#719: The Phenomenology of Architecture & How VR is Revolutionizing Spatial Design Intuition

andreea-cojocaruDesigning impossible architecture in VR is changing how Andreea Ion Cojocaru designs real buildings, and she’s reveling in the fact that she finally has a tool with VR to be able to explore some of the deeper philosophical questions about the nature of spatial design and architecture that have previously been impossible to feasibly explore. These research questions include the difference between quantities and qualities, including (i.e. Why is the abstraction and blueprint of a building different than an embodied experience of it?), how does changing where you are change who you are?, and how can architecture incorporate insights from math, music, bodies moving through space, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty phenomenological philosophy?

Cojocaru is a founding partner, technical, and creative lead of NUMENA Virtual Reality Architects, which designs both virtual and real spaces. They won VR Now’s VR Industry award for their B. Braun Aesculap Spine VR experience, which had an amazing piece of speculative architecture where you were floating through microscopic bone structures as a climax to the medical VR marketing and training experience.

Cojocaru has lots of insights about what VR designers and 3D modelers can learn from architects for how to design immersive spaces, and she’s a deep thinking about the potentials for how VR can help elucidate the quality of our experience relative to the world around us and as a result transform the concepts of our own identity and sense of “what’s possible” and what “reality” actually is.


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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 am really excited about this conversation today. I think it covers a lot of my favorite topics, and it was really a mind-bending conversation when I was having it in Berlin. So just a bit of a context of how I met Andrea. Andrea is an architect and then she was also a programmer and started to do these virtual reality projects and then I was sent over to VRNow in Berlin to give an opening keynote as well as an extended talk about experiential design and storytelling within virtual reality. And so I had a chance to check out the expo floor and the winner actually of the industry award was Andrea's project where it was kind of a ordinary mundane medical project, but it had this really amazing scene at the end of it where you're actually like flying through the microscopic bone structure. And I saw it and I was like, this is amazing architecture. Like, are you an architect? And she said, yes. And so she's actually jumping back and forth between designing architectural spaces within the real world, but then jumping into VR, breaking all the rules and then rewiring her brain so that she's changing the way that she's looking at how to approach architecture in the real life. She's also this deep philosophical thinker who is thinking about all these fundamental questions about the nature of experience and what is the difference between the abstraction of the blueprint of reality and your actual direct experience of that through the qualia and why isn't there an equal sign between the quantities and qualities of life. And she's excited to find virtual reality because there's all these things that have been nagging her about the nature of architecture that she can actually start to experiment with to create these various different experiments and to research some of these different fundamental questions about the nature of humanity. So we'll be covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Andrea happened on Tuesday, November 15th at the VRNL conference in Berlin, Germany. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:09.080] Andreea Cojocaru: My name is Andrea Kozlokalo. I am an architect and a programmer. So I'm a double architect. I'm like a real architect. I design real buildings and I also design programming architecture. I program architecture.

[00:02:24.147] Kent Bye: Great. Yeah, so we're here at the VR Now conference and there was an expo where they had a number of different experiences there, a number of different categories and competition. And so you actually had an experience there where it's a bit of like a, I guess, medical training or a marketing video where you're able to do an embodied experience of some of these medical equipment to do a little bit of training to just help people understand what is it that's actually doing and what's new and how do you use it. And you had some really fascinating architectural decisions that you had made in this experience. And so I'm just wondering if you could talk a bit about your journey into virtual reality from the lens of architecture.

[00:03:00.657] Andreea Cojocaru: Sure, so as I said I was for many many years an architect in New York actually for a long time for huge companies I was designing schools and skyscrapers all over the world but in the same time I was always looking for a way to integrate programming because I knew how to program into my work in a way that's creative And I couldn't find it in an architecture office. There are ways to use programming as an architect, but not creative ways. There are ways to streamline counting fencers and windows and bricks and things like that, but that's not what I was looking for. So when I first found out about VR, I had this instinct that it might be something for me, because I knew it was a combination of 3D files and 3D worlds and programming. And then I started to just try out some experiences to see kind of what it's all about. And I was really struck by one thing through my architectural eyes. I was struck at how little understanding of space there was in these experiences. So basically, for me, VR is a spatial experience. So it's about very traditional questions that architects, good architects, have always known about. How does it feel to move your body in space? Can you touch a window, a wall, or a ceiling when you stretch your arms? So it's how you feel through your body in a certain space, and that's always about emotions and all sorts of feelings that come from that feeling of body in space. And an architect always develops around that. So it's actually psychology and things like that in architecture, for a good architect and a good architecture project. And here I was in this world that was primarily a visual spatial world, because that's what it is at its core. And I was struck at how little understanding of the body in space and the psychology of the body and the mind in space there was. And when I started to research more about who's developing these experiences, what's needed, and who are the people involved, then I found out that there were programmers, and then there were 3D modelers. Because people who are doing this experience are coming out of the gaming industry, and the gaming industry is a 2D. And by 2D, I mean you look at it on a screen. enterprise, and then the same people switched boats and started doing VR. And the 3D modelers were given the brief about some rooms, you know, and they were just modeling rooms. But these 3D modelers were not designing and understanding the body in space. And then I said, well, wait a minute, I'm an architect. My job is to design what the body space feels like and what a space feels like. So then I got a bit of courage to start a company that does VR applications, who hires not 3D modelers, but architects and makes them work with programmers. So we actually have a very different approach to VR.

[00:06:10.680] Kent Bye: Yeah and I think it's working because in the competition you won the prize for the best VR application for industry and it's a medical training video and a marketing video and you know normally that's nothing all that exciting or interesting but just even the first space that you're in has this interesting architectural element there's like ways of encouraging the participants of the experience to be able to follow this thing as it kind of goes around the space and then turns into a keyhole where you walk in Then you do the different medical applications, which I guess is the heart of the experience of what you need to do pragmatically for what you're getting paid for to explain the spatial relationships of how these tools combine together and then how you use them. But at the end, you have this tour through this architectural bone structure and I was like, oh my god, this is absolutely amazing because you're like, looking at the microscopic lens of a bone structure and then blowing up into this architecture which is totally like this organic feeling like I've never seen architecture quite like that and to know that it was inspired by the actual human bone but also that you're able to actually even do that functionally because it's a lot of geometries it's just like a very complicated scene. And it's an architecture that I've never seen. It'd be totally unfeasible to make or build unless you were 3D printing this giant bone structure. But in VR, you can totally create this as an experience, almost like this climax to a very otherwise kind of mundane experience of training, but it's like the award and payoff that you get your mind kind of opened up into this new experience. As you move through it, you're actually moving through this architecture as well. So yeah, maybe you could talk a bit about that inspiration for creating that specific bone like architecture and how that fit into this medical training video.

