Can VR help us understand layers of oppression?
Researchers are using technology to make visual the complex concepts of racism, as well as its political and social consequences.
COURTNEY D. COGBURN: It is much bigger than criminal justice reform although that's a critical component and was the catalyst in this particular moment. But we really need to think about this in terms of layers of oppression, interwoven oppressions. That what we observe in terms of police violence, its connections to the legacies of slavery and slave patrols in the United States, the ways in which policing is tied to educational systems and healthcare, patterns that we observe in terms of population health. All of those things are interwoven. And part of what our work is trying to do is leverage VR to think about how we can represent those relationships visually to help people better understand how a housing policy has implications for policing and violence that you might observe in a neighborhood or a community, and how that is also tied to what we're seeing in educational systems. All of these systems are interwoven, and all of them have actively oppressed black people in particular in a way that has made upward mobility nearly impossible. And it's part of what people are fighting against. So, the police are kind of a visual representation of the societal ills that cross many, many sectors, if not all of the sectors of our society.
So in virtual reality we wanted to explore the option to have people walk in someone's digital shoes. We have the adage of being able to walk a mile in my shoes, being able to walk in someone's shoes and so we wanted to create the option to walk in the digital shoes of a black male who's experiencing racism as a child, adolescent, and as an adult in different contexts to convey the complexities of how racism is encountered in one's life. And in addition to that piece we're also thinking about how to use virtual reality to help people understand not just an individual experience and how it intersects with the world and with society, but how do we take virtual reality and create an opportunity to engage with systems and structures and culture in a way that people can start to understand how our policy decisions, the ways that we structure neighborhoods, the ways that we engage in policing in communities, et cetera, have a domino effect and they are all related to each other. And that's really complicated to understand. People get entire degrees in sociology and political science and history to try and draw these connections, but we're trying to simplify what we know from data in academic work and scholarship, et cetera, and translate that into virtual reality in a way that's visual and tangible so that people can potentially better understand these complicated systems that we live and operate in. In service of them understanding racism in a deeper and more complex way.
I think the most important and powerful human superpower is critical consciousness. And that is the ability to think, be aware and think critically about the world and people around you. And I say critical consciousness quite deliberately instead of empathy. Empathy often conveys a sense of emotion and feeling bad and that's just terrible. Critical consciousness suggests that you are an engaged, intelligent human paying attention to the world around you, and it's not so much about the interpersonal 'Do I feel bad? Do I like you?'—it's more 'Do I see the world as it is? Am I thinking critically about it and engaging it?' I think if more of us embody that we would be much better off.
The most important ingredient for a great education is equipping people to explore and determine for themselves what they believe. And to push past things that they've inherited from other people, things that they've absorbed from society and media and give them an honest take as far as we understand it, here are the facts. What do you do with that information? What is the meaning that you make of that information? That is something that's very difficult to achieve educationally, and I think if we focused on that earlier and sooner and not only having our children memorize or just sort of regurgitate facts and information but instead actively and critically engage what they're consuming we would have more critically conscious citizens. But it's a skill. It's something that people develop over many years of engagement. So, I think that would be one of the most important aspects.
There have been global movements happening around Black Lives Matter, anti-blackness, I think for some time now, but the scale of the response I think is what's so surprising. That one of the largest marches outside the U.S. happened in Germany, for instance, in a mostly white crowd. That is surprising, that Norway I think there was a march. Just sort of different parts of the globe coming together around this I think just sort of speaks to people being fed up that we're all sort of being some lackluster version of who owe could be as a society, as a global society.
- Often thought of first as gaming tech, virtual reality has been increasingly used in research as a tool for mimicking real-life scenarios and experiences in a safe and controlled environment.
- Focusing on issues of oppression and the ripple affect it has throughout America's political, educational, and social systems, Dr. Courtney D. Cogburn of Columbia University School of Social Work and her team developed a VR experience that gives users the opportunity to "walk a mile" in the shoes of a black man as he faces racism at three stages in his life: as a child, during adolescence, and as an adult.
- Cogburn says that the goal is to show how these "interwoven oppressions" continue to shape the world beyond our individual experiences. "I think the most important and powerful human superpower is critical consciousness," she says. "And that is the ability to think, be aware and think critically about the world and people around you...it's not so much about the interpersonal 'Do I feel bad, do I like you?'—it's more 'Do I see the world as it is? Am I thinking critically about it and engaging it?'"
- How Virtual Reality Will Change the Face of Healthcare - Big Think ›
- How will virtual reality change our consciousness? - Big Think ›
- Mixed reality: How augmented & virtual worlds will collide - Big Think ›
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter
Water may be far more abundant on the lunar surface than previously thought.
- Scientists have long thought that water exists on the lunar surface, but it wasn't until 2018 that ice was first discovered on the moon.
- A study published Monday used NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy to confirm the presence of molecular water..
- A second study suggests that shadowy regions on the lunar surface may also contain more ice than previously thought.
