might feel like you’ve kept options open, but we live in a dynamic world – things are constantly changing. When you make a decision you are not picking a discreet option from a well-designed set of arrays – you can be very creative about coming up with new options.


Q: In the film characters were required to make decisions in an environment that was steeped in personal politics and grudges. What were your thoughts on what we saw?   


Some of the themes that we’re being primed by the film to contemplate include the bullying culture of politics, the flippancy with which decisions are treated and the emotions which impact conversations. It’s tempting to think that if the meeting we see in the film had been organized and regulated better, the decisions would have been more rational – but I don’t think that is necessarily true.


One thing that psychologists in my field tend to agree on is that the ‘rational man’ image set out by economists is a non-starter. There are at least two views that follow from that. The first is that we are not perfectly rational, but we get by very well and the methods we have to cope with our imperfect brains are pretty effective. The second view is that we are cognitive cripples who are essentially doomed. This view tends towards a belief that there is not much hope for humanity because of the way we conduct our affairs and, ultimately, the way our brains work.


One of psychology’s key ideas in decision theory is that of ‘heuristic thinking’ – decisions made by rule of thumb. We saw a lot of heuristic and simplistic thinking in the film. The characters had very simple rules for why they were proposing or defending certain points of view. They also used coercive arguments presented in imperatives: “this is necessary”, “this is essential”. The extreme courses of action that were being decided on were being done so without thought of alternatives.


Signaling complexity can be seen as weakness in politics. Barak Obama has come into a lot of criticism for seemingly taking a very long time to decide what to do about things. People like a ‘decisive politician’. But it’s also important to have someone who thinks things through. What was shown in the film was preaching, coercion and provocation – not good decision-making.


Q: The film portrayed a role-play exercise in which participants reacted to a fictional situation. In a real crisis situation the levels of pressure and stress would presumably be even higher. How much do we know about the ways in which stress affects decision-making?


You can test how stress affects people’s decision-making performance by setting up tasks (such as computer games) and offering incentives (such as winning or losing a lot of money). Experiments like this have revealed measurable effects of time pressure and stress. It’s been shown that pressure has an impact not only on the efficacy of decision-making but also on the strategies of it. And time-limitation creates a situation that lends itself to coercion and very simple heuristics being applied.

Two psychologists – Elder Shafir from Princeton University and Amos Tversky from Stanford University – conducted an experiment in which a group of students who have just finished their exams after a grueling semester are offered a great deal on a holiday – they can book for a group of people at a massive discount. The catch is that they must book and pay a deposit immediately, without time for reflection or consulting with friends. They found that students who have been told they have passed their exams took up the offer and paid the deposit. A second group of students are given exactly the same scenario, but are told they have failed their exams. They also decide to take up the offer and pay the deposit. The reasoning is that the ones that passed need to celebrate, while the ones that failed need to cheer themselves up. A final group are given exactly the same scenario but have been told that they won’t find out the results of their exams until the following day – and they need to pay the deposit for the holiday today. This group chose not to take up the holiday offer. So: if you’ve passed your exam you go on holiday, if you’ve failed you go on holiday, but if you don’t know if you have passed or failed you don’t go. This experiment reveals that we can generate reasons for actions based on real factors, but if there are unknowns we prefer to ‘wait and see’… even if either outcome would lead to the same action. This is an example of irrational human thinking. According to economics, that shouldn’t happen – but it does.


Q: If you could design a different system for a meeting such as the one we saw in the film, what would it be?


There are methods that social psychologists have devised for improving group process, some of which could be applied to a war game role-play situation. You could have a ‘Delphi’ group, where participants don’t reveal their identities, so they’re not in the same room and they communicate via anonymous narratives. That immediately strips away all the hierarchical, spurious aspects of the dynamic. When you have a room of people, there will always be things going on which have nothing to do with the quality of the arguments being made. And in some cases people will sabotage the greater good to bring their ego to the fore or push personal agendas. If it is anonymous you just focus on the quality of the argument. That isn’t to strip away the humans behind the arguments – values and emotions are essential parts of reasonable decision-making. There have been studies of people who have brain damage which has left them cognitively intact but emotionally dysfunctional. They often can’t make simple decisions, because decisions are typically critically dependent on emotions. But anonymizing a process could help to control the spurious elements – for instance the difficulties in countermanding someone with status either in or out of the room. The best system is one that allows the reasoned arguments to come through in the clearest way.


