Seeing Is (no longer) Believing

November 29, 2011

A photo used to be a surrogate for reality.

But screwing around with photos and distributing them widely has become so prevalent, companies have sprung up to do photo forensics – they help differentiate between an undoctored image and a manipulation.

And I am not talking about the doctoring that goes on inside your point and shoot or camera phone or digital SLR as you capture an image that  takes the wrinkles out of your skin, or the red out of your eyes or allows you stitch together a panorama.

One company that does this kind of forensic work displays scores of examples of altered images. Images that were used in trials. Or to start wars. Or in advertising campaigns. Fat people made skinny. Leaders inserted or removed from group shots. Compromising positions manufactured. Achievements that never really happened. Photo ops that never really were.

Photo manipulation is not a new phenomenon. It’s just more widespread now. Computers and software have made the process available to everyone.

Here is a famous example from around 1860 – it’s an early lithograph – about a hundred years before the invention of the personal computer. Here Honest Abe’s head was inserted on a not as famous, but better-posed body.

These days, when you move from the single image to the moving picture… the manipulation technology is just as available, and awesome.

Check out what money, time, technique and technology can do in blending realities, as seen in this trailer from 2009.

Will you ever watch your favorite TV show the same way again?

The computing power needed to do the CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) effects show in the above clip is massive. And as fast as computers are getting, the human imagination is pushing the boundaries – stitching more improbable realities together, driving more massive computers.

Director Martin Scorsese’s new film HUGO has single effects that took 89 days worth of super fast computers working their little chips off to render. 89 days! That is a lot of computational power.

The next step up altering reality is through the  immersive technology of modern games and simulations – where individual viewsers manipulate the narrative as the images change in real time depending on choices being made by the player the moment.

Instead of rendering effects over days and laying them off to a video – computers render them in real time – to display on your HD or 3D enabled TV at home – as you interact with other viewsers. This is an immensely popular entertainment form.  Madden or COD sell millions of copies, and are updated each year.

The simulation becomes more life-like, because your avatar is on the screen. It is you acting out. The games become more real as you constantly make choices in the narrative.

And every year fantasy blends a little more into reality.

Seeing is (no longer) believing.

Unless you’re watching and participating fully in reality as it unfolds in front of you.

And even then, your moment-by-moment personal perception of the here and now very much affects what you see and whether you believe.

(The Reality Illusion) … one flowing movement – caught in a moment of perception and given conceptual boundaries becomes the observed “factual” reality.  And of course it varies with the nervous system and the cultural conditioning and the religious conditioning… and through neuroplasticity we know the so-called structure of our brain is actually not a structure but a flowing activity – but through the habits of perception, behavior, culture, religion and all kinds of indoctrination we perceive the same perceptual boundaries and we call it reality.

    — Deepak Chopra (video – the Reality Illusion)

So, what do you want to see in your reality?


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