#559: Researching Awe with Google Earth VR: Towards a Virtual Overview Effect

denise-quesnelOne of the unique affordances of virtual reality is it’s power to convey the vastness of scale, which can invoke feelings of awe. Denise Quesnel is a graduate student at Simon Frasier University’s iSpace Lab, and she has been studying the process of invoking awe by using Google Earth VR. She was inspired by Frank White’s work on The Overview Effect, which documented the worldview transformations of many astronauts after they observed the vastness of the Earth from the perspective of space.

Quesnel wants to better understand of the overview effect phenomenon, and whether or not it’s possible to use immersive VR to induce it. Anecdotally, I think that it’s certainly possible as I reported my own experience of having a virtual overview effect in my interview with Google Earth VR engineers. She won the best 3DUI poster award at the IEEE VR conference for her study “Awestruck: Natural Interaction with Virtual Reality on Eliciting Awe.

I had a chance to catch up with Quesnel at the IEEE VR conference in March where she shared her research into awe, how it can be quantified by verbal expressions, chills, or goose bumps, and how she sees awe as a catalyst for the transformative potential of virtual reality.


Here’s a short video summarizing Quesnel’s research into using Google Earth VR to study the induction of awe.

Here’s Quesnel’s poster on Awe

Subscribe on iTunes

Become a member of the Voices of VR Podcast Patreon

Music: Fatality & Summer Trip

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. So one of the things that virtual reality can do that is better than any other medium that has come before is to convey the sense of scale and vastness. And when you're in a VR experience and you see this scale, you have this sense of awe and wonder because it's so large and huge and often bigger than anything else you've ever experienced before. People often will be able to experience this in real life when they go to somewhere like the Grand Canyon, but not everybody can travel there. And there's just a lot of things in life that have huge scale that is just not very accessible. So virtual reality has a way of tricking our brain into giving us this sense of scale. And so Denise Connell is someone who has been researching this in terms of, can you invoke these states of awe and wonder within virtual reality? And can we have this artificially induced overview effect where you're looking at the earth from the heavens and you're able to see the vastness of the entire earth? And so I had a chance to catch up with Denise Quinnell where we talk about Awe and Wonder and some of her research of what are the primary components of it and what are some things you can do to potentially invoke it. So that's what we'll be covering on today's episode of Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Denise happened at the IEEE VR conference that was happening in Los Angeles, California on March 18th to 22nd, 2017. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:43.603] Denise Quesnel: My name is Denise Quinnell and I am a graduate student at the iSpace Laboratory that's at Simon Fraser University in Canada. So my area of study, at least right now, is how to elicit awe using virtual reality. So there's a couple different fields, so to speak, of this research. One is How can we use VR as a tool and the other is how can we use VR as a medium? And I think that we need to separate or try and unpack what those two things are because as soon as you imply virtual reality as a tool, it becomes a commodification. So does that mean that I can just put this headset on somebody and it's going to work? Somebody's going to feel awe and wonder and curiosity. be transformed by the experience. And it turns out that's not necessarily the case. So there's been an awful lot of research on how to elicit awe using things like music and cinema, for example. And what has been found is aesthetics alone can't elicit this experience. You need a sense of there's a human nature of openness to an experience that needs to be present. So either you need to have that personality trait or what's more common is you need to feel open to an experience before you even enter it. And then there's another area which is VR as a medium, which is a combination of narrative and aesthetics and embodied cognition to actually elicit an all experience. What that means is you might use a variety of aesthetic and cognitive factors within a virtual reality environment, so interaction, actual aesthetic landscapes, but you need a combination of these things to actually get an awe experience. And so why awe? Why is that even important? It turns out that awe is a very strong emotion on what's called a index of transformative emotional experience. And it encompasses the need to accommodate along with vastness. So you look at something and you see vastness and huge scales larger than life. Wow, I am so small compared to this. But you also realize, I need to accommodate this and make sense of this. And so once that happens, there's a change in your worldview. So what worldview you used to have has now changed or been modified. And on top of that, you have a new body of knowledge that's actually building on what your old body of knowledge once was.

