Graham Jones and Seth Riskin’s Paranormal Machines

2018-19 CAST Cross-Disciplinary Class

Prathima Muniyappa (with camera) and other class members examine a student demo. Credit: Graham Jones.
Members of Paranormal Machines (21A.S01) with instructor Seth Riskin (center), examine a demo; pictured are Johnson Huynh, Olivia Koslow, Pat Pataranutaporn, and Jonathan Ng. Credit: Graham Jones.
Paranormal Machines (21A.S01) class project by Erica Yuen, a graduate student in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Credit: MIT Video Productions.

"I'm constantly discovering things that enrich my anthropological understanding, and that I want fold back into future iterations of the class. This is precisely why CAST's support is so transformative."
— Graham Jones

Medium Kevin Lawrenson ends a trance, Montcabirol Center for Physical Mediumship, Mirepoix, France, 2014. Photo: Shannon Taggart.

Detecting and measuring the mysterious

About the Project

Paranormal Machines (21A.S01) focuses on technological strategies for detecting and measuring paranormal phenomena, from traditional divination devices to the electromagnetic field meters of present-day ghost hunters. The class introduces anthropological research on paranormal beliefs in different cultures and explores art as a method for altering perception and generating anomalous, potentially meaningful experiences, such as ambiguous images, auditory apparitions, and affective sensations.

A combination seminar discussion and studio work, Paranormal Machines culminates in a final project assignment where students create their own interactive paranormal interfaces.

For more information, contact Graham M. Jones.


Past Events

Final Critique of Student Projects, Paranormal Machines, Course 21A.S01
December 11, 2019 / 1:00-3:00pm
MIT Museum Studio and Compton Gallery, 10-150
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02142

Free and open to the public; no registration necessary

Paranormal Machines, Course 21A.S01
Offered Fall 2019, Mondays and Wednesdays, 1:00–3:00pm


Peter Bebergal, Associate Officer in the MIT Technology and Licensing Office and author of Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural

About the Artists

Graham M. Jones, MIT Associate Professor of Anthropology, combines linguistic and cultural anthropology to study magic, secrecy, deception, and illusion. His two monographs constitute a magical diptych: Trade of the Tricks: Inside the Magician’s Craft (University of California Press, 2011) describes day-to-day life and everyday talk within the insular subculture of contemporary French illusionists, while Magic’s Reason: An Anthropology of Analogy (University of Chicago Press, 2017) examines the meaning of magic in Western modernity, shuttling between the intellectual history of anthropology and the cultural history of popular entertainment.

More at the artist’s website: Graham M. Jones

Seth Riskin heads the MIT Museum Studio and Compton Gallery, a program advancing the conversation and collaboration between art and science through experimental exhibition.

Riskin co-teaches Vision in Art and Neuroscience, a new course offered annually through the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Vision in Art and Neuroscience combines theory and the practice of visual perception in a learning experience that results in an exhibition of original student artworks.

As an artist, Riskin is known for his Light Dance art form, which he developed as a graduate student in MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies (now the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology). Performed worldwide, the silent, space-defining Light Dance utilizes Riskin’s original body-mounted instruments to extend the body with light. Riskin’s body movements manipulate architectural-scale light effects that shape the viewer’s perception of space.

More at CAVS archive’s Seth Riskin profile.

In the Media

“By looking at the history of the concept of magic, we can see how cultural assumptions have complex and potentially insidious ways of becoming enfolded in scientific ideas that anthropologists, and others, use,” Jones says.

MIT News: A magician’s imperial mission

“An ‘infectious passion.’ An ‘unassuming nature’ and a ‘willingness to learn and grow.’ A ‘commitment to excellence.’ Nominators enthusiastically listed the qualities that made Graham Jones, associate professor of anthropology, worthy of the MacVicar Fellow honor.”

MIT News

“Professor Jones is not only an exemplary scholar, but also an exemplary and much-loved teacher.”

— Emma Teng, MIT News

MIT News: In search of a meaningful life

MIT News: Magic, a microcosm of modern culture