Andreea Ion CojoCaru is a unique blend of VR developer and practicing architect in both virtual and physical spaces, but who is also driven by deep philosophical questions and her own embodied curiosities exploring the boundaries between the virtual and the physical. These embodied experiences in virtual reality have actually catalyzed a pretty significant paradigm shift in CojoCaru’s own philosophical thinking. I first met CojoCaru at VR Now in Germany in 2018 in a serendipitous collision that led to a deep dive discussion into the phenomenology of architecture. We then crossed paths again in London for the Immersive Architecture of the Internet Symposium organized by Space Popular where she was talking about using VR to hack her sensory perceptions. During the pandemic, I invited CojoCaru to participate in a discussion unpacking the immersive architecture of Valve’s Half-Life: Alyx.
By the time I had a chance to catch up with her CojoCaru again at SXSW in 2023, it had been nearly three years since we last did a deep dive in anything. I had sent her a conversation about Process Philosophy with Matt Segall at the end of 2020, and again with Grant Maxwell covering 13 process-relational philosophers in 2021, and passed along my recent discussion with Segall about his upcoming book unpacking an organic view of reality and contextualizing Whitehead’s and Schelling’s Process Philosophy with Kant as a guardian of the epistemological threshold. What’s striking about this is that while she was not very receptive to this process-relational mode of thinking through the podcast medium of philosophical discourse, she was actually in the process of her own philosophical paradigm shift towards Eastern philosophy via Orthodox Hinduism and process-relational thinking catalyzed from her own embodied experiences of VR and completely independent of these other conversations.
In the process of working on this concept of an open source city project called Spectra Cities, which she announced on March 7 as having received a 2 million Euro grantb where here design shop of numena will “work on behavioral analysis & participatory design using VR +
Spectra Cities.” CojoCaru has been also deeply inspired by Stanislavski’s system of improve and has been translating her architectural and spatial design process into a piece of embodied performance not only for herself, but for others as well. It’s through this more dynamic and participatory relationship to a more fluid and “rubbery” experience of architectural forms that she started to search for an alternative metaphysical grounding that went beyond Mel Slater’s “presence as illusionary framing” that Chalmers argues against in his book Reality+. She started to find some deep inspiration from the Vedantas, but was also still in the sensemaking process for how to more fully contextualize this more dynamic and relational dimension of design that goes beyond the more static framing of Western substance metaphysics.
On March 5th, CojoCaru had privately expressed some skepticism towards my claims in my two conversations with Segall that embodied VR experiences could start to catalyze a philosophical paradigm shift towards process-relational thinking. But by the time I had a chance to speak with her on March 14th at SXSW, she had the sudden realization during this conversation that she herself had in fact gone through a radical philosophical transformation towards a more process-relational mode of thinking that was catalyzed by her embodied experiences within VR.
Then in this conversation we decide to coin the term “process-relational architecture” to describe this interactive, dynamic, improvisational, performative, and participatory design process that’s she’s been doing with virtual architecture. So rather than focus on the materiality of substance as a static metaphysical foundation, then process-relational metaphysics that I think this passage from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy encapsulates quite well.
Process philosophy is based on the premise that being is dynamic and that the dynamic nature of being should be the primary focus of any comprehensive philosophical account of reality and our place within it. Even though we experience our world and ourselves as continuously changing, Western metaphysics has long been obsessed with describing reality as an assembly of static individuals whose dynamic features are either taken to be mere appearances or ontologically secondary and derivative…
Process philosophy centers on ontology and metaphysics, but it has full systematic scope: its concern is with the dynamic sense of being as becoming or occurrence, the conditions of spatio-temporal existence, the kinds of dynamic entities, including mental occurrences and actions, the relationship between mind and world, and the realization of values in action. Some approaches to process philosophy are conceived on the grand scale and offer a full-scope metaphysics in the form of a systematic theory or comprehensive philosophical view. Other approaches, especially more recent ones, take a more modest approach. They pursue the specific problems that the various philosophical disciplines are engaged in while focusing on the dynamic aspects of each sub-domain. Such process ontologies, process ethics, process epistemologies, process theories of mind etc. are contributions to ‘process philosophy’ more broadly conceived as a research paradigm of philosophical inquiry. They share the guiding idea that natural existence consists in modes of becoming and types of occurrences. ‘Processists’ agree that the world is an assembly of physical, organic, social, and cognitive processes that interact at and across levels of dynamic organization. However, within that broad framework, process philosophers debate about how such a world of processes is to be construed, how it relates to the human mind (which is another process) and how the dynamic nature of reality relates to our scientific theories. In consequence, process philosophers also differ in their view on the role of philosophy itself and in their choice of theoretical style.Stanford Encyclopedia Entry on Process Philosophy.
CojoCaru and I do a dive unpacking this process-relational mode of thinking, and how it was primarily catalyzed by her own embodied experiences within virtual reality. This type of paradigm shift towards process-relational thinking catalyzed by VR is something that I originally started to theorize back in December 2020 in my first conversation with Segall, then again with my conversation with Maxwell, and again with my latest conversation with Segall. CojoCaru unpacks her own transformative journey towards process-relational thinking in this conversation in the context of her evolving participatory and performative process-relational architectural design practice as well as a bit of teaser for how she’s been translating these ideas into an immersive game called 1381, which I can’t want to experience that and continue to step into the fascinating mind of Andreea Ion CojoCaru.
[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing and the structures of immersive storytelling. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So continuing on my 24-episode series of South by Southwest and the different experiences and people that are there, today's episode is with a VR architect named Andrea Ayan Katsukaro, who this is actually the third interview that I've done with Andrea and I always enjoy catching up with her because she's deeply influenced and motivated by philosophical thinking and phenomenology and Also, she's this interesting fusion between VR developer and coder and architect. So she's actually both a practicing architect and a VR developer. And so she's talking to me in this conversation about some of the different projects that she's doing with Spectral Cities and creating this kind of open source city design process. And Andrea has been looking at things like improv and this dynamic participatory design process where she'll be embodied in a virtual environment and perform her design process that she's revealing to other people that gives them an embodied experience that's modulated and very dynamic and participatory process that we end up coining in this interview as process relational architecture. So process-relational philosophy is something that I first did an interview with Matt Siegel that I published on December 10th of 2020, and I sent it to Andrea. And at first she wasn't as receptive to this process-relational perspective. And what's interesting is that she actually has gone through this big philosophical evolution through the course when I first met her in 2018 at VRNow. She was really steeped in the continental tradition of phenomenology. And then since then, she's broadened out into more of a process relational perspective over time, more from her own direct embodied experiences. And then seeing that there's these Eastern thinkers that she's been drawn to that is expanding her thought. And so as we're trying to think about this new type of dynamic participatory design process, we settled upon process relational architecture as a way of coining this thing that she's been doing. looking at how the relationship of the space around them is modulating our embodied and phenomenological and sensory experiences within the context of these virtual environments. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Andrea happened on Tuesday, March 14th, 2023 at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:38.487] Andreea Cojocaru: ANDREA JANKOWSKA-JAKUBOWICZ My name is Andrea Jankowska-Jakubowicz. I'm a VR developer and I have a company in Germany that does AR, VR development, and architectural design.
[00:02:49.597] Kent Bye: Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into doing the work that you're doing now.
[00:02:56.692] Andreea Cojocaru: I am trained as an architect. I'm also a licensed architect, still practicing today. But I have a huge passion for philosophy and human behavior. And the intersection of those two things and architecture, which is the art of designing spaces, for me ended up being virtual reality. And the moment this technology appeared and became available, and I discovered it, was just a major turning point. And I ended up quitting my job in architecture and starting a company that's seeking to combine those three things.
[00:03:37.288] Kent Bye: So I know we've had a chance to have a couple of previous conversations. And we have deep dive into phenomenology, into architecture, and embodiment, and some different experiments that you're doing. And I saw that you announced within the last couple of weeks or so that you've been working on designing these cities, like urban planning, that they have a virtual presence. And so maybe you could just give a bit more context as to that project that just got announced recently, and how that came about, and what that's all about.
[00:04:05.603] Andreea Cojocaru: Yeah, absolutely. So that project is called Spectra Cities. It is a virtual city which I designed with my team at Numena from scratch. We worked very closely with our client at Spectra, Ryan Zipesky. And the idea behind it was to release an open source city that has a CC0 repository and also a virtual world to help us explore participatory design workflows. Why? Because we want to have a shot at some day, either at building a new city or at helping cities that need to double or triple in size in the next 10 years have reliable and quick ways of doing that.
