Kids just sit only on the internet, and they have no clue what the real world is.
Or, for those who grew up before the Facebook and YouTube: You’ve been watching TV too much. You’ve been reading too many books, too many graphic novels.
Now go outside and get some real life.
We’ve heard that so many times. All of us. And not just from our parents. Hundreds of years ago, when books became widely available, there had to appear some parents were undoubtedly complaining about the amount of time their kids spent on reading. And less than half a century, it was the TV that was stealing the precious reality time and replacing it with worthless daydreaming. It was the PlayStation twenty years ago, it is the YouTube and mobile gaming today, and we will blame the Virtual Reality tomorrow.
Apparently, it is right for you to be outside, and to experience the “real” life. On the other side, to dream, read, watch, listen - to be inside, not that much. While no one would complain about the benefits of the day spent on the beach (or snowy peaks in my case), the time spent reading, or generally consuming the media, often receives negative marking. We are told that “real world” experiences are good, and those others are bad or have much less value. I must admit that reading has lost some of the negative connotations recently, but it remains in this “bad” zone.
What’s so wrong with such a categorization?
Let’s talk about what is real for a start. Neuroscience claims (According to Anil Seth) that we’re all hallucinating all the time; and once we agree about our hallucinations, we call it “reality.” Our brain continuously creates the model of the outside world, and justifies it with the inputs from our sensory system, including the signals coming from our interoception and vestibular system. Interestingly, our brain doesn’t stop doing it even when we sleep and still keeps delivering the “hallucination” we perceive as real once we wake up. Another take on the same theory is a popular implementation of the Bayesian Brain hypothesis, according to which the brain maintains predictive models of the external causes of sensory inputs and updates these models according to some version of Bayes’ theorem.
So, the reality is an interpretation of the outside world, made in our brain. It is our best guess, and we need our body with all of its sensors and arms to help our mind with building such “model.” All of the sensory inputs and interactions contribute to it. With that said, in the example, why reading, which is an essentially synesthetic process that often combines the two sense of hearing and sight, should be excluded from valid forms of an experience? What makes this experience less real? One may say it is not real, as it is an experience based on the content which is a result of someone else’s mind’s hallucination of the real world. Does it mean that someone else’s “personal hallucinations” of the outside world are less valuable? Maybe. But they are still part of our external world, and we perceive them with our senses, and that qualifies them as an experience.
David Chalmers (Philosopher and Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science at New York University.) says “Virtual reality is not a second-class reality” and I join him in this statement. He describes the role of the avatars as virtual bodies, playing the same role in digital reality as our bodies in “real” reality. As the body is the source of much value in life, virtual one does the same in digital reality.
We often say we live the life of, that we become for that moment, a book hero or game character. We perceive their fictional reality through their fictional bodies. The question is how it even may happen? We can’t observe their reality with our senses as we are not physically there! The answer is pretty simple, yet surprising. We can perceive their world when we embody the character's body. Although their feelings exist only in description, or they are visualized in case of movie or game, we can still map them into our mind and make them contribute to our reality model, to our hallucination.
As it turns out, we need a body capable of sensory inputs and interactions to support our brain in creating that model of the outside world. Then, this body represents an interface with the outside world. Now, let's think about the embodiment - as we can naturally map external senses or motion systems and use them as if they would be part or even replacement of our current body. Such an outer body doesn’t have to be necessary physical, as it turns out. We routinely collect the data from the fictional or digital bodies, and they do contribute to our reality perception.
It doesn’t matter where we get our experiences. We are just a brain in a jar, and body is an interface with the outside world.
There is something extraordinary here: We don’t need to drill in the brain with stainless probes to add extra senses. We can simply map them to existing ones. David Eagleman has experimented with echolocation sensors assigned to the muscles around the spine of a blind person. He used a vest that translated sonar pulses into vibrations and which allowed a patient to read this input as his sight. It required some time to learn this skill, but patients reported that they perceive those little massages of their back as SIGHT.
I’ve mentioned earlier that sensory and interactions don’t have to be physical: We are able to map even digital bodies and their interactions and sensory systems and interact this way with the digital realities. The same applies to fictional bodies, where the senses and interactions are “just” described or visualized.
Next time, when you will be sent out to experience the real world, you can argue that you already do. That you always do.
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Well, you don’t have to be new age guru, nor werewolf to experience an embodiment. In fact, it happens to you every day. Let me give you some examples.
“The mouse was just a tiny piece of a much larger project, aimed at augmenting human intellect.” — Doug Engelbart, inventor of the mouse
You have may never think about it, but one of the most common embodiments is your computer cursor. Yes, that little arrow which allows you to interact with digital reality of the computer 2d screen. Although it may appear that it is still your body that drives the interaction with a computer (through the negligible moves of your forearm and fingers), it is not true. If you want to enter the 2D world of the screen space, you need to utilize that pointy guy who happens to live there.
Let’s take a more in-depth look what’s going on there: Obviously, our physical body is not capable of direct interactions with zeros and ones, nor with their graphical representations. However, when we map our hand through the computer mouse to the moves of the cursor, and our eyes to follow it on display, we can do so. It is still our mind that drives it, but it is embodied into the cursor, while the immediate feeling of our physical body temporary disappears from the current reality and becomes obsolete. Just think about it for a moment: Do you say “I move my finger” or “I click at icon” when you want to interact with a computer?
"Cars are not a suit of clothes; cars are an avatar. Cars are an expansion of yourself: they take your thoughts, your ideas, your emotions, and they multiply it -- your anger, whatever. It's an avatar." — Chris Bangle: Great cars are great art
And how about this example: Can you run at 130km/h, carry 400kg of bags and take another four persons along with you? Apparently, our bodies can’t do that. Unless we use the car. Unless we embody into the car. Of course, one can say that car is just a machine that we control with our hands on the steering wheel, with our feet on the pedals and eyes looking at the road at the front of us. Well, isn’t it the same description as the one we’ve used when we talked about the computer cursor? Are you deeply and consciously aware of your physical body when you drive? Instead of it, we feel the road we drive on, all the vibrations. We accommodate our visual perception to the speed, and we hardly think about what our body does with the car. Our body is temporarily replaced with the body of the car, while our senses and locomotion apparatus is mapped to the modalities of the car.
“For real human beings, the only realism is an embodied realism.”
― George Lakoff
I could also use an example of a bicycle riding. Or skiing. In all cases, we don’t consciously think about what our body parts do. Instead, we think about it as bike-riding, skiing, driving and so on. Neuroscientist David Eagleman describes this phenomenon in this book “Incognito”: We learn to use our body as newborn babies, and we turn interactions between our body and mind into autonomous ”zombie” processes. The same thing happens later when we learn to ride a bicycle or to drive a car. We only think about our physical body during the learning phase, until these skills become zombie processes.
In fact, we experience the embodiment in many forms every day. Those various embodiments allow our mind to experience the realities beyond the capabilities of our physical body. Body, so to say, is a representation of the reality. Although some philosophers may complain that body rather defines than reflexes the reality, it has no importance in one specific case: Virtual reality. As there are no rules, nor laws that pre-define it, our embodiments are both reflection and definition at the same time. If we consider that the embodiment is a product of mapping new modalities to our sensory and motion system and that we can freely define this reality, what would be the perfect VR embodiment?
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Don’t. Just don’t use UNDO. Never. It will cripple your skills; it degenerates humankind! Just think about it: Every time you hit CTRL+Z, you admit that you’ve made a mistake and you let the computer to take it for you, to take away your responsibility to avoid errors. That’s not the way you learn!
Everyone also knows that computers are remarkably counterproductive when it comes to the right and the real experience. Let’s take a look at another example: Digital painting! Every time you zoom in, you lose the control over the composition, and you instantly focus too much on details, and most importantly you forget the big picture you should manage first of all.
Those two statements you’ve just read are nothing more than just a shameless provocation, and they are far from being correct. Not only those above-mentioned preconceptions are quite popular, but they are also quite understandable. It indeed feels strange to find out that your left hand subconsciously looks for the keyboard when we write a wrong character or draw an ugly circle on paper. Naturally, it is not surprising when we feel guilty at that moment.
However, they both are utterly wrong. First of all, it is the guilt we usually feel (And society we live in expects us to think this way.) when making mistakes. Mistakes are mistakes, and there is nothing wrong when avoiding them, but it is the mindset that accompanies them with negative emotion, with the fear of failure. The other case implies to the need to step away from a visual art-piece or design we may have in works. Of course, zoom is far away from that (much needed) physical act of few steps that make our visual perception more complete (Read more about it in “Walk it off” article.). On the other side, it doesn’t force you to flee away from the “big picture,” from controlling the composition. In fact, it allows us to profoundly dive into the details in a manner that has no reference to our “real” reality.
Here is the key message: The “Undo” may help you to correct your errors, but more importantly, it allows you to make them. Which takes me to the case of the evidence: My praxis requires a lot of visual communication, mainly in the form of sketches. And as I am on a day to day need to discuss and to share ideas in visual form, I have to be able to do it with a sound level of drawing skills. Although my education relied strictly on analog tools such as pencil and paper, which I still love and use, my ability to sketch improved by a giant leap with the introduction of digital media. It allowed me to practice one stroke over and over, as young karate apprentice would repeat oi-Tsuki punch ten thousand times until it was perfect. Stroke, undo. Stroke, undo … and again and again. Until it was perfect. Interestingly, once I was satisfied, my ability to make that one stroke (And many others I’ve learned this way.) did not disappear when I got back on paper. The hand and eye became both trained to repeat them even outside the digital reality.
David Chalmers, an Australian philosopher, and cognitive scientist claims that experiences in digital and “real” realities are equally valuable, and I am in agreement with him. The same applies to the skills you earn at one reality and utilize in another one. The digital reality, which exists only in our computers (of many forms and sizes) is defined, like all other realities, by the set of rules. In an example, we have laws of physics in our reality, while digital reality allows us to return in time and re-do our actions. I guess it starts to sound silly avoiding undo in this context, doesn’t it?
So, next time, just keep calm and hit undo. It is not your failure; it is your chance to play more. To draw the way you’ll like.
Although, undo still may not work with your pencil and paper.
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