[00:04:09.592] Kent Bye: Interesting. Well, there's a lot of to impact there, but let's start with awe in this Being able to invoke this worldview shift essentially and you know, there's different theories of worldview development and you know If we look at Thomas Kuhn in the structure of scientific revolutions, for example He's sort of breaking down the different steps that happen in course of scientific development Which is that there's a theory and then at some point there's an anomaly where there's something that you see that can't be explained by the existing theory and And usually at this point, most people discard the anomaly as just anomalous and then they keep with their theory. But yet, if the evidence is so compelling, then you have to actually expand your paradigm into a larger space so that you can accommodate this anomalous information. It sounds like this process of awe is that you're witnessing something that, in your mind, you can't categorize. You can't put some sort of container schema around it. That's something that you've been able to really observe and be able to comprehend and understand. And whether that's looking over the edge of the Grand Canyon or looking at the ocean or invoking this experience of the overview effect within VR, whether it's Google Earth VR, be able to kind of synthetically create these experiences of vastness that are forcing the accommodation which is then spurring the transformation.

[00:05:30.302] Denise Quesnel: It's interesting because I've kind of seen this new research on awe to almost be in parallel to this paradigm shift that's happened over the past decade in computer human interaction. So that whole area has undergone a huge shift in terms of how, okay, so how do we measure things like engagement? Should we even call it measuring engagement? What does that mean? How do we impact these terms? And so the area of measuring awe is convoluted because you can't actually measure awe directly. You can only measure somebody's subjective experience of awe. But there's different physiological traits that go along with it, like goosebumps. So the most common reason why that happens is because you're cold. But if you can actually control for the warmth of your room and control for the temperature there, the second reason that they happen is because it's an elicitor of an art perspective shift experience. A lot of people who listen to music, musicians, know this because they actually call it frisson, or the experience of changing one's life through a particular song. And people actually have read it. I think it's reddit slash frisson or something like that where you can go and list songs that give you this incredible sense of awe and wonder when you're listening to a song. People rank it and upvote it in terms of whether or not it worked for them. So similarly with VR, now you've got interaction to actually comprehend with. And what was interesting doing this experiment was we used Google Earth VR and I was really pleased because I was working with a model that I was working in a game engine of Earth and I was not happy with how things were going because it was missing that element of control and interactivity and scale. And then Google Earth came out one week before we ran the study of these micro pilot and micro experiments. So I was pretty happy about that. And what was beautiful about that was it does use travel in a natural way. You don't really teleport. You don't really fly. You just kind of float through from place to place. And then of course there is a chance to look at the globe and see yourself in space and actually select a place on the globe and transport yourself to that place. But it's not, it doesn't feel science fiction. It feels very natural. But what we also found out was the text and looking at the actual menu of the controllers did take people out of the awe experience. So as people were reporting, you know, I started to feel a sense of wonder and I was floating through the mountains. Then it occurred to me I could look at the controller and see what this mountain range was called. So I looked down, but then once I looked down and I read the controller and started looking at the menu buttons, I kind of got taken out a little bit of where I was at. So it's interesting that the interaction itself

[00:08:11.402] Kent Bye: Although it gives you a sense of embodiment and immersion and it could lead eventually to presence It also does it does actually take you out of a flow state of being able to experience all in wonder Yeah, and I've experienced that especially in a experience like sleep no more in New York City where there's no dialogue there's no speaking and you're essentially in this right brain state of what it feels like being in a ritual and And I feel like VR is in much the same way. I feel like whenever I read text in VR, it does break my sense of presence because I start to use my left brain in a new way. So I think that the unique affordances of VR is that spatial medium and that you are able to replicate this sense of vastness within Google Earth VR. Now, there's a lot of different places you can go on the Earth. And I'm curious if you found a correlation between people going to places that they were emotionally connected to, someplace that they have nostalgia or they haven't been to in a long time. And if they were able to go there and help to create this emotional connection and then this sense of vastness when they were able to maybe zoom up and see what the whole city looked like as they were turning themselves into a drone or a helicopter.