[00:05:04.918] Kent Bye: And so maybe you could break down the client and what was the remit that they gave to you in terms of like, you know, you have to solve this problem and this is how we're going to actually do that.
[00:05:14.335] Andreea Cojocaru: So Ryan, our client and collaborator on this, has an amazing background in trying to introduce bikes on the streets, urban bikes. He started his company Jump, which he sold to Uber a few years ago. He started that company about 10 years ago. And in the process of trying to get bikes on the streets, when this was a completely new idea, he ran into a lot of difficulties at all levels and he became intimately familiar with just all the ways in which existing cities fall short. And the more you look into urbanism, and you don't even have to be an urbanist, the more you look into your own experience of cities, the more painful that realization becomes. So his goal after selling that company to Uber became to find ways to rethink cities. So the heart of Spectra, when we started working with it, was the idea that it's not possible really. It's a ridiculous idea to get an architect. and say, look, you're such a great architect, design this beautiful looking city and let's make this shiny renderings and we show people these beautiful animations and we tell them, look at this, don't you want to live here? We're going to build it and come live here. Cities are such complex things that that cannot possibly be the way. you come up with a new city. The complexity is just unimaginable and almost 100% of new city projects never get built and the two, three that started to get built failed. So we started by acknowledging that complexity. And we tried to set up a process which is urban and architectural, but it's fundamentally about the idea of participatory design. So we gave ourselves a 10-year timeline in which we're going to find tools to get people to contribute to what this city for the future is about and how it should work and how it should function and how it should look. So our team at Numena gave the city a starting point, but we're going to use virtual reality over the next 10 years to have people change and modify and A, B test that city to get it to the best version that it can possibly get to in this way.
[00:07:50.293] Kent Bye: And I know with all the work that you do, you're always driven by these really deep philosophical questions. And so how does this specific project tie back to some of your other philosophical interests?
[00:08:01.842] Andreea Cojocaru: Yeah, that's a great question. So I had this session here at South by Southwest in the morning. And the takeaway from that session, actually like the takeaway from all of the Metaverse-related sessions in the past few days, has been that virtual reality is not really We're not developing virtual reality experiences for their own sake. The point is to make something possible through this technology that then affects and influences your life in physical reality. That's just always the north star. That's always where you need to end up. So with this particular project, The goal is to introduce ideas that are now only possible in virtual reality that then start to put thoughts in people's minds and enable them to ask questions about built form and physical cities that we believe they're not asking enough today. For example, this idea of an open source city that's not owned by anyone, that anyone can take and modify. The idea that the city for the future should be designed by everyone in a participatory fashion. The idea that you go into this open source city and you negotiate with all the community members this building corner, this sidewalk, this street, this tree. So it's a continuous process of negotiation of commonly owned space because that's the whole city. And how amazing would it be to see this kind of emergent behavior that's happening in the virtual open source city then start to leak out in physical reality and have people ask themselves, wait a minute, how cool would it be if the community of people living on the street corner could actually negotiate in similar ways how the street corner should be redesigned, how we should rethink its use? And then have that extend to all public space, have that raise issues about who owns public space, have that raise issues about who owns cities, which is a major, major thing we're dealing with right now. Cities are increasingly owned by very few real estate corporations, and people are feeling crazy amounts of frustration and anxiety about ownership of space in physical cities.
[00:10:40.946] Kent Bye: As I hear you talk about this, I think about this relationship between the virtual and the experiences that we have in these virtually mediated environments, and then we have the physical environments where we have, you know, let's say I go to the grocery store, there's going to be actual food that I'm getting there that I have to travel through space and time to get to locations whereas in the virtual spaces even the locomotion options where you can teleport around maybe changes some of the different spatial relationships and other dynamics that I feel like that there's not always a one-to-one translation on top of the fact that in physical reality you have you know 10 billion people on earth that have to find a way to manage how they interact with each other and so how do you start to then use the affordances of virtual reality to try to recreate some of the either social dynamics of people interacting with each other or locomotion mechanics that are trying to mimic aspects of physical reality or how do you ensure that there is this capability to not just design what would be perfect for virtual reality but yet would not necessarily be able to be translated because we can't teleport and there's There's more constraints in physical reality than the type of more unlimited constraints that we have in the context of virtual reality. So how do you start to make that bridge and connection between the virtual and the physical?
[00:11:54.805] Andreea Cojocaru: This is what this project is also about. It's going to be, for many people, an amazing opportunity to start to tease out exactly these things. Because it's a virtual city that is meant to become a physical city. But in the same time, we're already seeing uses of it that depart from any relationship with what can be done in the physical place. So we need to realize that we need to let the virtual city have its own life and grow in its own direction. But we also need to hone and be able to extract and observe and identify emergent behaviors that might have some kind of relationship to physical reality. So my answer is We need to observe, we need to set up this virtual city, see how people use it, see how people interact with this idea of an open source city. and then tease out which emergent behaviors might have almost a one-to-one potential translation to physical life, physical space behaviors, and which ones will have an indirect relationship, as in you might see people negotiate space in a certain way in virtual reality. And then it might not be obvious how that will translate in physical reality. But that's where we need to watch. We need to observe. I feel like there's such a high level of complexity in what we're talking about that it's very hard to start this with a fixed idea of what we should expect or how things will end up being. So then we need to put on our observer's hat. and just use all of the tools that philosophers and researchers and anthropologists have to engage in this process and to continuously draw these parallels. I feel like there's not enough of that happening even when it comes to spaces like VRChat, which are amazing, vibrant communities. But there's not enough discussion about how those emerging behaviors and communities end up also behaving slightly differently in physical reality or approaching things slightly different in physical reality. Because what we see happening is emergent behaviors end up categorizing your experience, like you engage in these behaviors again and again, and they become a category. And that category, it creates these neural pathways in your mind, is not just going to cease to exist when you take off the headset. So it will go through. The game transfer phenomena are not something that you can say, OK, I'm going to stop. I'm going to stop thinking about this. You might think you stop doing something, but actually your brain doesn't. Your brain is going to continue to process things in the way that it's used to processing. And if you spend X amount of hours a day in a virtual space doing things differently, that's still on your mind. That's still there.
[00:15:13.124] Kent Bye: Yeah, and so what are some of the different tools that you're using to design these spaces and then deploy them out into a context that you can actually observe people using it? You have to have at least some platform. I don't know if you're using Spatial or other platforms that are out there. What's the ways that you're building these spaces and then deploying them out for people to actually be embodied into them?
[00:15:35.604] Andreea Cojocaru: So we have a PC VR built. that we're going to update as people form teams and change parts of the city. So that's going to be a continuously changing build. But we also have several city areas on spatial. And we are experimenting with participatory design processes using the spatial tools that allows you to move objects around and rearrange things. And they just got a new Unity SDK, so a lot of those features are helping us quite a bit.
[00:16:14.994] Kent Bye: What's that look like to have a participatory design session in Spatial in the context of these open source cities that you're building? You do something and then you just, what's the invitation for people to come and then start to mod or suggest different alterations to make?
[00:16:31.066] Andreea Cojocaru: We have community sessions, meetups every Thursday, and that's where we invite people to pitch a project. And if the community decides that that's something they would like to engage in, then we set up this participatory design sessions where we get together and we model and we arrange those things The interesting thing for me as a traditionally trained architect in all of this is that it kind of transforms the mysterious black box, which is the actual creative process of an architect, into a piece of performance art.
[00:17:14.329] Kent Bye: Can you elaborate? What do you mean, like, the black box of architecture?
