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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Virtual Reality

"They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow, / Through Eden took their solitary way." Dante Alighieri (canto 3:62-63)
                                             [Illustration, Gustave Dore for Paradise Lost]
Among the most mysterious enigmas of modern life is the concept of virtual reality. It is a term invented by quantum physicists to describe the cloud of electrical charges that surround anything extant in the present moment --swarming its history and futurity. Our conscious minds are miraculous tools capable of selecting, among possibly infinite quanta, realities that best include us. We navigate our solitary ways through time. What we select, consciously or unconsciously but act upon deliberately, composes our real histories. Arguably, much of human existence is occupied with learning how to have a past, how to make it work to our best advantage and the good of our kind.

At this juncture, happily, virtual reality is not so serious as all that. It is a recreational enhancement of mass communications --but still instructive to us in our awkward and oily phase of evolution. One thing solidly certain about it is it requires 3-dimensional observables. This is accomplished by exploiting observers' binocular vision by technology that induces crosseyedness in sober people. I own an early version of such a device:

The philosophical instrument in the foreground is a Holmes Stereoscope. It transmits the impression of image depth by consistent adherence to epipolar geometry throughout the photographic process: two offset cameras; two wedge-shaped lenses in the stereoscope. Oliver Wendell Holmes never patented his excellent viewer (c.1840), based on work by Sir Chas. Wheatstone (one of the most elegant thinkers ever) and Brewster --I forget his first name, but he is responsible for the lenticular glass wedgie. 

The card in my scope is one used in illustration for a poem I posted earlier on Invalid's Workshop, entitled Let Us Be As Choo-choos Now. Lookie:

Let Us Be As Choo-choos Now

The line winds among
Meadows, mountains,
As rhythm moves us
Through day and night,
Between shadows and
Fountains  of  light,
Between trees and boulders.
Let us be as choo-choos
Now, shoveling steam
Over  our  shoulders.
 
You can see the offset images and use imagination on the right-hand image, which always seems to be the clearer in stereoviews, to imagine the plume from the locomotive rising from the little valley and dispersing in a gentle breeze up the hill toward us. I believe there is a science under construction that enables us to deduce what was going on in old photos and intend to apply my considerable collection toward this misapprehension. Yes, after six years of blogging, I am ready to reopen the long-undisturbed vaults of the Geo.archive --which dates back hundreds of years. Run!


28 comments:

  1. My parents had some dear old friends who lived in early 1900's all their lives. I loved to go there and sit quietly in their parlour while the adults played cards. They had a stereo viewer and boxes of cards which they always brought out for my enjoyment. There were taxidermied animals sitting about, lots of doilies, old books, oil lamps.....i loved their reality and made it part of my own. Nowadays I find other peoples realities intrude far too often into mine.

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    1. Delores, you delight me with memories. My 1st introduction to stereoscopy was in the drawing room of a cousin's family farmhouse. Yes, there was a piano in there too and shelves of souvenirs. Some older relatives kept up the tradition of sleight-of-hand and card tricks --amusements of gentler age, which I hope are returning somewhat via internet.

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  2. A moment in time captured and then let free. I look forward to to the opening of the Geo archive.

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    1. I assure you, now that the vault is unsealed, I'll devote some time to scenes redolent of old collodion and winks of time preserved in silver salts.

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  3. I find old photos fascinating, especially as I get older. We found one of those stereoscopes and a few cards in the attic of our first house when we moved in. What ingenuity the inventor had!

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    1. What ingenuity indeed, but what good fortune in finding the wonderful result in your attic!

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  4. I can't wait for the archives to open (as long as their are no rotting anchovies) and what a pleasant photo, but there is alway something about trains that draws me in.

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    1. Most of my collection is of crowd-shots, as I assembled methods of determining occupations and relationships through frozen expressions and interactions --and lots of architecture. Hold the anchovies? You got it.

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  5. Every time I see a new blog post from you, I think "Wow! I'm going to be compelled to ponder - - forced to use my brain." It's a good feeling, Geo. I always read your posts more than once, in order to fully absorb. After I absorb, I feel that my comments are either 1) useless or 2) unnecessary.

    "Much of human existence is occupied with learning how to have a past, and how to make it work to our best advantage." I like that, and I can fully identify. I also love Stereoscopes and old photos.

    Unleash the contents of those vaults. I promise I won't run.