[00:09:18.116] Denise Quesnel: That's an interesting question because a lot of the awe research that's already been done has shown that to get the best responses out of their participants, so the highest, we like to call it in terms of intensities, high-intensity awe where you get goosebumps, you feel chills, maybe there's a difference in your heart rate, people leave and they go, wow, like that was an amazing experience, like I feel really moved by it. It needs to be selected by them. So wherever they go, whatever they listen to, wherever they visit, they need to be able to be the one who chooses it. So we try to measure that in terms of the experimental design by bringing them to a familiar place. In this case, most people at the place where the experiment actually happened was in Vancouver. So we first had them float over Vancouver, we then took them to Mount Everest, and then the final place that they went was a place of their choosing. And we actually flipped that around too, so that some people, half the participants started in Tibet, then they went to Vancouver, but they always finished with a place of their choosing. So the place they were choosing was interesting because a lot of the participants were faculty and students at our university and it was near the end of the semester and I found out while unpacking their interview data and their demographics that they hadn't been home in sometimes three, five years or when they do go home is to take care of business like wrap up unfortunate loss in the family or just visit a relative because they're ailing. So they don't get to really be there. They don't get to go home and actually just let themselves relax and enjoy that place. So, interestingly enough, I believe it was over 70% of our participants decided, for nostalgia's sake, to go back to their hometown and to see what it would look like. And that was interesting to me because I thought, wouldn't you want to go somewhere else if you could go anywhere? The question for them was, now you have a choice. You may go anywhere that you like, but you can only go to one place. Could you go to that one place now? And then when I saw them talk through it and they went, ah, I think I'll go to my hometown. I was very surprised initially that they would do that because I my first thing that was all right I'm gonna go see Mount Everest because I've always wanted to know what that looks like and feels like but getting a sense out of that experiment in the interview that they needed to be there and those people did get that sense of awe like wow they would say it's changed a lot since I last been there when was this recorded or they would say don't remember that that house or they might say that building is still there and it was there when I last saw it 20 years ago. The other places that people went with their choice was like I did the place where they've always wanted to go but never have been able to for some reason and those places were Iceland, Japan and London. A lot of people went to those three places and they immediately started looking for natural phenomenon so usually a very natural Glacier, Waterfall, Mount Fuji, something that stood out or that they've always associated with the wonder of the world. So that was interesting that out of all of those conditions, that was the one that seemed to produce the most instances of all non-participants.

[00:12:22.167] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's not too surprising to me. That was my inclination and the people that I saw. I felt like I was able to get a lot more emotionally connected to people as they were to give us like guided tours through their home and the big emotional peak experiences that they had. And to me what was really striking is just the invoking of this principle of embodied cognition such that you go to this place and you know, not all the places have 3D geometry, but if they do have the 3D geometry, then you can get this really visceral memories that just would pop back into my mind. And so I just found this process of like this mapping of my emotional architecture of my life to be this thing that I've never been able to do before, but yet I think part of it was I had a first-person perspective of the area. But I also had like an abstracted, looking down, oriented towards due north image of what the spatial relationship of that map was. Kind of like when you go and look at the tube map of London, you know, it's sort of this abstraction of what it is, but it's to serve a function for you navigating. How I kind of related but yet for me to for the first time have a relationship to what the earth actually looks like Started to do things like you know I'm much more interested in studying like river basins for example which is to look at the water cycle and to see the elevation and knowing that the river basin of a region actually is more of a way of relating to the earth as the earth actually is rather than these artificial boundaries that are there so anyway, there's some of my experiences of going into Google Earth VR, but I just found that I felt like I personally had this overview effect. So I don't know if you've been able to break down like what are the key components and ingredients of what is going to invoke that overview effect.

