Body, Depth, and Perceptual Events

MAR 2022

Recently, I am trying to narrow down the scope of my research proposal. It's difficult to drop things off without knowing enough about the overall structure so I struggled a lot. Thankful to so many inspiring and insightful conversations with professors, researchers and friends, I start to realize the proposal piece I have currently is more like a life long research goal, while I have to pick a specific and even small starting point for the first 3-4 years as my PhD focus.
I have stretched my scope into many related disciplines. I feel it's the right timing to come back to the origin. I kept re-reading Prof. Hale's writing on Merleau-Ponty for architect and some other earlier books on phenomenology that I encountered at RISD. Phenomenology of perception, this is where I started. Outlining several points that are critical below:
"the centre of potential action. It‘s not an object kicked in physical space, but works as a spatial ‘level'." "it is this unfolding bodily process that anchors us in space and time, as opposed to being detached observers gazing at 2-d screens. One illustration of this principle of immersion is the comparison of renaissance and cubist painting, where the former relies on an idealized overseer located at the vanishing point of the perspective grid. The latter, suggests a moving observer embedded within the space of the painting itself, with multiple viewpoints represented simultaneously, as if the viewing time had be magically compressed." (Hale, 2017.)
In every mundane perception, there is not only the encounter with an object, but also the opening of a dimension of depth that marks my distance and proximity to things. while length and width can be perceived as belonging solely to objects located in grid space, depth unfolds in phenomenological space, as part of the lived experience of a subject who is embedded in the very world that she perceives.(Locke, Patricia M., Rachel McCann, 2015)
 "Two-part horizontal structure: 1. outter horizon, described by gestalt, the background against which an object that we are currently focusing on can be seen to be stand out  2. Inner horizon , help to explain how we can perceive the whole of object when only the parts currently facing us is actually visible." 
"The key thing to note for now is that the ‘horizon’ structure of perception is based on our sense of depth: a consequence of our learning to experience objects as we move our bodies in the space between them. This should also remind us that the double structure of horizons also has a temporal dimension, in terms of the layering of retentions and protections that gradually accumulate in our experience. Depth is the most existential of all dimension, in the sense that our history of previous experience of objects is what ultimately locates us in space." (Hale, 2017.)
"the movement of an organism brings a configuration of space and time. The determination of space and time. " "Perception is an event. The determination of space and time, is according to Weizsacker, it appears and vanishes in each time, takes a form and disbands it into a new configuration, or newly takes part in it again." “At first we do not perceives an object located in a point of space, but rather we ourselves add various diverse predicates as its attributes. We experience an event at first.” And the chain of events puts an order of space and time into form; them, an object comes to be determined from this order. It means that an object as a thing is not located in a space and a time like a pin in a container. Time and space are cut out from the passage of an event and are brought into its form."
Secondly, I re-visited my thesis on Phenomenal transparency, where I was so fascinated by these spatial qualities:
the oscillation between depth vs flatness/compression; frontality vs recession (elements that contribute to this effect: framing, frontal perspective, changes of landscape phenomenon );
the intentional ambiguity with implied spatial structures (imply: it follows perceptual principles in gestalt psychology-emergence, Reification, Multistability- figure ground relationships, Invariance; perception of closure. What's the threshold? Varied by perceivers?);
the deeply perplexing focus; (overlapping, simultaneity, tension, shifting organizations in all dimensions)
indeterminate quality that allows multiple perceptual readings, subjective to thinking body of space and landscape phenomenon in time. (what's the balance for control and openness to avoid the feeling of chaos/ confusion? What type of confusion is good/bad?) "space was perceived as identical with the events or phenomena occurring in it, was recognized only in its relation to time-flow"
These qualities suggest an implied space, almost evenly distributed without any dominants,  but enriched because of all the possibilities that awaits for human participants. 暗示的空间,匀质却丰富的空间 ?  Find tools to describe and document these quality/ spatial experience. Is it possible to document the experience into cubic painting (how Colin Rowe explain as 'double dihedral changing at very moment in size and position)? or use cubic painting as a way of composing space?  Or Chinese painting (frontality vs recession. luminosity/ opacity; solid/void; additive/subtractive; centripetal/centrifugal; axial/contiguous);
Thirdly, I looked back on my field trip to traditional Chinese garden, hoping to locate some evidences via specific spatial operation and quality:
1. Instability of depth that creates by viewing/framing and landscape phenomenon.
2. Fluid boundary
3.Sequence, relational structure
4.hiding/revealing - what's hidden?  curiosity & desire & imagination & wonder
Fourthly, intrigued by the conversation with Prof.Hale, my research seems to place the focus on "the mismatch".
Mismatch happens when brain seeks for economic efficiency . Potentially it can serve as a trigger / invitation for attentive body.
There is another question: I find it difficult to define whether I am looking at a conscious or sub-conscious level of perception/embodiment.

How can I evaluate the deep structure in participants' perception collectively?
What kind of data is helpful? A mix of objective ( physiological reaction, eye focus, physical movement/gesture); and subjective (interview/narratives, cognitive map, memory recall)? How convincing the correlations are?

Some worries while chatting with friends working on VR/AR:
As the research in VR/AR gets increasingly popular, I hope to look back retrospectively with caution. There are so much potentials embedded in our bodily ways of experiencing the environment which has not be explored by spatial design. The indeterminate possibilities exist within the interaction between us and the environment, within the embodiment of space and occurrences of phenomenon in time,  where already exists an extraordinary rich and complex world that's open for us.  If any of the technology could offer more, the device has to respond to our body in adequate ways, or activate our potentials in a humane way. Otherwise, it's just treating us as receivers of flattened simulations. It has to deal with the discrepancies between sensorimotor capacities and visions. 
If going virtual and eventually being free from our body, is the tendency of this world,  how do we place ourselves as what has been considered as fundamental for being a human is changing? 
March is the beginning of beginning of spring. I look forward to Boston's spring.