integral-philosophy

ken-wilberKen Wilber is a philosopher known for his “Integral Theory” framework that mapping of all dimensions of reality, consciousness, and stages of human development. He’s synthesized maps and models from various Buddhist wisdom traditions, psychology, culture, biology, and systems thinking into what he calls “AQAL,” which means “all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types.” This roughly translates to using a combination of object/subjective & individual/collective lens to look at developmental levels of worldviews, lines of multiple intelligences, ephemeral states consciousness, and various personality typologies (this Integral Theory explainer from Integral Life dives into a lot more details).

In short, Integral Theory is a meta-theoretical model that serves as a transfer learning framework to be able to synthesize insights from many different otherwise siloed academic disciplines. But it also serves as a transformational model of consciousness that can help people “Wake Up” through altered states of consciousness, “Grow Up” through evolving through different egocentric, ethnocentric, and worldcentric stages of moral & worldview development, “Show Up” through having a framework to synthesize as many aspects of reality as possible, and “Clean Up” through the identification and working through unconscious shadow material.

In 2017, I summarized some of Wilber’s work in a keynote that I gave at the ITC Conference in Houston that was titled “Maps for Understanding VR & Reality.” Wilber saw my presentation and reached out to have a discussion about how virtual reality could serve as a transformational medium, and what kind of insights his Integral Theory could provide to experiential design frameworks for VR.

Integral Theory is something that is much more complicated and nuanced than what we could comprehensively cover in this 2+ hour conversation, but do manage to cover a lot ground ranging from his synthesis of maps of consciousness & human development, Eastern Philosophical metaphysics, the phenomenological science of Awakening, Enlightenment, Satori, & Moksha, the connection between esoteric mysticism and direct embodied experiences, the difference between dominator hierarchies and growth “holoarchies,” understanding the current culture wars, the possibilities of unlocking latent human potentials, and brainstorming about how virtual reality technologies can help people Wake Up, Grow Up, Show Up, and Clean Up.

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If you would like to learn more about Wilber’s work, then be sure to check out Integral Life for a lot more interviews, presentations, and practices.

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howard-roseHoward Rose is a pioneer in creating medical applications for Virtual Reality, and I had a chance to catch up with him about his company Firsthand Technology which is creating pain management applications for VR. He’s also creating medical VR applications that help with physical health, mental health, and behavioral health. Rose has a lot of deep experiential design insights into the virtual reality medium, and he’s taking an evidence-based approach to describe how the immersion, interactivity, physical and mental stimulation of VR combine into creating a “mind over molecule” approach to healing where patients become active producers of their own health care rather than passive consumers.

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Dinner Party - Still 1

angel-manuel-sotoDinner Party is a short VR story that premiered at Sundance, and it uses the story of the alien abduction of Barney and Betty Hill to metaphorically explore the racial tension of interracial marriage in the early 1960s. I spoke to writers Laura Wexler & Charlotte Stoudt in episode #618, who talked about how they heard a lot of racial subtext in Barney’s hypnosis recordings of the abduction incident. I had a chance to talk to the Puerto Rican director of Dinner Party, Angel Manuel Soto, at Sundance who talked about how he personally connected to the themes of alienation and exile that were explored in this piece.

Soto shares a story of a white woman at Sundance who experienced quite a bit of anxiety in watching Dinner Party, and she brought up a lot of ethical questions about using immersive tension or need for different types of disclosure of intensity for people who may be dealing with PTSD from previous traumatic experiences. Soto also shared a story of a black woman who was actually happy to hear that the VR experience caused the reaction of anxiety within the safety of a VR experience since people are color are dealing with anxiety every day in America due to all of the racial tensions from the culture. Soto shares his perspectives on this topic, as well as the power of virtual reality to be able to symbolically explore these issues through the trope of paranormal experiences that connect to deeper human experiences in the context of an immersive series titled The Incident.

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vantage-point

morgan-mercer
Morgan Mercer’s Vantage Point is creating virtual reality training experiences in order to cultivate the skills to break the stigma around sexual assault and and to overcome the bystander effect. They’re using the affordances of VR & 360 video in order to recreate contexts that could lead to sexual assault, and then creating training modules aim to help people to identify these situations and how to intervene. They’re hoping that being exposed to interactive simulations can help train the cultural skills required in order to either physically intervene in situations where someone is vulnerable or to verbally respond to social situations where there is inappropriate language or abusive behavior.

