Research from Outer Space

by Myrna de Bruijn

reality[ ree-al-i-tee ] noun, plural re·al·i·ties for 3, 5–7.
1. the state or quality of being real.
2. resemblance to what is real.
3. a real thing or fact.
4. real things, facts, or events taken as a whole; state of affairs:
5. the reality of the business world; vacationing to escape reality.
6. Philosophy.
a. something that exists independently of ideas concerning it.
b.something that exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive.

This is how reality is defined in the dictionary. In my work and this research document, I prove the contrary. The meaning and contemplation of reality can take on a completely different form than it appears to have. Reality has little to do with being “real”, because what is “real”?

Many scientists and philosophers claim that our experience of reality is anything but the truth. In a Ted Talk by Anil Seth, who is a neuroscientist, says,

"We are all hallucinating all the time (...) It is just that when we agree about our hallucinations, we call that reality" (Seth).

This statement made me reflect on the mystery of reality and inspired me to focus my project on this topic. It is a subject that keeps me busy every day, and it is an overarching theme within my work.

Chapter 1
Positioning
Research
Importance
Framework
Chapter 2
How are alternative realities visualised?
What is reality, based on my sources?
How do we see reality from a different perspective?
The Matrix
How do I present this connection between science and fiction?

Chapter 1

Positioning

Obsession is the motive of my work. I can diligently immerse myself in data, details and everything others might neglect. During this research, I am not entirely a graphic designer, but a scientist, anthropologist, journalist and philosopher specialized in the concerned subject. For me, Data Design is making complex information that comes from a database/research clear to the public. I like to work with abstract topics about which questions arise rather than visual views. Here I see space to fill this visual gap with translated data to something understandable.

I work at the intersection of science and fiction. This is very valuable for science because I make choices and draw conclusions that scientists do not quickly make in their work. I can speculate and be one step ahead of science, regardless of whether it becomes a reality or not. In this document, I have visually reinforced the differences between scientific and fictional text.

The scientific focussed texts are written in the middle column

and the fiction texts in the right column.

The neutral text is located on the left. There is a guide at the bottom of this page to make the location clear. I am very aware of the difference between the two while I’m working and I would like to emphasise that in this document.

However, I have never really explored what the mystery of the universe’s existence means and how we create it. I want people to test my, your and their reality. Humans are allowed to think for themselves, create our reality, use our imagination to decide what is real and what is not. Let’s be a little less serious about what’s going on around us while thinking about it seriously.

Research

To investigate the meaning of reality from a broad perspective, I searched within science, but also alternative sciences, such as science fiction. I expected to find a lot of raw data and complicated studies on reality. Many scientists and philosophers have already written in plain language on the subject of reality. This allowed me to use a lot of knowledge from different scientists and perspectives for my research.

The main research question is: "How can I as a graphic designer show the connection between science and fiction within the meaning of reality?". With sub-questions: "How are alternative realities visualised?", "What is reality, based on my sources?", "Can we see reality from a different perspective?", “How do I present the connection between science and fiction?” “How do I publish the connection between science and fiction within the meaning of reality?”.

Importance

If our collective ideas form our reality, which Anil Seth calls hallucinations, then some ideas are also excluded. I don’t find it problematic that every being sees one reality, but as a viewer, you are also a curator. To do this properly, other ideas must also be considered as reality. The importance and accuracy of this project are described in a book by the biologist Richard Dawkins; Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder. He says that regardless of whether more scientific discoveries are made that could bring the magic out of reality, it should never be contrary to art. Dawkins uses the example of a rainbow. Science tells us how it works, and we still love it (Dawkins x). So, let’s use science to create an even more magical world. I hope to find the poetry in the science that constructs our reality.

Framework

Reality as a theme is enormous and vague for some. This difficulty is the reason why I created limitations for my research. It was not the intention to visualise a new reality. Based on the sources used, I have formed a possible meaning of reality. There is not a correct answer to what it is, but we can speculate about what it may be. That is also the purpose of my work.

The theoretical framework is based on the quote from Anil Seth that inspired me to use this theme for my project. With that starting point, I constructed the framework myself during the research. The theoretical framework became my project and will be clear throughout this document.

I gathered all important findings, sources and notes on a wall. It helps me to see structures and connections I would not have discovered if it was in a book. Even for writing this document, I used the wall to get a clear overview. Throughout this document, I will refer to my wall with images.

Chapter 2

How are alternative realities visualised?

At first, I planned to create a visual project. This was not yet focused on the theme of “reality”, but time travel. For this, I carefully analysed science fiction films. A great source of inspiration was Back to the Future. I was very interested in how the future was predicted, wherein the end much differed from what became real. Back to the Future was made in 1985, in which the main character travels to 2015. None of the predictions became reality. Also Blade Runner, this film was made in 1982 and set in 2019. That future has not come true either. The more movies I watched, the more I started comparing them to each other and no longer to our reality.

