Insect Vision is an attempt to simulate the view of the wasp Megaphragma mymaripenne, one of the smallest insects known to humans. It has compound eyes consisting of 29 facets, which allow it to see in all directions at once. Humans are unable to observe more than 100° (vertically) and 200° (horizontally) without turning.
We suggest that a ‘point of views’ (facets) instead of a singular point of view (bipolar view) could be a helpful tool in the field of political activism. Using Virtual Reality (VR) we simulate a faceted view and mount it to a human’s head.
Is a fusion of cognitive strategies of human, machine and insect possible in current VR technology?
What happens if humans are exposed to multiple perspectives simultaneously?
We invited others to try the Insect Vision in our workspace. After staying in our simulation for about ten minutes, one of them took off the headset and told us she felt confused and could only focus on one of the facets at a time instead of using all of them concurrently. However, after ten more minutes she managed to understand the composition of the virtual landscape. She said she enjoyed looking behind herself through many eyes without having to turn her torso and head.
Another test person used Insect Vision for about 30 minutes and later became aware of her own limited field of view: Without wearing the headset her nose appeared to be a dark spot in the middle of her face, that otherwise remained unnoticed by her. She also observed that her eyes are embedded in her skull which causes a vignette in her vision.
After the tests, it became clear that the issues preventing us from answering our research questions were of technical as well as psychological nature.
Technical in that the software (Unity) and the hardware (graphics card) both did not support our multi-view vision. Certain fields of experimentation had not been thought of by their developers. The only way of achieving anything was to work against the default settings.
Psychological, because it was hard for the testers and us to focus on multiple facets at the same time. Typically, humans see ‘either or’, never ‘all’. We call the effort of simultaneously looking at multiple spots ‘unfocusing’. It means changing from a single angle of interest to a sea of perspectives – to take in the whole picture.
When reaching a state of complete ‘unfocus’, the amount of visual input is so overwhelming that one is tempted to snap back into single-focused view after a few moments. Insect Vision made us more aware of the limitations of human vision: The ability to see behind oneself without turning can be accomplished with technology; still, processing many perspectives at once is exhausting. A long-term study assessing ‘unfocusing’ and its influences on perception is a project for the future. At some point, humans might be able to adapt to an unfocused, multi-perspective vision. The Oxford English Dictionary reads on adaption:
- The application of something to a particular end or purpose; the action of applying one thing to another or of bringing two things together so as to effect a change in the nature of the objects. […]
We hope that the concept of a ‘point of views’ is not limited to this experiment and can influence realms other than art.