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    1. I shall do just that, Jon, in my measured way. And never feel your comments are less than useful and needed. I have sometimes been accused of being an analytical machine (Norma, shhhh!) but I can live for days on nothing but a good compliment.

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  6. I not only will not run but I am going to sit right here waiting for the disclosure of your time vault. Looking at all those "old" things was the joy of my childhood.

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    1. The "old" things were the mass media of our parents' and grandparents' age --scenes of human drama and human comedy and, if we were very alert, scenes that could teach us things we could learn in no other way.

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  7. I wonder if in fact we even see the same things, when speaking of 'reality' and the 'present'. Agreeing on an interpretation of the past or artifacts (the constitution, bill of rights, etc) seem well beyond us to the point it seems futile. Witness' to a event can rarely agree on the color of shirts let alone the meaning of an observed action. I guess what I'm getting at is that 'virtual reality' is in fact all we got, and our expectations of a mutual, communal existance are like Dante's love of Beatrice Portinari, something longed for but unattainable.
    “Reality is frequently inaccurate.”
    Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
    Cheers

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    1. Love the Adams quote! But what reality lacks in accuracy it seems to compensate for with reliability. In Dante's case, Beatrice appeared in his dream to eat his heart, which was on fire at the time and fire-safety being what it was at the time, I suppose that was how one dealt with unruly combustibles --but would we have got "The Inferno" out of it? Must be the waking-up part that makes careers.

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  8. Open those archives, wearing a dust mask! And share your finds with us all.

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    1. I hope to find some things of general interest. Much of the collection resulted from doing research articles for Stereo Magazine in the 1990s. And yes, I'll wear a dust mask.

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  9. Oliver Wendell Holmes, of whom I read "The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table", is the inventor of the stereoscope? I always learn something new from you, Geo - thank you! Must look lovely, the view of the locomotive. I only knew old "dioramas", which friends of us collect in very precious styles. There you get the impression of being drawn in too.
    I love Gustave Dorés illustration - and of course the lines of Dante.

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    1. Dr. Holmes devised a stereoscope that came into general use because it was easier to hold and view. It contained no new optical principles so he never patented the device. Its popularity in parlor entertainment provided a big market and impelled photographers to travel and record scenes world wide.

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  10. Archives from Geo ,,,wonderful
    You do so entertain
    Smiles ...

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    1. Kind Margie, It's just an idea so far. I declared my ephemera collection complete 20 years ago but have lately returned to it for illustrations here. Hopefully the excellent old photos will find new use online. Stereoviews are quite small but Norma has worked out a routine for capturing detail.

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  11. "How to make the past work to our best advantage"... I've known some people who are quite skilled at that. I call is selective memory or revisionist memory. My father was exceptionally talented in that area, and it used to drive me batty. Didn't matter if I KNEW such-and-such happened; he said it happened in another way entirely, and that was that. End of discussion.

    I remember looking through an old stereoscope, too, and absolutely loving it. I wonder if today's children would find them at all interesting. I love old photographs, too, the older the better. Doesn't even matter if I have any real connection to the people or things in those photos. The old B&W and sepia-colored photos seemed to do an uncanny job of capturing a moment in time, and looking at them transports us to those moments.

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    1. Wonderful Susan, you're in luck. In the 1980s I made contact with "O Progresso", Once a newspaper operated by the father of friend Delores Greenslate, now the quarterly newsletter of the Portuguese Historical & Cultural Society (PHCS --pronounced...uh nevermind). I gave them access to the family photos in my archive to take the Sacramento History Museum well back into the 1850s where it belonged. I may post some of those by and by --but understand, too much of them make me sad AND I might have to reveal my name beyond 3 letters-- oh what the PHC.

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  12. Each time I visit, I'm enlightened.
    R

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    1. High praise, much appreciated. Must find dust mask now.

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  13. I look forward to the opening....!

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    1. Me too. Don't quite know what it will be like but we'll see.

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  14. What a wondrous gadget you have there! I've seen them, but only in museums. A friend has a smaller, handheld version - predecessor to View-Master.

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    1. Might it be a Stereo Realist, using standard 35mm slide film on cardboard or plastic mounts, with battery powered backlight? Had one many years ago. Went to using side by side SLRs and mounting prints for the Holmes scope. All excellent devices. But Viewmaster had a series on Star Trek OS that sold very well.

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