[00:14:04.513] Denise Quesnel: Yeah, a lot of work has been done in transcribing astronauts' experiences of the overview effect, and it sounds as though, say we were to replicate it, and this is one of the things our lab is trying to do, is create an overview effect without actually having to shuttle people up into space and look down at the planet. Not only is that terrible for the environment, it's also just not practical. And when you start looking at the transcripts, the astronauts are saying things like, I was working, I was doing a task, I was really focused on the task, and then I looked out the window and I saw the Earth in front of me and I couldn't believe just how big and beautiful and blue it was. I believe you interviewed Edgar Mitchell, and he's been a huge proponent of this overview effect, which is a term that Frank White coined, I believe it was in 1988, possibly earlier, around what happened to these astronauts. They came back with a renewed sense of purpose, spirit, and their whole value and belief system had shifted as a result of that experience. And it was interesting because for those astronauts, they found that a lot of them, because they came from military, it was very difficult in having them use a vernacular that didn't make them sound like they weren't going to be taken seriously by their superiors. So they had to be careful about saying things like, I was transformed and I had this experience, because they didn't know how well that was going to be received. 70s, 80s, Cold War was going on, people went to space for a purpose, they had to do a job, and it was a bit of a byproduct of that very experience. So the idea is if you can collect interview data from different participants when they have an Earth experience or an overview-like effect experience using Google Earth or even now with the new ISS experience that's come out on the RIF, maybe that would be a great one to try. and look at the type of terms that they're using. So if they're saying things like, I was struck by how huge this world was. I felt really small. I felt very connected to the people around it. I felt like I had to protect it. You can actually start looking back at the astronaut text and saying, okay, well, what they're describing there are aspects of the overview effect, which does contain feelings of awe and wonder, and also some fear, of course, because awe has such valence to it as an emotion that you might initially be afraid but end up being overjoyed, or you might start overjoyed and become more conservative as a result. But yeah, unpacking where the interactivity and the embodied cognition comes in is something that hasn't been extensively researched, and we're trying to break that down into various factors, so it's been an interesting process.

[00:16:42.956] Kent Bye: Yeah, you know, for me personally, I think Edgar Mitchell and his work with the Institute of Noetic Sciences has been a huge part of my own evolution and worldview. You know, through that experience he had kind of like that anomalous experience of being able to have this Samadhi spiritual transcendent experience when he was in that ship coming back down. And so when he came back and he was looking through all the scientific literature and all the religious literature, he was essentially not finding any help to be able to describe what it was. that he experienced until he turned to the mystical literature and found that he had this Samadhi experience. And so he was like, well, if I had this, then we need to be able to study it. And so he felt like the realm of consciousness was something that was not really being taken into account to the Enlightenment period mind-body dualistic perspective. And so he started doing all this research into consciousness. And so just a lot of rigorous work that they've been doing in that realm. And I think that I've had my own personal experience because I had an intellectual idea about what the overview effect was, but it wasn't until I actually had the direct experience and had it in my body that it was in me in a new and different way. And I think that is the really interesting part of this is that the embodied cognition part is that giving your body a direct experience of it, even if you intellectually believe it, I think it changed me. And I don't know what that was exactly and how to describe it, but having that ability, maybe it's that agency, that interactivity and ability to control and to look around and to have a full experience that's mediated through VR, but that it's different than seeing it in a 2D screen. There's something about having all of your sensory body included and tricked in that experience that I think is tricking an unconscious or subconscious part of ourselves that we may not really fully understand yet.

[00:18:32.473] Denise Quesnel: I'm just thinking as you're saying that because there's, at least in our lab and with some of the collaborators, we're talking about what does the role of body transfer and emotional transfer look like, for example. So say you had the overview effect once in Google Earth VR. Does that mean that you can go to the same place five times and experience it to the same level of intensity? Maybe, maybe not, but what happens if you take somebody with you who's never seen that place and you share that experience with them and then they say, oh my god, wow, this is unbelievable. As a result of being in a social atmosphere, will that transfer once more to you and increase your sense of awe and wonder because you're living it through somebody else's eyes or through their experiences? That's a huge question. But the body is incredible at remembering what an experience was like and what it meant. A lot of musicians will listen, when they want to get into the zone, they'll listen to the same piece over and over. It's a bit of a running joke that, oh, well, aren't you tired of that? Well, no, because there's so much depth to that piece. There's such an individualistic experience to them. It's not about that experience as a stimuli anymore. Yeah, sure, it's music or it's a cinematic. experience or maybe it's an IMAX experience, but it's what you, what your body remembers and it's what you apply on top of it to shift that worldview, to create a new worldview that actually results in the lasting experience at the end. So I would love to try other experiences that maybe don't have flying or some sort of earth-like effect, but just follow an exploratory narrative and see if I can also have a shift in my worldview. What Google Earth does really, really nicely is it doesn't provoke you in some way. It doesn't really lead you. It just lets you decide where you want to go and that's something I'm really interested in is can you decide for yourself without any priming what you want to experience and what kind of journey you actually want to go through and can you actually get the same result as somebody who is maybe a little bit doubtful that they can be engaged in the same way. That openness is a huge element to being able to experience a profound shift. So, yeah, that's interesting, actually, idea.

