Post 41 by Gautam Shah (Blog 11 in Lecture Series Space and Human Behaviour)
Habitable spaces are substantially real and physical, but could also have features that transcend the reality. Such conditions occur because human cognition, sometimes functions ambiguously. Ambiguities in cognitive processes arise due to the past experiences, expectations and the context. Past experiences seamlessly converge the existing. Expectations pre-empt the happening and colour it. The Context is a manifold reference made up not only of the existing but expectations and experiences.
● Past experiences: Past experiences have very thin spatial connections and fade out in time reference, creating indistinct recollection. And reality is shrouded in mixed layers.
● Expectations: Do not allow one to perceive the reality. Expectations have perhaps a rational base but not as dreams.
● Context: If environmental, is an ever-changing phenomenon. The fixed contexts provided by physical objects or the beings have personal relevance. Physical objects in abnormal sizes, scales and distortions like the grotesque forms disturb that placidity, at least initially.
The ambiguities in cognitive processes also arise as the Time and Space that separate most elements as unique event gets mixed up to produce incoherent and surprising effects. The elements nominally separated in time and space, are ‘virtually’ juxtaposed in a make-believe world.
Time is seen as a measure of change, and Space is perceived for its consistency (or even lack of it) over a time. Primitive man, watching a star and noting its almost intangible movement in the sky, or watching own-self getting old, were percepts in time and space. To note the difference, however, two such distinct frames must be juxtaposed. In case of stars, the images were shrouded in known forms such as animals, humans or objects, to record the change. The ageing process had to be realized as own image, rather then being told. First image perception of own-self in the still water or over a glossy surface was not magical for the ‘other being there’, but for the perplexity of left and right getting reversed.
Reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they appear or be imagined. Its physical form is perceived and interpreted by every individual differently due to the mental filters created with the beliefs and experiences. In this sense reality is an extremely personal domain. The Reality, is often differentiated from what is imaginary, unreal, or delusional, such as the dreams, falsehood, fictional, or abstract. Various philosophers have distinguished the reality from the things that are imaginable (but not real).
A thing that can be imagined and expressed such as in painting, sculpture, dance, drama, literature, forma of crystals shadows, reflection in water, or movement of a star, are all real. Though to express the unreal or dream, people have created ‘unnerving and illogical scenes’, strange creatures, grotesque forms, and queer built-spaces. Here the ‘truth’ is stripped or morphed out of the normal significance.
When the real and unreal transcend, there is sense of ‘Avidya’ (lack of knowledge), a Maya as the cause of illusion. Avidya includes confusing the mundane reality to be the only reality, and believing it as a permanent feature, though it is ever changing. The effect of Avidya is to suppress the real nature of things and perceive something else in its place. The unreal is unexplained till it can be recreated, and it becomes real. It is ignorance or misunderstanding of the nature of reality.
Make-believe represents an experience created without the full support of the original conditions, such as environment, space configuration, materials or psychological make-up of the observer. A make believe is virtually (nearly) real, but loses its novelty once multiple exposures robe the stunning effect. Such effects though are very productive tools operating with small spread and quick delivery.
Make-believe situations manifest everywhere, magical impact of a powerful representation in painting, a captivating form of sculpture, a transparent glass bead or stone crystals, a shadow or black colour hiding a detail. Mahabharat, the classical epic of India discusses of a palace of contradictions, a solid floor looked like water.
Human cognitive capacities combined with specific reach tools, help of the mental processes, and some drugs (hallucinogenic) sense unreal conditions. This occurs due to the ‘ethereal spread of the space and dispersion of time’. Similar unreal conditions and extra ordinary feats also occur under extreme stress situations. An individual instinctively looks for the triggers that caused it.
Between the real and make believe (or virtually real) there has always been something extra, the superfluous. It is an ‘applique decoration’, carrying its own meaning. It is intended to counter the routine or ordinary. Sir John Summerson, the architectural historian calls it ‘surface modulation’, which Architecture had, with some difficulty, liberated itself from ornament, but it has not liberated itself from the fear of ornament’. Superfluous and ornamentation have been explored as space making elements and for manipulation of the reality. The superfluous and ornamentation both have been means for camouflage. If the superfluous were applique, the ornamentation is better integrated. But both are visually very static and have too much metaphorical connection with the past. The shrouded symbolism of the former, and with the later the contempt for the un-explainable interpretation, led to creation of new space making forms.
Justifications, for the new space making forms were many: Relief from history, cultural corroboration, terrestrial bearing reliance of rational geometry, functionality and essentials of structures, and new spatial realizations. The new datum for modernism for architecture and products, was, ‘form follows function, purity of form and truth to materials’. For abstracted arts and crafts had no reliance on functionality or the materials, and confusion continued through the cubism, surrealism and Dadaism, etc. The process of ‘de-ornamentation’ in post industrial period, allowed much needed exposure for aspects like geometry, functional, structural, and spatial definitions.
Deconstructionists attempted to move away from such constricting or conformist environment. They compromised the geometry of form by abrogating the functional, structural, and spatial aspects of construction. This was first in literature but soon architecture and performing arts joined in. But in architecture one still had to deliver a building standing with the gravity and other forces and in literature and other arts it had to be a deliverable product or a recognizable entity. So in spite of running away, they remained anchored to reality. It also now accepted that ‘not everything that looks odd or abstract is deconstructionism’. The platform beyond deconstructionism had to wait the arrival of the computer to ‘conceive-plan-detail and visualize’ the complex sensorial forms.