Credits: NASA/Daniel Rutter<p>Still, it's not as if the moon is dripping wet. The observations suggest that a cubic meter of the lunar surface (in the Clavius crater site, at least) contains water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million. That's roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water. In comparison, the same plot of land in the Sahara desert contains about 100 times more water.</p><p>But a second study suggests other parts of the lunar surface also contain water — and potentially lots of it. Also publishing their findings in <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-1198-9#_blank" target="_blank">Nature Astronomy</a> on Monday, the researchers used the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to study "cold traps" near the moon's polar regions. These areas of the lunar surface are permanently covered in shadows. In fact, about 0.15 percent of the lunar surface is permanently shadowed, and it's here that water could remain frozen for millions of years.</p><p>Some of these permanently shadowed regions are huge, extending more than a kilometer wide. But others span just 1 cm. These smaller "micro cold traps" are much more abundant than previously thought, and they're spread out across more regions of the lunar surface, according to the new research.</p>
Credit: dottedyeti via AdobeStock<p>Still, the second study didn't confirm that ice is embedded in micro cold traps. But if there is, it would mean that water would be much more accessible to astronauts, considering they wouldn't have to travel into deep, shadowy craters to extract water.</p><p>Greater accessibility to water would not only make it easier for astronauts to get drinking water, but could also enable them to generate rocket fuel and power.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for use by our explorers," said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist in the advanced exploration systems division for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, in a statement. "If we can use the resources at the Moon, then we can carry less water and more equipment to help enable new scientific discoveries."</p>
A study finds 1.8 billion trees and shrubs in the Sahara desert.
- AI analysis of satellite images sees trees and shrubs where human eyes can't.
- At the western edge of the Sahara is more significant vegetation than previously suspected.
- Machine learning trained to recognize trees completed the detailed study in hours.
Why this matters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTkyODg5NX0.O3S2DRTyAxh-JZqxGKj9KkC6ndZAloEh4hKhpcyeFDQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="3770d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3c27b79d4c0600fb6ebb82e650cabec0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Area in which trees were located
Credit: University of Copenhagen<p>As important as trees are in fighting climate change, scientists need to know what trees there are, and where, and the study's finding represents a significant addition to the global tree inventory.</p><p>The vegetation Brandt and his colleagues have identified is in the Western Sahara, a region of about 1.3 million square kilometers that includes the desert, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahel" target="_blank">the Sahel</a>, and the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/subhumid-zones" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sub-humid zones</a> of West Africa.</p><p>These trees and shrubs have been left out of previous tabulations of carbon-processing worldwide forests. Says Brandt, "Trees outside of forested areas are usually not included in climate models, and we know very little about their carbon stocks. They are basically a white spot on maps and an unknown component in the global carbon cycle."</p><p>In addition to being valuable climate-change information, the research can help facilitate strategic development of the region in which the vegetation grows due to a greater understanding of local ecosystems.</p>
Trained for trees<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTk5NTI3NH0.fR-n1I2DHBIRPLvXv4g0PVM8ciZwSLWorBUUw2wc-Vk/img.jpg?width=980" id="e02c0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79955b13661dca8b6e19007935129af1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Martin Brandt/University of Copenhagen<p>There's been an assumption that there's hardly enough vegetation outside of forested areas to be worth counting in areas such as this one. As a result the study represents the first time a significant number of trees — likely in the hundreds of millions when shrubs are subtracted from the overall figure — have been catalogued in the drylands region.</p><p>Members of the university's Department of Computer Science trained a machine-learning module to recognize trees by feeding it thousands of pictures of them. This training left the AI be capable of spotting trees in the tiny details of satellite images supplied by NASA. The task took the AI just hours — it would take a human years to perform an equivalent analysis.</p><p>"This technology has enormous potential when it comes to documenting changes on a global scale and ultimately, in contributing towards global climate goals," says co-author Christian Igel. "It is a motivation for us to develop this type of beneficial artificial intelligence."</p><p>"Indeed," says Brandt says, "I think it marks the beginning of a new scientific era."</p>
Looking ahead and beyond<p>The researchers hope to further refine their AI to provide a more detailed accounting of the trees it identifies in satellite photos.</p><p>The study's senior author, Rasmus Fensholt, says, "we are also interested in using satellites to determine tree species, as tree types are significant in relation to their value to local populations who use wood resources as part of their livelihoods. Trees and their fruit are consumed by both livestock and humans, and when preserved in the fields, trees have a positive effect on crop yields because they improve the balance of water and nutrients."</p><p>Ahead is an expansion of the team's tree hunt to a larger area of Africa, with the long-term goal being the creation of a more comprehensive and accurate global database of trees that grow beyond the boundaries of forests.</p>
Tea and coffee have known health benefits, but now we know they can work together.
Credit: NIKOLAY OSMACHKO from Pexels
- A new study finds drinking large amounts of coffee and tea lowers the risk of death in some adults by nearly two thirds.
- This is the first study to suggest the known benefits of these drinks are additive.
- The findings are great, but only directly apply to certain people.