[00:07:54.296] Andreea Cojocaru: Right, so I think going back to having architects do VR and not 3D modelers, we actually play with an interesting mixture of traditional architectural methods of designing and new methods of designing. For example, Paradoxically, because our colleagues that are still doing real architecture use VR to do the real architecture, we actually started all the scenes that you saw in our application by doing cardboard models. So we play with scissors and paper and cardboard to get our 3D spatial ideas. So we actually, we use a very wide range of methods for coming up with the concept, the spatial concept for these things. which is what we learned how to do in school as architects. And then the other thing that's different in how we as architects do VR is that we know all these techniques and software that we use for real-world architecture. So, for example, the bone structure that you saw, that you traveled through, we did that using a parametric modeling tool that's used to design skyscraper facades that have parametric variation in the design. So that's actually a very specific tool that only sophisticated high-end architects would use and that's basically you design the facade in that tool and then you take each piece which has an individual shape and you send it to a CNC machine to cut it out of metal or something and produce the windows and everything for your building. So we said Okay, this tool has very specific applications but actually this tool is a lot more powerful than what we get out of it when we make a skyscraper. Because I played with this tool before and I played with it outside the constraints of gravity and real rules and real architecture and I was kind of fascinated with it. But then as an architect you can't show that to your boss or to your client because it's like... Well, it's going to cost a billion dollars or what's the use of it. So we kind of found this sweet spot in this very specific software that no one was tapping into because there was no practical use for it. So we said, wait a minute, it's VR. So VR also breaks the rules of what's practical and what's not. That's kind of what it's for or challenges those rules. So we said, OK, let's take this software. And really push it into some very deep corners. And let's go crazy with it. And let's make this crazy kind of structure and architecture that we never have to build. Forget about building it. But hey, our software can do it. And the VR technology allows us to put our bodies inside it. Because the reason why we're doing VR is also we want, like as architects, the ultimate thing is to build, right? But you can look at building in different ways. So building is just a process. You can build with mortar and bricks, but then you can also build through these VR tools. Because for me, the definition that matters at the end is how does it feel when your body's in it? So that's the ultimate point for me. So that's what an architect does. An architect doesn't necessarily make a building. An architect designs a 3D experience that makes your body feel in a certain way when you're in that space. So we took the software, we designed this crazy structure and then we used VR to put our body in it and it was quite fantastic. And then we convinced our client to let us keep it in the application, because of course that level was actually not something the client necessarily asked for. It was not exactly part of the brief.

[00:11:48.622] Kent Bye: It's like a fun architectural playground for you.

[00:11:53.572] Andreea Cojocaru: But what the client did want, one of the surgeries in the application is using a new implant material, bone implant material that our client invented and they just brought to the market. So they did want that we create something that's so phenomenal people will be overwhelmed with emotion. And somewhere there will be these two letters XP, which are the letters, the name of this implant. So that was in the brief. And we were lucky that the client was pretty flexible and we had this open-ended brief in that sense that we could interpret that however we wanted. So we came out with this journey through the bone.

[00:12:32.553] Kent Bye: Well it's sort of like an ending of the experience where in some ways it's like a theme park ride that when I was seeing it I was like oh my god this architecture is amazing where is this from and then you told me that it was sort of inspired by the bone structure and you had used this tool but that I've talked to previous architects and talking to them I get the sense that there is a lineage of what he called paper architects where people who just design on paper and they're not ever building as much as just going through the process of designing for the sake of designing and that in the case of doing architecture in the context of virtual reality it's kind of like continuing the tradition of paper architects but in a way that you're able to actually build it in a virtual representation of it but not worry about the constraints of space and time and gravity and that you're able to really explore but The thing that I find fascinating is how does this process work of translating space into emotion and I take inspiration from the quadrivium because you have mathematics and mathematical equations like the parametric formulas that you have that gives us a certain feeling but generally sort of patterns of mathematics will give us some sort of feeling. So that's number and the numbers in space is geometry or also architecture of having a space be able to be translated into emotion. And then numbers and time is music. And so the different cycles of consonance and dissonance also are evoking different dimensions of motion. And then finally, the objects moving through space, which is astronomy, but also just generally objects moving through space, which in architecture, you don't have much options, I think, to do a lot of crazy objects moving through space. Although it is happening, I think, more and more with dynamic architecture or with computer elements of having that dynamic motion. But in VR, you're literally able to move virtual objects around people in different ways. You are moving people through this sense of space and you as an architect have a finely grained sense of intuition and direct experience of you designing stuff, see how you feel, and then you show it to other people and see how they feel. And so it seems like there's this iterative process, but is there some design frameworks and some grand ideas for how that process actually happens of translating our experience in space into emotion?

[00:14:38.978] Andreea Cojocaru: So I think I have a very specific answer to your question, which might satisfy you or might not. So I have this company that makes these applications, but I also have a personal research project that I'm working on. And at the core of this project is actually the idea of mathematics and space. and how people experience mathematics in space and the idea for this came from when I was an architecture student and there was one thing that always bugged me as an architecture student and then it continued to bother me as I was an architect and I could never find an answer for And what's even worse, I could never find the right tool to research what this problem was. And when I found out about VR, I said, OK, this is not the answer, but this is the damn tool that will help me explore this thing that annoys me. And the thing that bothers me, bother is not the right word, but it's kind of like the elephant in the room for me for architecture and this issue of mathematics in space. When you design, architects design buildings starting most of the time with a plan. And the plan is very mathematical, it's very regular, usually. And even if it has some funky lines in there, there's still a very strict logic. Because that's what architects do, that's how we build buildings. So there's a plan with a strict mathematical logic. When people experience that, when you build that up and you experience that in three dimensions, your experience of the Strigma and Michael logic is very very different than the logic of the plan. So the experience is different than the abstraction. Do you know what I mean? Yeah, yeah. And there are countless studies that were done, well, actually not countless, not that many, there should be countless, but they're not, they aren't. But there are many studies, and including from some of the studies that I've done and my own experience, where people walk through a very, very simple building, they turn two corners, and they're either lost, or if you ask them to sketch a rough plan of the corridor they just walked through, they can't do it. They can't do it. My house, there's one hallway, and then the hallway kind of turns 30 degrees, and you have to walk a little bit more. This third degree turn in the hallway, people are lost. Every single friend of mine that's an architect that comes to visit me for the first time, they walk to the house. I let them walk through the whole house on the inside and then on the outside. And then I asked them to draw it, to draw the plan. And these are very experienced architects. They can't do it. I have a collection of very, very funky looking plans of my house. It is a very just square shape. There's this one wall that's a third degrees. Everything else is just square, square, square. And they can't do it. So there's this disjunction between mathematical logic and the experience, the three dimensional experience of that mathematical logic.

