[ISEA2011] Panel: Diane Gro­mala – Meta­plas­tic­ity and Inner Body Schemas: VR Phar­makon for Chronic Pain

Panel Statement

Panel: An Alembic of Transformation: Virtual Reality as Agent of Change

Im­mer­sive VR has been ex­plored over the past decade as a “non-phar­ma­co­log­i­cal anal­gesic” for acute pain dur­ing short pe­ri­ods of time. The mech­a­nism that ex­plains VR’s ef­fi­cacy is thought to be “pain dis­trac­tion,” with VR serv­ing as a rich way to di­rect at­ten­tional re­sources away from pain. This out­ward di­rect­ing of per­cep­tual and sen­so­r­ial at­ten­tion — more ef­fec­tive than videogames, and on par with opi­ods — is a provoca­tive use of VR. Yet pain is no­to­ri­ous as a cat­e­gory-de­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, its in­ten­sity, as Elaine Scarry posits, de­fy­ing even the most basic lin­guis­tic ex­pres­sion.

At the same time, re­search in how longer-term pain is re­lated to body image and body schema grew from use of a more basic tech­nol­ogy to pro­duce anal­gesic ef­fects for phan­tom pain – mir­rors. Still other forms of tech­nol­ogy ini­ti­ated by the work of Paul Bach y Rita demon­strates how sen­sory sub­sti­tu­tion demon­strates that our neu­ro­log­i­cal sys­tems are plas­tic or not as hard-wired as it was once be­lieved.

In these are­nas of re­search, how­ever, the role of inner or in­te­ro­cep­tive senses, as Drew Leder de­scribes in The Ab­sent Body, have rarely been ex­plored. A cen­tury ear­lier, Her­mann von Helmholtz found that we have 100,000 times more re­sources ded­i­cated for sens­ing inner states, com­pared to those states de­rived from the so-called five ex­te­ro­cep­tive senses. For the most part, our abil­ity to at­tend to our inner states is nec­es­sar­ily qui­es­cent, lest they over­whelm our con­scious aware­ness. How­ever, hu­mans have the abil­ity to learn how to ac­cess at least some of these inner states, from yogic tra­di­tions to those en­abled by biofeed­back and newer tech­nolo­gies.

This paper pro­poses that novel uses of VR for chronic pain, both artis­tic and ther­a­peu­tic, built upon a new par­a­digm that os­ten­si­bly in­verts “pain dis­trac­tion,” can fruit­fully ex­tend no­tions of body image and body schema through the ways VR can en­able and en­hance aware­nesses of oth­er­wise qui­es­cent inner states. The focus on aes­thetic as­pects of VR as they re­late to mech­a­nisms thought to be at work, from ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the sub­lime and dis­so­cia­tive states to neuro- and meta­plas­tic­ity.

  • Diane Gro­mala is an artist, de­signer, cu­ra­tor, and cul­tural critic. Her work has been at the fore­front of emerg­ing forms of tech­nol­ogy, from the ear­li­est form of mul­ti­me­dia (Hy­per­Card, at Apple Com­puter) to one of the very first in­stances of Vir­tual Re­al­ity art  at the Banff Cen­tre in 1991. Gro­mala’s cur­rent focus  is on phys­i­o­log­i­cal com­put­ing and bio­me­dia.  Gro­mala’s art­work has been per­formed and ex­hib­ited in  North Amer­ica, Eu­rope, the Mid­dle East, Asia and New Zealand.  It has also been fea­tured on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel, CNN,  the BBC, the New York Times, the Los An­ge­les Times, to name a few.  Along with col­lab­o­ra­tor Lily Shir­va­nee, Gro­mala was a semi-fi­nal­ist  for Dis­cover mag­a­zine’s Award for Tech­no­log­i­cal In­no­va­tion in 2001. Gro­mala’s de­sign work has re­ceived nu­mer­ous awards from or­ga­ni­za­tions rang­ing from the AIGA to the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects.  With Jay David Bolter, Gro­mala is au­thor of  Win­dows and Mir­rors: Elec­tronic Art, De­sign, and the Myth of Trans­parency.  Pub­lished by the MIT Press, this book re­ex­am­ines the is­sues of  human com­puter in­ter­ac­tion and in­ter­face de­sign from the  per­spec­tive of media and cul­tural the­ory. Gro­mala’s jour­nal ar­ti­cles have been pub­lished in nu­mer­ous , peer-re­viewed con­fer­ences in in­ter­ac­tive art, de­sign, and com­puter sci­ence, and have been trans­lated into over 10 lan­guages.  Gro­mala has been teach­ing full time since 1990. She has held po­si­tions and de­vel­oped new cur­ric­ula in the Col­lege of Fine Arts at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas,  the School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton,  and the School of Lit­er­a­ture, Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and Cul­ture  at Geor­gia Tech. Gro­mala has also taught classes at Wan­ganui Poly­tech­nic in New Zealand and Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity in Eng­land, and has been a mem­ber of Com­puter Sci­ence and En­gi­neer­ing re­search labs, in­clud­ing the HIT­Lab and GVU and is cur­rently the Canada Re­search Chair and an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor at Simon Fraser Uni­ver­sity, School of In­ter­ac­tive Arts & Tech­nol­ogy.  Gro­mala has served on the Ed­i­to­r­ial Board of Post­mod­ern Cul­ture  and is cur­rently on the ed­i­to­r­ial boards of Vi­sual Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and  Leonardo Re­views. In the year 2000, Gro­mala was elected  Chair of SIG­GRAPH’s Art Gallery and named Chair of the United Na­tions’  (UN­ESCO) Art, Sci­ence & Tech­nol­ogy ini­tia­tive in 2002. As a Senior Ful­bright Fel­low, Gro­mala helped cre­ate a new joint pro­gram  in Human Com­puter In­ter­ac­tion De­sign at Wan­ganui Poly­tech­nic and Waikato Uni­ver­sity in New Zealand.  Through­out the 1980s, Diane Gro­mala worked as a de­signer and art di­rec­tor in the cor­po­rate realm, in­clud­ing Apple Com­puter, Inc.  Her post­grad stud­ies were in the Plan­e­tary Col­legium (for­merly CAIIA STAR) at the Uni­ver­sity of Ply­mouth in Eng­land. Her un­der­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate de­grees are from the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan and Yale Uni­ver­sity, re­spec­tively.

Full text (PDF)  p. 1045-1051  [title slightly different]