Virtual reality as a tool for planetary awareness
Astronauts are but a few to have had the chance to see the planet in its whole glory. As of 2019, over 565 women and men have experienced this transformative vision, the so-called ‘overview effect’. This is about 1 person out of 13.6 million, a very rare privilege indeed.
Yet, our planet has never been more visible than today. Earth’s imagery has become mainstream in technologically-literate societies dominated by social media, thanks to the expanding fleets of satellites providing ever more stunning and detailed views of our world, day after day.
But seeing our homeworld on a small device is obviously quite different from actually being up there. In this context, virtual reality can play a role, not by distancing us from planet Earth but by helping—and really just helping—reconnect us with patterns, synergies, processes, cycles and scales that are otherwise beyond our sensory reach.
So here comes InnerEarth, a concept we humbly submit here.
InnerEARTH is imagined as a fully-immersive environment displaying geographic information and using virtual reality capabilities for storytelling and gamification.
Imagined in 2011, InnerEarth features the Complex Logarithmic Spherical View, a projection based on the groundbreaking Complex Logarithmic View developed by Dr. Joachim Böttger. It is a radical way of representing the planet across scales. It offers a detail-in-context view of our world, making possible to see local, regional, continental and global environments all at once, as part of the same perceptual spectrum.
Another feature of InnerEarth is the absence of horizon.
The word horizon etymologically means “dividing circle": beyond it always lies a perceptually unknown realm that demands movements to be discovered or remembered. Our daily experience of planetarity (the state of being embedded within a planetary system) is sealed by a linear horizon
When we are lucky enough to see the horizon, be it in a field, a desert, a mountain or a beach, our finite and boundless world remains perceptually limited by the curvature of the planet. At sea level, the horizon is about 5 kilometres away from you. On top of the highest skyscraper, it is at about 100 kilometres. At the summit of Sagarmatha/Chomolungma (Mount Everest), the horizon is at 336 km.
However, when we lie on the ground to contemplate the clouds or the stars, the linearity of the horizon is bent into a perceptually circular horizon. The infinity of space is circularly enclosed by the ground immediately surrounding us.
The perceptual counterpart of cloudgazing and stargazing is the astronaut’s point of view. The finite disk of the Earth is delimited by the surrounding emptiness of space—interplanetary, interstellar and cosmological spaces. Yet a full view of our homeworld has not been experienced for a few decades given that astronautic activities have been kept to a low orbit since Apollo 17 in 1972.
We are surrounded by representations of globality. Maps are everywhere—and apps too. But, again, the horizon problem remains. Whatever their projections, maps have edges and globes have rims. InnerEarth dissolves the horizon, creating a very unique perspective of closed planetary space. It is a convenient geographical representation—or planetary agora—worth experiencing to see our environment through scales.
InnerEarth depicts socio-ecological systems in their whole planetary grandeur. It is an epistemological breakthrough worth investigating as a tool to train our minds in thinking globally.
In future posts, we will further investigate the ‘cultural resonances’ of Inner Earth—universal archetypes suggesting that this idea is not entirely new.