#617: Journey into a Black Hole with “SPHERES: Songs of Spacetime”

eliza-mcnittSundance New Frontier had a solid line-up of VR experiences this year with a number of immersive storytelling innovations including SPHERES: Songs of Spacetime, which takes you on a journey into the center of a black hole. It’s a hero’s journey that provides an embodied experience of the evolution of a star from birth to death with a poetic story written and directed by Eliza McNitt, narrated by Jessica Chastain, and produced by Darren Aronofsky’s Protozoa Pictures.

SPHERES made news for being acquired for a 7-figure deal, and it represents a unique collaboration between science and art. There were a number of scientific collaborators including the National Academy of Sciences and physicists who study black holes, and so the VR producers had to come up with creative interpretations of mathematical descriptions of the edges of spacetime that push the frontiers of our scientific knowledge.

I had a chance to sit down with McNitt at Sundance in order to talk about the inspiration for this project, her journey into creative explorations of science, the challenges of depicting gravitational lensing in Unity, what’s known and not known about black holes, how listening to gravitational waves for the first time inspired the sound design, and crafting an embodied hero’s journey story in collaboration with Protozoa Pictures. The acquisition deal by CityLights was secured on Kaleidoscope’s funding platform, and includes this first chapter shown at Sundance as well as two additional chapters yet to be produced, and will be released later this year by Oculus.


Here’s a promo for SPHERES produced by Sundance.

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[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 just got back from the Sundance Film Festival last week and was able to see all of the 24 different experiences that were in the Sundance New Frontier, and I did about 22 interviews totaling about 12 hours that I'm going to be unpacking here on the Voices of VR podcast that's really exploring the future of immersive and interactive storytelling. So I'm going to kick things off with Liza McNitt. She did Spheres, Songs of Spacetime, which is a journey into a black hole. Now, Eliza collaborated with a number of different people on this piece, including Darren Aronofsky's Protozoa Pictures. And this piece made news as one of the first big acquisitions to come out of Sundance. It was acquired by City Lights for over a million dollars. That wasn't specified, although VRScout is reporting that the number was around $1.4 million. And that includes both this Sphere's Song of Spacetime, as well as two additional chapters that Eliza talks about. And I'm not quite sure exactly what that means exactly, because I know that it's going to be released on Oculus, and so it was in partnership with both Intel and Oculus, it's going to be released on Oculus, and I'm not sure if that means it's going to be licensed to be appearing in different museums, or what else that means beyond the distribution channel of Oculus. This is an experience that was really quite compelling. I enjoyed it a lot because, you know, how many times do you get to have an opportunity to see what a black hole looks like, but also to have this journey inside of one? So you could either listen to the rest of this podcast, there's going to be some descriptions of the experience, or you could wait to see it. And I could see why you'd want to do one of either way. So for me, what's really interesting is that you have this collaboration between science and art, and you have this kind of poetic interpretation of what it might feel like to be able to actually go into a black hole. This is something that nobody's actually ever seen what a black hole looks like, but this is kind of like what the physicists and the scientists say that this is what it might look like, at least. And then what it might feel like is something that requires a lot of artistic interpretation. So this, to me, I think is a really interesting beginning of a conversation of scientific visualizations matched with storytelling and turning that journey into a black hole and to kind of like a metaphoric hero's journey. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Eliza happened on Saturday, January 20, 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:50.299] Eliza McNitt: I'm Eliza McNitt. I am the writer-director of Spheres, Songs of Space-Time, which is making its premiere here at the Sundance Film Festival. It's a journey where you dive into the heart of a black hole and you experience gravitational waves, which are a ripple in the fabric of space-time.

[00:03:07.457] Kent Bye: Great. So maybe you could tell me a bit about, like, how did this project come about?

[00:03:12.267] Eliza McNitt: My very first VR experience was a piece called Fistful of Stars, and it's an exploration of the cosmos alongside the Hubble telescope, and it focuses on everything that you can see in the universe. This year, the discovery of gravitational waves received the Nobel Prize in physics, and I was so inspired by this idea that instead of looking at the universe for the first time, we listen. And as we open our ears, we hear the songs of the cosmos, which deepen our imaginations and our knowledge to worlds beyond our own. And so I was very inspired to explore that through virtual reality.

