Tuesday, October 03, 2017


From "Logan" a movie about "Wolverine"

One of the most intriguing psych concepts is that of a “virtual space”.  Winnicott is one of the best describers.  If you don’t know Winnicott, here’s a quick vid.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaZkvvB367I

He spoke of “transition space”, which comes from “object relations.”  We all experience it, whether we have a name for it or not.  Not everyone is persuaded of the bubble of their own inner life being a hallucination, a simulacrum constructed by the brain that is one’s operating theory of what’s outside one’s body, perceived only by electromagnetic nerve code that goes to the brain where it is assembled into a kind of convincing operative dream.  One’s inner bubble can also accept and explore an “outside” world constructed by words, symbols and interaction with other people, maybe through story or poem.

This is what we do when we play, when we watch a movie, when we converse attentively with another person (esp. one we care about), and when a mother interacts with her baby.  In fact, it teaches the baby in this way so that it learns how to be a human being.  And also what it is to be in a “world,” a world determined by fitting into an ecology.

This is where the new thinking about computer use needs to take place and, in fact, where Bret Victor, an interface designer who works on human/computer interaction, is trying to think out a way to escape spaghetti code no one can sort anymore.  What could go wrong between a human and a computer?  Does Three Mile Island ring a bell?  An assumption that was mistaken, unproven, wrongly included, contributed to the radioactive explosion.

What use is this to a writer?  Not the bells and whistles stuff, like automatic margins or grammar correction.  (Computer grammar programs should be resisted.)  But awareness of the bubble-world being created, how words can affect it, what the impact on a reader is likely to be.

The following list is from the Wikipedia entry for "human-computer interaction.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human–computer_interaction  

Principles of user interface design: these are seven principles of user interface design that may be considered at any time during the design of a user interface in any order: tolerance, simplicity, visibility, affordance, consistency, structure and feedback.”  I don’t even really know what they mean specifically, but they are suggestive for a person trying to improve a poem or story— assuming, of course, that they are open to the idea of improving something that seems to have risen spontaneously from deep in their own hallucinated bubble.  For people with rich internal lives, the “code” for their writing may be unconscious for good reasons: pain, for instance.  Or deep internal values.  Or fear of outside forces.

My imagination is particularly captured by “affordance” — a term that seems especially useful for plotting a story.

Affordance is a term originally coined by a psychologist, J.J. Gibson, in the 1970s. He defined it as the relationship between an environment and an actor. “

“An affordance is the possibility of an action on an object or environment. Though additional meanings have developed, the original definition in psychology includes all actions that are physically possible.”

So when writing sci-fi or magic realism or superhero stories, one would have to meddle with the affordance.  I just watched “Logan”, a tale about Wolverine in old age, clearly meant to appeal to the veterans of WWII or Vietnam.  Old superheroes are hitting limits, accumulating scars, but are still more powerful than a “normal” human, usually for mysterious medical reasons — medicine being the relevant science we all know, but still presenting the reality of needing helpers and always on the edge of rage.

Affordances are clues about how an object should be used, typically provided by the object itself or its context. For example, even if you've never seen a coffee mug before, its use is fairly natural. The handle is shaped for easy grasping and the vessel has a large opening at the top with an empty well inside.”

An ingenious use of an object in “Logan” is the fallen watertower used as a dwelling.  Effective as it might be as a disguise, we know at once that it would be a space almost like a room.  It only needs a door.  The “fact” of it being rusted out contributes to the feel of reality, but is also a reason for light play in the painterly “frame” of the story.

Affordance Theory (Gibson) ... Summary: Affordance theory states that the world is perceived not only in terms of object shapes and spatial relationships but also in terms of object possibilities for action (affordances) — perception drives action.”  

American psychologist James Jerome Gibson was influential in changing the way we consider visual perception. According to his theory, perception of the environment inevitably leads to some course of action. Affordances, or clues in the environment that indicate possibilities for action, are perceived in a direct, immediate way with no sensory processing. Examples include: buttons for pushing, knobs for turning, handles for pulling, levers for sliding, etc.”  (Not always THAT intuitive, as one knows from trying to push in something that twists to work.  But that in itself can be a plot twist.)

“When Gibson was a boy, his father would take him out on train rides. Gibson recalled being absolutely fascinated by the way the visual world would appear when in motion. In the direction of the train, the visual world would appear to flow in the same direction and expand. When Gibson looked behind the train, the visual world would seem to contract. These experiences sparked Gibson's interest in optic flow and the visual information generated from different modes of transportation. Later in life, Gibson would apply this fascination to the study of visual perception of landing and flying planes.”  (Wiki)

Some of my interest in this comes from something that might be called subjective affordances.  Extreme nearsightedness when I was little created ocular congestion from the needed blood flow, a kind of migraine that caused the sensation of whirling and falling.  It’s hard on the retina, which can also become thickened with blood flow or thinned by the low flow of arteries.  This is a problem that continues for me today, but at least has a name now and can be avoided by not using eyes so much.  The affordance dimension is what led me into a feedback circle: because I could only see what was close, reading was the best thing to do with short sight — but I loved it so much that I read all the time, causing more congestion.  One sees schematics, patterns.  

Getting back to plot, two environments rich with possibility for action are jungle, or the deteriorated constructions of the exhausted industrial complexes of factories and warehouses.  The episode of “Hawaii Five-Oh” I watched last night used the jungle “affordances” of swinging from vines, falling over cliffs, detecting signs when tracking, and hiding in dense cover.  We are almost calloused to urban scenes under dark freeway ramps or in echoing but rubble-filled spaces with collapsing objects.

Though most of us are pretty good at perceiving the affordances of physical space or even imaginary physical space as in CGI, it seems to me that we have lost sensitivity when it comes to emotional affordances: the range and variation of emotion and perception in a particular situation.  Which takes us back to “virtual” space.  This deserves much more thought.  It’s not the same thing as the techie UX, user accessibility.  Not physical affordances but emotional and mental abilities and motivations.

No comments: