Tag Archives: Cognition

Report: The VI International Conference on Spatial Cognition 

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This article was originally posted at Goldsmiths Department of Computing’s Blog here.

PhD student Pierre-François Gerard reports on the International Conference on Spatial Cognition, which took place in Rome on 6-11 September 2015.


pfgIt felt good to leave the already cold London weather early this September and land in Roma’s Mediterranean climate for a whole week of International Conference on Spatial Cognition. What a city, what a history! My daytime was packed with talks and lectures, each giving a different take on situated cognition. My nights were dedicated to applying all those theories along hours of walking and navigating this old city filled with memories.

The conference venue was an interesting building to start with. Situated in an old neighbourhood east of Termini Station, part of Sapienza – Università di Roma, the faculty of psychology was barely recognisable from the street. However, once you got inside, the space was quite remarkable. There was this wide and long mildly inclined ramp punctuated by little steps distributing students and conference participants alike to the four levels of rooms and auditorium. At the back, there was a large court yard to share thoughts and eat lunch in the sunlight.

Keynote speakers – Scientific Method

The main keynotes were given on the top floor. Arrived only on Tuesday afternoon, I missed Monday keynote lecture with Kevin O’Regan: Constructing space: A theoretical basis for how naive artificial or biological agents can construct spatial notions . A couple of early friends informed me that although O’Regan is a quite prolific author, this presentation wasn’t that great. There is plenty to catch up online anyway. On Tuesday was Vittorio Gallese important keynote on Embodied Simulation and the Space around us. He explained the main concept of inter- and extra-personal space used by a lot of authors that week.

The first keynote I attended was quite enlightening on the scientific methodology developed by psychologists. Yan Bao, associate professor from Peking University, explained step by step what is “attention” and how does it work through human’s eyes. To do so, she scientifically answered one very specific question by doing one very specific experiment. From there, a new question arise that lead to the next experiment that will bring a new answer and suggest the following question, and so forth. She presented a cascade of 12 studies based on a cueing task, mainly to demonstrate the effect of “Inhibition of Return”; the ecological significance of this mechanism being that it favours novelty and curiosity.

The next keynote, Inter-subjective relations in lived space and instituted space was given by Shaun Gallagher, an interesting fellow American philosopher. He is actually working with astronauts, trying to understand their feelings in space travel using Virtual Reality. Where it really pumped me up was when he started to talk about how architecture shapes our experience and how we can modulate the way we are experiencing things by modifying our environment. He also coined a powerful concept which is the “affordance landscape”. I will follow him closely.

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My favourite lecture was given by Sergei Gepshtein on Solid field of sensitivity: Perceptual structure of immersive space. He works with two well known people, Alex Mc Dowel and Greg Lynn. Alex Mc Dowel was the art producer behind the Minority Report interface and many other film productions. Greg Lynn represent the avant garde of the digital turn in architecture in the nineties with the concept of folding and topological geometry. After a quick reminder of what is the “perspective” we’ve been living by since the 15th century (thanks to Alberti’s “The Pictura”), Gepshtein went on to explain how he is working to change this paradigm; to get past the restriction of this portable window. Their project uses different techniques to go from cinema to immersion by creating maps that can be transferred in solid space: sensory mapping, multi modal design, adaptive smart environment, mixed realities are just a few of the concept mentioned during this really exciting lecture.

Talks – eclectic topics

Every day started with three simultaneous symposium. A lot to choose, from a large panel of research. A variety of fields were represented: psychology, neuroscience, computer science, architecture, social studies and philosophy, to name just the main ones.

Starting from a philosophical point of view to explain “space concept”, T. Holichka defined what is a virtual place at the confluence of possible worlds and fictional worlds. The importance of the concept of affordances (Warren 1984) and places were then discussed by Jonietz & Timpf from an GIS (Geographic Information System) perspective. After that, some phenomenology were involved by Nitsche to analyse impressionist paintings with the notion of distancing instead of understanding. The main question really was: “How do we perceive space?” which brought the notion of situated knowledge.

The next talk centred on a potential new field of research which I am relating to – Computing Embodied Architecture. Prof. E. Ackerman’s talk on developing more appropriate self-directed learning space for children definitely pulled some strings. Then came Paloma G. Rojas, student from MIT, with a methodical approach applying computational model to analyse our perception of space; best hint so far directly related to my own research.

Wednesday’s symposium on Body & Space, explored the concept of peripersonal space and relative perception through the lens of Virtual Reality (VR). You can find more about this research by searching for the CS-IVR Lab, the Immersive Virtual Reality Laboratory and for Mirage Lab, the Multi Sensory Illusions Laboratory.

Thursday’s theme was Navigation. Researchers presented studies exploring how blind people, children, men and women were using different mechanism to find their way around.