[00:03:51.724] Kent Bye: So yeah, the thing that was really striking to me was actually seeing a black hole, or at least an artist's depiction of it. And I guess the first time I'd seen that was with Interstellar, where they were really trying to figure out what the physics of the black hole would look like and the way the light would sort of spin around it. Maybe you could talk a bit about your own process for how to depict something that we've never actually observed. But yet, how do you have some sort of either scientifically accurate or artistic rendition of what this might look like or feel like?

[00:04:22.818] Eliza McNitt: We've never seen inside of the heart of a black hole and so the challenge for us was figuring out how do we create this image that feels realistic and that feels like what it would actually be like if you went where no human has ever been before. And it was at first a very frustrating and challenging experience because there aren't any visual references on the internet. There are no Hubble telescope images that go inside of a black hole. And so we had to really turn to science and turn to theories and turn to research in order to understand the physics behind all of it. and then from there interpret those artistically. I worked with the National Academy of Sciences as well as Dr. Richard Matzner, who's a physicist, and in collaboration with these scientists I was able to understand the physics of a black hole. What color is a star when it falls into a black hole? What happens when a star goes towards the singularity, which is a point where gravity becomes infinite? They told me that when, you know, a star is becoming spaghettified, meaning when it's becoming ripped into a million pieces, it actually starts as red and then it turns into blue, because red is cold and blue is actually very, very hot inside of a black hole. And it's funny because even Stephen Hawking's website has incredible references and theories about what a black hole might be like. So I turned to science and to the work of scientists in order to visualize this experience.

[00:06:02.594] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could talk a bit about how did you get inspired with this deeper sense of awe and wonder? Maybe just tell me this deeper story that you have connected to reaching out into the frontiers of human knowledge and human experience in terms of what we know about the universe, but what was really captivating for you to kind of like really start to dig into this and want to have an embodied experience of all of this within VR?

[00:06:26.417] Eliza McNitt: Science has always been in my bones. My grandfather was a chemical engineer at MIT, and my parents are artists. And when I was 17 years old, I won the Intel Science Fair for my research on the disappearance of honeybees around the world. And my award was to go to CERN to visit the Large Hadron Collider, which is where they smash particles together in order to understand the deepest mysteries of the universe. And I discovered ideas like dark matter and the hunt for the Higgs boson and suddenly became so deeply fascinated with these worlds that exist in the universe that we can't see. And that's where my deep passion for the cosmos was born.

[00:07:11.228] Kent Bye: Yeah, the thing that was really striking to me was, reminds me of like the rings of Saturn, but the rings of the black hole, like the light that's sort of like spinning around and that you start to like get really close. And there's a part in the narration where you said, actually, if you are in this gravitational wave, like what is maybe a few minutes is like a hundred or a thousand years. It's like this sort of like, yeah, one minute turning into a thousand years. And so, I mean, I guess it's a little hard to depict within VR because it's more of like the theory of general relativity is like you have your own experience of the passing of time. But yet, you know, I think in Interstellar, there's a great little metaphor of them splitting up and the difference between what it was like from their experience versus what they experienced off world. But yeah, maybe talk a bit about that, you know, in terms of, you know, giving that experience of like that extreme time dilation within the gravitational wave and like how to really, you know, tell that story.

[00:08:01.359] Eliza McNitt: In this experience you begin with the birth of a star and you watch the star age over a million years as it becomes hotter and hotter and then it suddenly implodes and creates a black hole and in this supernova a black hole is born and in the first Minute of the experience we take you fast forward a million years and then suddenly You become a star as you get ripped into the gravitational pull of a black hole one minute in a black holes gravity and a thousand years passes on earth and So now you are already years beyond what we will ever see here on our own planet. And then we thrust you inside the heart of the black hole, where suddenly the laws of space and time no longer apply. And when you hit that singularity, which is a flash of bright light in your face, it's almost like a near-death experience. Time ceases to exist. And so that's the journey we wanted to take you on. And it is something so hard to describe, you can only feel it through VR. And that's why this medium was the only way to tell this story.