Jane Kinninmont


Q: In the film we see a group of civil servants playing out a high-level war game, in a policy-shaping exercise. How common are games like this in reality?
A lot of political analysis, like economics, imagines the state as some kind of rational actor that engages in something called ‘the pursuit of national interest’. But quite often we don’t look enough at the fact that it is made up of human beings who are making a guess of their interpretation of what the national interest is. We also don’t always account for the complexity and uncertainty of situations involving other players whose actions and motivations are unknown. So the nature of even just defending a selfish interest becomes very obscure. Part of the rationale of doing war games is to introduce that uncertainty and the human decision-making-under-pressure component. So these kind of role-plays do happen, and militaries particularly like engaging in them.


Often people look at political decision-making and see conspiracies. Those who have worked in and close to governments are less prone to seeing conspiracies and more prone to seeing cock-ups, because they see governments making errors time and time again. So seeing how people behave in groups and make decisions under pressure is probably quite a good guide to reality. That said, pretty much all the ways we have of imagining the future tend to be flawed. So this is one tool in a box of crystal ball gazing tools, all of which are inaccurate.


Q: Is there a standard structure for how games like this are organized?


There’s a lot of different formats you can set up for role-play. Often you will have a referee or gamesmaster. Originally war games were quite formalized, but since the ‘50s there’s been a desire to have games that are less formal to allow people to be more innovative and imaginative. The risk with this is that this could lead to daft decisions, so you allocate someone the role of the omniscient judge. That could be a political scientist or somebody who knows a lot about the countries involved and can say with some authority: “these people would never do that”.


One of the issues with these role-play is that when you have people in government together trying to imagine what will happen in the future, there is an element of Groupthink. Often people, especially junior people in the group, won’t want to say something that goes against the grain, or you have an enforced consensus – which isn’t good for original thinking and often comes up with the conclusion that what we should do is exactly what our existing policy already is. Another fundamental problem with war games is that they’re often designed to be quite fun because that stimulates people to think differently. But the enjoyment aspect divorces people from the reality, and if it is analysts playing the games they may not have any idea what it would feel like to be in that situation for real. Crisis simulations are usually done by people who wouldn’t be the decision-makers in reality – the real decision-makers are too busy.


Another issue is that war games often look at the different reactions of the different international players, and the people who are simulating a country’s response don’t really know what that country would do. Sometimes people are brought in to represent their own country – for instance an academic from Egypt to represent what the Egyptian Government would do. But that can be overstated. We’re from Britain, but that doesn’t mean we’d know how the British Government would react in a crisis. So there can be stereotyping built into these processes.


Q: In the film we see the decisions ultimately being made to reflect and justify policy decisions which have been made in the past. How could this be prevented?


One of the ways that crisis simulators try to get around that problem is bringing in outsiders who have not been involved in building up policy. But often the ‘outsiders’ are brought in from a small pool of trusted individuals. So you may think you’re bringing in outsiders to challenge your way of thinking but actually you’re picking outsiders who will re-enforce it… and you then come away with the conclusion that everything you’re doing already is correct.


Anonymized role-play systems are sometimes used. I know of an annual three-day gaming scenario for a European military, which is done remotely on computers. A central person then looks at the moves and decisions that come in on a screen and says whether they are plausible or whether the ‘player’ needs to come up with a more realistic decision.


I once went to a political meeting of young people in Kuwait who were opposition activists of various persuasions. They were debating the merits of gradual political change against very rapid political change, such as a revolutionary movement. They were using software during the meeting which displayed a graphical representation of how long each person was speaking for, so that no person was allowed to dominate the discussion and anyone who hadn’t spoken was encouraged to contribute. But of course as humans we have ways to bypass that. The film demonstrated very well the way that when one character is speaking others are looking around for someone’s eye to catch… other things are happening in the room as well as speaking and listening. So it’s very difficult to try to equalize discussion.


The reality is that political and military decisions are often made by a small number of people in a room and in that environment somebody being persuasive and charismatic can have great impact.


