By: Esther Liu, Contributor

What are your plans for Halloween this year?

My daughter is really into Harry Potter so she is dressing up. Her favourite house is Ravenclaw, so she has a school outfit for it. My dog – it’s so funny – she’s going to be dressed up as a UPS delivery dog. It’s so hilarious ’cause there’s a little box and so when she’s walking, it looks like she’s carrying it and she has her little hat. I’m not 100 per cent sure what I’m going to be doing – there’s typically a student group, UNICEF, that gets this stuff organized so I think that’s happening but I’m not 100 per cent sure. 

Do you have any costume plans of your own?

For the last several years, all of my Halloween costumes have been decided by students, by UNICEF. I know that [Michelle] Cadieux, she and her husband, they have a lot of costumes – they’re totally into Halloween. So I think she said that she could lend me something. I don’t know other than that . . . Maybe I might join my daughter and dress up as a professor from Harry Potter.

When did you start the tradition of dressing up?

I think that started maybe five or six years ago for UNICEF. Last year, the students chose Super Mario. I think the year before that I might have been Black Widow [and the year before that [was] Wonder Woman. [The] year before that – what’s her name from Frozen? –  Elsa and the year before that [was] Princess Leia. 

What are the student reactions?

They seem to really enjoy it because I’m lecturing wearing the Halloween costume and at the end of the lecture I always have a lot of students coming up who want to take pictures. If you go on Twitter there’s a bunch of pictures that have been posted over the years. 

Do you have any favourite costumes?

I would say my favourite costumes have been the ones that the students picked – my daughter really gets a kick out of it too. But, I’m a really big fan of Star Wars, so maybe the Princess Leia one is my favourite.

Do you have any ideal costumes?

Again, I’m a big fan of Star Wars so maybe it would be Obi-Wan Kenobi, that’d be kind of cool. It would be a really comfortable costume to wear as well.

I wanted to ask you about some Halloween phenomena. Do you remember the creepy clown phenomenon in 2016?

Was that 2016? I don’t think I remember it too well. I think clowns are creepy though – I don’t think that they look funny at all. I think it looks really creepy. I would say I find them as creepy as sharks. I have a mildly irrational fear of sharks and being attacked by a shark just from watching Jaws. Is there anyone who likes clowns? I don’t like creepy dolls – you know those old-fashioned like creepy dolls? Yeah, you couldn’t dare me to sleep in a room with creepy dolls and clowns for a million dollars. 

One theory as to why clowns are scary is the concept of the uncanny valley. The concept was first introduced in the 1970s by Masahiro Mori, who coined the term to describe his observation that as robots appear more human-like, they become more appealing. But once they reach a certain point – the uncanny valley – this appeal becomes a feeling of strangeness, a sense of unease and a tendency to be scared. Is there anything you can tell us about this concept? 

It kinda reminds me of this optical illusion called the facial distortion effect – it’s really interesting. A colleague of mine developed it. We’re experts at looking at and recognizing patterns and especially faces. This is a really interesting phenomenon – look it up, the facial distortion effect on YouTube by Jason Tangun [CW: video contains very disturbing imagery]. If you just stare and compare human faces side by side, there’s actually a lot of differences that you can look at. So, for example, how far apart are your eyes or how big are your eyes, where is your nose and so on. If you actually force yourself to compare side by side and then you go through these comparisons and see the differences, people’s faces start to look grotesque.

Image courtesy of C/O Silhouette Photo Archives

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