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Welcome to Alan's brain

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  December 5, 2012 12:41 PM

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We’ve all wondered what it would be like to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It is by all accounts a hopeless fantasy, but that hasn’t dissuaded 22-year-old Hong Kong filmmaker Alan Kwan from trying.

Kwan’s most ambitious attempt at consciousness bridging is called “Bad Trip,” a surreal virtual reality experience that lets users navigate video game-style through all—as in, basically every single one—of the visual experiences Kwan has had in the last year.

The technology behind Bad Trip is straightforward. In November 2011 Kwan attached a small, custom-designed video camera to the frame of his glasses. As he went about his life the camera recorded the world as it appeared before Kwan. At the end of each day Kwan uploaded the footage into a video game environment he’d built to store the memories; it can be loaded onto an Xbox and navigated using a joystick controller.

Bad Trip is a startling aesthetic experience. The six-minute demo reveals a stark, spectral world animated in black and white drawings that conveys the feeling of exploring a long-deserted planet (or watching a David Lynch movie). The landscape is dotted with stacks of “memory blocks” that look like piled freight crates and which hold the video recordings. Approach the memory blocks and suddenly the empty world of Bad Trip explodes with all the scenes from Kwan’s life: A plate of food at a restaurant, a girl sitting across the table, and in one surely intentionally ironic moment, footage from a video game that Kwan had played. It feels like dipping your head beneath the surface of a pool and into another world.

Of course, we don’t see the world the same way that a video camera attached to our eyeglasses does, and memories are much thicker constructions than pure visual data: They depend on context, thought, our other senses, our previous experiences, and on down the line. After watching (or playing or experiencing or encountering…it’s hard to say what the appropriate verb is here) Bad Trip you won’t necessarily feel like you understand Alan Kwan’s memories any better than you did before, but you might leave with a new way of imagining the weird, peripatetic terrain of your own mind.

[Photo courtesy Alan Kwan.]

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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