On Friday, we returned to the theme of Embodied Space in Architecture with a neuroscience twist. Peri and extra-personal space were still leading the dance backed up with neurophysiological correlations. One specially engaging presentation on central and peripheral vision by Rooney, brought a striking point on how vision drives two different type of embodiment: projected and extended. The last talk I followed, before having to catch the train, was given by Van der Ham, on human navigation in real and virtual environments, and the role of locomotion. The experiment she presented showed the closest settings to mine: participants have to remember their way inside a 3D virtual environment with landmark images hanging on the the wall.

To summarise, an eclectic field of research was represented at this conference. A variety of presentations were showing a large range of disciplines to study the relation between humans and their surroundings and how we are perceiving our body into space. Embodiment, inter and extra -personal space, affordances and places are the main concepts embedded in the body of those researches. VR is used throughout those studies. It is a fantastic tool of research that allows to approach real world situations yet offering a wide range of control, flexibility and scalability on the designed VEs.

Posters – People from all over the world

My poster made a good impression. It gave me the opportunity to start a few conversations with different people from all over the world: Columbian, Swedish, Turkish, French and a couple of Italians. Each had their own take on my project, so being here really brought me a lot of value and new perspectives on what I am working on.

Overall, I had a really great experience. From a scientific point of view, it made me realised how narrow the field of research has to be to conduct valid case studies that answer one specific question at a time. Psychology research definitely set definitely the measure on that matter, by processing one variable in a very controlled environment. However, a new trend is to take research much closer to real life situations. It also brings a lot more data to manage. That is where computation power become really handy for two mains reasons: on one hand, computational models help to simulate systems and behaviours, on the other hand, visualisation engine and Virtual Reality help simulate close to real life environments to work with.

The interdisciplinarity of research also aroused my attention – psychologists trying to make sense of architects’ approach about space perception and embodiment, computer scientists questioning behavioural methodology, or even psychologists between themselves – these were all common discussions during the conference. Only a few presentations were really cross-disciplinary; this is a very interesting subject way easier to debate than to put into real practice.

Most of all, it is the excitement and the enthusiasm of those dozen of researchers from every corner of the earth, supported by the strong foundations of Romans walls and history, that I will carry along my own pursuit of adding a stone to existing knowledge.


Pierre-François Gerard is studying for a PhD in Computer Science

This Post has been published on the Goldsmiths Computing Department Blog on 23/10/2015

Spatial Intelligence for who?

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Enactive space.

I am working on this paper : “Spatial Cognition in the Virtual Environment“by Kimberley Osberg. Published in 1997, it doesn’t bring anything new, although it offers a practical way of applying constructivist theories to help a group of children with spatial processing difficulties. Before getting into the experiment details, the author describe a broad range of research concerned with the positive relationship between spatial exercise and spatial processing skills.

With a background based on Piaget’s stages of childhood development, the following paragraph makes an accurate description of one of the main reason that drive my research: the reduction of our spatial realm in the learning environment. She wrotes:

Howard Gardner (1993) is also a strong advocate of “spatial intelligence”, and its relationship to other intelligences and cognition. In Gardner’s view, spatial ability and spatial cognition are the basic building blocks that a child needs in order to develop higher level thinking skills, specifically those that complement verbal processing skills. As we move closer towards being an “intellectual” rather than an “enactive” (Bruner, 1966) learning society, the opportunity and necessity for practice in the spatial realm has been minimized. However, fully half of the population, when tested, indicates a preference for visual rather than verbal learning style. (Kirby et al, 1988) Learning style preference has been given little attention with regard to curriculum or assessment development. Gardner’s answer is to re-integrate development of all of the intelligences that he has identified back into the curriculum, in appreciation of a holistic approach to both individuals and the education process.

The ArchiMemory eXPeriment

This is where you will participate to an experiment that will show you how to improve your memory by using your spatial cognition. Before you enter the experiment, a short introduction.

Introduction
History is paved with mnemonic devices that makes use of our spatial ability to remember all sort of information. Our sense of space has evolve for thousands of years to become part of what makes us human. This project is looking at how architecture influences this ability? What features will help to build meaningful virtual spaces that will enhance the way we learn and memorise information?

To explore these questions, ArchiMemory propose a simple memory task: remembering a sequence of random playing cards. To do so the participant will train his spatial memory by navigating a 3D Virtual Environment. Like in a video game.

You don’t need to know more for now, you will be guided step by step.

Before you start
By clicking the “participate” button down there, you will be automatically assign a cookie with a guest session. You have then two options:

  1. you are just curious and don’t bother entering any details of yours and will not coming back. Fair enough, just follow the steps.
  2. you want the full experience and are keen to help to gather evidence. Then, please, update your details and remember your login username and password. With those you will be able to sign in later on from any computer or browser and to add up data to your profile.