There’s a political philosophy book called ‘The Theory of Justice’ by John Rawles, a British liberal academic, which asks ‘how could we come up with the ideal political system’. He imagines a situation where everybody is cut off from their lives and context and personality and turned into pure anonymous rationality. They imagine what the ideal political system would be… and they imagine a British liberal model. The book has been criticized for that same issue, that by trying to anonymize people you are cutting out important things, such as their values and backgrounds, things that affect their views.


Q: We’ve talked of the problematic sides of structuring roles plays. Can you think of any positive examples of their benefits?


Recently we have seen the five permanent members of the Security Council come together to ensure that they keep the ‘nuclear club’ relatively exclusive, and this has been done through diplomacy with Iran. One of the most popular war games that has been played in recent years is the possibility of the US or Israel unilaterally attacking Iran’s nuclear facility and what that would unleash in terms of retaliation across the Middle East. So far this has not happened, and maybe looking at those scenarios and the enormity of them is part of what has persuaded governments to try to avoid it and come up with a more diplomatic approach.

Sue Einhorn


Q: The film portrays decision-making in a pretty dysfunctional dynamic. As a group psychotherapist, what was your response to what we saw?


My job as a group psychotherapist is to encourage an environment where people can think and reflect. The situation we saw in the film was the opposite of that. There was no element of safety. The person chairing was not the person with power, the atmosphere was one of great hostility and the whole method of voting (aye or nay by hands up, majority to
win) belies thinking. There was nothing that allowed reflection and no way of not conforming. I found it an extremely frightening film, not just for the nature of their decisions but the bullying and bigoted nature of their culture. The film showed a group of older people, unable to let empire go, coercing younger people into thinking in their old ways. If you think in binary, black-or-white terms it is impossible to have reflective thinking.


If you could design a different system for a meeting such as the one we saw in the film, what would it be?


I would make sure everybody knew their position and someone was present holding the balance to ensure the meeting was ethical, courteous and respectful. I would want to ensure that everyone’s opinion was felt to be equally important. The problem with the situation in the film – and I imagine in many political situations – was that there was a secret in the room, and those who knew it were more powerful than those who did not.


For me, one of the most important things for human beings is that we let new generations come in with their own ideas, and start influencing things. Otherwise all you do is replay history. So you need an environment where everyone is listened to and given time to think. The film showed a scenario where history is repeated: people of a certain power and a certain generation managed to squash people of difference, people with any other ideas.


In group relations, understanding power dynamics and interaction is central. Understanding who has the formal power and who has the informal power. Seeing how people establish their credentials. I wouldn’t like an environment where people were anonymized, because I think you do need to think about what it’s like to be, for instance, an ethnic or gender minority in the room and how that impacts relations.


I think it is impossible to strip all the social dynamics out of meetings and group decision-making, so we shouldn’t try. Instead we should learn to manage and understand the different, complex things that are going on. When you can observe all these complexities and take them into account you can also start to see how to work with them.


Further reading:


On war games:


Pax Sims is a blog about war games, run by Professor Rex Brynen of McGill University in Canada –


On the psychology of group processes and decision-making:


Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Rensho (2007). Why Hawks Win (2007), Foreign Policy 158: 34-38:


Rose McDermott and Jacek Kugler, (2001).  Comparing Rational Choice and Prospect Theory Analyses: The US Decision to Launch Operation ‘Desert Storm’,  Journal of Strategic Studies Volume 24, pages 49-85:


Kerr, N.L. & Tindale, R.S.  (2004). Group performance and decision making  Annual Review of Psychology, Volume 55, Pages  623-655:


On the theory of ‘Groupthink’


Esser J.K. (1998). Alive and well after 25 years: A review of groupthink research ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR AND HUMAN DECISION PROCESSES

Volume: 73 Issue: Pages: 116-141:


Sunstein, C.R. &  Hastie, R.  (2015). Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter. Harvard Business School Press.
You can see Cass Sunstein discussing the book here:
On the psychology of Foreign Policy Decision Making:

Alex Mintz and Karl DeRouen, Jr. (2010).  Understanding Foreign Policy Decision Making.  New York: Cambridge University Press.


