The hard problem of the mind/body split and the ultimate nature consciousness is an open question in the science community, and there are a range of philosophies that try to handle this split. Cartesian dualists explicitly acknowledge this split as different realms, but interactions between the mind and body have started to break this down. There’s a lot of scientific materialists who are holding out that consciousness will eventually be discovered to be an emergent property of the our neuroscience. Idealism is the opposite of materialism in saying the subjective experience is primary, and it’s similar to saying that consciousness is fundamental in that matter could be an emergent property of a base reality of awareness or information. Panpsychism sees consciousness as universal in that every photo is conscious or carries a certain level of information processing capability. University of Sydney professor Kai Riemer says that phenomenology tries to get rid of the whole idea of this subject/object split, and that it’s a much more holistic approach of centering everything around the interconnections of the meaning of objects and our direct human experience.
Phenomenologist Gabriella Farina has resisted a precise definition by saying, “A unique and final definition of phenomenology is dangerous and perhaps even paradoxical as it lacks a thematic focus. In fact, it is not a doctrine, nor a philosophical school, but rather a style of thought, a method, an open and ever-renewed experience having different results.” I had a chance to catch up with phenomenologist Kai Riemer at SIGGRAPH where he gave his perspective on what phenomenology is and why it’s holistic approach could provide some vital insights for people working in VR.
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Specifically, Riemer talks a lot about French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception book from 1945 that talks about the role of the body in perception. He also cites George Lakoff’s
Women, Fire and Dangerous Things of show how a lot of our primary metaphors for understanding the world come from our direct experience of the world through our bodies. The holistic approach of phenomenology shows that the stories and narratives of direct experience should be given equal weight to the objectified data that is seen as primary by reductionists and physicalist materialists. Archeologists need to be able to understand the full story behind what people thought artifacts meant within the full context of a culture before they can fully understand what they’ve discovered.
What’s clear from talking to Riemer and other philosophers is that VR provides a embodied experience of philosophical discussions that are otherwise pretty abstract and disconnected from our direct experience. Phenomenology is an elusive concept to firmly pin down, but my conversation with Riemer has helped me appreciate it’s holistic approach to the connection between reality and experience.
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[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. So I was at the SIGGRAPH conference behind the scenes of the Meet Mike virtual human experience there that was done by Mike Seymour. It was like this very sophisticated AI driven virtual human project. And Mike is getting his PhD and his advisor is Kai Reimer and he's at the University of Sydney and he's a professor of information technology and organization. But he also studied quite a lot of philosophy and specifically phenomenology. So I was talking to Kai about my elemental theory of presence and embodiment, and he had a very specific and different view that was coming from a more phenomenological point of view. So I sat down with Kai to be able to unpack this phenomenology of perception, and specifically the work of this French philosopher named Maurice Morleau-Ponty. So phenomenology is something that's difficult to really describe in a nutshell, but in essence, what I think of it is at least is like this direct experience of being in the world rather than sort of objectifying things and reducing things into the subject object. It's much more trying to incorporate everything as a part of your experience and as a part of the world. One of the founders of phenomenology says that a final definition of phenomenology is actually dangerous and perhaps even paradoxical as it lacks a thematic focus. He says that it's not really a doctrine or a philosophical school, but rather a style of thought, a method, an open and ever-renewed experience having different results. And this may disorient anyone wishing to define the meaning of phenomenology. So, I've kind of found that through the course of listening to this interview is that sometimes the thread of what exactly it is is pretty difficult to pin down. But the one thing that I can say is that the early phenomenologists were kind of thinking about it as more of a mental construct, and Morley Ponte came in and made it much more of an embodied experience. It was more of a direct experience of you being embodied and you experiencing the world through the metaphors that are learned through having a lived experience through your body. So we'll be covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Kai was happening at the SIGGRAPH conference in Los Angeles, California on Monday, July 31st, 2017. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:30.647] Kai Riemer: My name is Kai Riemer. I'm professor of information technology and organization at the University of Sydney Business School in Australia. Now, what am I doing in VR? I'm involved in the Meet Mike research project. Mike Simo is my PhD student. He came to me a good three years ago with this idea of building this digital avatar of himself. He described it to me, his vision and what he was doing. I said, that sounds great, I know nothing about it, let's do it. What is really interesting for me is to research something that is pioneering, that is pushing the boundaries. So real-time, high-res, photorealistic rendering with a face rig in VR. It's kind of mind-blowing. That's the feedback that we're getting from the research interviews that we're doing. So it's really super impressive. What is most impressive is the team that Mike put together. Cubic Motion and Epic Games and 3Lateral and Lume Eye and they all came together. And if it wasn't a research project, I don't think that it would have been