[00:17:17.930] Andreea Cojocaru: In architecture, we have what you call design architects. And then there are the technical architects. So the design architects are the people that, like Frank Gehry, sketch on a napkin because they get an idea in a bar at midnight. So they're the creative part. They're the people that determine the shape of the building and the feel of that experience. But that is something that you never, it's rarely talked about. That moment when the idea comes and then the manipulations you do with that idea in your mind as an architect, that's almost never talked about. That's not really... what people think about when they think about architecture. It's not something that's written about. It's literally like a creative black box. And in the fine arts, there are several examples of artists that have engaged publicly in that creative process and have made the creative process itself in a recursive kind of way the subject of their artwork. That's never the case in architecture, at least to my knowledge. I don't know of any architect who has turned the attention on that process and looked carefully at the process and tried to communicate that. In what I'm talking about, if I was to design something live with you in virtual reality, you would technically be the subject of a continuously changing space. You would find yourself in the space, but as I'm designing the space, engaging my own creative process as an architect, you would feel that. You would be there for the ride, but you would be completely immersed in that continuously shifting space. And I would also be, if we're talking about having a bunch of people there, that I might also have to convince that where I'm going, the direction I'm taking the design in, it's a good direction. I also have to sell what I'm doing as I'm doing it. I also have to impress you. So that's kind of the performance aspect of it. So yeah, it's something quite new. It's very similar to improv and theater in a way. It's tremendously exciting. It offers also this kind of like very intimate relationship because, as I said earlier, very few, even artists, open up to other people those extremely creative moments. And if they do, it's maybe they record their hand drawing or painting or something like that. But in this case, because VR is so, so What is the right word? I'm missing the right word. When you are in virtual reality, it really hits you, right? You really feel that. And if I was to put you, let's say, in a very small, narrow room and I'm there with you and I'm designing that room through a process that I call inside out from the inside out. So let's say we start with a small room and you're there with me and you feel kind of A little bit uncomfortable because the room is too small and maybe it has no windows. So that will really make you feel uncomfortable. And then I slowly start to raise the ceiling. And I raise it higher and higher. At some point it's going to go past a threshold where it's going to look very weird. It's going to feel like a midgen if the ceiling is 30 feet high. then maybe I take it back down again and maybe I add a window and maybe it's a tiny tiny little window and it's gonna feel like a prison cell and you might see some kind of tree outside and then I have you wait a while while I'm thinking what I'm gonna do next and then I grab that window and I make it bigger and larger to the point where it's a whole wall that's made out of glass So all of this is my creative process. But in the same time, I'm taking you on a kind of embodied, visceral, emotional journey. So in a way, it's more than performance art. And I love it because it's something deeply architectural, what I've just described. And it's also something that absolutely not be done without virtual reality.
[00:21:52.353] Kent Bye: Yeah, I can't help but think as you're talking about this how much you're turning something that is normally a static concrete object of creating a building. It's not really dynamic in a way, but moving into more of a process relational approach where it's something that's dynamic and unfolding and it's like has a beginning and an end. It's an experiential element. So yeah, I'd love to hear any reflections about some of the philosophical influences that you've been looking to. I think you might have mentioned that you were looking into Deleuze and I've certainly been getting into a lot of process philosophy and Whitehead and sending you things along the way. And so what you're describing feels like applying more of a dynamic process to the architectural design process, but also the embodied experience of what's it mean to have space modulating around you in a way that could only happen in a virtual experience, but again, moving away from something that is more static and concrete and leaning more into that dynamic, unfolded, emergent processes. So I'd love to hear any sort of philosophical reflections on that.
[00:22:50.183] Andreea Cojocaru: Yeah, absolutely. So the funny thing is, when we first talked several years back, I was and still am very much into phenomenology, but the classical tradition. So I had back then and still have a difficult relationship with analytic philosophy, because I'm European. So I'm all about continental philosophy, but the classical type of metaphysics. And since then, Because of things like what I just told you, something else has been bubbling up in me. And yes, you have shared with me some process philosophy things. That has actually become something I'm interested in only after having had these experiences. So back then, I wasn't receptive to this. I was like, okay, I get it, but I'm not sure. And in the past two years, I've done so much of this live designing in virtual reality that it has changed how I see fixed objects. and big fixed objects like buildings right so because I'm an architect the building and the space that's defined by the buildings and defining space by placing walls and ceilings and floors is something I'm always hyper aware of, right? Like we're always in some kind of environment defined at least by a very rigid horizontal plane and then there are very clear ways in which we break that horizontal plane, there are very clear ways in which we have buildings and walls, so we always surrounded by these fixed objects. And yes, they're concrete. They don't change. The only way they change is through some kind of disaster. The only way they change is through decay. It's like all negative ways in which they change. But I never seriously questioned that. And I don't think anyone really seriously questions that at kind of like a deep fundamental metaphysical level. But after two years of interacting with these things as if they're made out of rubber, I have replaced my understanding of them as static objects with this kind of rubbery quality of them being in continuous change and in a continuous negotiation with me and my creative needs. So actually for me now, the most interesting things about buildings is not what you end up with. It's actually this process in which me and the building kind of go on dancing together for a while. So yes, process philosophy is something that puts this continuous negotiation at the heart of everything. It puts change at the heart of everything. And actually this morning on my panel, I told a little story about a version of me that experiences frustration with the idea of an open source city. Because an open source city changes all the time. People update the repository all the time. And this version of me lives in the city, spends a lot of time in the city which the main version of me does that too and there's something scary about the fact that I wake up in the morning and things might be a little different because this is another city and there may be pieces in the city that I'm attached to, and I'm like, well, what if someone is going to update the repository and that piece of the city that I really love is going to be gone? But the way I concluded the story this morning was with the idea that that doesn't mean that something is lost. It's simply the process that makes the city alive. And in a paradoxical kind of way, The only difference between the actual open source CD that we have and that I'm talking about and physical CDs is the speed at which that change happens. In physical CDs, you also lose your favorite corner sometimes if we're talking about a scale of decades. In the virtual CD, that process is just much faster. It's a matter of updating the repository.
[00:27:28.995] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, lots of stuff there. So I'm glad to hear that the idea of process philosophies slowly got to a point where you're at least considering it a little bit more. And as I hear this description of, say, these concrete objects, Whitehead has this saying of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. And so, yeah, that everything is actually under some sort of process. And even if it's decaying over time, that it is still have a beginning, middle, and end, that nothing is eternal, and so it is going to actually sort of over different scales of time, you know, may not be in a human scale of time, but just because of the human scale of time we're perceiving it as static and concrete, it still is actually within its own process of evolution and development. Change as it's in relationship to the people that are using it as well And so I feel like there's a sort of underlying dynamic nature to that process relational metaphysics that I think does for me at least Describes my own experience of the virtual experience and to counteract to the more I guess the fallacy of misplaced concreteness aspects of the substance metaphysics that most of Western analytic tradition and continental tradition to a large extent are both of them still largely steeped in that substance metaphysics framing. So it's nice to hear that you've had these experiential elements that is helping to kind of open up your mind. I know that you're always doing these really deep dives into different philosophers. So I'm curious to hear like if you found different philosophical correspondences that are really reflecting your own embodied experiences of what you've been experiencing within the context of these dynamic participatory open source architecture sessions that you're holding.
[00:29:05.656] Andreea Cojocaru: You know, hearing you say all of that just made me realize something. In our last exchange about Whitehead and its topics, I said to you that I don't, I'm not sure virtual reality can in a direct way make us understand Whitehead better or develop a more intuitive understanding of that. And I just realized that the stories I was just telling you show how it did exactly that for me over the last two years.
[00:29:43.472] Kent Bye: That's what I've been trying to say.
[00:29:48.301] Andreea Cojocaru: Yeah, so this is a very strange moment for me because yes, not that long ago I literally said, I don't think VR can do it.
[00:30:02.443] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's, I mean, I feel like, I mean, obviously, I'm a pluralist at heart, and so there's always going to be different types of orientations. You know, we were just talking a little bit about some of the other projects you're working on, and you invoked this griddle and completeness, and so I don't think there is going to be necessarily one System that's gonna like be the grand master explainer of all dimensions of reality so I do embrace the fact that there are gonna be many different philosophical traditions that are revealing different it's almost like a Lens into dimension of reality that's going to be revealing some things but also including other things and so you have to kind of like have a diversity of these different approaches to really get to the heart of everything but For me, I feel like that process relational metaphysics provides a really solid foundation for understanding what is actually truly different to this paradigm shift as we move into this more virtually mediated spaces that are allowing us to kind of escape some of the different limitations of the physical reality, but still have just as meaningful emotional engagements or mental and social engagements or expressions of our agency and different forms of embodiment that we can invoke these different forms of virtual body ownership illusion so that you can get enough of a correspondence of our embodied movements to these spaces and that we actually feel like we're embodied into these virtual spaces and the fact that we're not in a physical reality environmentally, we can still perceive it as real and have that plausibility that we're able to still fully immerse ourselves into that environment. And also I think what you're exploring here is like looking at something that is normally this static aspect of our environment and what's it mean to be in these spaces that are dynamically changing around us in a way that, you know, for you it's more of a participatory design process, but if you're thinking about trying to modulate emotions or other aspects where you're in a space and it's shifting and moving around, again, stuff that you can only have in a virtual space, So I feel like there's, you know, this David Chalmers book where he was trying to argue that the virtual reality is a genuine reality. And for me, I see it through that lens of the qualities of presence. But really, the things that are just as meaningful in both are the aspects of the agency and active presence and the mental, social presence and emotional presence. And the thing that you really see the differences between the virtual and the physical is in that sort of embodiment and environmental with the caveats where, as we move forward, there's going to be a closing of the gap of all the different sensory experiences that we have in the virtually mediated spaces. Right now there's still quite a uncanny gap of, like, we can perceive the difference between the haptic experience or, you know, the smells or the tastes or, you know, like, or even the sound and the visuals, but it's going to get to that point where maybe it's going to totally be, for most people, indistinguishable between the two and they're not going to have, our language will continue to evolve in a Wittgensteinian way for how to describe those differences, but Yeah, I'm really happy to hear that you had this moment of self-realization as I've been trying to communicate these with a lot of resistance. And so, yeah, that's just some thoughts.