[00:17:33.915] Kent Bye: Yeah, I've been on the similar track but from a completely different angle looking at this very issue because the more I read about Pythagoras and Plato, you know, the Pythagorean idea that all is number, that you could have number, which would be mathematics, numbers in space, geometry, numbers in time, music, and numbers in space and time, astronomy, or objects moving through space. You have this sense that everything goes back to number and Aristotle had four levels of causation. He had the final causation, formal causation, material causation, and efficient causation. So the final causation is like the final intention, what you want to do with it, it's the purpose of an object is. The material causation is like the materials that you're gathering within the experience. Efficient causation is a little confusing. My sense is that it could be the worker that's actually making it, the carpenter, the building, the table, but maybe there's a sense of emotional presence and passion that comes into that as well, the craft of making an art. But the formal causation is the thing that I think is the most mysterious, and it's the one that is maintained in the construct of the philosophy of mathematics, but is completely lost in the philosophy of science. And that formal causation is the relationship between a blueprint and reality. And mathematics, there's an open question as to whether or not mathematical objects are discovered or invented. Meaning, is this a mental construct that we are creating that is emergent from the physical reality? Or is there something that's transcendent that is actually interfacing with reality in some sort of unknown way? And that formal causation is, I guess, embedded into this question as to whether or not mathematics are created or discovered. But it's also in philosophy of science where we are giving ontological reality to anything that we can falsify through the methods of science. But yet, when we look at something like mathematics, we don't consider mathematical objects to be real because it's kind of a different branch of an axiomatic system of saying what reality is versus what science says and so Quine and Putnam actually say like well you should actually give ontological reality to anything that's indispensable to science and so it's saying that these objects are real and so maybe there is this transcendent realm of ideal form so there's a book called the geometry of meaning by Arthur Young who goes in and Derives these different dimensions of how things are related to in space And I think there's there's an intuitive relationship to some of these that you can find in different practices But like right now we're standing 180 degrees opposite of each other and so there's a bit of like head-to-head confrontation that can happen and then if I stand over here now this is like I'm a 90 degrees away from you and it's like a different feeling and that it's almost like two cars that are trying to go through the stop sign at the same time you can't do it and so you have a little bit more trouble doing that and so that's the concept of a derivative which is that you have a pendulum swinging as it's moving then you can do the derivative and that's 90 degrees and then you do acceleration that's another 90 degrees and then if you or an engineer and you do another integral over that over time then you have another 90 degrees which ends up being how to control that. The bottom line is that he's basically come up with this mathematical formalization to say here's a philosophy that you can start to apply to be able to say when things are these different degrees apart then this is your experience of it. And so there's a bit of a blindness that it sounds like it's coming from the 30 degrees that like We have an experience of what it means to have a corner that we turn maybe 60 degrees or 90 degrees, but maybe 30 degree turn is not enough for us to even register. We don't have a category schema for being able to see that. So you have these dimensions where there may be some sort of mysterious mathematical dimensions, but I think that there's this interesting connection between math and reality, and that you have an embodied experience of that as an architect of embedding these mathematical structures within a structure, which can be coming from a very mental, linear, logical way, but as you experience it, you're perhaps tapping into something deeper and transcendent about the nature of math.

[00:21:21.679] Andreea Cojocaru: I would say, not necessarily the nature of math, but the nature of our mind. So I come more from a phenomenological background, so I really love Merleau-Ponty, and then I mix those kind of insights of the body into this whole mathematical stuff. And in that vein, I would go even deeper. I would ask, do numbers exist? I would actually say not so much were they invented or discovered. I mean, do they exist? It's an ontological question, because numbers, yeah, they do exist, but they don't exist in the same sense that we exist. So our bodies are a stone. They definitely exist, but they exist in a different way than numbers exist. Or I ask myself sometimes these questions about the 3D files I work with. Do the objects in 3D files exist? They do exist, but not in the same ways as numbers, or a slightly different way. Do they exist in a form in a 3D file or in a 3D experience, but not when they're stored on my computer and so on? But going back to what you said earlier, the way I see things is, and going back to my little pointy, our reality is a patchwork and there are seams. So what we call reality is this patchwork of conventions mixed with experiences and mixed with what society tells us we are and we should feel and where we should go and everything. And most people live this kind of unquestioned existence. And my ultimate goal would be to use such discrepancies in our experience, like what I just gave you as an example, this discrepancy between the abstraction of mathematics and our experience of that abstraction, to push the seams a little bit, to unseam reality a little bit, because I think at the core of that is not so much ontological question about mathematics, it's ontological question about us. Because if you push deeper and deeper into those things, you'll see that who we are and subjectivity and our sense of self is very much anchored into our bodies, is very much anchored into understanding space. And if you start to challenge the way we understand and experience space, you start to challenge subjectivity. You start to challenge how it feels to be you and who you are. And you can use any discipline to start to question those things. If you go deep enough into any discipline, so I go at it from the architecture perspective, because that's what I know, I'm an architect. But if you take absolutely any discipline, and you bring examples from mathematics, you will find the seams. You'll find the seams. You'll find things that don't quite work. And it's not so much that they don't work from a logical point of view, but they don't work from a human point of view. Because when something doesn't work, logically, we make up a story to cover it up. And inside that story, we mesh in our sense of who we are and how it feels to be who we are. And in my personal project, I am working on kind of exploring that, kind of exploring how it feels to be in a space that challenges you, not in an intellectual way, but in this deeper way of making you question who you are or how it feels to be you. And I don't mean your avatar is a rabbit and you feel like a bunny because you jump around in VR. I don't mean it like that. I mean it in this deeper level, and I'm still finding out what that means. But I'm sure it's possible, and I'm sure VR is one of the best tools for doing that kind of investigative work. Does that make sense?

[00:25:06.211] Kent Bye: Yeah, no, I agree. And I think that as an architect, I can imagine how you maybe have a lot of ideas theoretically about architecture and what it might feel like. being able to have an actual virtual experience of something that you've designed, you're able to, I would imagine, close that loop faster so that you could start to develop your own sense of intuition. In Arthur Young's Geometry of Meaning, he has this really interesting way of creating polarity points between the objective and subjective and the individual and the collective, and so he has this juxtaposition between knowledge versus intuition. So knowledge is an aggregation of facts over time that are pretty objective. So that's the collective objective, but the individual subjective is an intuition. It's like an intuitive hit or a gut instinct. But that intuition is derived from your lived experiences over lots of time and that lived experiences aggregates into a form of sub-symbolic knowledge that I would classify as belief. So you have beliefs about the nature of the world and reality that comes from your direct experiences that maybe you can't describe or defend With facts, but it's from your lived experiences So the collective aspect of the subjectivity is the belief and then the opposite is a fact it's like the individual objective data point but we have this balance between our beliefs and facts and our intuitions and our knowledge and that there's the process of architecture can't necessarily be reduced down to a formula that has machines do it because it involves a human experience of having these ideas about how space is related to our experience and then actually doing it and then seeing how you feel and then if you are a good architect then you can abstract that out into maybe deeper principles that then allow you to design other spaces that have never been designed before that are able to create these new experiences. But that now that we have virtual reality, your role as an architect, it'll be, I think, faster for you to do that iterative cycle of designing stuff and seeing how you feel and showing it to other people and not having to go through the long lead time of actually building it. But that from that, I think we'll be able to get some more critical theory about the underlying patterns of architecture and what this mysterious translation between space and emotion might be.

[00:27:13.093] Andreea Cojocaru: Yeah, so I have two comments to that. The first one is one of the things leading my thinking in this area is the fact that asking the question, where am I, is not so different from asking the question, who am I? Because where am I is really, really tied in with who am I. If you, I don't want to use the word disoriented. It's a bad word. It has negative connotations. But if you are able to create a space, whether it's real or virtual or whatever, but it's a three-dimensional space, your body's in it. But if that space somehow puts in question the clarity that's usually found in this question, where am I? I mean, the answer to that is pretty clear. most of the time when we're awake. The exception is dreams, which is kind of actually a part of the whole VR discussion, right? That it's a relevant issue. So most of the time when we're awake, we have a very clear answer to the question, where am I? In our normal life, not that you're lost in the woods or whatever, but even if you're lost in the woods, you know you're in the woods. If the space can challenge that in the right way, I guarantee you it will also challenge the question, who am I?

[00:28:25.790] Kent Bye: So a certain amount of the space that we're around is reflecting who we are and so as we change this virtual space.

[00:28:30.394] Andreea Cojocaru: It's changing who we are. The space we're in and the security we have from the consistencies of the laws of physics is giving us the certainty that we have in who we are as embodied people because the laws of physics around us are unshakable, yeah? There are lots of things in our lives we can't rely on. But the laws of physics, that's something that's keeping us grounded in more ways than one. Well, in VR, you can challenge that. And I think that in itself is just world-shattering to me because human beings have never been put in a position before we had VR of facing a physical three-dimensional environment in which laws of physics are being shattered even if it's metaphorically even if it's not real or whatever because this thing with what's real and what i also i'm trying to avoid using the word reality and real in this kind of discussion because i think it's meaningless i mean our version of reality is just one version of reality So, to me, VR is not less real than reality, actually. It's just another version of it. And also, all experience is real. So, if you are in VR and you feel yourself in a three-dimensional space, well, that experience is real. I don't care if the walls are real or not. you are in a three-dimensional space, period. End of discussion. So that's kind of at the core of my research and what I find so exciting about VR. And then the other thing you were saying about real buildings and how it's going to change real architecture and iterations, I actually try to also keep designing real buildings. So I just finished designing a medium-sized building a month ago in the south of Germany. And I'm going to do my best to somehow keep doing that because I think that the fact that I also design virtual architecture where I challenge the normal laws of physics because I'm a programmer so I can change gravity, I can change the way walls behave. The fact that I spend some of my time doing that and challenging gravity intentionally and then I go back and work on a real project that really kind of messes up with my brain in a good way. To the point where I do challenge, well I don't challenge gravity in the case of real project of course, but I do challenge things, I do look at things in a different way. And I think long term, not now, but maybe in 10, 20 years from now, this mixture is gonna make me a different architect and is gonna help me produce real buildings and real designs. that I wouldn't have produced otherwise. I wouldn't have produced without my engagement with virtual spaces. And there is actually this really funky moment that lasts about half an hour. I've tried to time it, so when I switch from a VR project to a real project, so I'm with my headset all day. for a week, two weeks, three weeks, I'm programming, I'm doing things, and I'm working with this idea of all these challenging things in VR. So, you know, I'm used to pushing walls around and throwing them and moving them and rotating them, and then they're floating above my head. And then, okay, I come to stopping point, I have to now work for a week on my real project. And there is this, like, this adjustment period where, you know, I'm not, oh, is this wall real? Can I move it around? No, I can't put it like that. And that's actually also a new element that's introduced through VR as a medium in my process as an architect. So you're right, VR is going to change in terms of iteration time, but I also think it's going to change real architecture in this deeper way is forcing us to change perspective and then change back to the original perspective and back and back and back. And this switching is rewiring our minds a little bit as architects. So I think it's going to also change architecture from this point of view.

[00:32:33.364] Kent Bye: That's interesting. It reminds me of the Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, which when he designed it, he was doing a lot of upside down designing to see how things would actually fold naturally and organically, but when he inverted it, then it would have enough structural integrity to withhold the weight, which I thought, what a brilliant idea. It's almost similar in the way that you're inverting your relationship to gravity and turning it off. and then it changes your way to think about it, but this is another way to get a view into what is even possible, that it's gonna have a certain amount of structural integrity, and that in some ways, in the virtual reality version, that you're gonna have not as many constraints with the amount of gravity and things you could do that'd be considered impossible architecture, but the thing that's still gonna be the limiting factor is the number of polygons and geometry that you have. so that you can still only be limited to the extent of doing some super crazy you know high geometry things that I think get at that natural organic feeling that I feel when I'm in the Sagrada Familia which is just like this reflection of nature that doesn't have a lot of right angles and it just is beautiful curves and within the context of virtual reality even those kind of complicated geometries that are possible to create in real life may be just unfeasible or not perform as well. But I think having these metaphors of nature in different ways of designing things that have a little bit more natural flowing and that you know nature has a lot of things that have structural integrity but there's a lot of mathematical constructs that you can expand out that don't have that but have some sort of deeper beauty to them.

[00:34:05.805] Andreea Cojocaru: Yeah, I mean, nature plays with mathematics in a very sophisticated way in terms of structure and everything. So nature is ahead of all of us, actually, all of us architects when it comes to mathematics and structure and organics and parametrics. So we're still catching up with it, for sure. And the other thing that I found also as an architect working in this field is that words like what's possible and reality really lose their meaning. And this is for me another sign of how powerful VR is as a medium. It's when a new medium starts to make some concepts and terms and words obsolete. and starts to require its own set of concepts. And I think that's why I liked your talk earlier so much, because you're starting this attempt to conceptualize or to find this framework to understand VR, like you're recognizing VR for what it is, which is it's this very unique medium. And of course, a lot of people are saying that, but very few understand what that means. Like, what does it mean to have a new medium? I mean, it's no joke. It's like, holy shit. because I think a lot of things come up and then they're called new medium or new media or whatever and they're not necessarily that new, they're just new forms of something that already exists, but this is really a new medium and the sign for me is that it's starting to require its own way to talk about things and its own words. You also addressed this a little bit, how in some respects we don't have the right language to describe certain things, so you're making use of this metaphors and drawing from certain philosophical lines of thought to try to find a way to even talk about what a VR experience even is. So you had to dig pretty deep into finding something that could even allow you to talk about it the way you did. And that, to me, that's the true definition of a new medium. So the new medium, I think VR for me, is throwing up the word reality, is throwing out the word possible. I mean, the word possible doesn't really mean that much anymore. When I do my jumping from virtual architecture to real, here's gravity, here's no gravity. I mean, yeah, it's more of a continuum right now, which would have been unthinkable for me, let's say, 10 years ago. to think as an architect, as a body experience space, that gravity could be a continuum. I mean, if I had heard someone say that, I would be like, well, this is nonsense. You know, it's like your head is in the clouds. Like, it's meaningless to talk about this. I can't even conceive of such a space or such a possibility. But now I can. Now I can feel myself stretching my mind and my imagination from spaces where I challenge gravity to spaces where I don't challenge gravity. Yeah, it's really breaking things in a way I would have never imagined.

[00:37:07.244] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a number of things that come up. First thing, you keep talking about the reality and experience and the way I think about that is this reductive materialism idea that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the brain, that it's emergent from our body and our physical reality. And that's one conceptualization that I think a lot of the eliminative materialist perspective that consciousness is an illusion and that all of this is just neurons firing and that it's not real. And then another perspective is that there's a part of the human experience that is transcendent to our physical reality, that there's things that are just as real in a virtually mediated experience that have ontological reality and real meaning and purpose in our lives, but that there could actually be a deeper metaphysical dimension of that consciousness is kind of transcendent to space and time, that it's a non-local field, and that is interfacing with space-time in a way that we don't fully understand. It kind of goes back to this formal causation, I think, is the mathematical conceptualization of this abstract form of mathematical objects somehow mysteriously interfacing with reality. How does that work and how does consciousness interface with reality? Is it a non-local field? So yeah, you were referring to as reality is not so important as to whatever experience is happening and the technology is just mediating and tuning in these different experiences, but Looking to the philosophy, I think, for me, I had done well over a thousand interviews at this point, but also thousands of VR experiences, and there's this sort of integration and cultivating my own sense of intuition of the deeper patterns, and then turn to philosophies to try to find what are some existing prior ways that this has been described, so I really find a lot of deep inspiration for the Chinese philosophy. and the difference between the yang and the yin, and I really feel like the yang is making choices, taking action, expressing your energy and will outward in the world through the metaphor of a video game, but that there's something mysterious about the yin archetypal journey, which is what is the relationship between space and emotion, and our relationship to time and music, and mathematical structures and objects moving through space. All of these things give us some feeling but there's not a lot of conceptual understanding for how that works and in some ways it's sub-symbolic so even though we have an experience of it we can't even put words to it because it's at such a low level that we can't even explain. It's like the metaphor of machine learning where you can train something to do it but sometimes it's unexplainable where it can't itself describe why it did what it did. It's just based upon a bunch of data and experiences that you fed it and then it makes inferences and judgments and that's the same thing as humans. When it comes to our intuitions and our beliefs is that we have these lived experiences and there's this mysterious translation. So I feel like that's part of the Yen archetypal journey. But looking to the quadrivium I think is a huge inspiration for me because I can look at numbers, numbers in space being geometry and architecture, numbers in time being music and the narrative and different consonants and dissonance cycles to create narrative tension and then finally the numbers in space and time which is the astronomy or the objects moving through space more abstractly. And so all of those things are saying that if you look at the mathematics of the space-time continuum, you can't have space without time and you can't have time without space. So, when you go into an architecture or a spatial medium, it's actually changing your relationship to time. And so that's another thing that I think is mysterious, like how we go into spaces and how that changes our conceptualization of how time passes based upon the space that we're in, in architecture, but that also happens within virtual spaces. So I'm just curious, like, how architects start to think about the relationship between space and time. I know there's mathematical formalism of it, but what is the phenomenological direct experience of the embodied experience of how there's this kind of mysterious connection between space and time in architecture?

[00:40:47.007] Andreea Cojocaru: Actually, when I saw on your slide earlier today, I saw in the lower right corner, there was mathematics in time is music. I really love that because actually, when I was an architecture student in school, we did study Renaissance architects. who wrote the Renaissance version of articles about music. So they actually studied composition and the golden rule and the golden rectangle and so on, which were two-dimensional studies of proportion. And they, in the same time, they studied musical composition because they saw that as being the same thing, and they saw that as being in the purview of architecture, which has kind of been lost today. We've kind of, as architects, we've kind of lost that deeper meaning of mathematics and planning and logic, that it's what you had on your slide today. It's this mathematics in space and in time that is the same thing in many forms. So you can have a building that has the same logic and the same, especially if you think of classical architecture, there's a sudden repetition of bays, for example. So sometimes you will have like an A-A-B-B or A-B-A-B-A-B bay pattern or pattern of structural pattern. And you can think of a structural pattern in a classical building being the same as the logic of a musical composition. And that's exactly what Renaissance architects were studying. That's exactly what they were doing. They were recognizing that similarity. So basically, there are levels in which the brain and the body operate that we should investigate more. And I think that's also maybe a little bit how I interpreted your talk. And we need two things for that. We need the medium and a framework. We need a framework that would allow us to even recognize that there are more patterns or that the patterns actually point back to the same issue. So in this case, mathematics and space and and motion, and we need a medium to research and go deep into that. And then to go back to your question of time, so this is another nagging thing for me in architecture, that there's not enough attention and studies that go into the relationship between the passage of time and spatial experience. So you go at it from the physics point of view. For me, I can kind of intellectually understand those relativity issues and equations if I spend a long time on them, but I haven't done it in a long time, but I can't really feel it, you know? I mean, you understand those things on an intellectual level, if, and that's a big if, but you can't feel it. but in architecture I can design spaces that when you walk through they can be let's say I can design a space that's 50 meters long and another space that's also exactly 50 meters long but I can modulate the space in such a way that when you go from point A to point B in space one, you think at the end that it took you five minutes, and when you go from point A to point B in the second space that's modulated differently in terms of volume and design, you would think it took you half an hour.

[00:44:08.853] Kent Bye: Just to clarify, that's the perception of time. It may be the same time that passed, but either time dilation or expansion, you have a different experience of the time that passes.

[00:44:16.636] Andreea Cojocaru: Exactly, you would be walking with exactly the same speed, exactly the same distance, but your perception of time would be radically different. So I can use my knowledge as an architect to modulate space and volume in a way that actually modulates your perception of time. For many, many reasons, architects are not so much into that. I myself always wonder why, I guess because real quote-unquote real architecture is so made so heavy by constraints and budgets and timelines and everything and program and clients that maybe there's just not enough time for these issues some paper architects that you were mentioning earlier did address this issue renaissance architects that were in this amazing unique position at that point in time so 15th century rome and florence specifically were aware of these issues so if you visit for example late renaissance churches, baroque churches, there is modulation in the walls and in your procedural past or certain churches that do play at a very deep level with these issues, but somehow that train of thought again it's a little bit lost today. I do think though there'll be renewed interest in these issues, but yes there's total connection between the experience of space and your experience of time, in the most literal way, not in any abstract way, in a very, very real way.