possible. So it's really great to be able to push the boundaries and do something in VR that hasn't been done before. And I think that's the feeling of the whole crew is that we're really doing something that maybe a year ago we had a hunch but didn't know that it was possible. So that's cool. And I think we're at the cusp of having photorealistic avatars at our disposal and that might open up new ways of creating social VR and applications in business. in advisory contexts, in conferencing, teleconferencing, but also might offer applications in healthcare, and we had Skip Rizzo just then talk about how PTSD patients relate better to a computer-based advisor than maybe talking to someone face-to-face because it creates this awkward moment that makes them sort of shut down. And then it offers new freedom for people with disability to socialize with others. And so, you know, the brilliant thing about these technologies is that we don't quite know where they are going and that we can use our imagination, experimentation to just try things out and see what will happen and how we make sense of it and where these things find a place in our daily lives. And that's what I'm interested in from a research point of view.
[00:04:59.940] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I hope to catch up with Mike to dive into all the various technical bits of everything that he's doing in order to create this. I know we were talking just yesterday about embodiment and a French philosopher that you're citing and talking about how this specific branch of phenomenology, how he views embodiment. So I'm just curious if you can kind of explain that a little bit since I'm going to be talking about the philosophical implications of VR. I just want to get a little bit more information about your take on that.
[00:05:28.114] Kai Riemer: Okay, so I guess the distinction we want to make here and the philosopher's name is Maurice Merleau-Ponty. He did a phenomenology of perception. I couldn't pinpoint the year, but I think it's the 1940s. It's reasonably early, definitely a while ago. And it's funny that these embodiment issues are now coming up with all this tech, right, which obviously is way after these philosophies were created. The idea of a phenomenological understanding of embodiment or the phenomenal body rather than the physical body is that we tend to think about the body as this thing that embodies our mind, right? So there's this Cartesian distinction between mind and body which works like Merleau-Ponty's try to overcome. So one of the things that he's shown convincingly is that our cognition, what's going on in the mind, wouldn't be possible without the body. So it fundamentally depends on the body. And there's heaps of examples that you can use and we often tend to think of mathematics as sort of the pure logic, pure mind, no body involved. But if you think about how we do math, there's a lot of body involved because we need an appreciation of left and right and up and down and we even need appreciation of time and our experience of time is always one of movement through a space or time and space they actually co-constitute each other and so even doing math you know as the way we do it and the way we understand it as people depends on the body and so the idea of the phenomenological understanding of the body is that it is involved in so much of what we do in imagination in thinking and cognition A lot of our language depends on the body. We have a lot of metaphors that enter our language and there's a great book by Lakoff called Fire, Women and Dangerous Things. It's about categorization. It's a great title. I wish I could come up with titles like this. But the whole point is that language is full of bodily metaphors. So when we talk about each other, when we use language, when we imagine things, when we cognize, the body is always involved. Even though, strictly speaking, if we assume the mind-body split, we would say the body is not involved, it's all in the mind. But the point is that the mind depends on the body, not just because it's in the body, but also because the brain is more than just the thing in your skull. The whole nervous system, the whole bodily experience of being in the world, an appreciation of direction, of being there in the moment, in a situation, all of that is embodiment. And so what I find a little distracting sometimes is then when we go into VR and when we have discussions about embodiment, it seems to be all about recreating the physical body as if in VR. sort of a true bodily representation. I think embodiment is involved the moment we move through VR and have a sense of direction, a sense of up and down and a sense of being there. Whether or not we have a physical body doesn't really matter, whether or not we have all the senses. What that allows us to do is ask questions about what is the right way of creating that embodied experience. So we're moving away from the taken-for-granted assumption that we have to recreate as much as possible of the physical body in the virtual space. It becomes a more open question, we could say, What's the optimal way of creating an embodied experience that let us do the things we want to do in this space? Rather than having the idea that it's first and foremost a deficient space and we have to recreate the physical world. So why not treat this space as one that we can become familiar with in its own right? And why not be able to do things that we wouldn't be able to do in the physical world? Why not just say, okay, embodiment is not something that depends on the physical body, but can be carried in cognition and in imagination. And one of my PhD students, has researched tele-nursing. And so nurses use their embodied experience of being a nurse to be with a client when they are in a phone conversation, to draw on their embodied experience to help the client, to imagine what it would be like to be in that situation helping that client. So the body is always in play in those situations even though it might not be the way in which we conventionally think about embodiment when we talk VR. So I think going to a more phenomenological understanding, one that treats the body as part of our cognition and our imagination and our experience might free us from the need to physically or virtually represent the physical body as if that lump of meat would have to be taken into this new space, right?
[00:10:01.783] Kent Bye: Yeah, and as you're talking about that, I think about the principles of embodied cognition, about how they say that we don't just think in our minds, we think with our entire bodies, but not only that, with our entire environments. And so it comes into, like, the primary, I guess, philosophy of most science is this materialistic or physicalist perspective that tries to reduce things down to its component parts. And at this point, the mind-body problem is still an issue. There's the heart problem of consciousness. We haven't been able to make the leap from the neuroscience into the consciousness. And so it's still an open question as to whether or not consciousness is a fundamental part of the fabric of our universe, if it's universal in every single atom, or if we do have some sort of Cartesian split where we do have this duality that happens. That's part of the reason why I look at the elements, because the elements in some ways are all happening all at once, all at the same time, and it's hard to reduce them. It's more of a holistic approach of saying that there is a part where you have an embodied experience, where you can invoke the virtual body ownership illusion, such that if you have hand tracking and you have haptics, then you can have the illusion that your body is in virtual reality. We haven't had a lot of consumer VR that does that, but in the academic world, they're able to track the limbs and be able to invoke this virtual body ownership illusion. So that's like the embodied presence, but there's also a mental and social presence, and our cognition is kind of a combination of our body. As you say, there's a lot of these metaphors that we have our life experience, that we use in order to understand and think. Our direct experience of those metaphors allows these category schemas for us to understand the world. But there's also our emotional presence, as well as our active presence, our extent that we can express our agency. And so for me, I see that these are all kind of holistically combining together. I guess philosophically, it gets to this question as to like, what is base reality? What is the extent of this mind matter interaction? And how does free will kind of fit in into all of that? And so, yeah, I don't know if you have any thoughts about that.
[00:12:00.982] Kai Riemer: There's a lot of there's a lot there, right? So how much time do we have right? But now first of all, I want to say yes holism absolutely because Merleau-Ponty's philosophy follows on from Heideggerian philosophy and Martin Heidegger in his philosophy and I've studied Heidegger quite in depth, especially in his work in Being and Time, was entirely devoted to destroying the Cartesian dualism, the Cartesian split between subject and world or mind and world. And he showed quite convincingly that first and foremost we are an integral part of the world and that cognition and the experience of a disembodied subject actually arises from our already being in the world and being familiar with the world in a very existential way. So holism is actually at the heart of this philosophy and then when we break things down they become aspects of the holism. They're not parts that exist in themselves that you then have to somehow put together. They're actually aspects of a holism that is always already in play that gives us our embodied understanding of what it's like to be a person which then allows us to actually be reflective about and cognize about things in the world. But we do depend on the world existentially and on our physical environment. In neuroscience we call this coupling. So the brain is actually coupled to the environment. Without the stimulus from the environment, the reacting to the environment that the brain does, you wouldn't have the kind of cognition that you have. And I can't explain this better than in these sort of everyday words. But the point is the brain in a vet or the disembodied mind on this philosophy is completely unrealistic. It's a pipe dream, because we are worldly beings and we depend on the world existentially. And world is not just the physical stuff, but the way in which everything has social meaning already, in which the world in which we live in is always already socially pre-interpreted for us because we grow up into this world and we learn the world as anyone would learn the world or as most people understand the world and that then allows us to be a subject and have an individuality but it's always on the basis of this holistic understanding of what it's like to be in the world. And I think once we take this starting point and we go to creating something like VR, we might actually move away from trying to replicate in VR the physical world truthfully and in every detail, but rather treat this as an environment in its own right, where we can draw on our sense of embodiment and direction and up and down, and that's fine. but where we can become familiar with this new environment. So the idea, I mean, Apple has moved away from skeuomorphism, right? The idea that we have to, in the digital world, you know, have metaphors for what it's like in the physical world because they have realized that people become familiar with these new environments in their own right. And once you have that familiarity and that embodied skill, people are quite skilled at just getting on with things in this environment without having to recreate the familiarity that they had from a prior world. That might be a stepping stone that helps with the learning, but we're quite adaptable as beings to become familiar with new environments. And I think exploring VR in a way that isn't quite bounded by some of the limitations of the physical world might actually be quite a cool thing. So we could push the boundaries rather than looking back, look forward.