[00:33:03.513] Andreea Cojocaru: Yeah, so I feel like I've learned a lesson. And the interesting thing in this particular story slash incident is that things just kind of happened bottom up, right? So even if there is resistance to some idea, even if a developer or Ken tells you, now you're going to sit down and do this experience or think about this idea of process philosophy because it's important and this is why it's important. Even if you might not be open to that because of whatever reason, actually the beauty about VR is that it doesn't matter. that there's something about the nature of VR that will make things like this sip into whatever it is that you're doing. What I've just described started as a purely, let's call it productivity tool, right? It was really like, wouldn't be great if as an architect, I could just move things around in VR so that I can combine a rational understanding of what I'm doing with the phenomenal understanding of the space. So I could both rationally think about where to place walls and columns, but I could also simultaneously feel the quality of that space. So, and can I be faster, basically? The answer is yes, I'm way, way faster in designing anything if I do it in VR. So it was a purely practical way to approach something. In a lot of my other projects, I do start with a philosophical approach and brief. But with this one, I didn't. This one, I really approached this as a productivity tool, really. Like, how can I be better and faster? I didn't want to reinvent anything. I didn't want to make any philosophical statement. And yet, the outcome of me using the tool ended up completely bulldozing this sedimented notions of fixed categories and fixed objects. Because walls out of concrete all of a sudden became plastic. And I was interacting with those categories, walls, windows, doors, every day. And they overwrote previous categories in my mind. So I think there's just enormous beauty in that. So we don't have to fight heavy ideological, philosophical, conceptual battles, actually. This technology might get us to a point where things will magically start to feel different one day.
[00:35:58.367] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I think it goes back to this concept of embodied cognition where I was sort of communicating a certain level of philosophical intellectual knowledge and information and trying to make an argument of, you know, why I saw that process philosophy was describing the metaphysics of virtual experiences in such this amazing way. You had resistance to it, but then you had your own embodied experiences that made the argument for themselves and you sort of came into that own moment of self-realization or at least in this moment of reflection. And so you have this, uh, so I feel like that's part of the reason why I was saying that just over many times people framing things in a way that is very much into like the Mel Slater, like the place illusion and the plausibility illusion, like everything is couched in this illusionary language. And it wasn't until David Chalmers is reality plus where he's like, look, they're actually like invoking all these aspects of, The evil demon of Descartes saying that there's this evil demon and he's tricking you and that it's this illusionary reality But that you know He's kind of like breaking down all these different dimensions and eventually coming to this argument of saying that these virtual experiences are just as real as our physical experiences and so rather than creating this bifurcation between the virtual and the quote-unquote real I It's the virtual and the physical and the physical has problems because it's you know Maybe there's these processes that are unfolding and it's less about the you know physical to me invokes different dimensions of the substance metaphysics still but so I was talking to Matt Siegel and one of the things that He was also saying was that for whitehead the underlying nature of reality is actually creativity and that is sort of the core process and and for you to say that these worlds are being driven by your creative process. The interview that I just did with Matt Siegel in his dissertation, which is now going to be published as a book on April 22nd, is called Etheric Imagination, a Post-Kantian Process Philosophy of Whitehead and Schelling. So he's looking at this role of imagination as this organ for us to perceive these different dimensions of creativity, and it's through our imagination and these creative processes that are actually driving this unfolding of reality. So I really love how like beautiful that is in terms of like putting the core of nature of reality as this creative process and that we use imagination to sort of engage to these creative processes.
[00:38:15.256] Andreea Cojocaru: Well, yeah, I have several thoughts related to that. Let me try to give you my own take in the light of my experiences with VR on what I think creativity is. And I also want to try to Do away with this physical versus virtual. I think these are completely useless terms and we need to just do away with them. But there is still a distinction. So I'm not going to argue that there's no distinction. I'm just going to try to give a slightly different take on what that distinction might be. So creativity. Basically, for some reason, it's quite mysterious. We don't know why there is the hour of time. There are many very interesting theories about what the hour of time is, all of them quite iffy. So for some reason, we live in a universe that is changing in a certain direction. Or we are the kind of creatures that experience the universe, which might or might not be changing, but we're experiencing it as continuously changing. So that, at the universal level, is the definition of pure creativity. Things just emerge, things just change, things just happen whether you want them to happen or not. At the individual level, for me, creativity is about exploring that bottomless pit that is my own experience. There seems to be no end and no boundary to that. So as a creative person, I love putting myself in situations that feel new and fresh. And I love the realization that there is no end to that. I could endlessly create situations for myself and others that feel new and fresh. I'll give you an example of something that I sometimes do in one of our applications. I make a well and I sit at the bottom of a well. It's not bottomless but it's very tall. And it has an opening on top and I can modify the location of the sun. So I sit there in the dark and then with one of my hands I manipulate the sun. And then I do it really, really, really slowly. And then I just watch how the sun starts to show up at the top and throw an elliptical shape of light on the walls of this well. And then I slowly lower that all the way until it hits me at the bottom and then goes up on the other side. And after I do that, I start to place windows in the well. So I transform the well from a well more into like a tower with windows. So basically, I just, I tell stories to myself, I take myself on an emotional, psychological journey. And I observe my reactions and then I react to my reactions. So I basically perform for myself. And that's an example of how virtual reality is a tool to explore yourself. Because manipulating environments can stir such amazing thoughts and emotions. You can go in VR and you can manipulate those environments and you can observe yourself and you can decide how far to push it. Do you want to sit at the bottom of the well in darkness for an hour, for two hours? Knock yourself out. Do you want to make something happen in there? Do you want to add windows? Do it and then see how that feels. So that's how I would define creativity in a universal sense and also at the individual level. And I think in that sense, that's also why artistic production is just so amazingly important and refreshing, because I encounter a lot of people who struggle, for example, with a sense of being stuck, being alienated, being isolated. So artistic experiences that allow them to feel something new, are just of enormous importance. And now this whole thing with the virtual and the real. These are categories we need to do away with. First, it's important to recognize that they do not really point to anything concrete. They're very general abstract categories, which makes them actually easy to ditch. But there is a difference, of course, between me interacting with physical reality and me interacting with virtual objects. And I would ground that difference in the body, in embodiment. Basically, we have a body that needs to survive. So our body has needs that cannot be ignored. And we need to engage in activities that ensure our survival. For that, it is critical to always be aware of what is virtual and what is real. Otherwise, we could be in trouble. Otherwise, we cannot fulfill our biological function, which is survival. So when you use that as your reference point, everything becomes quite clear. However, you cannot use that to draw borderlines. And this is the key part. Embodiment and the need to survive in physical reality is the main reference point. But there are no clear boundaries between virtual experience and physical experiences and physical reality. Why? There's a lot of research that shows the connection between actions, movement, behavior, and thoughts. And when we are talking about that, we cannot draw clear lines. Things will seep through in both directions. It's bi-directional. And it's bi-directional at a level over which we do not have conscious control. I'll give you an example. There's amazing research that shows When we have to navigate a new place, there's this entire process that unfolds where we're looking for reference points and we map out in the brain that new place. And some new places, and even in that mapping process, there might be unique things going on there, things that we've never encountered before, something quite new, new arrangements, new ways in which we have to investigate to get to the point where we have a map and an understanding of that place. And all of this means that there are certain pathways that are being created in your brain. And research shows that then those same pathways which you have acquired by navigating in a new physical environment and moving your body in a new way in a physical environment get fired up again when we manipulate abstract objects. We basically acquire ways of thinking, cognitive processes, by engaging in new types of movement and in new interactions with the physical environment. That's basically what thinking is, and there's amazing literature on this. So good luck drawing lines with that, right? You could be exploring a certain virtual environment or engaging in a certain behavior with your non-humanoid avatar. That's going to create pathways in your mind and in your body, in your whole nervous system, that will then affect the way you categorize, the way you engage in almost any other cognitive activity. It's not going to replace anything. I mean, my theory is that it's going to add to the existing vocabulary of cognitive operations. So that's a very clear example of how things can go from virtual reality to physical reality. And we all know how things go the other way around, right? We go into VR with the mind that we have from living life in physical reality. So it is impossible to draw lines and borders between the physical and the virtual. The most we can do is anchor everything into the biological need to survive of the physical organism.
