The virtual body

The gross body and the spiritual body: In traditional healing systems (avurveda, chinese medicine) there is a notional separation of the body into two: One, the gross body is the physical manifestation of the body, the subject of; fitness regimes, sports and modern medicine as we know it; and the spiritual body, which is manifest as energy fields, or lines, or chakras or other non physically manifest body. Healing in certain forms of traditional medicine is focussed not upon the gross/physical but upon the spiritual/virtual body. While alternative therapies are contentious/ contested terrains – they exist as bodies of knowledge and practice. This for me is sufficient to propose this as a location of design exploration.

The ANT/ Actor Network System: The art pancreas is a term/ description I used as a provocation with Diabetes Victoria and IDI Baker – you can see that post here ( To describe the system of affordances, regimes, practices, knowledge constructs and technical artefacts – that constitute the life of a person with Diabetes. This person is in fact attempting to replace a biological pancreas with a human controlled heterogenous system. The medical practitioner plays the role of the ‘expert’ the demagogue in the system who taken on authority but not the responsibility of keeping the system functioning. In short a classic actor network in contemporary society. I am keen to do amny things here:
1. I would like to undertake an inquiry into/ investigating the/ artificial pancreas – (with Kim Humphery and Eleanor Holroyd)
2. I would like to build higher level of technical afforddances – a glucometer that takes the reading and then ‘visualized the data’. (Paul Beckett and Ben Alstom)
3. I would like to model the whole external pancreas as a succession of technical possibilities – or regimes of technology: from the non technical to the full “artificial pancreas’.

Abandon the terminology: After using the term Artificial Pancreas I have to now abandon the usage – because the ‘sensor pum combo’ is not being referred to as the art pancreas. Just spoke to Eleanor and Paul about this. Tragic. We talked about whether “the external pancreas” was an option. Vazir will use the term external pancreas for this project.

So where does the data from the glucometer go? To google health, to your lap top, to a nurse, to a virtual nurse. To infact a program (heterogenous – in the co-management paradigm) that assesses and responds. The discourse of assessment, and its attached rapidity of response is not necessarily something that needs to define the technical. For this is a heterogenous network – John Law.

On that topic – I was talking to Elizabeth Shove over dinner in Chinatown, at Liam’s favourite restaurant, saying I was sucked into ANT in 2002 in Lisbon because I stayed in Tiago’s room and reading all his material – simply fascinating. Much more useful than Goncalo’s focus upon Callon and shell fish. Tiago infact talks about the ‘patient waiting room’ as the location where the switch of discourse happens – where the patient stops seeing themselves in normal narrative terms and starts to see themselves using medical terminology – as simple the ‘right way’ to talk and thing. This is the location fo the fracture – where holistic knowledge becomes constrained by the ability of diagnostic technologies and terminologies. Ahe she agreed that a paper ‘who is Taigo?’ was a worthwhile enterprise.

The digital body is virtual too: On the topic of the holy grail (which in medical diabetes/ NHMRC/clinical dreamings is the cure, and which has now been made possible by stem cells) – as Heiko says – “its the non invasive BGL meter”. Which Hitachi and Samsung claim to have cracked. But thats still in the vein of the ‘numbers’ and the range of safe readings. I want to go the Matrix way – I want a whole body visualization, very much in the ‘spiritual body’ way. A whole digital body that can be invaded for diagnostic and simulation purposes (like spec savers where you can try on different glasses on a picture of you, on their website – before you buy). Simulation of what happens to the body given a particular regime – a topic on which doctors use ‘scare tactics’ with their patients;”If you keep this up you will loose your leg, eyes and kidneys in 20 years” – is an interesting area.

I would like to work on: designing and developing a virtual body that draws data in real time (or periodically) to simulate a virtual body.

Very matrix – but throws up interesting possibilities if the simulation becomes the location of the ‘doctor-patient’ conversation.

Still its the ‘artificial pancreas’ that I will be looking at over most of 2009.


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