i started writing this as an email to kevin slavin following his renowned and overwhelmingly well-received discussion about augmented reality, Reality is plenty, thanks at MOMO a few weeks ago; but email etiquette told me it was probably too long for the medium so i’m filing it away here instead. this one’s for you, kevin:
finally got a chance to see your momo talk which, needless to say, was GREAT.
the discomforts of occularcentricity have preoccupied me since my first days in architecture school where it was all about the ‘drawing’ (there was even a conference on the theme…) so your discussion resonates well. there was much food for thought, and i realise you’ve probably had thousands of comments back to you, so let this simply settle down somewhere in the cacophony.
there was something missing that i think would add even more weight to your argument and i wanted to throw it out there for future conversation. i think it’s problematic, for the construction of your thesis, to counter the “it’s all in the eyes” perspective with its polar opposite “it’s all in the brain” because most visual research of the past few decades shows that it’s actually a little of both.
the classic paper that went into this early on is beautiful: “what the frog’s eye tells the frog’s brain”, by jerry lettvin & humberto maturana. another great paper is “on constructing a reality” by heinz von foerster. another (and i could go on and on and on here…) is “the nature of explanation” by kenneth craik.
what these papers outline is a perceptual framework that is constructive. you could say it’s founded on a conversation between eyes (or other sensors) and brain, not simply a one-way transmission; so it’s not that the we paint the world before us, or that we are merely passive receptors of neutral information coming towards us, but that we are active participants in the construction of our perceptions. it is, if you will, the cacophony of multiple sensors (and histories thereof) that is required for such perception.
AR, as we’re collectively starting to call it, appears to confuse what it means to perceive reality. to me, it makes the mistake of assuming there’s a difference between “real” reality, and the so-called “virtual” portion that’s overlaid on top of it. the only “augmented” reality, is the one that’s constantly being built up through our interactions through the world — whether that’s through a mobile phone, through our sunglasses, or even just through closed eyelids.
the process of understanding, it seems to me, is a process of constructing an understanding. the problem with AR, then, is that it assumes that the reality “out there” is fixed, and that we’re merely passive observers that need some kind of markup on it to help understand it “better”. it’s like the terminator analogy you cited: AR is set up so that “we” are sitting inside, simply waiting for info to come in (like arnie “seeing” inside his own head with its own reductio ad absurdam) and all the concomitant repercussions on what this means for our own agency (or lack thereof) in the world. it also assumes that we all see the same thing, which we manifestly do not — and this isn’t because of some distortion in our perceptors (which AR appears to seek to correct for) but because we each have our own constructive processes, founded on our own heterogeneous perceptual frameworks.
this is really important for our individual and collective relationships to our cities: because AR as it’s usually framed diminishes the fact that our cities are constructed, every day, with every conversation we have, every space we inhabit, every structure we erect, and every step we take through them, by us all together. cities aren’t simply entities that we occupy and need guidance through. von foerster’s paper goes into possible consequences from this this on the way we relate to each other.
the other part of your conclusion - the fact that seeking to understand through visual perception alone does reality a disservice - is also supported by this line of thinking. since perception is a constructive process it necessarily is affected by everything we experience, from the things that we hear to the way we are moving, so building solely for vision is an incredibly restrictive funnel on understanding.
same conclusion, slight different founding blocks.
whoops, this ended up a lot longer than i’d planned it to. maybe we can pick it up in london…
usman1 year ago • 5 notes