[00:15:26.543] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I'm curious to hear more about the phenomenology. When I was preparing for my talk here at SIGGRAPH about the philosophical implications of VR, I started looking at the higher order map of the different metaphysical ontologies that are out there and trying to make sense. And it seems like there's the Cartesian split the mind-body dualism and I think that in some ways you can look at that as a nice framework for Experiential design that you can separate the subject in the objects such that you're creating the objective either VR technologies or the experience and then you have to also think about the the user and what they're going through but also the content and so you have the separation between the subject object and the content and I think from a experiential design framework, that could be quite useful. But when you talk about the nature of reality, I feel like things start to blend together. So then on the other side, there's like the monism and different flavors of that. There's the mainstream paradigm of materialism or physicalism, which is that the matter is the base reality and that everything is emerging out of that so that the mind is an emergent property of that. The other extreme is idealism, which is everything comes from mind and that matter is just sort of a emergent property of that. And then neutral monism, it seems to be that there could be both a mind and matter, but there could be this other substance, whether it's consciousness or other thing that sort of goes beyond, like into another realm that's beyond space and time, mass and energy into this non-local realm, which a lot of like quantum physics is showing that there's these other dimensions. So maybe we live in a mathematical base reality that then consciousness emerges from and then from there we have our physical reality. But in terms of phenomenology, I'm just curious to hear how you see that kind of fits within that if it's kind of an idealistic perspective or if it's something that is different.
[00:17:05.895] Kai Riemer: Well, the answer to that, it doesn't, right? It doesn't fit into that categorization because, I mean, materialism and idealism, they just come down on either side of the Cartesian split. One favors, you know, the real, the objective, the world side, and the other favors the subjective, consciousness, ideal side of things. What existential phenomenology does, it does away with this split as the basis for doing philosophy. And Heidegger calls this the fundamental error in philosophy that was made by the ancient Greeks, who took the experience of what it's like to think and think about the world as the starting point for doing philosophy. And this is why we favor thinking over doing in our Western world. So what he's saying is that the most basic experience of us being in the world is actually one of doing, of growing up with the body. acquire bodily skills, for example, as children before we cognize about them, right? So at the basic way, we get along in the world in a way that is almost automatic. We're so familiar with things that we don't have to think about them. We can just use them and draw on them. So it's a very active, a very practical way of engaging with the world. And that gives rise to then the ability to cognize about, reflect on, to analyze and to have that higher order thinking. And so what he wants to do is inverse this and say that rather than taking thinking and therefore the subject-object split that we experience while we think about the world as the foundation for doing philosophy, we take the holistic being in the world, the way in which we're existentially part of the world when we act in the world, as the basis and then have to then explain from there how we can have that cognition. So Cartesian split then becomes a way of thinking about the world rather than the basis of what it means to be a human in the world. So it basically underlies and can explain how we come to have that way of thinking about the world in terms of materialism and idealism. And we're ending up with a philosophy that is holistic, which doesn't mean monistic. So holism always has parts. So we're quite happy to sort of break up the word in subject, object and different objects. But what these objects are, their being, is then dependent on all other objects. So a coffee cup depends on coffee, on us drinking, on us being coffee drinkers, on the culture, on the popularity of a hot beverage, whatever. You know, all of that we need for this object to be a coffee cup, right? So we're making a distinction between the entity and its being. Archaeologists are acutely aware of this because they find these artifacts, they can examine all the physical properties, but they don't know what they are. What they have to do is go through a painstaking exercise of recreating the holism, what used to be the material social world at the time, to then be able to place this object and understand what it is in a sort of phenomenological way. So, long answer, but existential phenomenology sort of wants to show that there is no access to the world for us as humans other than from where we are in the world. It's the only access we have. And so we have to do philosophy starting from the way in which humans are always situated in the world and always have a vantage point. And that explains why in the West we have different philosophy than in the East because we have a different way of going about our lives and that gives rise to different ways of thinking and then philosophizing about the world, if that makes any sense.