[00:09:16.424] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I guess in some ways it's, you know, nobody has really actually experienced it.

[00:09:21.086] Eliza McNitt: So it's sort of like, you know... I hope not. I hope no one has been inside a black hole.

[00:09:28.382] Kent Bye: You know, some of the other things that I noticed in watching the experience is that, you know, watching the stars and seeing the warping of the light, you know, I think, you know, the discovery of, you know, general relativity, Arthur Eddington confirming Einstein's theory with an eclipse that happened, predicting that the light that would ordinarily been behind the sun is sort of bending around. And so you have this process of light being bent by these gravitational waves. And so as I'm looking at the stars in the midst of this black hole, I'm seeing kind of like these waves kind of swirl around as I'm seeing sort of the deformation of the lights. What do we know about like the changing of the lights as you're moving around and sort of that warping? And I expected that it was some sort of like artist rendition of that effect, but I'm just curious, you know, if there's the deeper science or your inspiration to be able to do that.

[00:10:17.494] Eliza McNitt: The bending of starlight around a black hole is called gravitational lensing. And this was a really challenging element to achieve through visual effects. And our executive producing team, Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, both come from a deep science background. And so they were always pushing for us to push the science and push the visuals to achieve that realistic feeling that you would have watching starlight bending. And the gravitational lensing was actually one of the biggest points of focus for us and one of the most challenging to achieve. And our producer Dylan Golden and I worked deeply with our team at Nova Lab and with Clément Cheriot to be able to craft those warping stars as they pass over the rim of the black hole. That's not easy to do in Unity and we had to break the code in order to achieve that. And it was something that our team spent months trying to figure out. And it all, one day while we were in Paris working on the build, suddenly we figured it out. And it was an incredible moment. And, you know, I hope it truly gives you that sensation of what it would be like to watch a star get bent over the rim of a black hole. Because that's, you know, when we see images of the Hubble telescope, that's what we see, is that effect that, you know, that theory that Einstein had that we have now proven.

[00:11:44.471] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's just a James Baldwin quote where he talks about, you know, you look up into the stars and it's as if, you know, the whole world was kind of like moving around. And it gave me that feeling, like, what would it be like to look up into the night sky? I mean, we have so much light pollution now, it's difficult to actually have access to the night sky. But if you were to look up in the night sky and you were to start to see the stars warp around like that, you would be like, what is even happening? It'd be such a sort of a huge, like, paradigm shift for us. And just to get a little bit of a taste of that, within the VR experience was like, it was something that I noted in terms of like, wow, this is something that is probably like actually happening if you were here, but that it would kind of freak people out if they actually saw that level of warping that was happening that quickly.

[00:12:28.555] Eliza McNitt: A gravitational wave is a ripple in the fabric of space-time. And gravitational waves are all around us. We, in fact, are creating gravitational waves right now and sending them back out to the stars. And this is our song of Earth, these waves that we're creating. And yet they're so small when they come from us humans that we can't detect them. But the wave, a gravitational wave that is created from the violent collision of two black holes, is enough that when it passes through Earth, we are able to detect it. And what it does is it sort of stretches and expands as it passes through our planet. And so, you know, this is something that's a part of the invisible universe and capturing gravitational waves was also a very challenging effect to try to illustrate in VR and we went with a very abstract direction for that where we wanted you to experience color and light and the distortions of the fabric of space-time.

[00:13:34.949] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know that the the LIGO there's at least three different places that can triangulate these gravitational waves and it's pretty remarkable if you think about How many billions of years these things were? Sent out and sort of flowing throughout the entire universe and that you know We set this stuff up when you start to detect things relatively quickly and to make these discoveries and confirmations of the theory that they had Had looked at and I mean the other thing that reminds me of is that we'd really actually don't have a full mathematical formulation of gravity at the quantum level it's sort of like this thing that we still have yet to Come up with a unified mathematical structure to describe gravity at the large scales but also the small scales and I know that when you're looking at astrophysics and you can sort of describe it and we can detect these waves with LIGO, but yet at the same time, we don't actually have the equations to describe it at the quantum level. I'm just curious, as you've been looking into this, if that level of the story, if there's any way that that's another chapter of the story to tell, or if that's sort of related to, you know, black holes, because black holes are in some ways the forefront of what we know and don't know. And the more that we learn about them, we sort of see where the science theories kind of break down, because you sort of have things go to infinity. And is it actually infinity, or is it some sort of approximation? Or do the equations that we have work at the extremes of the black hole? So anyway, I'm just curious if you've looked at that.