[00:20:51.102] Kent Bye: Yeah, as you're saying that, I had the interview with a couple of engineers from Google Earth VR, and one of the things that I was surprised was that there was no search function. You know, it's Google. You always can search. And the thing they said is that, you know, we really designed this from the ground up with the VR in mind, and we found that the experience of flying up and flying down was such a compelling part of that experience. You can even do it without tilting it up and looking at the boundaries in the cities, but just start to try to find my way based upon the natural landmarks. But, you know, one of the things that also through the course of this interview I've, you know, have my own sort of framework I've been, you know, working on in terms of coming up with an elemental theory of presence or an elemental theory of experiential design. So if you look at the fire element, that's a lot of the agency and interactivity of being able to be in control. Air element being the mental and social dimension. So there's a social dimension that's yet to be explored, but the mental is just being able to believe that all this is coherent and makes sense, you know. Once you go into Google Earth VR at the ground level, and it can get a little uncanny and unplausible, but if you're hovering around, you know, it can still maintain that plausibility from a mental context. And then there's the body, the embodiment within the experience. You know, you don't have an explicit sense of your body being there, but being able to just look around, you have your direct sensory input of being able to simulate what it would be like if you were there, even if you're a bit of a ghost in this experience. But the thing that I think that you're really touching on and exploring a lot is the emotional presence, the affective dimension. And you mentioned emotional transfer and all these dimensions of awe. And I think music helps evoke the emotions in a way that we don't perhaps fully have a complete framework of how that works. But I'm wondering if you could speak a little bit more about this concept of emotional transfer or emotional presence as a part of a key part of creating an experience.

[00:22:40.737] Denise Quesnel: Yeah, I was talking a little bit today with a few people about the idea of what effect actually looks like. And you can't, like I was saying earlier, you can't really measure an effect directly, but you can get a sense of what that means. So you can use something called an effect grid. And it actually measures balance and arousal, which is how you measure effect or an emotional experience. So the idea is that you can rate valence, so from not nice to very nice, pleasing. And you can rate arousal from I'm sleepy to very, very alert. And there's a magical moment that happens between this is really pleasant and I'm really alert, that those individuals tend to have an excellent VR experience where, yeah, they also feel a sense of embodiment and presence. And that can change, so if you were to get them to fill out such a grid, like a pre-test before they go through an experience, and then to measure it post-test, you can definitely say that that experience of being in VR resulted in that shift for them. They're not rating the experience directly, but they're rating their feeling once they've come out, like so a post-experience impression. I think we have to be careful about trying to quantify emotional experiences because there's so many personal factors that come into play. Like as an example, I was talking to somebody who said, I had a friend who was really, really into the Google VR until she almost fainted. And I was kind of like, oh, wow, that's a bit intense. How did that happen? It turns out that that person really was enjoying themself. And then they were up in the sky and they looked down. And they remembered, I have a fear of heights. And as soon as I hit them, okay, checking out, and they almost passed out. So there's these personal factors. But if you're just looking at it from a scientific perspective, you might say, wow, they were so immersed, like they're so immersed that they fell over. And without unpacking all those personal kind of factors that happen in people's own previous experiences, you're never going to get a true sense of that impression. There's another thing that we have to be careful about when we're talking about creating emotional experiences or measuring aspects of what contributes to an emotional experience, and that's the idea around priming. So trying not to use Cinematic cues that we already know work in cinema and try and transfer that into VR So what I mean by that is if you wanted to create a rocket ship experience Maybe you wouldn't go and do a countdown clock Maybe you you might not want to give them a vibrating chair because then the expectation there is okay So I'm in a amusement park ride and I'm about to see incredible visuals and be taken on a journey and this actually is interesting because it came out of a study a few years back led by John Gallagher and And they were using a cave environment, so not head-mounted display, but still virtual reality. And what they found was when they removed a lot of these priming cues that gave people a sense that they were about to go on an amusement park ride or have an intense cinematic experience, they were able to have a lot more of an authentic experience because they weren't trying to put any of these preconceived notions of what it should be onto it. So again, that comes back to the openness and the idea of you're coming to an experience just open canvas, ready to experience something without any sort of prior belief or value system that you're going to impose upon your experience. So it's almost like you have to start with a complete clean slate before you build a new worldview. Otherwise, you might just end up comparing what you just saw to something else that you've seen before.