The VR horror experience of Catatonic helped Mercer to realize the emotional power of virtual reality, and it give her a visceral experience for how VR could be used as a powerful educational tool. Existing sexual assault training often relies upon improv playacting, and it’s not as effective as being immersed within a context and scenario in virtual reality. Being in a VR experience can more accurately replicate the pressure of being embodied within a situation where you feel the emotions of that context, and you’re presented with the paradox of choice of how to intervene, and then are provided an opportunity for making a choice and taking action. It’s all of these things together that makes virtual reality such a powerful medium for training. Vantage Point is currently creating modules for passive and active bystander training, identifying social stigmas around sexual assault, and receiving response training from sexual assault survivors who share their own experiences with the larger dynamics of sexual assault.

I had a chance to catch up with Morgan Mercer at Oculus Connect 4 last year when she was still recruiting producers and directors for her projects. Since that time, Vantage Point was accepted into the The Women in XR Venture Fund’s Cohort 1 last December, and they recently announced a round of $1.3 million seed funding from The Venture Reality Fund, Village Global, Colopl NEXT Fund, MVentures, Anorak Ventures, and Josh Resnick.

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vr-harassment-study

jessica-outlawOn April 4th, Jessica Outlaw released a survey of 600 regular virtual reality users about harassment experiences in VR, which was funded by Pluto VR.

I had a discussion with Outlaw and Lola MacIsaac on the day that this survey was released talking about the results. We explored the limitations of purely technological solutions, the tensions between idealized, long-term solutions at global scale versus more pragmatic, short-term solutions on a local scale, centralized solutions versus decentralized solutions, explicit technological architectures versus implicit cultural norms, and whether or not virtual reality could be a testing ground for emerging restorative justice or truth and reconciliation models.

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My thinking on this issue has evolved quite a bit since I had this conversation with Outlaw and MacIsaac. At the time of this conversation I was primarily focused on the global and idealized long-term solutions thinking about the scale of billions of users, then how would blocking work over a time scale of thirty years where VR/AR realities start to blur into “real” realities.

The Cleaners documentary shows the behind-the-scenes process of how social networks outsource content moderation in order to enforce the terms of service, and it featured many political artists and activists who had been censored for violating the terms of service. Facebook doesn’t have much due process in their bans without much transparency for the reasons and no appeals process.

The mechanism of blocking or banning people can serve a short-term function of creating a better user experience, but once a communication network reaches the scale of Facebook with billions of users then bans start to take on a more charged political context within a media ecosystem that’s being monopolized by a handful of centralized companies. In this context, then restorative justice and truth & reconciliation models start to address some of these issues that come up at the scale of fostering global societies over long periods of time.

lola-macisaacBut MacIsaac was voicing the more pragmatic, short-term realities of tools and solutions that need to be available for the level of harassment that’s already happening now. Online harassment isn’t a philosophical issue, but a real reality that needs pragmatic solutions for helping protect users from abusive and sociopathic users.

This is what makes Outlaw’s survey so relevant is that she documents anecdotes of harassment that are already happening online today. She found that 49% of females and 36% of males reported that they’ve experienced some form of sexual harassment within VR.

The reality is that the sociopathic behavior of online trolls is often beyond the capacity of what an anonymous restorative justice could currently handle, and that exiling abusive bad actors through bans and blocking is the best course of action. I don’t articulate this perspective in the context of this discussion from April, and I really appreciate MacIsaac for voicing this perspective.

Also at the time of this conversation, I was really focused on the limits of technological architectures for solving problems of cultural and human dynamics. There was a lot of talk about purely technological fixes to harassment and abuse, and I saw that any purely technological approach was going to be limited. I’ve since interviewed Wendy Hamamura, who cited Lawrence Lessig’s four regulators to society as being technology, culture, markets, and law.