[00:50:14.986] Andreea Cojocaru: Language. We need to talk way more about language in the context of VR. I think it's so critical. It's not talking about language and coming up with new words. that differentiate between virtual experiences and physical experiences is really critical. It's not like a nice to have. We really have to do it. So doing something bad to someone in physical reality should not have the same word as doing something bad to someone in virtual reality. It can still be something negative that comes with all of that, but we need a new terminology that acknowledges the qualitative difference in those two things. So this is not going to solve all the ethical issues, but this is the starting point and actually might solve quite a few of them. We get into these ethical issues because we do not properly differentiate using language. Language has to change. Everything we do in virtual reality has such a profoundly different qualitative nature that it absolutely needs its own words and its own terminology. Until we do that, we're not just going to deal with ethical issues, but we're also going to deal with situations where people will have immensely powerful experiences that they will not be able to communicate to other people, and they will not be able to properly internalize and process and come to terms with for themselves because of the lack of language.
[00:52:03.432] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I don't expect that there's going to be a linguistic play that's going to eradicate certain ethical dimensions. I think the ethical dimensions will be there, but I do agree with you that the language will help to make it easier for us to talk about these things. Because even things like IRL, as some people use, but that has embedded into it IRL in real life, which is also creating this bifurcation. So there's already language that's being adopted by people, but yeah. It's one of these really messy things where we feel, I feel like it's kind of in a transitory limbo state where we're going from one paradigm and understanding into another paradigm and understanding. And that's part of the discussion that I had with Matt Siegel was going from a substance metaphysics way of thinking of things into like what are the scaffolding that we have in order to help us understand this other mode of thinking when it comes to a process relational way of understanding the nature of reality. And so Whitehead has his own system of jargon, but I'm not, necessarily recommending that everybody even start to use those white Haiti in terms, but I think there are interesting opportunities for process relational philosophers to start to push forward on that front because we are in a subject predicate language that sort of enforces this object oriented slash Substance metaphysics way of seeing the world just even how our language is structured maybe like Chinese languages or indigenous languages It's more contextual in a way that allows us to be more grounded in the relational nature of reality And so language itself and how we have grammar is reinforcing these ideas of the nature of reality. So I feel like there are opportunities of like other alternative grammatical structures and contextual based languages like Chinese and indigenous languages that are starting to do that. But we're talking about what we're stuck with now, which is like the languages that people are already speaking. And so, how do we fight against the language in order to talk about things in more of a way that's talking about the being or the dynamic nature where you're talking about the action and verbs and the dynamic relation of things. And so, yeah, I agree with the larger point that there's going to be a need for us to evolve our language. And I think that the philosophical insights can help do that. But there's also the reality of what the language that people are already using that creates its own inertia and you end up fighting against the culture when you try to push, I mean I saw this with all the debates of like what is VR and is it XR and is it mixed reality and all these extended reality and all these sort of debates that happen but at the end of the day what's gonna actually be adopted by the mainstream, XR is very industry specific and then but yet I still say VR and AR when I'm talking to people who may not know what the XR may mean. Anyway, I think there's ways in which that language is centered around different cultures and communities. And so, you know, I fully support the effort to try to drive that. But I think at the end of the day, it's also going to be like how that language is adopted at a larger scale is something that as I've observed that over many years in XR, it's almost like it's kind of left up to the people for how that unfolds. It's like not anything that any one person or even group can start to drive.
[00:55:05.867] Andreea Cojocaru: I have lots of thoughts come to me when I hear you talk about that. Going back to my initial description of me being in a room with someone and changing the properties of that room and adding windows and so on, and how that led me to override previous categories of parts of buildings being something fixed. We need a name for that. until there is a name for that process for that property for this new property of a concrete wall to be like rubber and for my ability to engage in this participatory dance in which I creatively modify these things and other people might experience that this is such a profoundly new thing, but until I have a name for it, it remains at the level of experience, it remains at the level of a subjective feeling in my body, and until it transcends that subjectivity in the moment, that experience, I doubt its ability to then start to apply to other aspects. For example, there might be other aspects of my life that maybe have that quality, that have the quality of adjusting like rubber according to my desires or maybe I would like other aspects and parts of my life to have that quality but because I do not have critical distance between me and that subjective experience and I do not have a clear name for what that process and that quality is I struggle to identify it or to recognize it in other aspects of my life. That's what language does. It creates this critical distance between your rational ability and the subjective experience which is always just for you and always in the now. So when you're talking about the importance of process philosophy and how that might be really beneficial as a new way of seeing the world and seeing ourselves in the world and how we're at such a critical moment right now and something like that could be quite handy and it's really the 11th hour in terms of many many things. We need names for that otherwise VR might do the most amazing thing it can give us, which is these powerful subjective experiences, which are exactly what you want them to be. They do exactly communicate this new way of seeing reality and interacting with reality. But without the language that makes us aware of them and gives us the ability to speak about them objectively and to communicate them objectively, they remain a subjective experience.
[00:58:37.587] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I think with Whitehead's metaphysics, he's trying to reduce this false bifurcation between the objective and subjective and trying to find different ways of combining those at a deep, deep level. But I wanted to ask you about, in the spirit of trying to understand the nature of this dynamic, participatory, unfolding, processual nature of architecture that you're experimenting with, I would love to have you explain to me like how you see what a paper architect is, what a speculative architect is, what a design architect is, and then after that, and if there's any other categories of architect, and then try to define what is it that you're doing that's sort of how do you differentiate what you're doing relative to these other traditions and lineages of architecture.
[00:59:26.224] Andreea Cojocaru: A paper architect traditionally is an architect who has no interest in building physical buildings. They used to quote-unquote just draw. Constance New Babylon, for example, is one of the most famous paper architecture project. Constant is a Dutch architect and artist who worked most of his life on the New Babylon. He made a ton of beautiful drawings and models. of a city that is supposed to go on top of existing cities and be in a continuous state of reconfiguration and flux. And that's obviously something that by the nature of that concept cannot quite be built. But he felt that the richness of those ideas were actually profoundly architectural. So that was architecture in a way that's maybe more profound than architecture that you just built. So he's very famous because with that idea he really extended the notion of what is architecture way beyond buildings made out of concrete and structural elements and so on. He extended architecture basically not just in the artistic and intellectual sense But I don't know what the right word is. He extended it in a way that is very profound for me, but I'm struggling to find the right word. Basically, before projects like that, very few people would have considered the idea of some very, very big element that changes and reconfigures continuously. as architecture. But people like him put that at the heart of architecture. So that's paper architecture. That also kind of covers conceptual architects. I think the conceptual architects tend to write a lot. So they don't do drawings and sketches like Konstant, but they tend to write books and connect architectural ideas a lot with philosophy. And what I do doesn't quite fall into any of those categories. Perhaps perhaps in the paper architecture category, in the way that these experiments, I believe, extend notions of what architecture is and is not. So for all the work that I've been telling you about until now, I've actually been reading Stanislavski, which is a famous theorist for theater and improv. So Stanislavski has been by far my main reference point in developing VR applications for architecture that are productivity tools. Go figure. So I found that the parallels between architecture and improv and theater are just extraordinary. And I'll give you a quick example. Actors prepare. Actually Stanislavski's most famous book is called An Actor Prepares. They have to go through a process of decoupling themselves from everyday life in order to enter this parallel reality. Foucault, the French philosopher, talks about spaces who have the same role. He calls them heterotopias. So in a city, you have spaces like churches, libraries, theater buildings, where the moment you step in, you are cut off from everyday life and completely different rules of behavior apply. In architecture, when we design those spaces, and any space that's well designed actually needs to do this, we actually choreograph behavior to help you transition from everyday life and the rules that govern it that you have to abide by on the sidewalk. to something that abides by very different rules. So if you go to any big museum in a large city, you will see how first you have a little vestibule that's quite small and kind of dark. And then you go into another room where you get the tickets and might put your coat. And then there's a hallway. And then it opens up into a large, large, large space. that has a psychological effect it makes the large large space feel even larger if you've just gone through something small but it does something way more important it prepares you mentally to shed behind the previous the previous life on the sidewalk and to enter something where where new thoughts and behaviors are not just allowed but in many cases imposed imposed on you. So every architectural decision that we make in those scenarios are actually decisions triggered at modulating very carefully a transition in your behavior.
