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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Optimal States of Consciousness for Immersion

Optimal States of Consciousness for Immersion

Title Image: Baribican’s Rain Room – It’s raining, but you won’t get wet

Is immersion a unique or complex experience? Can immersive experiences appear in only specific space? If a person’s skills which can solve specific tasks in an environment where he is and action opportunities are well matched, immersion experiences can appear at any time and anywhere. The reason is that if the ratio of skills is higher than the challenges, the experience can be boring. Likewise, when his action opportunities are too demanding for his skill, the result of experience will be worry (Csikszentmihalyi and Selega, 1988, p.85). Therefore, when skills and opportunities are balanced on specific tasks, the experience is then optimal and autotelic. In addition, users will be able to participate voluntarily for their internal goal. As such, immersion experiences are less difficult if a person does something with their will. Creating immersion states have been considered the goal of many designers regardless of fields for a long time. The purpose of this literature review is to explore two concepts, immersion and state of consciousness, and to argue whether understanding the different states of consciousness allows designers to create spaces with the high level of immersion or not. In order to argue optimal states of consciousness for immersion experience, I will explore 7 references in depth and will relate them to my project.

Is immersion a unique or complex experience? Can immersive experiences appear in only specific space? If a person’s skills which can solve specific tasks in an environment where he is and action opportunities are well matched, immersion experiences can appear at any time and anywhere. The reason is that if the ratio of skills is higher than the challenges, the experience can be boring. Likewise, when his action opportunities are too demanding for his skill, the result of experience will be worry (Csikszentmihalyi and Selega, 1988, p.85). Therefore, when skills and opportunities are balanced on specific tasks, the experience is then optimal and autotelic. In addition, users will be able to participate voluntarily for their internal goal. As such, immersion experiences are less difficult if a person does something with their will. Creating immersion states have been considered the goal of many designers regardless of fields for a long time. The purpose of this literature review is to explore two concepts, immersion and state of consciousness, and to argue whether understanding the different states of consciousness allows designers to create spaces with the high level of immersion or not. In order to argue optimal states of consciousness for immersion experience, I will explore 7 references in depth and will relate them to my project.

 

  • Immersion and states of consciousness
  1. Immersion experience

Being immersed in works or activities can always vary from person to person because of different conditions, including states of consciousness, social factors, cultural factors or personal environment. Even so, immersion itself is very powerful and influential experience because it will improve the quality of each personal life by enhancing current conditions with their skills, self-consciousness and will on their own goals and tasks. Moreover, each human beings’ mind and personality could develop depending on context, and this context, related to biological development, is consciousness (Csikszentmihaly and Selega, 1988, p.17). Additionally, Carruthers defined consciousness is that someone experience situations with each distinguishing phenomenology, or ‘feel’, and it is also mysterious and sort of ‘hard problem’ (Carruthers, 2000, p.xiii).

Therefore, variety conditions, such as social factors, cultural factors and personal environment, mentioned earlier can lead people to get different states of consciousness. As a result, it can be argued that states of consciousness could decide the level of immersion states because if a state of consciousness does not match with users’ tasks, they cannot experience each optimal immersion state. Thus, states of consciousness which are suitable for tasks will be needed and required. As a result, some of the proper consciousness states would allow users’ much better and stronger sense of satisfaction with immersion experience than others, and architectural designers need to apply elements of the suitable states according to each environment and space.

 

2. Connection between States of Consciousness and Flow Theory

picture 1 (Wikipedia)

Everyone may have an experience a moment at least once when they deeply immersed in their actions and thoughts and even forget about their mental state. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990), an eminent psychologist, defined the concepts “flow” and “optimal experience”. Flow Theory is one of the good theories to describe immersion state because he insists that people can experience immersion when they spend time in a stable mental state while doing works which are their interest, for instance, playing chess, playing the piano, climbing rocks or composing music.

Likewise, there is a close connection between immersion experience and states of consciousness. Csikszentmihalyi (1990, pp.17-18) emphasize the structure of consciousness with three different media for “Flow”. He claims that attention, awareness and memory are included in consciousness as functional features. Attention is the medium that can transmit information of task to human being’s consciousness, and awareness plays an essential role in understanding the information. Lastly, memory could help to remember the knowledge and recalled. In conclusion, it seems to me that interpreting the structure of consciousness with these three medium is also very important for creating optimal immersion environment because, for instance, when visit a museum of an exhibition, the level of knowledge can be depend on how visitors already know about the background/story of artworks and whether having information with an audio guide or not. Like this, having more specific information about the consciousness can help to lead better immersion environment for not only designers but also users.