Now I believe that any solution needs to have some combination of technological, cultural, economic, and legal elements in order to create a holistic solutions to the issues of online harassment. Purely technological solutions may solve some of the symptoms of online harassment and abuse, but they won’t get to the core of the problem. There has to be interpersonal and cultural solutions as well, and in this interview Outlaw cites The Elements of Culture, which lists many different aspects that make up a vibrant community culture including:

  • Artifacts
  • Stories, histories, myths, legends, jokes
  • Rituals, rites, ceremonies, celebrations
  • Heroes
  • Symbols and symbolic action
  • Beliefs, assumptions and mental models
  • Attitudes
  • Rules, norms, ethical codes, values

Outlaw collaborated with a sociologist in her research who pointed out that successful communities will start to naturally produce these elements of culture, which creates a set of cultural norms and taboos that educates and informs new community members about the implicit rules and the code of conduct for that community.

Outlaw advocates for social VR companies to think about how to cultivate some of these cultural elements that implicitly reinforces a culture against harassment. It’s not possible to technologically implement a culture, and so this is a hard problem to figure out how to cultivate these cultural behaviors within a community through the individual actions and behaviors of members.

Should social VR spaces need to have explicit orientations or initiations similar to how college universities will provide introductory tours for new students? What are the best practices for cultivating a culture? These are some of the open questions that I hope to explore more for either what’s already happening in social VR spaces, or what sociologists suggest as some of the best practices for cultivating vibrant virtual cultures.

From a legal perspective, many social VR spaces have explicit codes of conduct, but they still need to be either implicitly enforced by the community or explicitly through roaming content moderators. The problem of harassment requires these types of emergent rules and local legal standards that are either codified within the technological architecture or enforced by the community.

The problem of bullying and harassment is also a human problem where technology reflects and amplifies what is already happening in the dominant culture, and so it’s not reasonable to expect that there will be a purely technological solution. Any viable solution needs to take a holistic approach of finding the right combination of technological, cultural, legal, and economic dimensions.

This conversation with Outlaw and MacIsaac explores some of the complicated dynamics that are involved in the issue of online harassment, but we certainly doesn’t result in any silver bullet solutions. Upon listening to this conversation again, I’m humbled by how much that we actually don’t know how to fix and address the issue. Outlaw’s VR Harassment survey is a good first step that outlines what’s happening today, and there are many vibrant social VR communities who are experimenting with a variety of different approaches to the problem. I’ll be attending Oculus Connect 5, and I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation there.

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marlon-fuentesMarlon Fuentes is a ethnomusicologist who looks at the culture of how people relate to music through an anthropological lens. He’s an emerging technologist who is tracking how virtual reality provides new opportunities for new culture to develop around how people engage, participate in, and relate to music within the context of these immersive experiences. He previously produced 360 videos for Buzzfeed using their “Cultural Cartography” framework for producing engaging content, but he found that 360-degree videos required more participation from the Buzzfeed audience that was otherwise a pretty passive experience of consuming & sharing viral media. I had a chance to catch up with Fuentes at VRLA where he talked about some of the rituals that we have around consuming media, his ethnomusicologist take on cultural habits and emerging rituals in VR, the ritualistic & participatory aspects of memes, and communities that have hive high levels of commitment, engagement, and retention.

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The Wave VR has been doing a lot of innovative experiments with creating new cultural and social experiences of music, and they’re featuring an intimate hologram concert in Imogen Heap’s home that’s debuting on Friday, August 31, 2018. Here’s the first episode of Verge’s Future of Music show that features the collaboration between Imogen and The Wave VR to create this immersive experience.

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zikr-sufi-revival-sundance

gabo-aroraGabo Arora’s ZIKR: A Sufi Revival premiered at Sundance this year. It’s a 360-degree video capture of a number of different Sufi rituals, songs, and dances, but it had a real-time, social VR experience overlaid on top of the live action footage. Arora collaborated with Sensorium and Superbright to create virtualized beads and an interactive social VR experience, but also different video effects to give a metaphoric interpretation of some of the transcendental spiritual practices of the Sufis. ZIKR: A Sufi Revival is not only an anthropological documentation of some these Sufi ritual practices, but the real-time social interaction through the bead interactions allows for the viewers to participate and create moments of group synchrony.