[01:05:08.673] Kent Bye: Well, what comes to mind as we're trying to find a term for this new aspect of dynamic architecture that you've been experimenting with is that everything that I hear you saying is coming back to this adjective of process-relational architecture, which is essentially the I want to sort of unpack a little bit about the relational aspect because, you know, there's processes, but the relational aspect is that when you think about the quantum realm, you have realms of potential, things that are not quite actualized yet. And so you have a whole range of possibilities that have not become actual yet. And so part of the reason to make this paradigm shift from substance metaphysics into more of a process relational metaphysics is because Essentially the substance metaphysics can't really like when you think about concrete objects. It can't actually Describe those natures of those realms of potential unless you go into an Everett many worlds interpretation where you have all Dimensions of every possibility of every monument is split off into an orthogonal universe that's being created but if you're gonna do that you might as well be a oh my god, there's this Balloons going by There's an installation from Once a Glacier just walked by with three people carrying about a thousand balloons, like a dragon in a Chinese ceremony. So in the realm of quantum ontology and trying to describe what's happening in those probabilistic realms of potential, then there's quite a lot of limitations for like these other ways of thinking about things in terms of static concrete objects. So that's why you can start to describe those realms of possibilities and potentials in terms of relationships because it's the relationality of how those potentialities are connected. You know, Ruth Kastner has an interpretation of quantum mechanics that has this kind of transactional nature where it's almost like a metaphoric handshake in that there's like one hand and it has like ten different hands it could shake and then once it shakes a hand then it goes from the possible to the actual. But the possible of all those different ten hands, those are all actual real. And so in substance metaphysics, those aren't real. It doesn't become real until it becomes actual and concrete. But you have this pluralistic nature of the multiplicity of that possibility that it can be termed at a more fundamental layer, be described in terms of relationships. And those relationships being a mathematical description of those probabilities. And so that's why I feel like the process relational is that there's a relational part, but then there's a process part, which is the dynamic nature of things unfolding in time. Joanna Seidt is the person who's a process philosopher who's not a Whiteheadian, but she actually wrote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry for process philosophy. And so what she is saying is that, I came across one of her papers where she said, the fundamental geometric structure of process is mereology. And what mereology is, things that are wholes and parts. And so you have one small part but it's a larger whole and so you have this kind of nested sequence of like you can go all the way back to like the Big Bang is like that's the most broadest process but then you can go all the way down into like these moments of our consciousness that are these moments of processes that are nested within these other processes and so this mereology is this whole some parts and what Whitehead is terming as like we can look at the nature of reality through the metaphor of these biological entities of more of like seeing the universe in terms of a living organism rather than these sort of discrete objects that are mechanistically connected. But you see these ecosystems and ecologies that are nested inside of each other. And with that whole part miriology, you have a sort of process relational aspect. That's why it's like process all the way down. It's relationship all the way down. And so if we're going to try to name something that's inspired by the same type of architecture, then you might as well call it process relational architecture. It seems like a pretty good fit. That'd be my suggestion, at least.
[01:09:06.731] Andreea Cojocaru: Oh, I love that. Let's do it. Let's go and process relational architecture and start a new movement. Yeah, it's so on a on the most superficial level, let's say, to connect my story earlier with me being at the bottom of the well and experiencing how my emotions change and how I react to the different qualities of that space. I would say that's step one in coming a bit closer to what you just said, to this idea that everything is related. So the size of the window affects me. The color of the floor affects me. And this use of VR is an opportunity to cultivate at a subjective level the sense that makes us more sensitive, more in touch with how everything around us has a slightly different texture, has a slightly different valence, changes us a tiny little bit. and that also has as a consequence the fact that we become strangely more connected and strangely more respectful towards everything so it kind of goes into territory of like kind of meditation and i don't want to go into that territory i feel like those terminology kind of come with their own ideology So I'll stick with architecture. So in architecture if you go to an actual room and try to understand how the color of the wallpaper might affect you and then you walk into another room and it's a different color or if in VR you just change the color in virtual reality and really really try to let that sink in. you will develop a strange kind of respect for that color or for that object. You will feel connected with it, not in a spiritual sense, not in an ideological or religious sense, not in a conceptual sense. You will simply feel connected because you will become acutely aware of how expanse of yellow affects you. And when that is turned into an expanse of blue, it's slightly different. The texture of your existence in this second is slightly, ever so slightly different. But if you cultivate that, you become acutely aware of that slight difference. So that turns everything and you actually don't need vr for this that turns everything into this strange universe where yeah you are connected with everything because you affect a change on everything and everything affects a change on you and all of a sudden you are in the territory of just like hinduism buddhism and all the stuff that a lot of people myself included used to regard as some kind of gibberish because we're not necessarily spiritual or religious but you get there pretty fast if you follow these steps which is extraordinary
[01:12:30.973] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, well, I think that's exactly it, that there's like many different traditions like that, Buddhism, Hinduism, that have this process-relational orientation, more Eastern philosophies and Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, also just broadly, indigenous philosophy is very process-relational. And so I feel like that there's a lot of these principles that, you know, have played out in other dimensions of culture that have the term of process-relational, but, you know, it's sort of a, Contradiction in terms of when we think about architecture We tend to think of it as these static concrete objects that are not really changing or dynamic But the fact that it's you know, you could call it dynamic architecture But the fact that it's process relational says that it's unfolding in a process and it's in relationship to you and as an as it unfolds It's changing you and as you unfold you're changing it so it's a bi-directional improv or it's really kind of fits at a broad level and It has a long tradition of lots of people who have been trying to think about this in a way that I think there'd be inspirations from other aspects of other disciplines. The dancers that were here as part of the figural bodies, Daniel has a big background in process philosophy and was a big Deleuzian and reading into a lot of these different aspects. going back to Spinoza and Leibniz and seeing how Deleuze is also highly influenced by Whitehead and Whiteheadian thought and process philosophy. And I did an interview with Grant Maxwell, who, for me, I personally am like an inch deep and mile wide. And so I kind of get the ideas and the concepts and rely upon other scholars in my interviews and conversations with them, like Grant Maxwell, Matt Sequel, and people like yourself, or maybe a little bit more narrow, deep divers who are like really Diving deep into these different thinkers and kind of get to the core of these different insights but broadly speaking that there's a long lineage of process relational thinkers to draw upon like how to think about these types of ways that the space around us can start to modulate our experiences and our emotions or ways that we can take action the way that we can communicate with each other, the way it could change our thinking, and the way that we can have different experiences of our own embodiment and the world around us as it's sort of modulating and changing. So yeah, it's exciting. It's process-relational architecture. There we go.
[01:14:42.816] Andreea Cojocaru: Yeah, absolutely. No, we should definitely coin that. I think also related to all these ideas is also the notion of embodied cognition and the fact that we definitely offload cognition into the environment. And research is starting to show that that is happening at levels much deeper than we previously thought. So the classical example is you are thinking about something and many of us immediately, when we're doing that, immediately look around for a piece of paper, you know, the Frank Gehry napkin or whatever it is. It helps when you have a lot on your mind to just sketch it or write it down. So that's the classical example of loading cognition onto pieces of objects that are in the environment. But there's indications and I believe that exactly that is happening all the time, continuously. We are continuously thinking, using everything around us as a prop, to the point where if we were to be in the dark for a long time, that process would be altered. Although, of course, we would still find different things in that environment to offload with. We would start to rely on audio clues to anchor into and offload into and haptic things that we are going to use to replace the notebook that you sketch on. But you always see this happening. Two days ago, I was having this conversation with someone who works for the Fairmont Collective. He told me something very interesting. He said that when they rehearse a script and they memorize it, and then they go and they do it in VR, they have a really hard time remembering it. So that's fascinating to me, and there are many examples like that. So every cognitive process, I believe, is always anchoring, always offloading, always in a very deep intertwining process with where we are, with the environment, whether that's visual or haptic or auditory, whatever that environment is. So yes, you can close your eyes and still think about that. But that is because you can still get clues from the environment. If you completely cut yourself from any clue, any feedback from the environment, you're slowly, literally going to lose your mind. And And this thing that you memorize something in physical reality, and then you switch, quote-unquote, to another reality, and then you can't remember it, is absolutely amazing.
