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Anthropology’s public seminar series, “Sensing the Unseen,” debuts today

In a highly visual world, how can we study subjects that lie beyond our powers of sight? The MIT Anthropology program will address that question through a new year-long public seminar series, “Sensing the Unseen,” beginning at 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 17, in room 56-114.

The monthly seminars will blend talks by researchers from many universities with discussions led by MIT and other area faculty. Some workshops will examine how scholars in the social sciences and humanities can access and portray extraordinary experiences, such as pain, trauma, and even occult sensations, as well as everyday uses of hearing, feeling, and tasting. Other seminars will explore our employment of abstract tools such as statistical modeling to depict a world beyond our personal sense of scale.

“Using cross-cultural case studies, the seminars will consider what sorts of research methods and social theories might be amenable to unusual, elusive objects of inquiry,” says MIT anthropologist Heather Paxson.

Today’s introductory forum features talks by writer Constance Classen and anthropologist David Howes, with commentary by MIT literature professor Noel Jackson and MIT art historian Caroline Jones, on the historical uses and varying definitions of the senses.

“Sensing the Unseen” is a John E. Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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