[00:26:15.185] Kent Bye: And so what do you want to experience in VR?

[00:26:19.782] Denise Quesnel: I want to be more conscientious about how I treat the planet. I've noticed that we say one thing and then we do another thing completely, but what really makes you deliver on your promise, regardless of what that is, so say I wanted to definitely always remember my cloth bag so I don't get plastic or stop drinking out of plastic water bottles or bring my own coffee cup instead of reusing. What would do that for me is some sort of transformative experience of, all right, you know, I see it in some sort of perspective and now my belief and value system has changed, my worldview has changed and now I'm actually going to do what I'm saying I'm going to do. There's a lot of work done already in psychology that shows when people have negative reinforcement, their belief and value system doesn't stick. So that's why they're finding like with even kids working on exams, when there's a punishment such as you've got a pop quiz, no time to prepare, you just have to know your stuff. It's kind of negative reinforcement in the sense that well, you're kind of doomed from the beginning, you're put in this uncomfortable position. But if you allow that person to have ownership or agency of their actions, and there's a positive outcome rather than a negative reinforcement outcome, they're more likely to actually be open to that shift in belief and value that results in non-permanent change. So I want to create experiences that lead to that very shift. Maybe they're entertaining also, maybe they're beautiful, maybe they're emotional, who knows, they might be a combination. But that's what I want to see done in VR and the implication for being therapeutic and personal and connecting us with one another as human to human. Obviously in our climate right now, that's only something that we can do a lot better with.

[00:28:06.508] Kent Bye: Yeah, it reminds me of an experience I had at Sundance from Condition One by Danfong Dennis, looking at these different animal rights immersive documentaries, showing the conditions of these different chicken farms. And I had this experience of going through that experience and then buying eggs that very evening and finding myself Making different consumer choices. So it was just that exactly what you're talking about is having a direct embodied experience in VR That is changing my day-to-day behaviors and so has there been research on that or people come up with lessons about how to actually carry that out and successfully accomplish taking large complex problems and then giving people a direct experience of that and then with the aim of changing individual behavior day-to-day and

[00:28:52.208] Denise Quesnel: So I know that at Stanford, Jeremy Billinson's group has been doing a bit of this. And one experience I haven't tried, but it was part of an experimental study that they did, was you embodied a cow. So you're a cow in a peaceful pasture, and the way it's described is that you just continue being a cow, and it's beautiful and very nice. you eat and you just do what a cow does until one day you're called into a lineup. And so your body just goes along with all the other cows into this queue and you realize you're being led into a butcher. You're about to be killed. And they were describing how Intense that was for several of the participants who ripped off the headset. They didn't actually even make it to the warehouse I would like to try it because I'm really curious about what that would feel like and I think it is also I heard a couple stories from people who tried it saying you have to be cautious too because There's a sense of if somebody didn't know so say they didn't know they're about to have this experience and they were slightly maybe not not quite as There may have been grief that they weren't prepared to deal with or maybe they weren't ready to have that kind of event happen They weren't properly prepped that might be an unwanted experience and they without having prior knowledge that that's what was going to happen Maybe they wouldn't want it, but then you get into testy territory because in order to actually cause that shift to happen, you need the surprise, that huge shift of, I'm this animal in a field and everything is great to, oh my gosh, like this is the end. So I think there's this ethical appraisal there. I think there's a few people who are starting to talk about this, but there's an appraisal there that has to happen around ethics and putting people in unwanted experiences or disclosure when we are going to create VR experiences that leads to these very shifts.

[00:30:40.864] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah. It's something of, I've had definitely experiences of witnessing similar themes from a third person, not a first person. But yeah, it is intense, but it was also like I was expecting it to be intense. So I was ready to do that. So interesting kind of ethical issues. And, and finally, what do you see is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality? And what am I be able to enable?