[00:20:40.063] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, and I think that, you know, for me there's a part of like going through this exercise of being able to jump between different ontologies and look at the different assumptions and look at it through the different lens of each are pointing out specific things and it seems like the phenomenology is really focusing on the direct human experience, the sensory experience. Would you say that's correct?
[00:20:59.876] Kai Riemer: Yes, but experience is not something that happens just in consciousness or just in the mind, right? The experience is holistic. It's how I experience and how the experience allows me to be an I. How I am a person through the experience. So we're turning things around. We don't start with the subject and say there's a subject to begin with and then in the mind of the subject there's an experience of the world. It's rather that through acting in the world in a certain way I am who I am. That's a very everyday phenomenon. When I step on the bus I'm a passenger. It's always these characters that our professional identities are first and foremost because we have a certain place in the world, we act accordingly and that allows us to be who we are. And so experience is something holistic, it's not something disembodied, it's not something that happens in consciousness. So this is quite interestingly where Heidegger broke with his PhD advisor, we call it Dr. Vater in German, Husserl, who did a phenomenology of consciousness. So that was all about how the world appeared before my subjective consciousness. And Heidegger wasn't satisfied with that and said, you know, you got this all wrong. There's some level deeper than that, which allows us to explain how that experience is possible in the first place. And that was his project.
[00:22:23.845] Kent Bye: Do you think that the German language in particular the way that it's modular and constructed allows people to maybe think in a certain way versus kind of like the maybe more materialistic or reductionistic properties of the English language?
[00:22:36.387] Kai Riemer: I don't know. You know given that much of idealism and early philosophy was in German already and then like Kant and Heidegger basically disagreed with these people and came up with a counter proposal. I think that's just a historical, cultural fact. It happened there and then at that time. Heidegger had to invent a lot of language to precisely express what he meant, because our language is very Cartesian to begin with. And so he invented all these words in German. Now German is a very compositional language, you can invent these words that then have new meanings, so maybe yes. But on the other hand, they all got translated and then with this hyphenation, so you're actually doing what you do in German, but you just hyphenate these things, like being in the world becomes one thing hyphenated. So, I don't know, you could probably do this in English. I find it easier to read Heidegger in English, funny enough, because it's not my first language, because he sort of reverses the meaning of a lot of words in German. It's easier for me to read this in another language and then go back to the German whenever I'm not sure if the translation is precise enough. So yeah, language is funny, right? It sort of mediates our reality. It's not neutral in a way, right? It's part of how we understand ourselves and create reality, which is all part of this holistic understanding of how we become subjects in the first place, and language has a big part in that.
[00:24:04.328] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think the other thing that I see is really interesting is that these ideas have been around for a long, long time. It's not like virtual reality is coming up with any radical new ideas and philosophy. Philosophers have been talking about this for centuries. It's just that now it's becoming more widely distributed for people to have a direct experience of what it means to have their reality mediated through technology in a way that makes them start to ask these deeper existential questions about the nature of reality and what is experience and you know, what is reality? So yeah, just curious to hear your experience of like some of these philosophical ideas that may have been more abstract. Now people have more of a direct experience of what that means and what that means when they pay attention to their own experience.
