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A Little Trip Down VR Lane

The invention of VR can be hard to trace and might sometimes seem even arbitrary. The standard history credits ‘Sensorama’ by Morton Hellig as the earliest VR system introduced in 1962, a 3D stereoscopic display that engaged multiple senses including; sight, sound, smell, and touch. But a deeper dive might land you at the possible inspiration depicted in the 1935 novel by Stanley G. Weinbaum called ‘Pygmallon’s Spectacles’, which speaks about the special goggles that play interactive movies. But what makes these different to say an early photograph in the 19th century? Because Steven Pinker, one of the world’s leading cognitive scientists at Harvard, said “Photography is a kind of virtual reality, and it helps if you can create the illusion of being in an interesting world.” And if this is true, we can extrapolate a little further – what makes this different to the 35,000-year-old paintings in Chauvet cave in France? The answer to this question takes us back to our definition of VR, and specifically the phrase “recursively affecting the perceptual senses”. Because VR isn’t just about motion pictures, that would make every movie, tv show, and video ever recorded also VR, its more than that, it’s about interactivity. The agent has to be able to recursively interact with the arena (or objects within the arena), just as one does in the physical world. As the senses are being stimulated, they can also affect the medium in which they are immersed in. So, with this framing in mind, the timeline and progression of VR over the past century is contextualized and begins to make more sense.


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