[00:31:05.584] Denise Quesnel: Oh, that's a good question because this is me now putting on my SIGGRAPH hat a little bit because after three years of VR Village, we keep seeing submissions that push the envelope from all over the world. And one of the themes that's happening now is social VR. So a lot of people automatically assume, oh, is that the thing where you all put your headset on together and you experience the same thing at once? It's like, well, Not quite, but it's social VR in the extent of if you are wearing a wireless headset and you're in a room and you're with somebody else across the planet and they're in their space and you're working out a problem, you're having a conversation, so incorporating values of telepresence, but taking it to the next step of can you really feel like that person's there? Because, I mean, when we talk through the phone and Skype, there's still this screen-based barrier. We know that you're talking through a screen, even children, like young infants, they know that it's, that person's not there. But in some of the more successful things that I've done in VR, where you're kicking a football around and the latency is pretty much down to zero, and I can see a ball being thrown at me and I can catch it, and I realize that somebody in China just threw that ball my way, and there's a sense of, wow, like, We're doing this. This is amazing. Can we actually build something? Can we collaborate together? Can we actually work out a problem together? I feel like that's a huge huge component and if I sound vague it's because I don't even know what the potential of that is because immediately you want to go to application and how can we create a product out of this? But what I feel like is it needs to be more of an exploration of what would that actually be and feel like and can we just do it for the sake of an experience? Does it have to turn into something deliberate?

[00:32:48.392] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.

[00:32:50.233] Denise Quesnel: Great. Thank you very much, Kent. It's always good talking.

[00:32:53.454] Kent Bye: So that was Denise Quinnell. She's a graduate student at the Simon Fraser University in Canada, and she's been researching awe and wonder within virtual reality. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, It's interesting that the emotion of awe leads to this transformation potential. So, when you're looking at an experience that is so vast and huge, it kind of transcends your category schemas within your mind. You can't categorize it, so you're forced to either ignore it, or, you know, if it's right in front of your eyes, you can't ignore it, so you're almost forced to expand your mind. So Thomas Kuhn looked at the structure of scientific revolutions. He looked at this concept of paradigms and these category schemas that people have of these mental models that they use to make sense of something. And when you're presented with evidence that is anomalous to that paradigm, you have either a couple of choices. Either you ignore it or you accommodate and you expand your worldview and your paradigm in order to accommodate that information. So this feeling of awe and wonder, what Denise is saying, is that it has this high valence. It's super potent and intense. And I think that in virtual reality, as all the different mediums that are out there, is able to invoke this in a way that goes beyond what you're able to experience by looking at something on a 2D screen, which is a little bit more of an abstraction. So there's something about tricking our sensory motor contingencies to be able to actually feel like that sense of scale and vastness that we can enable to achieve within virtual reality. It starts to make it feel like you have an experience of it and it's in your body in a new way that it becomes a memory. And I think that's my own personal experience of what I experienced when I saw Google Earth VR and started to have this kind of like synthetically induced overview effect where I was like, Oh my God, we all live on this planet and we all live on this common ground and It was something that I had known intellectually, but I think it was just in my body in a new way. So I do feel like I've had these experiences of consciousness transformation by using virtual reality, specifically with Google Earth VR. I have a number of interviews that I did at the Institute of Noetic Sciences conference that just happened this past weekend, where they're actually looking at awe and wonder as well as a way to potentially have people go through these different experiences and see if they can either measure it or help create these ripples of consciousness transformation based upon giving these feelings of awe and wonder within virtual reality. So I'm excited to dive into some of those other discussions about models of consciousness transformation and what these consciousness researchers are doing in terms of looking at virtual reality and how they can apply it to what they're doing. The other thing that was interesting is that there was a sense of having some sort of control and interactivity and expression of agency within the experience. And so it wasn't a passive experience, but you're able to actually control either what you're looking at or be able to actually navigate and locomote through these different environments and worlds. And that seemed to also be a component that Denise was looking at. The other thing that Denise mentioned that some of the research is bearing out as well is that you have this feeling of like, your sense of your identity being really small compared to the earth. It's like this humbling experience where there's a world and universe that's a lot larger that's out there. And that when you have this sense of vastness and scale, then your sense of identity becomes much, much smaller. And so there's a researcher at Berkeley university has been doing research. And when he has people draw themselves in these different contexts and situations, If they're at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, they're normal size. But when they're asked to draw themselves next to the Grand Canyon, they just make themselves really super tiny. So there's this sense of this huge vastness in that you are just like a little tiny speck in the massive universe. So that's all that I have for today. Just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member to the Patreon that I have. Just a few dollars a month makes a huge difference of being able to allow me to continue to bring you this type of coverage about what's happening in the virtual reality community. So you can donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

More from this show