Mark Schafer and Scott Crichlow (2010).  Groupthink Versus High-Quality Decision Making in International Relations. New York: Columbia University Press.
A review of these books is:  Deborah Welch Larson (2012). Review of Alex Mintz, and Karl DeRouen ‘Understanding Foreign Policy Decision Making’ Perspectives on Politics, 10, pp 227-228.
It can be downloaded here:


On Group Analysis:


Gerhard Wilke (2015). The Art of Group Analysis in Organisations: The Use of Intuitive and Experiential Knowledge; Karnac Books


Morris Nitsun (1996). The Anti-Group: Destructive Forces in the Group and their Creative Potential; Routledge



War Book is viewable on iTunes from September 7th 2015





This event was presented with the support of a Wellcome Trust Engaging Science Grant.



Upcoming event: Attention, Immersion and Psychocinematics


Filmmakers effectively use inherent natural human mechanisms of vision and cognition which, when studied, can allow scientists to better understand the brain.The psychological study of the relationship between cognition and films is called psychocinematics, and it aims to uncover new insights into science, while informing filmmaking and the development of new cinema technologies. To an external viewer a film audience might seem passive. However psychologists using techniques such as eye tracking observe that the viewer is in fact very active. Through their eye movements audiences actively select information for attention from a vast, potentially overwhelming sensorium. The filmmaking art is to create a smooth flow from shot to shot and to draw the viewer’s attention to the important information. The story becomes a collaboration between audience and director, with meaning created through the successive and well orchestrated flow of information.


Led by Stephen Hinde and Professor Iain Gilchrist from Bristol’s School of Experimental Psychology, this session will discuss some of the findings from the University of Bristol in watching audiences watching film. We will look at the nature of immersion in the film experience, and see how it comes through audience attention carefully orchestrated from moment to moment. We’ll also be joined by award-winning film maker and artist Joe Magee, whose short film Modifried will be used in an eye-tracking demo to illustrate paths of attention for a film viewer.


This event will take place as part of Encounters Film Festival at 3.30pm, September 16th 2015. More details here


Presented with the support of a Wellcome Trust Engaging Science Grant



War Book + Politics & Persuasion panel

Sunday, August 9th,  | Picturehouse Central, London W1D 7DH


Exploring the process of decision making from scientific, social and political perspectives. A preview screening of acclaimed feature film WAR BOOK followed by discussion with experts in psychology and politics, looking at how decisions are made and the impact that group and social dynamics bring to bear.


WAR BOOK | Dir: Tom Harper. UK. 2014. 95mins

A chilling war game between a group of government officials exposes the fragility of our everyday life and those who govern it. Written by Jack Thorne, directed by Tom Harper and starring Adeel Akhtar, Nicholas Burns, Ben Chaplin, Shaun Evans, Kerry Fox, Phoebe Fox, Sophie Okonedo, Antony Sher and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, WAR BOOK takes place over three days as nine civil servants gather to take part in a policy shaping scenario. They are there to take decisions on Britain’s reaction to an international nuclear attack. Only two participants know the truth – that the country is secretly facing a real nuclear threat, and that their theoretical responses may become reality sooner than they can know.

At first the participants are casual, playing out the scenario against a backdrop of their own petty squabbles and personal ambitions, but as the scenario escalates and the group begins to address the breakdown of civil order, the reality that they are deciding our futures dawns. When personal politics crash irrevocably into the room, each is forced to look closely at what they really believe, and how much their decisions are actually worth.




Professor Peter Ayton is Associate Dean Research & Deputy Dean Social Sciences in the Department of Psychology at City University, London. Prof Ayton studies behavioural decision theory. Specifically, his research investigates how people make judgments and decisions under conditions of risk, uncertainty and ambiguity. He uses a variety of empirical methods including laboratory experiments, surveys and field studies. He is a member of the European Association for Decision Making and the Society for Judgment & Decision Making and currently serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making; Current Psychology Letters: Behaviour, Brain & Cognition and Theory and Psychology.


Sue Einhorn is a Group Analyst who became a psychotherapist after many years as a youth worker, community development activist and lecturer. She is particularly interested in how the social context lives in our unconscious and how each person then shapes the social world around them.


