This is the first blog post in a series on the collaboration between neuropsychiatrist Dominic ffytche and artist Tamiko Thiel in creating an augmented reality installation around the visual perceptual disorder of palinopsia. 

This month Dominic and Tamiko had their first meeting, at the Institute of Psychiatry at the Maudsley Hospital in Denmark Hill.

Dominic is a consultant neuropsychiatrist whose research and clinical practice focuses on disorders of visual perception. Tamiko, an artist whose current medium is augmented reality, has a background in engineering, product design and human-computer interface design.

We started with an introduction and update for Dominic, elaborating on Tamiko’s plans for the installation. For Tamiko, the main purpose of the meeting was to learn as much as she could about the symptom of palinopsia and the conditions in which it occurs.

We spent a few hours leafing through academic journals looking for verbal descriptions in the literature and questioning Dominic. Tamiko had supplied an extensive list of questions, which explored the problem from all sides and acted as a framework for the session. One of the articles we came across described the interesting case of a man who saw the image of his knee X-ray within household objects (below). This persisted for a number of days, and was illustrated in an article by the researchers.

Smith, Philip EM, et al. "Palinopsia." The Lancet 361.9363 (2003): 1098.

Smith, Philip EM, et al. “Palinopsia.” The Lancet 361.9363 (2003): 1098.

“Palinopsia is not like an after image,” Dominic said, “it doesn’t occur in inverted colours – like what happens when you stare at an object for a long time and then at a white wall. It appears just as the original image, overlaid or integrated into the visual scene, and can pop up immediately after looking at the object, or days later.”

Palinopsia can occur as a symptom of stroke, a brain tumour, or can present as the persisting effects of hallucinogenic drugs. The symptom and the conditions from which it arises will be explored fully in an article in the coming weeks.

“What is interesting from a neuroscience perspective,” commented Dominic, “is that palinopsia doesn’t fit into any existing models of object or space perception.”

We’ll be focussing on this in more depth in subsequent blog posts and for the digital catalogue which will accompany the installation.

Tamiko then outlined some of the important considerations for creating an augmented reality (AR) installation in a busy public region such as London Bridge. People walking by, and the change in the angle of the sunlight on the buildings all can interfere with the augment and cause the image to jump. To deal with this, Tamiko decided to focus on augmenting the buildings above the level of the people and choosing angles that would be least affected by sunlight.

We also discussed the interesting similarities between human visual perception and image processing; both involve the extraction of features, such as edges, from the visual scene. Tamiko’s background in mechanical engineering at MIT, and Dominic’s wealth of experience in collaborating with artists meant the meeting went well and some exciting ideas were generated.


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