Furthermore, some specific elements, by Csikszentmihalyi, are needed for immersion, including consciousness: “a challenging activity that requires skills, the merging of action and awareness, clear goals and feedback, concentration on the task at hand, the paradox of control, the loss of self-consciousness and the transformation of time” (1990: pp.48-67). Among the several elements for immersion, one of the most fundamental factors of the experiences can be “The loss of self-consciousness” (1990: p.62). Therefore, understanding the role of each consciousness states and how consciousness works will certainly important to achieve a sense of mastery because people respond to their works in an instinctive way and can recognize what the senses tell them. This is supported by show, Dennett (1996) explains that our understanding of consciousness is the one of most powerful tools for communication. This is because human consciousness is an output of natural selection, also of cultural development.  As a result, in my view, consciousness will important contribution for immersion state and can be design factors of human being’s spiritual as well as physical area. Additionally, Cultural aspect can determine the high-level of immersion with understanding biology area because many external influences can affect human mental. Therefore, it can be argued that when someone’s action and consciousness are totally merged while he lost self-consciousness and get a feedback as the results of their specific actions, immersion states can appear. However, what is happening is meaningless when states of consciousness are overlooked and can not create optimal feedback as a result in an environment.

 

3. States of Consciousness

As a designer, applying proper design elements of suitable states of consciousness and understanding how each state works will be critical. Additionally, designers need to recognize and distinguish different states of consciousness. Studies such as these may help designers create immersive environment as well as can provide better qualities of mental for users with in their environment on the immersion states.  Many theories have been proposed to explained what is the definition of each state of consciousness and how can distinguish the states. Four different states of consciousness have been described by Michael Tye (1995, pp.84-87) as the one of the typical studies: Higher-order Consciousness, Discriminatory Consciousness and Responsive Consciousness, which are uncomplicated and obvious, and phenomenal consciousness, which typically is pivotal to experiences and feeling commonly. I will focus specifically ‘Phenomenal (or P-) Consciousness’, and ‘Higher-Order Consciousness’ or ‘H-Consciousness’ for short. Because these two states can be analyzed the most effective states for users’ immersion experiences with respect to users’ previous experiences and subjectivity.

Picture 2 (Daven Hiskey,2010)

First of all, Block (1995, pp.227-233) insist that P- Consciousness is caused by our experiences. In other words, it is sort of gateway to connect users’ special purpose and their reasoning and acting. Also, P-consciousness is very deeply related to ‘Access-Consciousness’ (or A-) which plays an important role in common chatting and thinking. Therefore, P-consciousness has to include form of A-Consciousness for facilitating actions and reasoning. Likewise, Carruthers (2000, p.13) and Tye (1995, p.86) describe that the state has characteristic subjective quality or feels, such as feeling pain, touching, smelling which can be defined as sensory experience. Therefore, P- Consciousness, which is very important for my study, can be considered as a crucial state of our whole brain activity, and will be the clearest and striking state of consciousness compare with other defining features.

         Video 1 (The creators project, 2013)

One of ideal works with regard to the P- consciousness will be Forest (2014) by Marshmallow Laser Feast, because when users discover the project, they associate their own memories or experiences about forest and can become deeply immerse when they are in a prediction stage with respect to the results of combination of the past experiences with memories of walking through in real forest and new experiences which are represented with responsive environment. In this aspect, it was described very well in accordance with Block’s argument which is P-consciousness is related to peoples’ experiences. And it has clear properties in terms of human being’s sensory experience which is the key element and important for users’ reasoning and acting as arguments of Peter and Tye. At the same time, the project induces users’ spontaneous behaviors which are related to hearing, touching and seeing through tapping and shaking a large number of steel rods and lasers.  Also, they receive immediate feedback, such as different sounds, light and patterns on the celling as well, by their behaviors.

 Video 2 (Little Sun, 2015)

One of the other good examples is a Little Sun Blackout (2014) by Olafur Eliasson. In this space, users can immerse with their previous experience at riversides or caves and senses because it begins in complete darkness with solar lamps. Thus, they can become deeply immersed in the environment. During the viewing time, they experience and focus on using their senses such as smelling and touching the rivers and stones, feeling the humid air and hearing their own or others footsteps in phenomenal consciousness aspect. Interestingly, it seems that the artist changed the concept of the exhibition from bright space to dark space intentionally. In dark space, it will be possible to more interact and immerse with and users can more concentrate on their senses because it could be hard to see far ahead without solar lamps in the dark space. Therefore, P- Consciousness is the clearest with users’ physical behaviors and can be considered the most powerful state of consciousness for immersion state because the state is induced people’s multi-sensory experiences more than other states of consciousness.

