Put yourself in my position

…so you can understand how I feel:

“Our language is full of spatial metaphors, particularly when we attempt to explain or understand how other people think or feel. We often talk about putting ourselves in others’ shoes, seeing something from someone else’s point of view, or figuratively looking over someone’s shoulder,” Sohee Park, report co-author and professor of psychology, said. “Although future work is needed to elucidate the nature of the relationship between empathy, spatial abilities and their potentially overlapping neural underpinnings, this work provides initial evidence that empathy might be, in part, spatially represented.”

“We use spatial manipulations of mental representations all the time as we move through the physical world. As a result, we have readily available cognitive resources to deploy in our attempts to understand what we see. This may extend to our understanding of others’ mental states,” Katharine N. Thakkar, a psychology graduate student at Vanderbilt and the report’s lead author, said. “Separate lines of neuroimaging research have noted involvement of the same brain area, the parietal cortex, during tasks involving visuo-spatial processes and empathy.”

Immersion presents "breathtaking" demonstration of new user experience

This morning at the Fortune Brainstorm: TECH conference, our CTO presented another technology demonstration I designed as a part of Immersion’s user experience research program. The demo consists of two tablet PCs that have been modified to include high-fidelity touch feedback. A two-player pinball game allows players to pass a ball back and forth between their tablets over a network. Touch feedback is felt by both users at once, which creates the illusion that the tablets themselves are somehow physically connected together. When you shoot the ball off of your screen and onto the other one, even though you can no longer see it, you can still feel it bouncing off the various objects in the game.

Here’s a screenshot:

Immersion-HapticPinball_highres

All of the elements in the game—walls, bumpers, vortex, etc.—are “haptified” (in other words, when the ball hits them, you feel it). We call it “high-fidelity haptics” because the touch feedback is incredibly nuanced and varied. The chute on the top right feels like a hollow tube. The ball hitting the metal walls feels sharp and solid. When the ball goes up the xylophone, you hear and feel the pitch of every note. And the vortex feels like—well, it feels like a vortex, even though I’ve never felt a real one before.

This kind of tactile PC game is entirely new, and so is the possibility of high-fidelity haptics inside a notebook screen. As our CTO (who is also my boss) is fond of saying, I believe we have just “taken it to the next level.”

Here’s Immersion’s press release about the technology.

UPDATE: Computerworld has published an article about the demo called “Haptics: The feel-good technology of the year”:

Immersion CTO Christophe Ramstein demonstrated today at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference a breathtaking new generation of haptic technologies he calls “high-fidelity haptics.”

Ramstein called a volunteer onto the stage and invited her to play a pinball game on a specially configured Hewlett-Packard tablet PC. She immediately responded to the haptics, and said that she could actually “feel a metal ball rolling on a hard surface.” She could feel all the motion of the game, the vibration of the whole machine and detailed, super-realistic but subtle tactile cues of the kind that you would feel with a real, physical pinball machine.

After playing for a minute or two, Ramstein threw a switch to turn off the haptics. The volunteer reported, essentially, that the game suddenly became cold and dead, even though all the graphics and sound were still in play.

Read the whole thing.

ANOTHER UPDATE: On CNNMoney, The Touchscreen Goes Ultratactile:

At Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference, Immersion’s chief executive officer, Clent Richardson, and chief technology officer Christophe Ramstein, let me play with the company’s latest innovation: a two-player game prototype that offers touch feedback as a pinball moves between two computer screens.

The game did indeed feel like an old-school pinball machine. The tablet vibrated under my fingers, and there was a tangible change in pressure when the paddle made contact with the ball.

Hawking on evolution and technology

“At first, evolution proceeded by natural selection, from random mutations. This Darwinian phase, lasted about three and a half billion years, and produced us, beings who developed language, to exchange information.”

But what distinguishes us from our cave man ancestors is the knowledge that we have accumulated over the last ten thousand years, and particularly, Hawking points out, over the last three hundred.

“I think it is legitimate to take a broader view, and include externally transmitted information, as well as DNA, in the evolution of the human race,” Hawking said.

In the last ten thousand years the human species has been in what Hawking calls, “an external transmission phase,” where the internal record of information, handed down to succeeding generations in DNA, has not changed significantly. “But the external record, in books, and other long lasting forms of storage,” Hawking says, “has grown enormously. Some people would use the term, evolution, only for the internally transmitted genetic material, and would object to it being applied to information handed down externally. But I think that is too narrow a view. We are more than just our genes.”

I found it very interesting that the accompanying image depicts digital touch, with no caption or explanation of how it relates to the article. It’s just assumed that readers will get it: a hand reaching out and creating ripples in a fluid, digital medium demonstrates that we are more than just our genes. Doesn’t it?
6a00d8341bf7f753ef011571a5828a970b

Tactility in the Tractatus Logico-Philisophicus

I’ve written before about the later writings of Wittgenstein and the metaphor of the word as a manual tool. However, in Ludwig’s first published work, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, his theory of language is that sentences represent states of affairs, the so-called picture theory of language. Although he later abandoned that viewpoint for the tool-based one, I was intrigued by this historically significant switch-up, so I read through the Tractatus with special attention to its visual and tactile metaphors. Here are a few examples.

2.013
Each thing is, as it were, in a space of possible states of affairs. This space I can imagine empty, but I cannot imagine the thing without the space.
2.0131
A spatial object must be situated in infinite space. (A spatial point is an argument-place.)
A speck in the visual field, though it need not be red, must have some colour: it is, so to speak, surrounded by colour-space. Notes must have some pitch, objects of the sense of touch some degree of hardness, and so on.

This is a prime example of a sensory metaphor used throughout the book. Objects are described in a visual way, as being seen as situated within a possibility space or belief space. They themselves have extension, but we perceive them as taking up some amount of the visual field (surrounded by context, which here is represented as other possibilities for their position or physical attributes).

2.151
Pictorial form is the possibility that things are related to one another in the same way as the elements of the picture.
2.1511
That is how a picture is attached to reality; it reaches right out to it.
2.1512
It is laid against reality like a measure.
2.15121
Only the end-points of the graduating lines actually touch the object that is to be measured.

Again we get a visual metaphor described in terms of physicality. How is a picture “attached” to reality? It reaches out to it. And while it touches reality, it only just touches it, in a tangential way. Wittgenstein starts with a visual image and then writes “attached”, “reaches out”, “laid against”, and “touch”—all haptic metaphors.

2.1514
The pictorial relationship consists of the correlations of the picture’s elements with things.
2.1515
These correlations are, as it were, the feelers of the picture’s elements, with which the picture touches reality.

Now we have moved from the picture as a “measure,” a passive geometry tool, to a picture as an agent. Not just any agent, but an agent with a capacity for haptic perception. What is a “feeler”? To me that word means a mobile extremity with sense organs which can be used to find out about the world. So, what Wittgenstein seems to be saying here is that when we generate a picture in our mind, it’s as if we are extending our hand into the world.

4.002

Language disguises thought. So much so, that from the outward form of the clothing it is impossible to infer the form of the thought beneath it, because the outward form of the clothing is not designed to reveal the form of the body, but for entirely different purposes.

In other words, thoughts are like physical objects. A word envelops a thought. We have a thought and then we toss a word-robe over it and shove it onto the stage of discourse where it can interface with other enrobed thoughts.

4.411
It immediately strikes one as probable that the introduction of elementary propositions provides the basis for understanding all other kinds of proposition. Indeed the understanding of general propositions palpably depends on the understanding of elementary propositions.

Once again, a tactile metaphor (“palpably”) is used for emphasis and to indicate comprehensive understanding.

5.557

What belongs to its application, logic cannot anticipate.
It is clear that logic must not clash with its application.
But logic has to be in contact with its application.
Therefore, logic and its application must not overlap.

I.e.,
logicapplication

Is “overlap” a haptic metaphor or a visual one? It could be either, or both.

6.432
How things are in the world is a matter of complete indifference for what is higher. God does not reveal himself in the world.
6.4321
The facts all contribute only to setting the problem, not to its solution.
6.44
It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists.
6.45
To view the world sub specie aeterni is to view it as a whole—a limited whole.
Feeling the world as a limited whole—it is this that is mystical.

To feel is to know, silently, mystically.

I was pretty surprised at how easy it seems to foresee Wittgenstein’s turn from the eye to the hand. He presents what he calls a picture theory of language, but it repeatedly leads to a description of solid objects in space, or bodies moving and feeling and contacting each other. Of course I’m reading with a very biased perspective. Not only is my goal to hunt for tactile metaphors but I also know how the story ends some 30 years later. Still, I can’t help but feel that the tactile language in the Tractatus may foreshadow the shift to come.