“How can we physically identify
another mind-in-action
while in a playful situation?”

Of Minds, Brains, Bodies

Theories of mind attempt to explain how we ascribe states of mind- desires, perceptions, knowledge beliefs and intentions– to ourselves and others. Different theories of mind use different understandings of the relationship between body and mind(Jaworski1.). Broadly, there are three approaches to this question. One approach, ‘idealism’, describes all activity as mental and our experience of the physical as a misperception of the world. A second approach, physicalism, characterizes all mental phenomena as emerging from physical phenomena. A third approach puts forward the view that mental and physical phenomena are fundamentally different and co-exist in their own realms. Within each of these approaches, many different and often conflicting arguments have been advanced to explain why and how we can have both a mind and a body and experience consciousness. As yet there is no adequate explanation for, or conceptual description of, the relationship between the brain and the mind. One attempt to resolve these questions is known as the enactive approach(Wilson2). This falls under the heading of a physicalist approach, but insists that our current description of the physical world requires a broader understanding of what we mean by physical and material. It insists that consciousness arises from action, but is not necessarily or essentially deterministic. The enactive view explicitly argues that cognition takes place in the body, not simply
the brain3.


Players and Bodies

I became interested in how players lose themselves in play and play with each other 4. How we account for our understanding of our own consciousness is intertwined with how we account for consciousness in others. Perhaps the most poignant instances of this is when we physically engage with another as I-Thou. Shaking hands, hugging, a pat on the shoulder all convey our sense of the presence of another. One interpretation refers to this as the ‘lusory attitude’5. Colleagues and I began making digital controllers to help explore this6.

Variations on Tug o’ War

The practicum of my dissertation involves a series of playful, interactive experiences, designed to elucidate our awareness of another’s consciousness. Aside from a conventional version of tug o’ war, variations using electromechanical sensors, and Kinect motion capture cameras will be deployed to create variations of the game having differing experiences of tug o’ war. In the more electronic versions, the experience may be subtly changed by the computer referee skewing the game. When and why this becomes apparent will be a critical point as this may point to cues of how we identify consciousness in physical interactions. I will also put this in context with contemporary art and game practices that inspired my research.
Interviews with players will allow me to develop accounts of the physical experience of play. This method, derived from phenomenology, emphasises careful and rigorous reflection of personal experience7. These accounts will be the basis of my analysis and conclusions.

End Game

I have two goals in this work:
The first is to examine how we understand that there is another consciousness through our bodies rather than through language. In this case, toys and technologies act as media that communicate a sense of another mind being present.
The secondary element of this research discusses the potential for interactive technologies to serve as “objects to think with” (Turkle et al 2007) in explorations of fundamental questions of philosophy. I make the argument that the production of expressive objects, like paintings, films and games offer a means to generate innovative questions and conversations in and between fields of inquiry such as the Humanities, the Social Sciences, and the STEM disciplines.

Serious Play

If the nature of consciousness is one of the big three questions that remain(the other two being how life emerges and why the universe exists), then any success in conceptualizing consciousness would lead to better understanding of the fundamental nature of the world that lets consciousness arise. Moreover, our conception of mind- our sense of other’s needs, wants and intentions- influences every human interaction we have. Despite much success answering specific questions about the brain and our observed psychology, we still cannot explain how mind comes about. This playful research will help to better conceptualize these concerns.


1Jaworski,William  Philosophy of Mind: A Comprehensive Introduction (Chichester, West Sussex ; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).

2Wilson, M. (2002). “Six views of embodied cognition.” Psychonomic bulletin & review, 9(4), 625-636.

3 Noë, A. (2009). Out of our heads: Why you are not your brain, and other lessons from the biology of consciousness. Macmillan.

4 van Sertima, Adam. Digital Dionysians: Nietzche, Rock Band and Ekstasos. Conference paper, ISSEI 2010

5 Suits, Bernard. The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia (Toronto ; Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1978).

6Penzendorfer, Leif & Adam van Sertima. Poetic Thought: Making and thinking for transdisciplinary innovation. Conference paper DIGRA, Luneberg, Germany 2015

7Giorgi, Amedeo. The Descriptive Phenomenological Method in Psychology: A Modified Husserlian Approach(Pittsburgh, Pa: Duquesne University Press, 2009).

8Turkle, S. (2007). “What makes an object evocative.” Evocative objects: Things we think with, 307-326.

With great Thanks to Prof. Lynn Hughes, TAG/ Concordia University