Jane Kinninmont is a political analyst and economist. She is Senior Research Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House and is an occasional contributor to The Economist, Guardian, FT and Foreign Policy.



Presented with the support of a Wellcome Trust Engaging Science Grant



Illuminate at Cork Film Festival


We’re currently collaborating with Cork Film Festival to develop some fabulous science-film-art-and-discussion events for their 2015 festival. If you don’t want to wait a year though, we’d suggest you get over to Cork this month (12th – 15th November) for Illuminate, their film and discussion strand focusing on mental health. Building on the Battle for the Brain programme which was co-curated for the festival last year by Rich Pickings, Illuminate features films and discussion with some of Ireland’s leading artists, filmmakers, clinicians, lawyers, psychiatrists and philosophers.

The programme includes Out of Mind, Out of Sight, a powerful film by Emmy award-winning filmmaker John Kastner who spoke as part of Rich Pickings’ programme last year. The film looks at what happens to people who suffer from mental illnesses and have committed violent crimes. Kastner gained unprecedented access to a forensic psychiatric hospital and follows the treatment of patients struggling to gain control over their lives, so they can return to a society that often fears them. Speakers at the event include: John Kastner; Professor Harry Kennedy, Director of the Central Mental Hospital and lecturer of Forensic Psychiatry TCD; and Aine Hynes, Chair of the Irish Mental Health Lawyers Association and practicing expert in Mental Health Law.

Check out the full programme here:


Bioprinting, Babies and Nanotech Chat at Open City 


Our Rewiring The Body event, originally programmed for Cork Film Festival, returned in a rebooted, expanded programme for Open City Docs Fest last week. The event explored ‘the intersection of technology and the flesh’ with a series of short films covering everything from plastic surgery to 3D printed prothetic limbs, from cyborgs to synthetic organs and from the imagined social hierarchy of future body augmentation to life-saving breakthroughs right now. The films ranged from documentary to animation, experimental and sci-fi work.

We also welcomed two excellent speakers to the event. Up first, artist and designer Agatha Haines asked us the question ‘Are Two Heads Better Than One?’, looking at the idea of forced evolution (or human body design). If we can see the human body as a system of interchangeable parts, what would stop us “searching for better components than we have now”?

Using the Frankenstein story as a starting point Agi soon showed the modern Dr Frankenstein not as a madman in a dark cellar, but as a rather mild looking man in a lab coat. Rather than a monster, we see a layer of chicken heart cells beating inside a petri dish. This wasn’t dissected from an intact heart, Agi explains. It wasn’t even grown in a lab. Instead it was ‘printed’ by a bioprinter. This can can print tissues and organs layer by layer (much like a ‘normal 3D printer) forming a 3d structure by replacing ink with cells. Agi asked us to think of the impact a technology like this could have on life expectancies and organ transplant.

While body augmentation can seem like the territory of sci-fi, Agi listed some of the everyday augmentations we accept as beneficial or necessary – glasses, dental braces, walking sticks. How much further does Neil harbisson, the self-proclaimed cyborg, go by wearing an ‘eyeborg’ – an electronic eye that renders colour into sound allows him to look at colours and hear the shades as frequencies?

The invention came from his frustration at his complete colourblindness. Now he has an extraordinary, unique relationship to colour. Agi listed many other prominent examples of body augmentation – some born of disability, some of curiosity. She also referenced head and foot binding, reminding us that this is by no means a new phenomenon.

Looking to the animal world, Agi showed examples of genetic engineering ranging from the amazing Spider-goat (goats which have been engineered to produce milk with an extra protein which spider silk can be extracted from) to cats that glow as they have been ‘edited’ to include jellyfish genes. 

Agi also touched on issues around IP and ownership of genetically engineered humans, if this becomes a common activity. Referencing the Icarus myth, she asked the question “In a society obsessed with self-improvement, could modification have the potential to alter what it fundamentally means to be human?”

Finally, Agi showed some of her own work – arresting pieces around augmentation of adults (she prototyped a few designs on herself) and babies (she showed some freakishly lifelike models she had made to demonstrate possible applications).

