The subject of Debt is a loaded one — it explores issues of identity, morality, class, politics and psychology. After a period of under employment following the 2008 economic crash, I filed for bankruptcy in 2012. That experience inspired me to investigate the role debt can play in our identity and how we relate to the world. Debt is publicly enforced and highly stigmatized, but is almost always privately experienced. It is in many ways an abstract form without material weight or structure, yet with heavy physicality and burden in a person’s everyday life.
One morning in mid-October, Mr. Fletcher walked to the front of the classroom where an interactive white board displayed ClassDojo, a behavior-tracking app that lets teachers award points or subtract them based on a student’s conduct. On the board was a virtual classroom showing each student’s name, a cartoon avatar and the student’s scores so far that week.
“I’m going to have to take a point for no math homework,” Mr. Fletcher said to a blond boy in a striped shirt and then clicked on the boy’s avatar, a googly-eyed green monster, and subtracted a point.
The program emitted a disappointed pong sound, audible to the whole class — and sent a notice to the child’s parents if they had signed up for an account on the service.
But researchers are increasingly painting a picture of a psychopathology so fundamental, so, well, biological, that efforts to talk it away can seem like trying to shoot guns into a continent, in Joseph Conrad’s unforgettable image from Heart of Darkness. By far the most remarkable recent finding about this transmogrification of the body is that some proportion of it can be reproduced in the next generation. The children of survivors—a surprising number of them, anyway—may be born less able to metabolize stress. They may be born more susceptible to PTSD, a vulnerability expressed in their molecules, neurons, cells, and genes.
Neuroscientists are now capitalizing on this specificity to unpack the fundamental computational processes that go into identifying a face, a feat most of us perform without thought or effort. The face patches—and even individual neurons in them—appear to do different jobs, such as analyzing the features of the face, responding to how the head is tilted, and, ultimately, determining someone’s identity.