Not every movie or series that I watched comes back in this research. Even though there is no direct link, they will undoubtedly have influenced my vision of reality. It can be seen in the next step of answering this question. I think it’s relevant to show you which movies and series I analysed:

  • Future Man
  • Interstellar
  • The Matrix
  • Back to the Future 1, 2 and 3
  • Russian Doll
  • Terminator
  • Outlander

  • I concluded that the reality in science fiction films is especially exciting. There is a lot of smoke and only a little sunlight. The world is dystopian. Humans are robots or act like robots, and there is a big difference between classes. I thought of using these findings to create a visual language that I can use to present my final work.

    Besides analysing alternative realities, I also have designed alternative realities based on our existing reality. From reality, I have taken elements that correspond to each other in terms of form. It bothered me that this is my vision of alternative realities. That view is not the right one, either. I concluded that maybe I shouldn’t design anything.

    When I hung the images on my wall, I noticed how my designs were very similar to some of the movies I watched. I made these before I saw the film posters, but this is an example of how these movies still had a lot of influence on how I see reality.

    What is reality, based on my sources?

    At the end of this visual research, I continued with desk research. I collected scientific and pseudo-scientific sources to compile a broader vision of reality. Anil Sets quote about hallucination is in this research the fundament of the meaning of reality. Through other sources I tried to substantiate and build upon his statement.

    Our reality becomes spatial through our senses. It can be seen, heard and felt. For example, Donald Hoffman says in a TED Talk that our reality consists of reconstructions. Data is sent from the eyes to the brain. Our brains translate this into a visual image. This translation is considered by many to be the only reality. It is possible that more will happen than is visible. He also used a computer interface as an example of reality. As a user, you don’t need al the backend information. The interface translates this info into an icon for example, which is easier to understand. He says the same thing happens in our brain. We perceive data with our eyes, send it to our brain which translates it into a visual (Hoffman).

    The fictional examples of reality are again something that happens in our brains. Reality is send as data to the brain in The Matrix, like the computer example of Donald Hoffman. In the movie Inception, reality can be taken out of dreams, such as thoughts and ideas (Inception).

    It is difficult to investigate what animals see because visualising the image is happening in the brain. The eyes of animals and insects look different than those of a human. So scientists can compare them. Lenses and curves affect how the world looks and how sharp it is. Multiple eyes provide more insight at depth. In any case, animals indeed have a different image than we as humans (“Watch: How Animals and People See the World Differently | National Geographic”). These insects and animals cannot think of anything else beyond their concept of reality. Or maybe even the existence of reality. This also allows us to assume that there is more to see.

    How do we see reality from a different perspective?

    Another exciting example depicting whether we can see more than we know is the book Flatland written by Edwin Abbott. It is about a living circle in Flatland, which is 2D. The circle travels to a 1D world, where no one believes something that is more than a line or dot can exist. When a ball visits him in Flatland, he also has no idea how he could even imagine a world that would be 3D. It is a dimension that the circle cannot see or even imagine. Abbott is a British teacher and theologian. He tries to explain the different dimensions through mathematics. It is a good example where science and fiction come together (Flatland). This source is reflected in the manifesto.

    The Matrix

    In The Matrix is an impressive representation of reality presented. It is not caused by the universe, but by intelligent machines. However, it is fascinating how reality mainly takes place in their minds. The Matrix is ​​a code that the brain converts into sensory signals. How do you know when you are in a dream and when you are awake? The character Morpheus shows Neo the truth. My question was, therefore; how do we know we are not dreaming now? This source is also reflected in the manifesto.

    To try to see reality from a different perspective, we at least need someone who has seen it and can explain it to us. This will not be possible for me to get in touch with if these people even exist at all. To answer the question if we can see reality form a different perspective, we probably can’t.

    How do I present this connection between science and fiction?

    If reality is not what it seems, what is it? I started with visual tests, but I soon noticed that this goes against my point of view. It is not up to me to make the image of reality clear. There is no image, and it is not my goal to create it. My goal is to get people to think about reality for themselves.

    Reality is hard to visualise because our picture of it is not reliable (Seth). I would like to depict this idea of ​​reality in my work. The biggest challenge to visualise something that I say is not visual. That is why I came up with alternative ways of transferring information.

    For example, when reading a book, there is room for imagination. That is how I got the idea to write it myself—a manifesto on how to view reality. I started writing, but in this way, it became my opinion and statements again.

