Sensory anomalies

Laptop music This morning, while preparing my upcoming course, I stumbled across this great chapter about Sensory Anomalies by Michael Naimark. Some excerpt I found relevant below:

"The single biggest difference between first-hand and mediated experiences is whether sensory anomalies exist. There are none in first-hand experience. Such anomalies always have explanations (...) The physical world obeys the laws of science. When we experience anomalies in the physical world, it's due to human hardware or software issues, such as blindness or psychosis, not because of the environment. (...) "Virtual Reality", in its theoretical construct, is the merging of the feeling of first-hand experience with the freedom from physical-world constraints. (...) the goal is indistinguishability from first-hand experience in the physical world: "just like being there." Such VR doesn't exist and may never (at least not without electrodes). So for now, we live with even the best sensory media having some degree of anomalies. These anomalies are not intentional, and entire industries exist to make higher resolution cameras, better synthesized lighting models, and auto-stereoscopic displays."

In the chapter, Naimark describes several projects that both transcend and exploit sensory anomalies as well as give a series of observations about what happens. It leads him to the following conclusion:

"Sensory anomalies are funny things (...) Metaphor to some is violation to others. "Faithful representation" is a noble engineering goal, but things aren’t quite as clear in art and design. To confuse, or clarify, things further, good metaphor can often be a form of shorthand. If we share similar cultures, backgrounds, or personal experiences, metaphor is a form of abstraction, of compression. So in the end, the degree of faithfulness and the degree of violation depend on what we want to say. "

Why do I blog this? I really love these lines. They very much echo with recent discussions I had with people from the game industry who aim at jumping over the Uncanny Valley. The notion of preferable anomaly seems more appealing to me in terms of opportunities and design constraints.

The image above was taken yesterday at Share GVA, an audiovisual jam session for media artists and technicians that I attended. The whole event ( my picture too, actually) are based on toying with sensory anomalies.

Laptop music