[01:17:47.038] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think it you know in my my slide talking about embodied cognition is that this loop between The brain and the body and the environment is a part of that loop of that distributed cognition I think it as we not only change the way that we move change the way we think but as we change our presence in these virtual spaces that also changes the way that we think which is kind of reflecting that so Coming back to what you were saying earlier all of these
[01:18:12.687] Andreea Cojocaru: ideas behind mereology, behind these multiple potentials that are equally real and equally here. For me what's very important to tease out is to what extent can we experience them versus understand them intellectually. And this idea that you can feel connected to a wall painted yellow when you understand how it affects you. when you can feel connected to the environment because you understand that every part of it is deeply involved in your cognitive processes. These are all little clues that it is quite possible to cultivate an intuition that has to do with our own existence and our own experience that might get us fairly close, a little bit closer to the kind of things you're talking about. I don't know if they will get us all the way, but they'll get us quite far.
[01:19:23.054] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I'm wondering what kind of thinkers or researchers, you mentioned the improv theorists, but are there other philosophers or other research that you've been looking at recently that's giving you deep inspiration and reflection about the type of interrogations and questions that you're asking?
[01:19:42.092] Andreea Cojocaru: Yes, Ana Chaunica is a cognitive neuroscientist and a philosopher, also a very good friend of mine, who does absolutely amazing work. She's a huge inspiration. I'll give you an example that's very relevant to everything we've been talking about. One of her recent projects is called The Magic Shoes, and it's a research project about trying to understand the phenomena of depersonalization and derealization. And she started from the observation that people who suffer depersonalization and derealization, I think it's focused mostly on derealization, actually, so people are not connected to the environment. They do not feel that they're here. They do not feel that physical reality is real. So in a sense, they perceive it as some kind of unreal virtual kind of thing, although it is real. And her project is about these shoes which she designed with her team that augment the sound of you walking. So it basically makes your presence and the signs of you actually being there in a place walking on the floor more pronounced so that they're harder to ignore. So it's harder to pretend that you're not really here, that this is not really real, that this floor is not actually made out of something. And her bigger theory in this context is the fact that when we touch something in physical reality, we confirm for ourselves that it's there and that it has a certain texture and it has a certain quality so I touch this metal windowsill and I'm like oh okay this thing is here and this thing is real right it's not virtual but there's another thing equally important or more important that happens when I touch this metal sill The coldness of the metal and all its other properties also confirmed to me my existence. They also confirmed to me that I am real and that my hand is located right here and that it feels in a certain way. So without the feedback from the physical environment, we actually start to doubt that we are here. So with her magic shoes, she basically augments that feedback that we get from the environment that we are here and we are also real.
[01:22:32.866] Kent Bye: Wow, that's pretty, that's fascinating. And it's been a couple of years since I had a chance to speak to you face to face. Have there been other philosophers that you've been digging into over the last couple of years that have provided you with some level of inspiration?
[01:22:49.130] Andreea Cojocaru: I've been looking at Varela and I've been looking also at Eastern thought, Eastern philosophy and Orthodox Hinduism, the really, the four thousand year old stuff. So I've been finding strange parallels between some of that and some of the VR experiences that I've been having and I think it's the same kind of parallels that we've been drawing between my stories and process philosophy.
[01:23:25.880] Kent Bye: That's quite a pivot in evolution and thought since we first met. So that's very interesting to hear that you've been digging into the, is it the Vendantes that you've been looking at?
[01:23:35.288] Andreea Cojocaru: Yes, yes. Yes, I, as far as those particular things are concerned, I have to admit that I used to be an intellectual snob. And it is my VR experiences that have compelled me to look in places that I would have never thought of looking into before.
[01:24:05.848] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I guess that sort of proves out my slide that I had in my talk here, which is that VR could catalyze a deeper philosophical paradigm shift, which I think is kind of reinforced in me that we needed some sort of shift in our paradigms, and I feel like that There's been phenomenological shifts that I've seen people go through but I feel like there are these deeper philosophical shifts and I'm happy that it's just like a sample size of one of the philosophers that I know that have gone through that transition but you know the analytic tradition is still pretty steep in the substance metaphysics and you know whenever I try to give those types of arguments it to some extent falls upon deaf ears but I do think that there are actually like little pockets of people that are connected to VR that more and more I'm finding people that have this process relational connection. You know, at least two people that I found in this trip that their ears perked up and they said, oh, you're looking at process philosophy. I'm a process philosopher. I'm looking at this. And so I feel like that over time, there's going to be more awareness of this. And you know, when I talked to Grant Maxwell, he was talking about how Deleuze in terms of the citations when it comes to the humanities is surpassing people like Derrida. And so like, And Deleuze can be seen as a process relational philosopher as well. And other thinkers that Grant Maxwell covers in his book, Integration and Difference, Constructing a Mythical Dialectic, where he covers 13 total philosophers, 12 of which could be explicitly identified as process relational philosophers. So I feel like there's a long tradition going all the way back to Heraclitus, at least in the Western tradition. But, you know, we can look to other traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, indigenous philosophy. And I feel like There's something really nice about the process-relational approach that allows for this kind of pluralism where you can have this coexistence of these many different perspectives because it's not like the intellect tradition is completely irrelevant. They can still have a lot of useful insight with the lens that they're providing. I just feel like, for me, the underlying metaphysical grounding of process-relational metaphysics provides a great baseline for having this new shift in reality that can also accommodate other aspects of these other traditions in a way that we can use all of them to gain insights into this.
[01:26:10.511] Andreea Cojocaru: I think there's a very interesting thing happening with what you just said. Basically, virtual reality is still something that is mostly accessible to Western developers. It's a Western hobby right now, let me put it that way. But this strange thing is happening where our Western hobby is revealing to us dimensions of human experience for which we cannot find grounding in our Western metaphysics. So although we're Western intellectual snobs playing with our new shiny toys, we found ourselves suddenly in this territory for which there's not much basis into, you know, the amazing intellectual structures and castles that Western metaphysics has built for us and on which we have built our empires, literally.
[01:27:19.299] Kent Bye: end colonial mindset that is not in fundamental relationship to that type of process relational philosophy. So yeah, just the caveat there of that colonial impulse is grounded in that myth of separation and ability to not find the relationality of how it should be in relationship.
[01:27:36.217] Andreea Cojocaru: Yes, yes. So we've, we've built our empires on on western thought with all of the categories of thought and objects having very clear properties and we've built everyday life and empires and colonialism and our technology and all the goodies of western civilization on those principles and those categories and we've not really touched them. There are important parts of philosophy and thought that have been emerging, like anti-colonial intellectual thought, feminism, queer theory, and so on, that are important attempts to shift perspective. But by and large, everyday life and everything is still governed by those principles of thought that order reality in a certain way that have been established several hundred years ago and that continue the Greek tradition of thinking. And virtual reality and emerging technologies is one of the things that are emerging out of this Western thought and out of this Western civilization, like most technology. But here we are in this paradoxical situation where the fruits of our own brilliant systems of thought and of organizing reality got to the point where maybe because they're so advanced, maybe because they're so extraordinary, that they absolutely validate, in a sense, the beauty and the strength of those intellectual constructs that we build our castles on, but also point in a compelling way to domains of human experience that those structures completely left out. and not just left out, but embarked on the process of colonialism in all of its geographical, political, and intellectual dimensions, and attempted to, and in many cases succeeded, in eradicating. So here we are, Western thinkers and developers with our new shiny toys and our new shiny technology, being left in the dark and turning east and turning to these cultures which we have attempted for many centuries to close the door on.
[01:30:29.589] Kent Bye: Yeah, well I think over the years I've been coming to similar conclusions and it's nice to have a peer in the philosophical perspective at least in the XR community sort of coming to independently in our own paths and each our own ways of kind of having this new epoch of thinking and the need for this new epoch of thinking. that's reflected in this new experience that we have in our bodies that we're trying to find the language and the concepts and the philosophical, metaphysical foundations for. So that for me is like terribly exciting. So I'm really glad that I had a chance to catch up with you and to like talk about this. And I guess as we start to wrap up here, well, first of all, before we start to wrap up, is there any other topics or anything else that you'd want to enter into a conversation or any questions or any thoughts or reflections before we start to wind down?
[01:31:18.476] Andreea Cojocaru: I just want to mention briefly something. We should not get into it in this conversation because that's definitely another conversation. There is a project that I've been working on that touches upon a lot of these things. And it's a VR game we will be releasing this year. But I think you should try it first. And then I'm looking forward to revisiting all of this. from that perspective. So this conversation has been tackling these issues using architecture and participatory architecture and engaging in that design process through VR.
[01:31:59.563] Kent Bye: And process relational architecture.
[01:32:00.924] Andreea Cojocaru: Process relational architecture, yes. So this has been major, major, coining that, a major conversation for me. So thank you for that. And I'm looking forward to perhaps a future one where we do this thing again, but through the context of this VR game slash experience that we'll be releasing. That's exactly this. but in a very, very fundamentally different way.