    After that, I began to collect comments from sources that confirm my personal point of view, constructed by my research. I printed them, hung them on my wall and saw interesting common language. When I hung them next to each other I saw a new story. The sources are like existing musical notes, that I composed into a poetic piece, as I call it myself. Cutting and ordering the quotes takes them out of their original context, which gives them a new meaning. The manifesto is a beautiful metaphor for my statement; I hope that reality can also be constructed in this way.

    The manifesto consists of statements by scientists, but also texts from sci-fi films and books. The narrator of the manifesto has doubts about this reality, whether it is a dream or not. The statement by Anil Seth that inspired me to go this way, in which he says that every living being is continuously hallucinating, is also included. The person that he has seen other things but can only show us the direction, a quote from The Matrix.

    The manifesto is the answer to an not able to be visualising theme, while also connecting different studies to each other as a whole. Because my manifesto is actually the conclusion on the question “What is reality, based on my sources?” and How do I present the connection between science and fiction?” It is important to show you this poetic answer to these heavy questions.

    Music from outer space

    a manifesto on reality

    What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.

    From dreams I proceed to facts.

    How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?

    Others have asked me how I can bear to get up in the morning.

    Ignorance is bliss.

    I believe that an orderly universe, one indifferent to human preoccupations, in which everything has an explanation even if we still have a long way to go before we find it, is a more beautiful, more wonderful place than a universe tricked out with capricious, ad hoc magic.

    What is reality? We humans only have access to the internal experiences of perception and thought, so how can we be sure they truly reflect an external world?

    If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

    If hallucination is a kind of uncontrolled perception, then perception right here and right now is also a kind of hallucination, but a controlled hallucination in which the brain's predictions are being reined in by sensory information from the world. In fact, we’re all hallucinating all the time, including right now. It’s just that when we agree about our hallucinations, we call that reality.

    All you've got to go on is streams of electrical impulses which are only indirectly related to things in the world, whatever they may be. So perception, figuring out what’s there, has to be a process of informed guesswork in which the brain combines these sensory signals with its prior expectations or beliefs about the way the world is to form its best guess of what caused those signals. What we perceive is its best guess of what’s out there in the world.

    It feels like we're just taking a snapshot of this room the way it is, but in fact, we're constructing everything that we see. We don’t construct the whole world at once. We construct what we need in the moment.

    I've seen things you people wouldn’t believe. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

    I will show you that which you have often reasoned and thought about, but never seen with the sense of sight, a visible angle.

    I'm trying to free your mind. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.

    There's a point where we just let the music take over everything.


    Sources

    Back to the Future. Reg. Robert Zemeckis. Perf. Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson. Universal Pictures. 1985

    Back to the Future Part II. Reg. Robert Zemeckis. Perf. Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson. Universal Pictures. 1990

    Back to the Future Part III. Reg. Robert Zemeckis. Perf. Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson. Universal Pictures. 1985

    Blade Runner. Reg. Ridley Scott. Perf. Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Edward James Olmos. Warner Bros., The Ladd Company, Shaw Brothers, Blade Runner Partnership, 1984. Film.

    Dawkins, Richard. Unweaving the Rainbow. London: Penguin, 2006. Print.

    Abbott, Edwin A. Flatland: a Romance of Many Dimensions. Dover Publications, 1952. Book

    Future Man. Reg. Kyle Hunter, Howard Overman, Ariel Shaffir. Perf. Josh Hutcherson, Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson. Point Grey Pictures. 2017. TV Series

    Greene, Brian. The Fabric of the Cosmos London: Penguin, 2005. Print. Hengl, Tomislav. Gould, Michael. “Rules of thumb for writing research articles.”. Webapps Universiteit Twente. Universiteit Twente, 2002.

    Inception. Reg. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page. Warner Bros. 2010. Film

    Interstellar. Reg. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. 2014. Film

    The Matrix. Reg. Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss. Warner Bros.,Roadshow Entertainment, 1999. Film.

    National Geographic. “Watch: How Animals and People See the World Differently | National Geographic“. Youtube. Youtube, 20 jan. 2016.

    Outlander. Reg. Ronald Moore. Perf. Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Duncan Lacroix. Tall Ship Productions. 2014. TV Series

    Russian Doll. Reg. Leslye Headland. Perf. Natasha Lyonne, Charlie Barnett, Greta Lee. Netflix. 2019. TV Series

    Ted. “Do we see reality as it is? | Donald Hoffman” Youtube. Youtube, 11 June 2017. Mon. 23 March 2020.

    Ted. “Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality | Anil Seth” Youtube. Youtube, 18 July 2017. Web. 22 December 2016.

    Terminator. Reg. James Cameron. Perf. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn. Cinema ‘84. 1985. Film