I had a chance to catch up with Arora at Sundance where we talked about the tradeoffs of representing the full authenticity of an extended experience versus crafting a curated and edited synthesis of an experience, creating a real-time social VR ritual and the logistical challenges balancing freedom and immersion with safety, the deeper intention of creating moments of empathy or connection to Sufi groups who are under attack, and the power of VR to capture artistic abstractions of these types of transcendent experiences. Arora realizes that once you have the reality of an experience that the myth and romance is never the same, but he still wanted to capture some of these mysterious moments in ZIKR: A Sufi Revival. He also finds literal interpretations of reality to be boring, and so he tried to
hypnotize the audience unexpectedly through sound, but also poetically juxtapose another world that contradicts and creates paradoxes in order take the audience into new places.

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ZIKR: A Sufi Revival was acquired at Sundance by Dogwoof where it will be distributed to different cultural centers, cinemas, and museums, and there may be a networked version eventually released on Steam.

Here is some footage of audience members experiencing Zikr, A Sufi Revival at Sundance

Here’s a trailer of Zikr, A Sufi Revival

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brett-leonardLawnmower Man director Brett Leonard is working on a project called Hollywood Rooftop, which is going to be shot both as an immersive 360 video as well as a 2D film. It’s an experiment to discover some of the unique cinematic storytelling affordances for each medium, and he’s developing an Immersive CinemaVX manifesto that is modeled off of some of the Dogma 95 principles that will set up a framework to not these emergent technologies get in the way of the core principles of the drama, character, emotion, and story.

Leonard also has a lot of ideas for how virtual reality can take a lot of inspiration from indigenous ritual ceremonies in order to create a context such that you can discover yourself and others. He says that storytelling is in our DNA, and that immersive VR & AR are catalyzing a transition into creating story worlds that allow people to uncouple from a linear timeline. He says that ritual experiences in VR may be able to help us achieve an “in-the-moment epiphany” within a group experience where the abstractions of VR could actually paradoxically help us bring us back to the potency of the presence of a moment and to “true reality.”

He’s currently experimenting with how knowing onself could be reflected back to you in a VR experience by symbolically translating emotional peak experiences in his Hollywood Rooftop experience, which the 360-video is going to be shot within the context of an immersive 360 dome. So it will be an immersive experience that’s shot within another series of immersive content that will be an outward reflection of the inner dynamics that is explored within the story of Hollywood Rooftop.

I had a chance to catch up with Leonard at the VRTO Conference in Toronto on June 16, 2018 to talk about his 2D vs 3D cinematic language experiment. We also explore his thoughts on how indigenous ritual ceremonies have been informing how he thinks about the potential of group VR experiences could be used to explore the unfettered human imagination, become a catalyst and evolutionary accelerator that enables true connectivity across cultures and boundaries, which could lead to a new era of human experience focused on love, connection and awakening.

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I facilitated a panel discussion at the Decentralized Web Summit that brought together some of the leading virtual reality creators who have been integrating blockchain technologies and creating the foundations of the decentralized metaverse.

We cover how VR provides a compelling application for identity and avatar representation, how the self-sovereign identity W3C specifications could help with that, how virtual currencies are being integrated into VR worlds, the process of digital asset tracking and ownership, verifiable claims and how those could help create reputation networks, and some of the biggest challenges and open questions facing these architects of the decentralized metaverse.

This VR & Blockchain panel discussion at the Decentralized Web Summit features Alberto Elias (Founder, Simbol), Samantha Mathews Chase (Founder, Venn Agency), Philip Rosedale (CEO, High Fidelity), Andrés Cuervo (Software Engineer, WebXR Artist), and James Baicoianu (Principal Engineer, JanusVR).

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Jules Urbach wants to create a photorealistic metaverse. He’s been working on rending technologies to render digital lightfields, and Otoy’s Octane renderer is used everywhere from baking scenes in Unity’s real-time game engine to rendering the opening scene of HBO’s Westworld. At GDC, Urbach announced a 100x speed-up of rendering enabled by AI and machine learning, which will potentially make the real-time rendering of photorealistic scenes possible. Otoy has already figured out how to use the GPU to distribute the rendering processing, and they also recently announced the ERC-20 Render Token in order to distribute rendering to the army of GPUs miners who are using their technology and power to solve cryptographic puzzles.

I had a chance to catch up with Urbach at GDC, and he always has something to blow my mind. He talks about Lightfield Labs’ Digital Lightfield Walls, which will literally make the Holodeck possible. The possibility of having a lightfield display that renders lightfields at the right density would literally provide a window in another world, and it could be perceptually indistinguishable from actually being transported to another world.

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