[00:45:40.018] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I think the quadrivium has been a big inspiration for me because I think it links a lot of these things together from mathematics through the numbers in space being geometry and numbers in time being music and numbers in space and time being astronomy or how objects moving through space and that in that book they actually go into a lot of the connections to the harmonies and different ratios between different things but that there's another book called the jazz of physics by Stephan Alexander where he's learning about physics like string theory and his professor is like a Jungian and like Stefan is actually like a jazz musician and his professor's like look you're at a phase of mathematics and physics where you actually need to cultivate your sense of intuition more than anything else because you have to make these inductive leaps of logic to be able to Get a sense of where to look to next to where the underlying patterns of reality might lie either through mass structures or insights of string theory and so He was talking about music of this form of analogical reasoning which as you understand the structures of music then you can start to apply that to the underlying dimensions of the structures of space-time and so so I've been doing stuff like doing the visualizations of the geometry of music and to be able to see the different relationships between a circle of fifths and how as different notes have relationships on a circle of fifths relative to each other, either 30 degrees or 60 degrees or 90 degrees, 180 degrees, you know, but it's really holistically creating an object and a shape that has to be taken into consideration because It's individual quantities, but your mind is coming up with a qualitative experience. And that's what I think is so interesting about the Quadrivium is that it's actually this bridge between the quantities of life and the qualities of experience through mathematics, through geometry and architecture, through music and through objects moving through space. We have a qualitative experience of what that feels like. And we have a sense of that, and it's gone through the practice of architecture and game design and musicians and artists who are in some ways embedding all these deeper patterns into their work, and they're cultivating their own sense of intuition, but virtual reality is allowing a little bit more of these explorations. For me, I see that looking at all these different disciplines, that there is going to be architects who are looking into music, and world builders in the virtual reality looking into architecture, and physics, and mathematics, and like all these things I think we're kind of leading them to becoming more and more of these Renaissance men and women which at that time the printing press had came into being it was like going from the 2d and to 3d through perspective painting it's still in the frame and now we're going from 3d into the immersive reality where we're actually getting rid of that frame and it's fully immersive 3d not just perspective 3d through the 2d frame and so I feel like we're going through this similar Renaissance and kind of looking back to these platonic ideas to get some inspiration for how do we get inspired to how to fuse all these things together after they've been broken down to these various different silos

[00:48:32.530] Andreea Cojocaru: So all these people, I think, what they were really after, from my point of view, what the Holy Grail really is, is that there is no equal sign between the quantitative and the qualitative experience. A lot of people put an equal sign. This is not there. So this is what I was trying to explain through the example of my house, how your experience of the abstraction is not the abstraction. Your experience of the abstraction has something else that's changing the abstraction. It's just something else. And then the question, deeper question, what is that something else? And all these Renaissance people were playing with that. So you mentioned qualia in your talk. It's this classical example of Mary in the color red, right, with qualia. So Mary is blind and then she gets an eye surgery. But Mary is also a scientist, so she studies the brain. She's a neuroscientist, so she knows everything about the way the brain processes, the color red, so everything from the biochemical level to the quantum level to everything. So then the question is, after the surgery, when the doctor removes her bandage, and she's going to see for the first time the color red, what's her reaction going to be? Is she going to be like, oh, wow, I've never seen this? Or is she going to be like, oh, because I intellectually understand everything there is to understand about the color red. I already know the color red, so I know the qualia of the color red. And of course, everyone agrees that when she's actually going to see red, she is going to have an aha moment, like she's going to feel like, oh, there's something new. And then the question is, what in the world is that something new, right? So if you can intellectually know everything there is to know, then what's left? So that's qualia, and that's the question of consciousness which hasn't been resolved yet. And that to me is the holy grail in looking for these seams in reality and for these discrepancies. And you can look for that in all fields and using a lot of different things. And you can see there are certain times in history, like the Renaissance, where Architects and artists and so on have exhibited various levels of awareness of this. And I think this is also what you mean, in my opinion, when you talk about things on a higher level. That there might be something else there on a higher level. So I think this is kind of this, what's the something else? Like, what's that something else that's making Mary go, aha, when she sees red? what's the something else that you feel, because as an architect, so I design a house, I design the plan, it's a mathematical logical plan, and then I build it or I make it in VR, whatever, so I put myself physically in there, and although I have designed every single room in there, and I've imagined by closing my eyes how it's going to look like, there is still an aha thing. there's still an extra that comes from my body being in there. So there's still that extra in the experience.

[00:51:29.139] Kent Bye: And we all have different experiences, so we all experience in slightly different ways.

[00:51:32.782] Andreea Cojocaru: Yes, yes, yes. And so at the core of my personal research is dealing with these issues, with mathematics, with movement, with the passage of time, but in a way that starts to tease out the potential of my experiences to increase awareness of these issues. So, I have a very simple example, actually, that I thought about during your talk that has to do with moving bodies in space. So, in the case of architecture, well, in VR you can move architecture, sure, you can move the walls. Yeah, these days, as you said earlier, you can even move real walls. Why not? But primarily you are the moving body. And going back also to having 3D modelers do spaces for VR and why that doesn't work or doesn't work well. So usually they just do a room. So they just design a room, something happens in that room. But actually in architecture, and architects know this really well, your perception of the room that you're in is influenced by how you got to that room. So when you skip that part, you've skipped a major part of your experience of space and of the resulting quality that you get from that space. So going back again to my favorite time in architecture, the Renaissance, if you look at classical buildings, you will notice like all the big museums in Europe, you walk in into a small foyer. Then maybe there's another small thing that you walk in and they are a little bit elongated. The ceiling is pretty low. They don't have that many windows, but you have this choreographed experience that always, always starts with a tiny, tiny entrance thing, then a foyer or an elongated hallway, and then boom, then you're in a big hall. or the big central courtyard, or something big. And basically, the smaller and darker and longer that foyer is, or that hallway in the beginning, the bigger you'll think that hall is, or courtyard.

[00:53:32.116] Kent Bye: It's like a consonance and dissonance with an architecture is like creating a constriction and then expansion so that that expansion looks even larger once you've constricted the space.

[00:53:41.204] Andreea Cojocaru: Exactly. So good architectural spaces are always choreographed, which means you design the movement of the body through the space so that's kind of looking at it from the other side you design a mathematical thing that's proportional but then together with that if you're a good architect you also design the experience of the body moving through that space and everything is relative So the first thing you do, let's say you're in this big concert hall or something, and you're like, well, it kind of doesn't look that big, you know, but you don't have the money to make it bigger. Or maybe you do, but that's not the way you should go. I mean, if you want the room to be bigger, what should you do? Should you just make it bigger? No, you should make the people walk for several seconds through a very small, narrow hallway. And that's going to make your hall look bigger. So yeah, that is a very, not dumbed down, but a very clear practical way to understand the importance of moving bodies and to understand what's missing in a lot of these VR applications where you're just in a room that you just got teleported into, for example.