She also showed her designs for hybrid organs bioprinted using human and animal cells. This included an organ designed for people who are at risk of heart attack. Acting as a defibrillator, this organ is designed to recognise when your heart goes into fibrillation and shock it back to normal (using cells from an electric eel). Agi discussed the communications she has had with scientists when designing these imaginary objects and the issues that any attempts at real-world application would have. Despite these issues, the idea and execution is convincing and the idea of this becoming a reality is similtanously alarming and comforting.







The next talk came from Research Scientist Melissa Bovis. Melissa discussed some common misconceptions around nanotechnology – many of these related to the size of what it deals with. She went on to explain that Nanotech operates on the billionth scale…1 billionth of a metre. She showed that it is the very minuteness of the scale that allows scientists to manipulate materials, re-arranging them structurally to create new materials with different properties and behaviours. She gave the example of carbon. Re-arranging the atoms into different structures can give you either diamond, soot ….or carbon nanotubes.

Melissa went on to explain that there is no such thing as a nanobot – at least not in the sense that many people understand them. Conventional robots only exist on the macro scale. However terms like ‘nano cars’, ‘nanogears’ or ‘universal joint nanobot’ are given to nanostructures to describe their shape.  Currently, many of them are theoretical. Melissa showed a montage of dozens of products that rely on nanotechnology in their production, ranging from socks through to glass, cosmetics and many food products. She also talked about her research area, using nanotechnology in administration of cancer drugs, and related areas in which nano composite materials can be used to create grafts of organs and body parts. Read about Melissa’s work in the light-activated delivery of chemotherapeutics here and about her Science Museum Lates here.




Research Scientist Melissa Bovis joining Rewiring the Body


We’re very happy to announce that we’ll be joined at Friday’s Rewiring the Body event by Melissa Bovis, who will give an insight into the much-misunderstood world of nanotechnology.

Melissa works as a Research Scientist at the Division of Surgery and Interventional Science at University College London.  Upon completing her undergraduate studies in Biochemistry & Genetics at Leeds University in 2004 she carried out research at Imperial College London in the Department of Biomedical Materials & Regenerative Medicine before pursuing a PhD at University College London in Nanotechnology & Biomedicine.  Her current research focuses on using nanoparticles to delivery anti-cancer drugs to tumour tissue following their release through laser light-activation.

Melissa hosted a successful nanotechnology workshop entitled ‘How Small Are We Talking?’ at the Science Museum Lates event in February this year, and on Friday evening she will be joining us to help distinguish between what is science fact and what currently remains science fiction in the world of nanotechnology.

Twitter links for Melissa:

@UCLDivofSurgery / @MelissaBovis

Rewiring the Body

Ahead or our Rewiring The Body event at Open City Docs Fest, here are a few bits of reading and watching which might be of interest. More to be added over the next few weeks.


1. Practical Transhumanism: 5 Living Cyborgs:


2. All the Ways Nanotech Could Fix Our Bodies:


3. Explore a wealth of beautiful rendered and imaginative explorations of the body’s interaction with technology through Lucy Mcrae’s work:


3. ‘Invasion of the Body Hackers’, Financial Times Article on


4. Listen to this talk by artist and designer Daisy Ginsberg on ‘Synthetic Aesthetics’

Daisy Ginsberg: Synthetic aesthetics from PopTech on Vimeo.


Cork Film Festival has launched its very first video on demand initiative in partnership with VODO, with seven shorts and seven features being retailed on a pay what you want basis, alongside bonus content. The package includes films screened as part of Rich Pickings’ events at the festival as well as Devil In The Room, as short film produced by Rich Pickings.

The initiative has three tiers: Pay What you Want (four shorts including Devil In The Room as well as one feature); Beat the Average (three features and three shorts); and Beat the Premium (including Tony Palmer’s recently reissued 1974 Leonard Cohen doc Bird on a Wire, and John Kastner’s prize winner mental health sensational doc Not Criminally Responsible, screened as part of Rich Pickings’ Battle for The Brain event in November).

Not Criminally Responsible

“We’ve been working with Jamie King and the team at VODO since straight after the Fest last year”, said James Mullighan, Creative Director of Cork Film Festival.  The bundle went live on Wednesday 14 May, and runs until Tuesday 3 June. Find it at: