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Immersive Spaces and the Human Brain

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  • Ryan Wyatt
    ... I like the phrase pre-frame imagination. Very much. I think it connects with another idea, expressed in much less poetic terms, about the construction
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2006
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      Among other stimulating things, Hue wrote:
      > and I really believe that we are not just inventing... but RE-
      > inventing how to tell a story (or poem, or idea, or exeprience)...
      > getting back in touch with the pre-frame imagination...

      I like the phrase "pre-frame imagination." Very much.

      I think it connects with another idea, expressed in much less poetic
      terms, about the construction of our brains. Waaaaaay back in
      October 2000, in the 32nd post on this list, I wrote (with somewhat
      typical hyperbole):

      "...We have an evolutionary pathway directly from our optic nerves to
      the superior colliculus, in the thalamus, near the top of our brain
      stems. That's a direct pathway to visceral reactions from a human
      audience! This 'older' route into your brain guides fight-or-flight
      kind of reactions and helps you identify interesting objects in your
      peripheral vision."

      The context was my arguing for a full immersive space rather than a
      partially immersive (front three- or four-channel) theater. Anyway...

      The point is that immersive spaces have the potential to trigger
      deeply-ingrained (call them animal) responses. Moreover, since most
      domed spaces involve looking up, there's an aspect of having your
      brain sloshed back in your head, or perhaps more reasonably put, of
      replicating a situation in which we evolved to look for predators
      rather than prey.

      In New York, we of course have the 430-seat theater with the dome
      overhead, but we also have the Big Bang Theater -- a 90-degree
      section of a dome installed in the lower half of the Hayden Sphere,
      affectionately called "the bowl." In the bowl, you look down on a
      quasi-immersive space rather than up. I am amazed at the
      difference. We've actually seen some of the same content in both the
      bowl and the dome, and the sensation could not be more different.
      Thus my analogy of looking for predator versus prey: looking down in
      the bowl, one experiences a very analytic feeling along the lines of,
      "hmmm, that might be good to eat," or perhaps, "I could scavenge
      that," whereas looking up more often gives the sense of, "yikes, what
      was that?"

      I'm inclined to believe that experiences of the sublime (cf. my spiel
      about first experiences in a planetarium, which appeared in the June
      2006 "Planetarian") originate in the intersection of the intellectual
      and the visceral. Perhaps the viscreal aspect opens us up to the
      intellectual experience, or maybe it just reinforces the memory.
      Either way, an immersive experience affords greater opportunities for
      an experience of the sublime.

      To contrast this with cinema, particularly for those of us well-
      versed in its vocabulary... I think framed experiences have evolved
      to tell stories very efficiently, permitting greater affective effect
      (however clumsy that sounds), so I think you're more likely to cry at
      a movie rather than a planetarium show. The potential of an
      immersive experience lies along a different vector.

      Hmmm. Can you tell I'm writing this at 2:00 a.m.?

      Ryan, a.k.a.
      Ryan Wyatt, Science Visualizer
      Rose Center for Earth & Space
      American Museum of Natural History
      79th Street at Central Park West
      New York, NY 10024
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