[00:14:54.878] Eliza McNitt: I think, you know, what's most exciting about physics is, you know, all the things that we don't know. The theory of gravitational waves has existed for a hundred years. Albert Einstein first predicted it so long ago, and it took us this long to finally make that detection of the signal here on Earth. And so, you know, I think what's fascinating about physics is that there are so many theories that are yet to be proved. and even down to this idea of like dark matter that, you know, only 4% of what we see is what's out there that's visible to our eyes. There's 96% of the universe that we can't even see and black holes are a part of that. And so looking at the theories and trying to turn those into visuals is an incredibly exciting challenge. And I think through the constant failures on this project of trying to you know, understand and figure out how to visualize that, you know, through failing upwards we're able to really come up with our own style and visual aesthetic. And in talking to our scientists about what is the best direction to be able to capture black holes, their answer to me was just, make it strange.

[00:16:15.757] Kent Bye: Interesting. Yeah. And, you know, I've actually, you know, the deeper I look into virtual reality, the more that I get into this layer of the potential that base reality is a layer of math and patterns, and that maybe there's a layer of archetypal and symbolic reality that's above that and consciousness is sort of maybe it's transcendent to the structures of space time, but that Then you have like the domain of all of reality that we can empirically observe But there's like to me I just started a math and philosophy podcast I went to the joint mathematics meeting and I did about 36 interviews with these really intense mathematicians talking both about the the philosophy of math but also it was in terms of me pushing the edge of what I am capable of and doing journalism with sort of the the extremes of like the abstraction of math but math in a lot of ways are the patterns that are underlying everything and I see that when we go into virtual reality we're able to start to step into this archetypal or symbolic layer of reality and we can now have a direct embodied experience of a black hole that we've never been able to have before and I just see that another huge trend within the mathematics community is this moving towards active learning, embodied learning, you know, trying to revolutionize learning, going from people lecturing at you and writing proofs on a board to you actually participating in the Socratic method, inquiry-based learning, all these methods to actually inspire people to be engaged and embodied. So there's the both from VR kind of influencing in terms of embodiment and experience and learning and education, but also from the underlying mathematics, which is sort of like the physics engine of unity, but all these other sort of ways that we can go into this symbolic or archetypal reality and get an experience of things that are otherwise pretty invisible to us.

[00:17:58.212] Eliza McNitt: You know, math is art and science is storytelling. And, you know, what you bring up about math is really beautiful because, you know, the idea of fractals are, you know, these patterns that you see in the cells that are in our blood, in our veins, that reflect the same patterns that are in waves in the ocean and the same patterns that reflect the spirals of a galaxy. And it just further proves that, you know, we are all connected and that, you know, we truly are made of stardust. We all, you know, humans are connected to the fabric of this universe.

[00:18:36.701] Kent Bye: Well, the other thing is that there's so much mystery of things that we don't know. If math is the underlying thing to everything, then there's a math structure that describes the physics. There's math structure that describes the general relativity. So physics at huge scale, then there's like quantum reality, then the fractals and like, there's no sort of unified thing that ties it all together. But it just, for me, it's sort of inspired the sense of like, the mystery of what is known and not known. And it's, in some ways like I'd see virtual reality as a way to do exploration into these realms in a way to perhaps if we get more scientists and other people who are actually working on this day to day what would it mean to sort of give some sort of visual representation and you have this Hegelian dialectic where people are be like Okay, this is your take but they're like, no, no, no, that's not it Here's how it really should be but you get this conversation going which maybe really pushes for the science as well So it's like this dialogue that's starting to be created through the visualizations of math and science that will potentially Create this larger conversation to allow people to have these embodied experiences and then from there Maybe it will you know help inspire them to actually discover more about the nature of reality

[00:19:46.145] Eliza McNitt: Yeah, I think, you know, science is very dramatic, and the scientific process has all the elements of, you know, of the hero's journey inside of it, and it tells a story. And so I think it's so important that we ignite that conversation, especially through mediums like VR, to be able to engage and inspire people to understand that science is so much more beyond what you learn in the classroom. the theories that govern our entire universe. And I find so much inspiration in that idea. I hope experiences like this help people to see science as something that is, you know, a beautiful and exciting world to explore.

[00:20:28.769] Kent Bye: And I'm wondering if you could talk a bit more about the soundscape, because you mentioned earlier about the gravitational waves of these waves through space-time, and that, you know, lights, they're also waves, but those are photons moving. It's different than, you know, something that's within the context of Earth, waves moving through the air produces sound. And so you have this sort of metaphor for, you know, being able to take these waves that we're detecting and then translate that and sort of bump up the frequencies so that we can actually hear it, but to actually have some depictions of some of the sounds of space.

[00:20:58.002] Eliza McNitt: When two black holes collide, it creates a very delicate sound. And it sounds almost like this. And it's fascinating that the most violent collision of two of the most powerful forces in the universe creates such a delicate and fragile sound. And so what inspired me most was being able to capture that beauty through the darkness. Our soundscape was designed by Craig Hennigan, who is a master sound designer who has done work such as Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, Mother, Stranger Things, and he and I worked together to take sounds that exist in the universe that we have recorded and then put them inside of effects that he would create and generate to make a soundscape that was eerie and mysterious and made you, you know, really wonder what it might be like to hear the sounds of space. I also collaborated with Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, who are the composers from Stranger Things as well. And, you know, I saw Stranger Things and I thought that was such a powerful composition and such a powerful score that they had created, and just felt they were so perfect for this. And they journeyed into this otherworldly kind of ambient sounds that underscore the journey that you go on. And I pushed them to make it weirder and to make it feel strange and take you to places that push your comfort levels because we wanted to really give you that sensation of the weirdness you'd find in a black hole and also the beauty and the calm.

[00:22:43.649] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I've created a number of different VR experiences and I know that when you're kind of pushing the edge of technology, you have this iterative process where you're trying to just get it to work. And then at some point, you can just like sit back and actually experience it maybe for the first time as you are trying to recreate the experience of what it feels like to kind of go inside of a black hole. Just curious to hear from your own perspective of the first time that you felt like you really got that experience of being inside of a black hole and virtual reality.

[00:23:13.143] Eliza McNitt: It took a really long time to nail this experience, and it was a process that involved a lot of failure, and a lot of mistakes along the way, and a lot of iteration. And the team that I worked with at Nova Lab has been so collaborative, and that is such an enormous piece of this process, being able to create ideas and then throw them away. And the final scene with the gravitational waves, we were finishing until the moment we went live at Sundance. And it's just that constant tweaking and making things better and seeing how people respond that informs our process. And it's been really, really challenging to make this. I think it's the hardest thing that I've done so far to create this experience that visualizes the invisible.

[00:24:10.839] Kent Bye: And so for you, what do you want to experience in VR?

[00:24:15.523] Eliza McNitt: I love experiences that transport you to other worlds and put you inside of places you'd never expect to go and make you understand the world in a whole new perspective. What I'd really like to see in VR next is actually to really incorporate the human connection and to really bring people together. But what I want to see develop further is interactive narratives and to see how storytelling is going to develop because we're not making video games. These aren't documentaries. They're not really traditional narratives either. we're developing a genre of its own that is a narrative experiential VR piece. And it's something that is very different from everything else that's out there. I think really continuing to enhance this genre. and have this emerge is really exciting. Because I know when we go to a festival, we either get categorized as a narrative or a documentary or experimental, but it's an experience that embodies all of those genres.

[00:25:26.306] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm wondering if you could expand a bit about the different experiments that you were doing in terms of interactivity within your experience. I see it as sort of the spectrum between authored narrative to generative narrative, where the authored narrative, it's pretty much on rails. You don't have a lot of choices in sort of changing the direction of the course of the experience, whereas on the other extreme of generative narrative, it's almost like an open world. You can really kind of go anywhere that you would like to. It's more akin to like having a conversation with somebody. But there's different ways that you have an opportunity to kind of interact with an environment So you have a chance to kind of play with the environment to learn about that environment But it's not really sort of you know, having any of consequence on the outcome of the story per se So maybe you could talk a bit about your own process of adding that level of interactivity

[00:26:11.070] Eliza McNitt: I wanted the interactivity to be a part of your hero's journey. And in the beginning of the experience, you begin with six degrees of freedom. You can move all around as a star is being born. You can move freely through the scene. And as the star is born, suddenly you get to go inside of it. But then, as that star ages, and it explodes in a supernova, and it becomes a black hole, you lose that freedom. You can no longer move and instead you are isolated with two glowing orbs and you discover that you are a star trapped in the gravitational pull of the black hole. So the interactivity is deeply connected to the narrative. We then throw you inside of the black hole as you still can't move physically, but you do have your controllers to wave your arms around and experience the spaghettification of your star. So we take you from being able to move very freely to then constricting you so that you can only move around with your hands. And as you eventually become the thing that killed you, as you become the antagonist and you become the black hole, you are locked into place as you attract another black hole and experience this violent collision. And in these moments, we also wanted to give you freedom and power, but in very small amounts, the way a black hole would experience. And so everything was, for me, was deeply connected at its core to the hero's journey and making you the character that's driving forth the narrative. And that was something that I did not originally approach this project with that perspective, but in collaboration with ProtoZOA, working with Dylan Golden and Darren and Ari, we were able to really push the traditional language of film and incorporate it into how we were crafting this experience. And I would have never thought that if I hadn't worked with these masters of cinema.

[00:28:35.100] Kent Bye: Awesome. And finally, what do you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:28:44.821] Eliza McNitt: I hope that virtual reality inspires people to wonder about our universe and informs them about the world that we live in. I see virtual reality as being a tool that is used in museums and science museums and planetariums. to reinvent the planetarium experience. It can be this beautiful art piece that stuns you just as deeply as going inside of a planetarium does. I want to see these kinds of experiences in location-based areas where, you know, I can be at a movie theater and I can go into a VR experience, but I could also be at a museum and go to a VR experience. But most importantly, I think I want to see VR experiences reaching into classrooms. Because students are the ones who are truly going to benefit the most deeply from being able to see that science isn't just something you write up on a chalkboard. It's something that can truly change your world.

[00:29:54.760] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say?

[00:29:58.393] Eliza McNitt: I've been really lucky with this experience to collaborate with an amazing team. And I would say that the team behind this project is really the heart and soul of this experience. I've collaborated with Oculus and Intel, Protozoa, Jess Engel, who is a producer that I've worked with on Fistful of Stars, and Atlas 5, and Nova Lab. It's so many people who have been behind the creation of this experience. Spheres, Songs of Space-Time is the first chapter of a three-chapter journey. And they will all be released on the Oculus Rift later this year.

[00:30:35.868] Kent Bye: OK, great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today.

[00:30:39.253] Eliza McNitt: Thank you very much.