[00:24:44.203] Kai Riemer: Oh yeah, absolutely. I think one of the interesting things is that virtual reality challenges the predominance of materialism, right? Because we get to have these experiences in there and if materialism was all the rage and if that was all true, some of what we do in VR shouldn't be possible. So the embodiment is there and we can act embodied in the virtual space even though the body is not involved. How is that possible from a materialist point of view? As a phenomenologist I have no problems with that. But the interesting thing is that going to something like virtual reality, to these new spaces, they allow us or they create moments and opportunities for asking these philosophical questions and for understanding ourselves a little bit better. So I think this is really significant from a philosophical point of view as well, and it allows us to learn a lot about ourselves. And to bring it back to the project that we're doing with Digital Mike, if you think ahead and you imagine how we can put a super realistic face onto an artificial human driven by an AI that might no longer have the human, you know, face rig driving the avatar, and might look and feel for all intents and purposes like a human, but it's not, doesn't live in our world, has no appreciation for what it's like to be a human, but might deceive you into thinking you are human. You might build a relationship with that entity and you might happily act as if it was and it has emotions or does it, displays emotions. What would that be like? What would it mean to be human in that world? Would it creep people out? I don't know. So without doing it, we don't know, but creating these technologies allows us to ask these questions in a more experiential way, not just as a thought experiment, but actually confronting people with these things and then see what happens in a way. You've got to be very careful about how you do this ethically because it might be quite disturbing for people to be deceived by technologies like that. But I think there are real moments where the development of technology for people and of people and with people allows us to learn a lot about ourselves and I find that exciting.
[00:26:59.332] Kent Bye: Yeah, and we were talking just yesterday and talking about embodiment and you had said something about how when people are talking on the phone they can have a sense of embodiment or they have a sense of telepresence and you know when I think about embodiment from my framework or just the way I have a direct experience of it I think it's for me it has something to do about like being able to hack all the different sensory motor contingencies whether it's on my sight, my hearing, my touch, taste, smell And that, you know, the more that you're able to replicate all those dimensions of my sensory experience, then I start to have a deeper sense of being there in my body. Or if I have an avatar where I'm able to have my limbs tracked and I have a sense of my virtual body ownership illusion. But I also look at, you know, embodied cognition and see how the body's a part of our thinking and about, you know, when I interact with other people, I think about that in terms of social presence and mental presence. But I'm just curious, you know, the insights that you have in terms of this French philosopher, you know, applying that to embodiment and kind of how you think about that.
[00:27:59.208] Kai Riemer: Yeah, now first of all, as I said earlier, I'm not so sure that we need all of these inputs. So it might just be that the more we add in terms of trying to fool us into thinking we're not in that environment and things break down, the you know, repulsive reaction or the irritation might be enlarged and so we, you know, I don't know, I'm just speculating, right? But I'm just thinking that the more we try to fool our bodily senses into thinking they are somewhere they're not, you know, if things break down they might break down, you know, really violently and we might get sick or have a breakdown that is more distracting than if we took a more, you know, light-handed approach and let us create environments in which we become familiar, where we can happily act and do things that are not so laden with trying to replicate our physical being in the physical environment. For me that creates an open question and that can only be answered by doing heaps of experiments.
[00:29:03.008] Kent Bye: Great, so what are some of the biggest open questions that are driving your research forward?
[00:29:07.447] Kai Riemer: What is it like to live with digital humans? If we were to create something like Siri or Alexa as a fully human-like appearance, what would have to happen on the side of the machine to actually have a relationship with a human? you know that takes us to the next level not just what is it like to create a digital human but what is it like to have relationships you know do we want this do we want to have relationships like we have with other humans with our machines or is that something that is not useful or repulsive irritating is that just irritating for people who didn't grow up that way or you know younger people happily growing up having social, quote marks, relationships with their machines and artificial agents. These are open questions, which I find interesting, mildly disturbing, personally. But as a researcher, as open questions, they're quite fascinating, again, because we learn something about ourselves.
[00:30:06.488] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?
