Immersive Media, Scientific Visualization, and Global Umwelt

Immersive Media, Scientific Visualization, and Global Umwelt

Julieta Cristina Aguilera (Independent Researcher, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2433-6.ch020
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This chapter deals with the global implications of immersive media: First, it considers how the concept of the umwelt can be used to address the extension of sensory motor capabilities of the human body. Next, it discusses what the implications are when the concept of the human umwelt is applied to scientific visualization in astronomy, which scales space and time to present data. Then, these scientific visualizations are discussed in the context of planetarium domes and what it means to collectively experience an immersive environment based on large scale data. As a case study, the final section articulates what this entails for the understanding of the effects of collective human interactions with our planetary environment at this stage of climate change.
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Can immersive media bring forth a new global understanding of the interconnectedness of humans and other life forms that stem from and inhabit our planetary environment? In architecture and design studies there is a dominant focus on immediate space (architects) as well as on symbolic space (designers). This focus affords the development of a practice that observes spatial abstractions as well as the interactions that happen within spaces. Add to this mix Virtual Reality (VR), immersive environments and other synthetic experiences that accommodate human senses and actions, and space becomes a deeper construct that supports and informs the human umwelt. That is, the planetary environment experienced through the sensorimotor structure of the body that has evolved there (Von Uexküll, 1934/1957) across economies of scale and meaning (Lakoff & Johnson,1980; Johnson, 1987).

I began exploring these thoughts during a class on Body Culture at the School of Architecture of the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (Pendleton-Jullian, 1996) that was geared towards reflections about the body in space. Ideas that years later emerged from this inception include my work Unfolding Space (Aguilera, 2006) that investigated the three dimensional shadow of a four dimensional grid in VR, with interactions that cover both abstract spatialities and abstract temporalities in the form of tangible and digital mapped spaces. Next, I used these ideas for scientific visualization during my work at the Adler Planetarium’s Space Visualization Laboratory (Aguilera et al. 2008) in order to look at seemingly impossible spaces while considering the different interaction modalities of immersion inside the museum and its dome (Aguilera, 2014). Projects such as historical astronomy illustrations envisioning the 3D structure of our Milky Way galaxy helped to refine those visions in virtual spaces and brought forward concepts about how point of view is resized in relation to the larger scales of the planet, the galaxy and the Universe. Finally, teaching a class at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo that focused on collaboration across VR, printmaking and ceramics (Aguilera et al., 2017) inspired the three faculty members involved to consider perception, three dimensional space, and scale across disparate media. The experience of developing the class helped further refine my emerging ideas about the senses in space by having students work with hand modeling, scanning, digital alterations, 3D prints in different sizes, capturing 360 spaces via photography, and moving through space in VR, while also adding animated particle effects that required considering time as texture (Varela, Thompson & Rosch, 1991). The notion of the body as a device came from observing how perception changes when transferring models across the different media utilized in the class, so the models could be experienced as objects and environments when moved from one media to another.

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