everyday SCIENCE Probing the Depths of The Mind at the Exploratorium
What do you think it would feel like to drink water from a fountain made from a toilet—even if you knew the water was clean? Would you be able to do it, or would it make you feel too uncomfortable? The exhibition The Mind explores such issues in a series of 40 interactive experiences.
During the 4-year development process, senior exhibit developer Erik Thogersen and his team worked with expert advisers to design experiences that would provide visitors with some insight into how they make decisions or respond to unusual, counterintuitive events.
In determining how to accomplish this goal, Thogersen considered many approaches, including the model pioneered in the APE project. But he soon realized that for The Mind exhibition, the activities didn’t have to be open-ended in the same way the APE exhibits were. One reason is that its purpose was not to foster skill development but to trigger responses that would reveal something about how the mind works. It soon became clear that one approach would not be sufficient; ultimately, the exhibition would use different strategies to elicit the desired responses and learning.
At one station, a visitor looks at a screen showing a small patch of skin that has been magnified many times. The visitor is asked to think about an emotionally arousing idea or image. The thoughts trigger an immediate secretion of sweat, which shows up on the screen, presenting a concrete physiological reaction to a cognitive event.
Through trial and error, Thogersen discovered another effective approach—designing interactive exhibits for small groups. Such exhibits, says Thogersen, gave visitors a chance “to prod the minds of others” and were particularly effective if members of a group knew each other.