Exploring conceptual space

While virtual immersive environments (VIE's) are in their infancy, we will continue to see familiar places recreated in the vastness of cyberspace. The majority of structures will expect our avatars to show up in human sized forms. The experiences will prepare us for replicas in the physical world. Those experiences can be much less expensive to recreate in virtual environments than physical reality - like crash sites and other critical incidents. They can be places that are difficult to gain access to, schedule time in or clean up after invasion of students. As the book Learning in 3D shows us, there will also be experiences where we crawl around a gigantic version of a tool, fly over the North American continent with all the air traffic displayed in real time or enter into human organs at the scale of a blood cell. VIE's will not be boring during their infancy unless they replicate lecture halls and reading material.

I'm looking forward to the phase that comes after infancy. I'm hoping it will be far more pleasurable than the "terrible twos" of human infancy. II'm foreseeing breakthroughs in our ability to visualize what we conceptualize. Where we currently draw diagrams and animate them sometimes, I expect we will be able to move around conceptual spaces in this next phase. Since that's not something we do in physical reality, it calls for more creativity than it takes to replicate familiar surroundings. Here's some of what we will need to get more creative about:
  • Picturing what it's like to "go there" and "come from there" when we're identified with a conceptual framework, positional stance or theoretic model.
  • Visualizing the process of moving from one idea to the next, once the first concept is well enough understood to build on it.
  • Comparing two concepts while poised between them where their commonalities and differences can be observed clearly.
  • Rearranging several concepts that make more sense when placed in a different sequence or juxtaposition.
  • Exploring the intersection of two unrelated ideas that reveal some unforeseen possibilities when they overlap.
  • Combining several concepts into a comprehensive design solution that responds effectively to a full range of use cases.
  • Imagining what it will look like to unlearn something that only made partial sense and replacing it withl a better understanding.
Notice how we already use visual metaphors to speak of our conceptual acrobatics. It seems perfectly natural to me that we will be exploring conceptual spaces like these virtually before long.

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