The sensorial means of expression are dominantly of visual nature. Computers mediated, realities have been of visual perception, and to a very small extent of touch and aural experience. Some day the virtual reality will also include sensorial experiences, like smell.
Virtual reality is distinguished from the experience of actuality that occurs with or without the physical setting. Participants are never in doubt about the enactment and experiences of it. Historically VR applications in arts, crafts, performing arts, literature and architecture, have been sensory supplements for enhancing the experience. The explanatory or verbal support, dialogue delivery, musical effects, variation of illumination, metred recitations, drawn backdrops have been traditional virtual means.
Interior Designers talk of materials’ feel with samples. The tactile experience of the carpet, curtain or stone floor still lacks the real spatial feel. Here the designer has to resort to parallels of experiences. Some advanced, haptic systems now include tactile information, generally known as force feedback in medical, gaming and military applications. There are no tools to provide the audio experience of the designed space, such as the drawing room, auditorium, corridor or lounge.
Some of the Virtual artifacts include: Toilet seats, treadmills, gaming devices like mouse, wired gloves, artificial limbs, spectacles, hearing devices, simulators for training, air port landing systems, synthetic cornea, robots and robotic pets, remote surgical tools and drones. Intelligent homes (such as one by Bill Gates) include such artifacts.
The computer-aided tools augment the virtuality of the reality. These simultaneously offer the reality and augmented virtuality. One never knows which facet is being perceived impressionistically by the client. Such simulated reality by computer, are indistinguishable from the ‘true’ reality, and may in future may use hyper tools to directly affect the sub conscious mind.
Simulated reality, by contrast, would be affecting the mind where it needs to be impressed. In brain-computer interfaces, data is exchanged and impression is implanted. A ‘person to brain interface’ helps in executing the tasks by getting around the conscious blocks, such as the phobias, fear of public speaking, inhibitions, and vagaries of awareness and consciousness. The Matrix movies feature an intermingled type of simulation, of human minds and sentient software programmes that govern various aspects of the computed realm.
The real and the virtual, overlap as the augmented reality. Here the real is augmented by the virtual, and the virtual is proffered by selective (and confirming) portions of the real. Such augmented virtuality has no seams of real or unreal. The perception process is often reinforced with psychological support. Clients unconvinced by a presentation are confirmed with persuasive talk.
Nominally augmentation occurs in real-time, and in one of the two basic frames, the context is rational or literal. It has till now a distinctive identity, where the additional information about the environment and its objects is overlaid or under-laid with reference to the base frame. But this differentiation is likely to diminish in near future. The augmented reality is going a step further by including zoom-in and out effects to show respectively details and overall perspective views. This is further augmented by use of wider scope and panoramic views. The usual experience with glass-based lenses, of the differential clarity between foreground and background can be eliminated with use of charged couple devices.
Artificial Reality (AR) is considered as something that is indistinguishable from reality. It is so because the means are subtle or process is obvious. Simulated reality manifests through the means or tools of simulation. The tools created an environment of limited spread and duration, within which setting an adjusted realm is evident. One may or may not be fully aware that they are living inside a simulation. Augmented reality (AR also called a mediated reality) is a physical and real-world environment whose components are added upon by other input of sensorial nature to enhance their effects. These could be additional information like charts, maps, enlargements, compression, alternative views, colour filtering or masking. All these are mainly visual effects. Augmented reality could have other sensorial effects, such as enhanced haptic reality (touch related). It is used for vibrating alert in a cell phone, blood pressure measuring instrument to sense the blood flow through a vein and also the pulse rate, in remote sales outlets to let a customer gets the feel of material or product.
Augmented reality (mainly with digital media) has its origins as early as the 1950s, and has progressed with virtual reality since then, but it’s most significant advanced have been since the mid 1990s. In earlier days the play was interpreted by the interpreter or Sutradhar (conductor in Sanskrit). It could be simplistic language translation, elaboration of complex philosophical content, or bridging of time elements. These interventions augmented the reality being enacted, by compacting the time-space. In the bi-scope or silent movie era, the story and music were played live. Foreign language movies, TV plays, programmes and presentations, carry sub titles for translated dialogues or audio, video and textual augmentative effects.
Non geographic communities on Internet, like Face book, Tweeter, Linked-in, etc. are examples of virtual societies. The interpersonal relationships that occur here are not in a physical space or environment, and the participant at the prime end is a human being but at the other end could also be ‘unreal’ like a robotic computer. Behaviour interpreters that can perceive expression, through speech, use of language structures, facial gestures, micro changes in postures, blood pressure, muscle and joint movements, will be a step beyond the current state of telephony.
Variety of devices, such as mobiles, i-pads, computers, wrist watches, etc. use computer-generated sounds, graphics or video clips for additional information about products, spaces and places. Currently these are the compilations as offered by the device manufacturer, or application providers. Many of these manifest as customized offers, but none recognizes the changing needs or moods. Artificial intelligence will automatically figure out the behaviour of the subject (the user), and accordingly augment the experience of reality.
This is the ELEVENTH lecture in the series Space and Human Behaviour for Winter semester, 2017, at Faculty of Design, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India.