On the other hand, studies of H- Consciousness are in contrast with P- Consciousness which is clear state, because the state of consciousness is explained by various methods with several examples or with sub-functions. According to Carruthers (2000, pp.210-236), H- Consciousness, including Higher-order Thought (HOT) and Higher- order Experience (HOE), is feature of P- Consciousness.  Because HOT is a proposal which is related to nature of P-Consciousness. Also, HOE is ‘inner sense’ of P- Consciousness and is human being’s first order mental state. However, on the other hand, Tye (1995, p.84) argue H- Consciousness is that when driver focus on driving which is familiar thing through his visual perception, the state of consciousness can be disturb by other perceptions, for example, sound of a horn. He explains that H-Consciousness and Higher-order Thought are same concept without classification, contrary to Peter’s argument. Csikszentmihalyi (1990, p.62-63) also explain “The loss of self-consciousness”, which is an important element for immersion state, as state of unconsciousness. In immersion state, users’ self-consciousness is disappeared because users totally concentrate on their tasks with interest, and then, they and an activity form a whole after level of task and users’ skills are well balanced. Thus, the state which is argued by Csikszentmihalyi can be analyzed in same context with Tye’s H-Consciousness. Through these arguments, I can learn and understand that H- Consciousness can be state of unconsciousness while doing familiar works with a sense perception, and the state include previous though and experience as well.

Video 3 (Elena Annovi, 2014)

Ljos (2014) by fuse has a correlation with arguments of Tye (1995) and Csikszentmihalyi (1990). First of all, in the driver example which was mentioned above, Tye (1995) insist that H- Consciousness is changing the gear and controlling the handle in unconsciousness state with visual perception. In this project, the dancer can be user of the project, and when she dances in unconsciousness state, the projection makes different patterns and sound caused by her movement. Also, the dancer can fully concentrate on her auditory perception only with the music. In other words, the dancer can interact with the visual and auditory feedback while dancing. However, she could not recognize that she received the amount of feedback. On the other hand, “The loss of self-consciousness” state of the dancer will be a good example of Csikszentmihalyi’s definition for “Flow”. Because she would focus on express her feeling with body movement, but without self-consciousness. Therefore, this art project can be analyzed the H-Consciousness is the important state of consciousness for immersion state on the assumption that dancer is the user.

As a result, the two states of consciousness may create the high level of immersion experiences through close interaction with users’ previous experiences and their senses and an environment. After user finish activities in space, users’ immersion experiences could be enriched by not only achievements but also doing their familiar tasks in a new environment. As above shows, Flow Theory and proper state of consciousness are closely connected each other. Therefore, if these factors which are helpful for user immersion are harmonized, each of the users can experience optimal states of immersion according to their different conditions, including social factors, cultural factors or personal academic environment in space.

 

  • Conclusion

This literature review demonstrates the correlation between Flow Theory and states of consciousness, characteristics of each state and the importance of recognizing states of consciousness, especially Phenomenal Consciousness and Higher-order consciousness, in order to immerse. Phenomenal Consciousness is the clearest and the most obvious state to describe exactly what is this among other states because the state is caused by experience. Thus, it plays an important role in our brain activities with humans’ senses, for example, sense of touching, smelling or hearing. Also, “The loss of self-consciousness” is one of the most crucial elements for “Flow”, and it can be interpreted into higher-order consciousness state because the state is when people concentrate on their task, which is familiar with users, with only one perception. For instance, focusing on driving with visual perception. In conclusion, consciousness is the most pivotal factor for immersion state, and designer should understand and distinguish the states of consciousness in order to create the best environment for immersion state. If designers overlook the different states of consciousness, the environment or artworks cannot provide optimal immersion state for users. In addition, the states of immersion and consciousness still require investigation, and will have deeper issues. How can designers create artworks for users’ immersion state? Which design elements will be needed and how express the elements on artwork? In next research, I will analyze the role of various subsystems of Phenomenal Consciousness and higher-order consciousness, which is the lack part of this study. Also, will identify practical design elements which can enhance users’ immersion state as well as satisfy the phenomenal consciousness and higher-order consciousness.

 

Reference

Black, N., 1995. On a confusion about a function of consciousness, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol.18(2), pp.227-247.

Carruthers, P., 2000. Phenomenal Consciousness: A Naturalistic Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M., 1990. Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. USA: Harper & Row.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. and Selega, I., 1988. Optimal experience: Psychological Studies of Flow in Consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Daven Hiskey, 2010. Humans have a lot more than five senses.[image online] Available at: <http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2010/07/humans-have-a-lot-more-than-five-senses/> [Accessed 17 February 2016]

Dennett, D.C. 1991. Consciousness explained. London: Penguin.

Dennett, D.C. 1996. Kinds of minds: towards an understanding of consciousness. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Elena Annovi, 2014. Ljos – Fuse fear Elena Annovi. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jG-iR2Ok1JQ>[Accessed 07 January 2016]

Little Sun, 2015. Little Sun Blackouts at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark.Available at: <https://vimeo.com/114983438> [Accessed 09 January 2016]

Michael, T., 1995. The Burning House, Thomas Metzinger (ed), Consciousness Experience, Imprint Academic & Paderborn, pp. 81-90.

The creators project, 2013. Incredible Light Art / Kinetica Art Fair 2013. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3toJ9PwF3ss>[Accessed 09 January 2016]

Wikipedia. Consciousness.[image online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consciousness [Accessed 16 February 2016]

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