Paranormal Machines

2018-19 CAST Cross Disciplinary Class Fund

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 paranormal


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.


Since the launch in fall 2019 with a grant from the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology, the Paranormal Machines course is offered annually through the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

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

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


Graham M. Jones, Professor of Anthropology and Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow, is a cultural and linguistic anthropologist who explores how people use language and other media to enact expertise in practice, performance, and interaction. Jones investigates how language and culture shape, and are in turn shaped by, the way people use technologies of digital communication. Jones’s two monographs constitute a diptych:  Trade of the Tricks: Inside the Magician’s Craft (California, 2011) describes day-to-day life and everyday talk within the insular subculture of contemporary French illusionists; Magic’s Reason: An Anthropology of Analogy (Chicago, 2017) examines the meaning of magic in Western modernity, shuttling between the intellectual history of anthropology and the cultural history of popular entertainment. At MIT, Jones teaches classes on a range of subjects, including: the anthropology of education; the language of mediated communication; and ethnographic research methods.

Biography: Anthropology Department

Seth Riskin, Manager of the MIT Museum Studio and Compton Gallery, co-teaches Vision in Art and Neuroscience. 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.

Biography: Art, Culture, and Technology Program at MIT
Social: Instagram

Peter Bebergal, MIT Technology Licensing Officer, writes widely on the speculative and slightly fringe. His essays and reviews have appeared in, The Times Literary Supplement, Boing Boing, The Believer, and The Quietus. He is the author of Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural; Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll; Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood; and The Faith Between Us: A Jew and a Catholic Search for the Meaning of God (with Scott Korb). Bebergal studied religion and culture at Harvard Divinity School.

Biography: MIT Technology Licensing Office

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” — 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