[00:30:14.639] Kai Riemer: I have no idea. That's the beauty of it. I think we'll be surprised. They're already used very heavily on film sets in ways that we couldn't anticipate a while back. I think there's real application there and they're already doing it. professional commercial context where we need to be fixing something in the physical environment but can't be there there's an obvious area maybe you know socializing with others I don't know maybe that gets old quite quickly a lot of these things have a novelty factor and then they fall by the wayside that's the thing right the future is created by us it's not extrapolated so that's also why I don't believe in materialism because I think As humans, we have agency and we're quite capable of creating and shaping our own worlds.
[00:31:04.587] Kent Bye: Awesome. Thank you so much, Kai. Thank you so much. So that was Kai Rehmer. He's a professor of information technology and organization at the University of Sydney Business School. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, my main takeaway is that it's really difficult to pin down and define clearly what phenomenology is. However, my overall sense is that there's all these different philosophies that are trying to make this split between the subject object. And there seems to be a much more holistic approach of just kind of treating it as a philosophy that allows us to talk about the direct experience of what it means to be alive as a human. And I think that's different than other philosophies that may be looking at studying the nature of the difference between our external world that's separate than our experience of the world. That, I think, is the default paradigm that most people are in. But I think the essence of the phenomenological point of view is that, from the perspective of an archaeologist, if he finds an object, he has to start to recreate the entire culture and the meaning systems and the structures and the relationships to really contextualize what that object would mean and what it was used for within the context of that culture. And so just the same, as we are going through the world, we are interconnected with everything. And once we have a direct experience in life through our body and learning, then a lot of those provide these primary category schemas in our mind. So we have these metaphors about what it means to have up, down, left, right, forward, backward, by just how we locomote and move through the world. And we're able to apply those metaphors to mathematics as well as our life experience. So Kai was saying that both Merleau-Ponty as well as George Lakoff were looking at these primary metaphors and how embodied all of these are. And from that perspective, some of the fundamental questions that Kai is asking is, you know, this kind of skeuomorphic approach of replicating all of our dimensions of embodiment in the real world and then trying to replicate all those things within VR. His question is like, do you have to really do all of that? What is kind of the minimum that you need to create the experience of you being there and having an embodied presence? What's it mean to start to take our sensory experience of a virtual world beyond then what we can do in the real world? What are the things you can do in VR that you wouldn't be able to do in real life? So those are some of the interesting questions that he's asking specifically in the context of looking at how to do like telepresence and nursing with some of the students. So there seems to be this huge connection between our body and our connection to our imagination, our thinking, our cognition, and even our language. The language that we're using is coloring the way that we're thinking. And in some ways, if you think that, you know, we're speaking in the English language here, but if you think of the virtual reality as a new communications medium where you're able to cultivate a new spatial 360 degree language that has a full sensory experience, then the level of communication that can happen in that is going to go way beyond what we can do with the abstractions of using these words. And so in a lot of ways, virtual reality is this new language that the phenomenologists have been thinking about for a long, long time. And I think that's another interesting trend of what I'm seeing is that philosophers have been talking about this in the abstract for a long, long time, often like 50, 60, hundreds of years a lot of times. But now people are able to get a direct experience and to be able to take some of those insights of these philosophers and be able to start to look at these primary questions and then start to apply them in terms of doing experiential design within VR. Now, I think this is an important distinction that I've discovered as I've been researching all of this is that it's one thing to talk about these philosophies in terms of a philosophy of what the fundamental base reality is. You can argue as to whether or not there is an external reality or whether or not consciousness is the fundamental primary thing in all matter is coming out of this sort of collective consciousness of consensus reality. One of the things that I've been finding within looking at some of these different philosophies is that there's a couple of ways to look at it. On the one hand, you're looking at whether or not these philosophies are describing what base reality is. On the other hand, they could be used as a framework for experiential design. So you're trying to break up the different dimensions of an experience, and that's different than doing something where you're trying to describe the base reality. But at the same time, I think there's a lot of worth of looking at these different philosophies to see what they can tell us about the nature of experience and the connection between our direct experience of our body in the world and these kind of primary category schemas that we have in our mind that allow us to make sense of the world. And once we understand that, then we can start to play with that, but also extend and expand that with what the unique affordances of virtual reality may provide. So that's all that I have for today. I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices VR podcast and going down this deep rabbit hole of phenomenology. And if you enjoy the podcast, then there's a couple of things you can do. 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