[00:54:52.941] Kent Bye: Yeah, and Merleau-Ponty is an interesting philosopher because he's coming from the phenomenological tradition, but in the context when he came about, there wasn't a lot of other people who were thinking about the more qualitative phenomenological experience of the body and how the body is related to the phenomenology. And so, like, are there many other architects that are in Merleau-Ponty? And I've talked to other people who are from VR looking at Merleau-Ponty, but what are some of the other big insights about embodiment that you take from Merleau-Ponty and be able to apply to either virtuality or architecture?

[00:55:24.018] Andreea Cojocaru: That's a hard question. I would say Merleau-Ponty is the central figure for me in terms of understanding all these things. He is talked about in architecture a lot. But somehow, there is a severe lack of actual buildings or built spatial experiences that implement some of his ideas. And well, the big lesson from him for architect is that everything is constructed. So basically, your reality is something. We don't know what. And it's not relevant what it is. senses that are very, very specialized senses, senses that enable us to perceive some aspects of reality. And then the information that we get from these senses goes into our brain and is heavily heavily heavily processed and there are lots of things from biological factors to social factors to Your live previous live experience to your genes that are kind of factoring in into how you process that information so what comes out at the end is such a refined Digested narrow version of what reality might be, that we shouldn't even call it reality. That's why I object so much when people call this reality and VR not the reality. I'm like, if you actually take the relationship between VR and this reality and then compare it with the relationship between this reality and the real reality, So Merleau-Ponty does a fantastic job in deconstructing that, in teaching you what reality actually is and it's not. And it's making the words seem meaningless. And the way he writes, he has fantastic examples. And he even uses like actual experimental phenomenology to show you even how easily you can deconstruct these things and how easily you can kind of find these seams and these gaps and expose how fragile our constructed reality is. And things like you can do tricks with your nose and your hands, within seconds trick your brain that your hand is actually somewhere else than where it is. Or that a wall is actually not here but in another part. Or that this blue is actually green. So once you read that and really digest it, your mind is just blown away. And of course that has huge impact on how we see architecture. and how stable everything is. I remember reading Merleau-Ponty for the first time and then you just kind of go into the street and you walk on a sidewalk and you feel a bit dizzy. You're like, whoa. So it's a little bit like you're coming out of VR. And you're like, whoa, am I going to fall down now against this wall really hard? So Merleau-Ponty had that kind of impact on me. And of course there are a lot of aspects of his philosophy that are controversial and that may or may not agree with but that core line of inquiry I think still holds and it's actually there's also this very famous article that was extremely influential in the beginning of the cybernetic movement actually in the 60s about the frog, I don't know if you know this. So it was in the 60s, so the war happened and then there was the start of computing and it was just a very vague idea and there was actually philosophers involved in coming up with this idea of cybernetics. So at the core there were psychologists and philosophers and then there were some mathematicians but the idea of being a programmer or of cybernetics hadn't really been born yet. So there were these type of conferences or get-together where the concept was born of informatics. And one article that kind of blew everyone's minds away and really shaped this idea of the flow of information had very much to do with Merleau-Ponty and it was a study about the frog. And basically what it said is that they looked at frogs and then discovered that the frog's brain does not compute movement of large bodies. The frog is only interested in small movements because it eats insects. But if you put a truck next to a frog, the frog is not going to compute in its frog brain the movement of the truck because it's just not of interest to the frog. The truck doesn't run over the frog. So going back to Merleau-Ponty, who knows what's the equivalent of that for our brains?

[01:00:07.378] Kent Bye: Yeah, what do we not see?

[01:00:08.578] Andreea Cojocaru: There are huge trucks, like, running us over right now. I don't know. I mean, there are definitely tons of stuff that... I mean, we are like that frog in many respects, but we have no idea what. So, basically, this frog, its visual centers had the power to see that movement, to perceive the movement. It's just that the brain was not processing it, because it had no interest in movements of large bodies.

[01:00:32.061] Kent Bye: Or some sort of category, schema, or way to make sense of it?

[01:00:34.363] Andreea Cojocaru: Yeah, so for the consciousness of the frog, or not even a consciousness, for the whole frog as a system in itself, that was not an event of any consequence, and it just didn't exist. It didn't act as consciousness, if frogs have consciousness.

[01:00:49.712] Kent Bye: So that's kind of the melopon tea lesson and then that actually had influence in cybernetics and the idea of the flow of information and how information can affect change and what kind of information doesn't affect change and in what way and Yeah, because we have worldviews and information if that doesn't reinforce our worldview we can very easily discard it as not being valid or so there's different dimensions of the way that we see the world from our beliefs in our worldviews and our philosophies that can actually shape our perception of reality and

[01:01:18.660] Andreea Cojocaru: It's actually, when you think about it, it's pretty overwhelming because we're blinded by a lot of different factors. So we're blinded by the stuff we can't perceive because we don't have the sensors. We're not equipped with the right sensors for it. And there's nothing we can do against that. Actually, we do things against that. We do develop machines. We do develop things, for example, like CERN. We develop colliders that can pick up particles. that we can't pick up through our senses. So actually, we are kind of inventive in that sense. But there are definitely still things that we will never have access to because we don't have the senses or because... Well, there's a principle of sensory addition or sensory substitution.

[01:01:55.553] Kent Bye: So if you can find a way to correlate it and connect it to your body, then VR could actually expand our senses in different ways.

[01:02:02.067] Andreea Cojocaru: So we are doing that. Like earlier, you were using a microphone to talk. So in a way, your sensory system was hacked in that I wasn't really hearing your own voice. Your voice was better because it was louder. So we are hacking into that. But I'm sure there's still things that we just don't perceive, period, and never will. And then we're also limited by social factors and things like that. And I think there is a certain amount of work we can do to, quote unquote, free ourselves. through education and so on, but that work is very, very limited compared to all these limitations that we'll just never be able to break out of.

[01:02:39.739] Kent Bye: Yeah, and just to kind of wrap things up here, just a couple more questions. So you were talking about some things about architecture that were really nagging at you. And it sounds like there's these fundamental research questions that you have. I was wondering if you could maybe formulate those research interests in forms of questions, like if you were to have the answers to those, you'd be able to do various new or different things or have deeper insights. So what are the deepest open questions that are driving your work forward?