Some technical issues are slowing us down. Bare with us, subscribe to ArchiMemory by email or follow us on Twitter to be the first to participate to this Spatial Learning experiment.

AM XP Pilot – Ready for testing.

This experiment happend all day during the “Human Interactive Conference” on 6th November in NAB at Goldsmiths University of London.

Based on the Method of Loci mnemotechnic, the following experiment is a set of 3 different 3D virtual environment (3DVE) used to remember a sequence of twelveplaying cards. Each 3DVE proposes different architecture styles.  Each style shows specific characteristics that will help us to understand what enhanced the way the user is remembering. As the average memory (digit) span for normal adult is 7 plus or minus 2 (ref to “The Magical Number Seven” G.A. Miller) we will be using twelve cards to avoid using short term memory. The main point of the experiment is to activate long term memory through the association between space,  images (existing memories) and playing cards.

Here is a brief description of the procedure:

1) Warm up (2min)
You have the opportunity to familiarise with the set up and discover the 3D Virtual Environment (3DVE). By navigating that space for a couple of minutes you should be able to memorise it effortlessly.

2) Encoding  (10min)
You have 10 minutes to remember a random sequence of twelve playing cards given one by one at the top of the screen. To get the next card, you  have to associate the current one with an image on a screen. Choose an image from a collection of images organised in 5 categories: animal, action, landscape, people and theme. The method is to use any associative trigger – it can be shapes, numbers, colours, metaphorical or allegorical, what ever memories it evokes – you can find between the image and the playing card. You can then imagine a story in your mind following those images along your way through the space. That story, guided by the surrounding will help you to remember to right sequence of image, each one, associated with a playing card.

3) Consolidation  (2min)
When done associating all the cards, take a couple of minutes to revisit the space and consolidate your memories. Then get out of the memory palace.

4) Retrieving (3min)
You will be presented with a restitution board (webpage) which will show you the twelve playing cards in order. By walking through the space in your mind’s eye, give the sequence back by dropping the playing card in the empty slots. The experiment will end with a score showing the result. This last phase should be repeated  5 times to check how strong the memories are: next day, next week, next month and a year later.

If you want more information about this experiment, please send me an email at info@archimemory.net

Real Virtuality (my first chapter book)

Using Spatial Cognition to improve Knowledge Construction” is the title of the chapter we have written with Karl Smith for this book: “Real Virtuality: About the Desctruction and Multiplication of World.”  It was a great opportunity to discuss with Karl about our ideas on spatial cognition, technologies and “The Art of Memory”.

Chapter abstract
Since prehistoric era, humans have always, due to mainly a survival influx, developed a huge sense of memory link to location in their environment. They have learned to master their memory in different ways: by erecting landmarks and designing architecture, they modified their physical environment, and by walking through known and imaginary environments in their mind’s eye, they have trained and increased their virtual memory. After exploring the way humans perceives their environment, we looked at more recent technologies to understand how we could use those to re-master humans huge potential to organise information around them through the lens of the digital age.

The book content a lot more though. There are around twenty texts from different author giving a very faceted lens on the meaning of real virtulaity in the 21st century. It is worth the reading.

Real Virtuality, About the Destruction and Multiplication of World (with a Preface by Gerd Stern)
Ulrich Gehmann, Martin Reiche (eds.) Transcript Verlag Bielefeld, March 2014.
Increasingly, the virtual became reality by a hybridization of the world as we knew it: the process that went on in recent years is one of a technically assisted hybridization of both space and self, the »old« world is becoming virtualized and functionalized to a degree never experienced before. For the first time in human history, we have reached a threshold where we have not only to re-assert but to redefine ourselves, as regards our fundamental terms of understanding what world means for us, our base of existence and now an assemblage of mixed realities; and connected, what being human means.

Including contributions by
Kristoffer Aberg, Tim French, Michael Johannson, Martin Reiche, David Bell, Mikhail Fominykh, Steffen Krämer, Martin Rieser, Irus Braverman, Ulrich Gehmann, Lyzgeo M. Koshy, Panagiotis D. Ritsos, Marc Conrad, Pierre-F. Gerard, Randolph Langenbach, Carl H. Smith, Martin Cremers, Chris Gerbing, Manfred Negele, Gerd Stern, Katerina Diamantaki, Kristoffer Getchell, Erhan ÖzeSabine Wilke.

Intended audience
Humanities, Art Sciences, Social Geography

Keywords
Hybridization, World-Creations, Functionalization, Space, Mixed Realities, Changes of the Self, Culture, Media, Cultural Theory, Media Theory, Media Studies, Cultural Studies

Now on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Real-Virtuality-Destruction-Multiplication-Preface/dp/3837626083