AR : Fiction or Virtual?

Augmented Reality (AR) provides a way to place realistic looking virtual objects into a realworld scene. While the object may merely exist upon the screen of a phone; there are features to AR which combine the worlds; fiction and reality; beyond the two dimensional surface of a smartphone. For example, when a 3D object is placed within the AR scene; it may not be physically present upon the targetted surface; but certain qualities of the said surface are projected into the machine generated final composition (horizontality, width, height and distance of the plan) and ultimately this data is processed within the mind of the person who momentarily accepts the presence of a fictional item within their immediate realworld environment.

There are a few ways to look at this. One way is the simple matter of tricking the mind. I myself, during testing of my AR functionality had a fall [no long term damage to me or phone] while walking about and testing placement of fictional virtual items in my home. My perception of the realworld space around me was tricked by the magic window of the smartphone through which I had been focusing for several minutes while placing a 1940’s vintage telephone on various surfaces. I got confused and tripped over. Maybe it was just me being clumsy; but there is, it seems to me, something to be said about the nature of fiction and how we, as humans, easily incorporate representations of real items into our mental processing of reality. This isn’t even new, or a result of the emergence of hitech. Whenever we we look at a photograph, we are looking at paper and markings; yet we see a person, or a real thing. Everyone recognises Magrite’s famous painting on this subjec; The Treachery of Images.

La Trahison des images, 1929; René Magritte

In Magritte’s case, the representative object in question is more evidentally two dimensional and contrived. Although the mind interprates the markings as being a placeholder for a real pipe; that is all it is – a placeholder. In the same way that the word P I P E is a placeholder for the physical and usable real thing. In Magritte’s painting, the image in question is a question of linguistic semantics. The children’s book style in which the image is constructed intends to poke fun at the way we learn to identify things from images in the same way we do from words; in this case the pipe image is little more than a word; a modern hieroglyphic.

About the same time as the famous illustration, Magritte published a fascinating article in the newspaper, ‘The Revolutionary Surrealist’ entitled ‘les images & les mots’ (‘Words & Images’) in which he shares a number of observations or platitudes, maybe, surrounding the nature of words, images and their role in our interpretation of reality.

Magritte,  1929, Les mots et les images, p. 32

The above illustrations are about depictions of reality and the way in which our minds relate to the concept of things; particularly within the scheme of language and words; but also just the nature of things. For example, one image remarks how an object leads one to believe that there are other objects behind it. Or, from another page, how the visible contours or objects, in reality, touch one another in a mosaique manner.

Magritte, 1929 Les Mots et les Images

So, what impact does Augmented Reality have, in respect to these kinds of platitudes? the expectance that objects hide other objects and so forth. AR techniques allow devices and software to imitate reality and then embed the imitation within reality; capturing the direction of light within the scene, to cast convincing looking shadows and reflections. In the case of Noirscape; a participant discovers a fictional telephone and can place the telephone in their realworld environment rather convincingly. The app also features a rotary dialler which is associated with the fictional telephone. Within the scope of the app; the dialler is used to call fictional characters. But, if it were to be connected to the device’s real calling capabilities; in other words, the participant can call someone in the realworld through interacting with the representative dial of the AR telephone; then its hard for me to make a distinction between using a physical phone or the augmented reality one. I think maybe, in this case, it is no longer a question of being a fictional telephone; but rather a virtual telephone. Whereas Magritte depicts a pipe, I cannot smoke a mere depiction. Whereas, I could hook up my fictional telephone to the realworld and make a call.

3d telephone from Noirscape App AR feature

References [accessed 25/03/21] [accessed 25/03/21] [accessed 25/03/21]

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