[00:30:41.981] Kent Bye: So that was Eliza Magnit. She's the producer and writer of Spheres, Songs of Spacetime. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, I really enjoyed this experience. I thought it was very poetic and there was a lot of creative, artistic interpretation of what it might feel like to be inside of a black hole. I really felt like this is like the closest that I'm ever going to get into going into a black hole. It at least gave me some sort of embodied experience of some sort of abstract mathematical structure and a part of the universe that I didn't have any access to before. Aside from seeing Interstellar, which I thought was a great depiction of some of these concepts and ideas, but it was a lot different to have that first person experience of actually kind of swirling around a black hole and going inside of it. and seeing these different things like the spaghettification of light, which is something I'd never heard of, and it was interesting to see kind of like this artistic depiction. It was also really good for me to actually sit down and talk to Eliza to talk about the process of it, because I think just getting a bit of the story and the context of this experience made me just appreciate all that much more. The fact that she was like working with all these different teams of scientists and visualization and storytellers from protozoa pictures to like the sound design and there's so much deeper meaning behind this experience. And I think that is what in part made it resonate to have it be acquired anywhere from one to $1.4 million. So the other thing is that there's just this trend that I see of being able to go into virtual reality and to be able to visualize something that is completely invisible to our ordinary reality, whether that's at the microscopic or macroscopic level, or in this case, it's to go inside of a black hole. And there's something about knowing about the mathematical structures and the physics behind the black hole, but in the absence of being able to actually observe it, this is sort of a depiction of you being able to actually have a little bit of an embodied experience of that. And I think the principles of embodied cognition are so key here. And I think that going to the joint mathematics meeting, the thing that I saw was that there's this desire to try to make the process of science education, math education, so much more active and embodied. participatory and just totally revolutionized the way that math and science is taught. In going to the joint mathematics meeting, the thing that I found in talking to mathematicians is that people have been really traumatized for how math and science has been taught. And I think that Experiences like this can really inspire people into the deeper story of the universe as well as this sense of awe and wonder of what is known and what is not known. There are so many things about the structure of a black hole that are still not completely known because we haven't been able to really actually empirically observe it. We just have these math equations that describe the structure of the universe and they do their best to be able to say, okay, well, at this kind of extreme point after a supernova explodes and it creates this black hole, this is kind of what we expect light to do. And it's these mathematical structures that you're starting to go and have a direct embodied experience with, you start to have a different relationship to the underlying patterns of reality. And I think this is what I find really fascinating is this deeper theme of being able to start to explore these invisible parts and patterns of reality, such that when I think about virtual reality, I don't just think about it as fake or not real. I think about it as more of a symbolic or an archetypal reality where you're able to actually perhaps get closer to the essence of some of these underlying mathematical structures that you weren't able to have any access to before. And I think this is what makes this experience so compelling to me. And I think, you know, the fact that it was picked up for as much money as it was, is a sign that, you know, this is something that the culture wants, and is one of the really unique affordances of virtual reality to be able to really explore some of these new frontiers of what is completely impossible to do in other media. And that this project was a huge collaboration from many different players, and I really appreciated Liza calling out all the different collaborators on this project. The other thing that was really interesting was to hear a little bit more about the hero's journey story that was kind of embedded within this experience and how the different levels of interactivity and your movement kind of changed and evolved over time. And this, I have to admit, was kind of a subtle part of the experience that I wasn't consciously thinking about when I went through it. But now that Eliza has talked about it, that there is this kind of hero's journey structure that was built into this unfolding of time of covering millions of years within the first minute, and then sort of going through this Reducing of your agency and your movement as you get more and more sucked into the black hole so both physically and metaphorically you're kind of going through this journey of becoming a star and Going through what is traditionally these different acts and this embodied experience of the story but through the experience of seeing everything around you change and And I think that the combination of the poetic writing as well as the visuals, it just comes together in this combination of like science communication, but also like storytelling that I think just like works in a really nice way. So I'm looking forward to seeing what the next two chapters of this experience is and for it to get out there for more people to experience. I had mentioned that I had gone to this joint mathematics meeting and started this math and philosophy podcast, and it was in part inspired by digging deeper into both virtual reality and artificial intelligence. There is this layer of mathematics that I feel like is the underlying patterns of all of reality. there's this Quine-Putnam indispensability argument for mathematics, saying that there's these math structures that are so indispensable for science, and it's kind of a mystery as to why math works so well. And so I'm going to be starting up the Voices of Math here at some point, in addition to the Voices of AI, which the first episode of that has launched. And this next couple of months, I'm going to be really kicking off both the Voices of AI as well as the Voices of Math. So each of these domains of both VR and AI and mathematics there's some really interesting connections between all of them and I think that coming from the joint mathematics meeting and then seeing the spheres songs of spacetime there was just all these different connections between the two of them and look forward to launching all these to be able to dive deep into you know explain all that more. So that's all I have for today. I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then there's a couple things you can do. First of all, just spread the word, tell your friends. And secondly, consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener supported podcast, and I rely upon all of your donations to travel to all these conferences and to bring you this coverage. And so if you like that and you want to see more, then please do consider becoming a member of my Patreon. Just a few dollars a month does make a huge difference. You can donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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