[01:03:08.558] Andreea Cojocaru: What's that extra that prevents us from putting the equal sign between abstraction and the three-dimensional experience of an abstraction? Which is, in effect, the fundamental qualia issue. I'm just asking it in the specific field of architecture and three-dimensional space and embodiment. That's one of them. And then the second question is, it's an issue of subjectivity. It's the connection between who we are in the sense of not in the sense of okay i'm female i'm blah blah in the sense of how does it feel to be me because it feels in a certain way to be me and it feels in a certain way to be you and i'll never experience how it feels to be you or anyone else i'll just always experience how it feels to be me which is a totally random thing because i was just born into being me And I'll never break out of that. But the ultimate goal is to find a way to break out of that. Because there are certain key experiences that are so profound that shake us in such a deep level that we don't know what hit us. And I think when that happens, that I don't know what hit me, that is that shaking up of who I am, when for a millisecond, It's still being me, but for that one millisecond, I wasn't Andrea anymore. I was something else, or someone else. I don't know. Because you can't sustain that for too long. Like, you don't want to go crazy. But for that millisecond, you're not you anymore. And you have no idea who you are. So my, and then my personal research, my way of tackling that is through space and through asking the question, where am I? With the implication that asking where am I is asking who am I?

[01:04:55.131] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[01:05:03.999] Andreea Cojocaru: The ultimate potential of virtual reality is to make you feel like another you.

[01:05:15.969] Kent Bye: Okay, great. And is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the immersive community?

[01:05:22.915] Andreea Cojocaru: To the VR community. It's what I said last night. I'm grateful to every single person who has an interest in VR. I feel love towards every single one of them. And I love the VR community. And I think it's so important that people take time to understand this, and people take time to listen to things like this, and to read things about VR, and to kind of help us be part of the daily life, because I think it's so valuable.

[01:05:48.142] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. So thank you.

[01:05:51.235] Andreea Cojocaru: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

[01:05:53.836] Kent Bye: So that was Andrea Kosciuchal and she's the founder of Numino, which is a virtual reality company that's doing both VR projects as well as designing actual architectural buildings. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Wow. So we covered a lot of ground in this conversation. And the thing that's popping up first is that in virtual reality, you're able to change the rules of physics. And as you do that, you're able to explore new methods of architecture and designing new spaces. But what Andrea is saying is that that's actually going to change your relationship to your own sense of self and your sense of identity. And it's going to perhaps reveal how much of our reality is already being constructed through this patchwork of these different stories that we're putting together. And It was super interesting to hear her talk about Maurice Monoponte, the phenomenologist philosopher who was really thinking about these deep aspects of embodiment and how we have to think about how our reality is this constructed thing and that all these ways that you can modulate and tweak it. And I think that is the role of an architect is to design spaces that change your experience of that. And this is something that has also been bugging me, is what are the fundamental temperamental qualities of, let's say, music and key signatures in different spaces that you're in, or different video games, different interactions and dynamics, and different underlying patterns of reality will give you some sense of qualia. And this is something that architects are doing these different theories of embedding these mathematical structures and patterns within these buildings that they're making, but there's no universal formula, and you just have to make stuff, see how you feel, and then have other people see it as well. And that was this thing that was really bothering her, was this abstraction, the blueprint of the reality of these buildings that she's building, but yet every time that she experiences it, it's always way different than she could even imagine. For anybody who is a VR developer, you have this experience of You're in unity and you're creating these experiences and then you actually step into it and the qualia of that experience is just completely different. And you can't see things that are abstracted in that 2D screen. And I think this is one of the most profound like philosophical paradigm shifts that I think that is going to be coming into our society today. Just by looking at what Andrea is saying is that she's now able to, as an architect, start to rapidly iterate and to cultivate this deeper sense of intuition. Because I feel like the deeper thread of what's happening with immersive technologies is that it's breaking us out of the stasis of these mental abstractions and that it's allowing us to create these systematized ways to democratize experiences so that we can actually do a little bit more empirical testing on these different qualia. And I think all the different advances in machine learning are also bringing up this combination of these sub-symbolic systems, like AlphaGo is a great example of doing this massive training of data and playing against itself, but also this hierarchical Monte Carlo tree search, which is a little bit of something from a symbolic logic that's being added into something that's a sub-symbolic logic, and you're melding those things together and you have this objectivity and the subjectivity that's being blended together, and that the success of these things are coming through either experiences. So in the case of AlphaGo, it's able to actually beat another human being in an actual match. And the thing about VR is that we're going to be able to start to cultivate our own sense of these different types of design intuitions, And that as a person who's actually going through these experiences, the thing that Andrea is saying is that maybe the ultimate potential of where this all is going is that we're able to capture these different dimensions of qualia and the universal dimensions of the human experience so that you can actually create either through the modulations of space and time and music and game dynamics and social interactions, you have this capability to give you this sense of you being another you. So what's it mean? Who are we? And what is our relationship to the world around us and all these rules and our expectations? And in VR, as we go and have all these different experiences, we are disrupting those expectation loops. And as a result, we are changing our fundamental maps and models of what we consider to be reality within itself. So I think that Andrea is on a similar track as I am in seeing that virtual reality is this completely revolutionary technology that is going to bring about all these other both philosophical shifts as well as paradigm shifts for how we are able to relate to each other and be able to communicate in the world. I think a big takeaway that I'm getting from a lot of these different interviews that I'm doing around the world is that we are more and more needing to find ways to synthesize all these different disciplines and bring them together. Like just in this podcast here, I'm talking to an architect, but you as a VR AR designer is able to take these insights of what does it mean to design spaces to mediate human experiences and be able to start to integrate all these different dimensions of all these different branches into the process of creating experiences for people. And so it's really forcing us to try to come up with these underlying design frameworks that are able to synthesize all these different insights. And I think Andrea had come up to me after I had given my talk and she was like, wow, this is the first time that she had really seen anybody talk about virtual reality in a way that really resonated with her and her experience of what it means to be an architect designing within virtual reality because a lot of her frustrations at the beginning of getting into VR was that she saw a lot of these 3D modelers who were designing these spaces and they didn't have a good sense of what that space actually was and what it felt like and that they were so focused on the art and the content but that they didn't have a sense of the gestalt of what it means to be immersed within an entire space and so she went through a number of these different ideas and concepts and architecture of well if you want to make a space feel really big then have people go through a really small space and how just this concept of bodies moving through space and how as an architect she can modulate the way that you experience time as you walk through a tunnel that is the same distance she can change the shape that allows you to have a completely different concept of the passage of time as you're moving through these different spaces and so that's me is So completely fascinating and I'm really looking forward to see how people continue to do these types of experiences. So the final thought was just this concept of her going into virtual reality and designing these different spaces is actually changing the way that she thinks about how to design buildings in the real world. She talks about this transitional period that when she's designing these virtual and immersive spaces, she's able to do a lot more avant-garde speculative architecture and this sci-fi concepting. And then once she's able to explore those concepts and ideas, it changes the way that she thinks about how she's designing buildings in the real world. And that some of the deeper research questions that she's looking at is, what is this extra that is the difference between the quantity and qualia? Why don't we put an equal sign between those two? How does it feel to be me? And are there ways to break out of that? And how is changing where you are within these virtual experiences change who you are? So, that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast, and if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listeners-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So, you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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