Panel: An Alembic of Transformation: Virtual Reality as Agent of Change
Immersive VR has been explored over the past decade as a “non-pharmacological analgesic” for acute pain during short periods of time. The mechanism that explains VR’s efficacy is thought to be “pain distraction,” with VR serving as a rich way to direct attentional resources away from pain. This outward directing of perceptual and sensorial attention — more effective than videogames, and on par with opiods — is a provocative use of VR. Yet pain is notorious as a category-defying experience, its intensity, as Elaine Scarry posits, defying even the most basic linguistic expression.
At the same time, research in how longer-term pain is related to body image and body schema grew from use of a more basic technology to produce analgesic effects for phantom pain – mirrors. Still other forms of technology initiated by the work of Paul Bach y Rita demonstrates how sensory substitution demonstrates that our neurological systems are plastic or not as hard-wired as it was once believed.
In these arenas of research, however, the role of inner or interoceptive senses, as Drew Leder describes in The Absent Body, have rarely been explored. A century earlier, Hermann von Helmholtz found that we have 100,000 times more resources dedicated for sensing inner states, compared to those states derived from the so-called five exteroceptive senses. For the most part, our ability to attend to our inner states is necessarily quiescent, lest they overwhelm our conscious awareness. However, humans have the ability to learn how to access at least some of these inner states, from yogic traditions to those enabled by biofeedback and newer technologies.
This paper proposes that novel uses of VR for chronic pain, both artistic and therapeutic, built upon a new paradigm that ostensibly inverts “pain distraction,” can fruitfully extend notions of body image and body schema through the ways VR can enable and enhance awarenesses of otherwise quiescent inner states. The focus on aesthetic aspects of VR as they relate to mechanisms thought to be at work, from experiencing the sublime and dissociative states to neuro- and metaplasticity.
- Diane Gromala is an artist, designer, curator, and cultural critic. Her work has been at the forefront of emerging forms of technology, from the earliest form of multimedia (HyperCard, at Apple Computer) to one of the very first instances of Virtual Reality art at the Banff Centre in 1991. Gromala’s current focus is on physiological computing and biomedia. Gromala’s artwork has been performed and exhibited in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and New Zealand. It has also been featured on the Discovery Channel, CNN, the BBC, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, to name a few. Along with collaborator Lily Shirvanee, Gromala was a semi-finalist for Discover magazine’s Award for Technological Innovation in 2001. Gromala’s design work has received numerous awards from organizations ranging from the AIGA to the American Institute of Architects. With Jay David Bolter, Gromala is author of Windows and Mirrors: Electronic Art, Design, and the Myth of Transparency. Published by the MIT Press, this book reexamines the issues of human computer interaction and interface design from the perspective of media and cultural theory. Gromala’s journal articles have been published in numerous , peer-reviewed conferences in interactive art, design, and computer science, and have been translated into over 10 languages. Gromala has been teaching full time since 1990. She has held positions and developed new curricula in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas, the School of Communications at the University of Washington, and the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at Georgia Tech. Gromala has also taught classes at Wanganui Polytechnic in New Zealand and Oxford University in England, and has been a member of Computer Science and Engineering research labs, including the HITLab and GVU and is currently the Canada Research Chair and an associate professor at Simon Fraser University, School of Interactive Arts & Technology. Gromala has served on the Editorial Board of Postmodern Culture and is currently on the editorial boards of Visual Communication and Leonardo Reviews. In the year 2000, Gromala was elected Chair of SIGGRAPH’s Art Gallery and named Chair of the United Nations’ (UNESCO) Art, Science & Technology initiative in 2002. As a Senior Fulbright Fellow, Gromala helped create a new joint program in Human Computer Interaction Design at Wanganui Polytechnic and Waikato University in New Zealand. Throughout the 1980s, Diane Gromala worked as a designer and art director in the corporate realm, including Apple Computer, Inc. Her postgrad studies were in the Planetary Collegium (formerly CAIIA STAR) at the University of Plymouth in England. Her undergraduate and graduate degrees are from the University of Michigan and Yale University, respectively.
Full text (PDF) p. 1045-1051 [title slightly different]