[01:32:34.345] Kent Bye: So if you've been enjoying this conversation, look out for this game by Numina. Does it have a name?
[01:32:40.108] Andreea Cojocaru: Yes. It's called 1381, which tells you a lot.
[01:32:45.131] Kent Bye: 1381. OK. Look up that date, folks. See where we go back to. The cusp of even before the printing press. All right, well, I guess as we start to wrap up, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality might be and what it might be able to enable?
[01:33:02.189] Andreea Cojocaru: That feels like a call to summarize this conversation. I don't think I can do it. It's to remind us to enjoy the ride.
[01:33:22.677] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?
[01:33:30.259] Andreea Cojocaru: Hang in there. As a VR developer, I know things are tough and I know we're all balancing the tremendous excitement that we get out of this technology with just all the challenges that come. Yeah, I just feel like saying, you're not alone. I know that sounds a bit cheesy and weird, but if you're telling me to say something to the community, that's the first thing that comes to mind.
[01:34:09.757] Kent Bye: Yeah, VR is still in this weird liminal state where it's kind of touch and go for a lot of people who are driven by passion and excitement about the potentials of the future. But the pragmatic reality is that, yeah, it can be really hard for many people in the industry. So I appreciate all that you're doing to find all the ways to balance what you're doing in your work. And I always love catching up with you. And I feel like we'll have a series of these conversations over the years that I think will be nice to kind of look back on. Yeah, I'll have to resend you some of the conversations that I've done with the process philosophers and have another look at that and see if there's any other things that pop up from these other conversations that I've had with folks like Dr. Matt Siegel and Dr. Grant Maxwell who've both been diving deep into that process relational realm and have been guiding for me. Also, Lewis Gordon is another conversation I had who's a process relational philosopher talking about identity and Yeah, I'm excited to talk to more people in the community about process philosophy and generally see, you know, how this can continue to elucidate what's happening in the realm of virtual reality. So again, always a pleasure to catch up and to have a mutual mind bending conversation. And yeah, thanks again for joining me.
[01:35:22.009] Andreea Cojocaru: Thank you so much, Kent. It's been great.
[01:35:24.800] Kent Bye: So that was Andrea Ion Consocaro. She's a VR developer at Numina, her design shop that does both AR VR development and architectural design. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, I always love talking to Andrea because she thinks so deeply about what she's doing and why she's very, very driven by these deep philosophical questions. And often it starts with those philosophical questions. And then from there, it evolves into these different experiments and explorations that she's doing like this phenomenological sensory experiences of like putting herself down at the bottom of the well and seeing how the light changes and using her hand to change the light and then transform that well into a tower and so taking the normal forms of architecture and mashing them up in a way that is much more in a dynamic changing unfolding process that is changing the deeper context around it and also giving this direct embodied experience to people that is able to unpack and reveal what is usually a black box creative process of architecture and spatial design and revealing it to people as more of a performative aspect that gives them a whole embodied experience. And so this relationship between our bodies in the space around us, and these performative aspects that she's really been influenced by this Stanislavski improv and orthodox hinduism that she's looking at and the vendanta is that there's these eerie parallels from like 4 000 years ago that are very contemporarily applied to what's happening in these virtual environments and so getting away from seeing the nature of reality as being grounded in these physical objects and more of the experiential aspects of both the realms of potential that are able to be described in these virtually mediated space that are always not grounded in say physical tangible reality but looking at both the Aspects of agency and social mental dimensions and emotional dimensions and the embodied presence and environmental presence that we get in these virtually mediated spaces All these processes and relationships and how they're related to them and so we decided on coining it as process relational architecture of this process that she's doing that we were searching for the right term and language to encompass all the different dimensions of that and And I'm just really gratified that we're able to have this conversation and to come to that realization and to also, like, I had done a more of a recent interview with Matt Siegel, who's this Whitehead scholar and process philosopher and who's applying process philosophy onto all sorts of different contexts. In episode 1183, I talk about his book called Crossing the Thresholds, Etheric Imagination, the Post-Kantian Process Philosophy of Schelling and Whitehead, from Kant to more of an organic view of reality and scaffolding a process-relational paradigm shift that Whitehead represents that I first talked about back in 2020. And then in these discussions that I was having with Andrea and these back channels, I was sending her this, as well as this conversation that I did with Grant Maxwell. that I published back on October 27, 2022, it was about 13 philosophers on the problem of opposites. And so we're looking at his book called integration and difference, constructing a mythical dialectic, which in that book, he starts with Derrida as kind of like this deconstructionist, but then goes into a series of process relational thinkers from Spinoza, Leibniz, Hegel, Schelling, Nietzsche, William James, Henry Bergson, Whitehead, Carl Jung, Gilles Deleuze, James Hillman and Isabel Stingers. And so there's a series of different process relational thinkers that are being explicated in this book. And then this conversation I did with Matt Siegel, and more explicitly saying that, hey, I really feel like virtual reality could give people a paradigm shift into this more process relational thinking. So I had sent my latest interview with Matt Siegel to Andrea for her different comments. And so she's basically saying, nah, I don't think that VR can start to do some of these things. And then in the middle of the interview, she has the realization that that very thing that she had doubted that she had actually gone through her own experience of coming that same realization, which is essentially that she had had these embodied experiences that were having her question the deeper metaphysical grounding of the nature of reality that with Western metaphysics is very much grounded in substance and the static view of reality. But her own experience was much more into this relational aspect of these unfolding processes that were happening through the context of these virtually mediated environments where the metaphysics in the Western tradition doesn't necessarily fully account for what her direct embodied phenomenological experiences. So I'd say it's less than my own arguments I was giving and more from her own direct embodied experiences that she sort of independently came to this deeper philosophical shift in how she viewed the world. And so in my talk at South by Southwest, I was talking about the ultimate potentials of VR. And one of the things I said is that VR has the potential to bring about and catalyze deeper philosophical metaphysical paradigm shifts away from substance metaphysics into process relational metaphysics. And so at least from the use case of myself and Andrea and her own experience that there's a sample size of at least two right now, But I do feel like there's a lot of deeper philosophical inspiration that are coming from this process relational tradition that I've started to explore and come across a couple of people in the context of this trip at South by Southwest. And I'll be talking with Claire J. Fitch about media geography and the relationship between humans and the environment. into this human-dash environment as this hyphenated, interrelated, and interconnected processes and relations that she is exulcating in her work and also is very deeply inspired by process philosophy and Whitehead and these other process relational thinkers. That'll be getting to in four episodes from now. But overall, there is this deeper philosophical paradigm shift that I feel like that VR has the capability of giving someone a direct embodied experience of these new views of understanding the nature of our experience, the nature of our consciousness and the nature of reality itself, that can actually go down into a deep, deep core metaphysical layer. So that's sort of my bold claim, and I think it was just fun to be able to have this kind of in-the-moment realization with Andrea. Like I said, there's nothing that I said intellectually that I was convincing her. It was, in fact, her own direct embodied experiences that led her to this conclusion. I feel like that's the power of VR, is that you can start to make these philosophical arguments that are much more in an embodied context, rather than more from language or through communication or through things like this podcast. through people's own direct embodied experiences, they come to a new realization about the underlying nature of reality and how it can be more in right relationship to the world around us, which for me is a big potential for what we ultimately need is to be in relationship to ourselves, to be in relationship to the people around us, to be in relationship to the world and the cosmos and to all dimensions of reality. And so yeah, just really fascinating to catch up with her. I'm really curious to see what she's doing with her experience of 1381. I know I'm going to really be deeply fascinated in an expression of her ideas and character that it's going to be a really cool experience to see what she's been cooking up there with her game. And also to see what she's experimenting with, with the spectral cities and this open source city experimentations that she's been doing. And I think if you want to participate in some of these participatory and process relational architectural design processes, then it sounds like that she's cultivating a bit of a community to do that. And the platforms like Spatial to modulate the world around you and experiment with the phenomenological experiences of this interactive participatory creative process that she does within her own architectural design process. Anyway, lots of really fun, exciting things that she's working on and really glad to always catch up with Andrea and super looking forward to what she continues to do here in the future. And if you enjoy this conversation, then be sure to check out our previous two conversations. And we also collaborated on the immersive architecture of Half-Life Alyx that I did with myself, her, and Frederick Helberg, where we dive into more of the environmental and experiential design aspects of Half-Life Alyx. And she had lots of really interesting, philosophically driven insights about that piece as well. So, that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to make this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening.