Virtual reality (VR) uses sensorial mimetics to construct collective memory in virtual space. The regeneration of high-definition cultural heritage symbols transforms memory into an immediate experience that is constantly being renewed, strengthens the relationship between cultural heritage and contemporary society, and continually affects the persistent renewal of cultural traditions. Hyper-presence is a networked state of cognitive psychology that lies in links, interactions, and exchanges; it is the result of networked social minds and distributed cognition. In the contemporary moment, cultural heritage takes on three types of progressively developed presence: simulated restoration presence, informationally reproduced presence, and symbolically regenerated presence. Symbolic regeneration belongs to the realm of hyper-presence. Building databases with data collected on cultural heritage is the foundation of building a cognitive agent. As a platform, VR becomes an efficient mode of information dissemination, forming an independent presence for cultural heritage through the reproduction of media and information. In a network society, informatized cultural heritage becomes a source for the production of new cultural symbols, and presence is created through the continuous regeneration and dissemination of symbols. Symbols and regenerated symbols combine to constitute the hyper-presence of informatized cultural heritage; people's understanding of cultural heritage therefore exists in an ever-changing state. Intelligences with presence on the network form a complete system, and VR creates comprehensive cognition for the system through high-definition virtuality. Formed in the coordination between intelligences, collective memory creates its hyper-presence today.
This article considers, through the concept of networked social minds, how cultural heritage can construct collective memory using virtual reality (VR), giving cultural heritage a “hyper-presence” as information. Referencing the theories of Jean Baudrillard, this article will describe in detail the three types of presence that cultural heritage can have in the contemporary era: simulated restoration presence, informationally reproduced presence, and symbolically regenerated presence. The discussion focuses on how VR employs high-definition information patterns for more efficient reproduction and dissemination of informatized cultural heritage, using direct sensory interactivity to link distributed cognition and continuously reproduce symbols to form the hyper-presence of cultural heritage.
This article will define hyper-presence and the three types of presence within cultural heritage. It will then describe data collection methods for cultural heritage, information reproduction, and symbolical regeneration, exploring how informatized cultural heritage, distributed cognition, and high-definition simulation of cultural heritage symbols make up contemporary modes of collective memory. Memory is the cognition of past presence, but Maurice Halbwachs (2002) noted that “the past is not preserved but is reconstructed on the basis of the present,” so memory should be seen “as an essential element of the finite historical being of man” (Gadamer, 1975). This brings individual memory into the “image of his ‘larger self’” (Shils, 1981), namely, collective memory. Kenneth Foote (1997) believed that “culture is, in this sense, a sort of collective or social memory.” By constructing cultural information and symbols that verify collective memory, cultural heritage becomes a part of contemporary culture. A networked society constantly generates vast quantities of information, and the internet, databases, VR, and other technologies are agents in our cognition and understanding of cultural heritage. Intelligences within the network are components of distributed cognition, because “in reality memories occur in the form of systems… But these various modes by which memories become associated result from the various ways in which people can become associated” (Halbwachs, 2002), so memory today is closely related to networked social minds. VR simulates symbols of cultural heritage using high-definition information patterns, and a multifaceted perceptual interaction is established between perception and cognition which brings various types of cognition together to create current cultural and historical cognition.
Based on the research into the theory of presence, this article will explore the concept of hyper-presence. Blending Shannon and Weaver's work (1949) on theories of information, writing on embodied cognition by Wilson and Foglia (2011), the idea of “virtual bodies” (Hayles, 1999), and the concept of “postproduction” (Bourriaud, 2002), this article will discuss the hyper-presence of informatized cultural heritage in a network society. In analyzing several recent VR case studies related to cultural heritage, such as the Palace Museum's VR program, Rome Reborn, Europeana, and the collaboration between Zhengdu Data and Technische Universität Kaiserslautern, this article brings together the research of scholars such as Wiener (1965), Baron (2001), Loomis (1992), Hayles (1999), Porush (1994), and Bateson (1991) to examine informationally reproduced presence and symbolically regenerated presence as applied to VR. This article discusses how, through the regeneration of high-definition virtual symbols in databases, informatized cultural heritage creates the sensorial mimetics of cultural heritage and how VR brings together distributed cognition and networked social minds to generate contemporary collective memory.
2 Hyper-Presence: Networking Psychological States of Cognition
In a network society, hyper-presence is a psychological state of cognition in which a virtual existence is in a state of flux shaped by links or, exchanges between information or data. Hyper-presence is a cognitive structure open to all of society. It is an interactive state of distributed cognition on the internet, and it lies within the process of the continued regeneration of symbols or information.
For the purposes of this article, “presence” emphasizes cognition in a fluid, changing state, impacted by information in a network society. The internet encompasses various types of information that are rich, comprehensive, concrete, interconnected, extendible, and regenerating. Lombard and Ditton (1997, p. 3) believe that presence is “an illusion that a mediated experience is not mediated.” Presence is the continued cognition of the psychological states of information; it is the process of finding balance within the continuously modulating cognition of differences in information and understanding. Frank Biocca divided presence into three types: physical presence, social presence, and self-presence (Biocca, 1997; Lee, 2004). In a network society, physical objects, social actors, and self/selves are informatized presence, which change as information changes. Lombard and Ditton (1997) proposed six conceptualizations of presence: (1) presence as social richness; (2) presence as realism; (3) presence as transportation; (4) presence as immersion; (5) presence as social actor within medium; and (6) presence as medium like social agent, which emphasizes the connection between presence and social/virtual spaces; it is a feeling of “being there” (Biocca, 1997) or of “being together” (Biocca, Buryoon, Harms, & Stoner, 2001).
The interaction among physical presence, social presence, self-presence, and their interaction with other information, is the primary reason that presence exists in a fluid and changeable state. The cognitive interactions of social networks fall between physical presence and social presence. Biocca and Harms (2002) define social presence from the perspective of networked minds: “social presence is the moment-to-moment awareness of co-presence of a mediated body and the sense of accessibility of the other being's psychological, emotional, and intentional states.” It is “the sense of being together with another and mental models of other intelligences (i.e., people, animals, agents, gods, etc.) helping us simulate other minds” (Biocca et al., 2001, p. 2). Lee (2004) expands on Biocca's (1997) idea that “physical presence refers to the sense of being physically located in a virtual environment,” by defining physical presence as “a psychological state in which virtual (para-authentic or artificial) physical objects are experienced as actual physical objects in either sensory or non-sensory ways.” For example, when viewers use VR technologies to view artifacts, they acquire knowledge by viewing the three-dimensional image of the artifact through VR glasses. Created by VR programmers, editors, or artificial intelligence, direct experience of the physical presence of the object joins “together” with the viewers and their knowledge. The understanding of an artifact created by networked social minds changes as the network or the social minds change: when new knowledge or cultural content enters networked social minds, the physical presence of virtual cultural artifacts will also undergo change. In contrast, the ever-changing physical presence of artifacts enter social networks as information, inspiring change in other minds. The interaction between physical and social presence is the main reason why the virtual existence of cultural artifacts exists in a changeable state. The interactions between self-presence and social presence is one of simulation. Elaborating on Biocca's (1997) assertion that “self-presence refers to a user's mental model of himself/herself or simply the awareness of self-identity inside a virtual world,” Lee (2004) defines self-presence as “a psychological state in which virtual (para-authentic or artificial) self/selves are experienced as the actual self in either sensory or non-sensory ways.” As virtual existences, societies (or groups) are references for individual self-presence, and the self will communicate with and simulate the other being in order to coexist with that other being in a network society. Lee (2004) also states that “the tendency of simulating virtual social actors is stronger […] because the awareness of other humans has greater importance on human survival—after all, humans are social animals.” The result of the interaction between the self and social presence situates hyper-presence cognitive psychology in a state of constant restructure. For example, in the hyperpersonal model of social media (Walther, 1996), the individual can adjust the virtual image of himself/herself online based on the feedback of other people or the analysis of online data (such as the number of “likes” on Facebook); it is a simulation for other minds, and changes to this simulation, this virtual image of the self, will in turn influence other people on social media. Cultural heritage in the form of digital information spreads widely via the internet. It is an interaction between the self and social presence, such as the VR dissemination of cultural artifacts online, cultural heritage content co-created by VR programmers, editors, or artificial intelligence, which will also influence individual audience members, even impacting their self-presence, including recognition of their cultural identity. There is a sensory interaction between physical and self-presence. In a VR environment, interactive self-presence changes with the influence of physical presence. According to the theory of the Proteus effect (Yee & Bailenson, 2007), changes to self-presence will also influence the corresponding individual's cognitive psychology and behavior in reality. Changes to self-presence through the social network will also influence social presence, just as they can function to transform physical presence as well. The interplay between physical and self-presence thus embodies the result of ongoing adjustments to the cognitive psychology of hyper-presence. For example, when viewers “visit” the Palace Museum in VR, the avatar in VR gives its corresponding operator the feeling of personally “being there,” providing the actual audience with life-like visual and aural experiences, even creating the bodily illusion that they are physically situated in the spatial environment of the palace, changing their sense of their own bodies. The sensation of the self is an important reference for audiences in understanding an environment. Changes in this reference will affect the viewer's understanding of, for example, ancient architectural space (“there”), creating a sense of traditional ceremony, further influencing their understanding of traditional culture, producing corresponding interactions and further changing the experience of “being there.”
The main feature of VR in the interaction between physical and self-presence is that, by means of haptic or kinesthetic communication, it creates a direct physical experience between the audience and virtual objects or environments. Simulated visual and auditory senses produce the corresponding haptic or kinesthetic illusion for the audience; the body produces correspondent cognitive and chemical reactions, also developing parallel physical behavior. For example, when wearing VR glasses and virtually immersing oneself at the edge of a steep precipice, a viewer will feel his or her legs go weak. This is the visual and aural experience of the virtual environment triggering a mind association, bringing about a haptic or kinesthetic high-definition illusion of the body in a real environment. VR can also use high-definition information models to directly simulate somatosensory or tactile experiences, allowing “a user's mental model of himself/herself” to have the physical experience of directly interacting with “virtual physical objects” (Lee, 2004) or experience a more simulated “sense of being physically located in a virtual environment” (Biocca, 1997). VR also uses force feedback simulation technology to produce haptic or kinesthetic perception, utilizing perceptual means to establish interaction and awareness between physical and self-presence. For example, with VR equipment that simulates vehicle operation, when viewers operate a force feedback installation, it augments their physical experience (like simulating the experience of rounding a corner and applying the brakes in a vehicle), which causes them to have a clearer understanding of how to operate the virtual vehicle. As such, VR high-definition information models include simulated visual, auditory, haptic, and kinesthetic experience, together forming the main feature of virtual interactivity between physical and self-presence. Although this technology is currently primarily used in games, vehicle operation, and military training simulations, it could have widespread usage in virtual experiences of cultural heritage in the future—such as creating the experience of playing an ancient musical instrument or driving an antique vehicle, which could enhance the sense of reality in operational experience for the viewer while deepening knowledge of cultural artifacts.
In this article, the prefix “hyper-” emphasizes the role of networked minds in constantly regulating cognition. For example, a hyperlink goes beyond a single media function, creating hypermedia through links online and extension of user cognition. Search technologies allow people to quickly obtain the information they need online, while machine learning and data mining can intelligently analyze low-level data, obtaining deep knowledge and developing human intelligence. Here, “hyper-” represents people using media technology in a network society to super-charge their cognitive ability to process greater amounts of more complex information or data.
Consequently, the hyper-presence of cultural heritage in network society is a cognitive psychological state regarding knowledge of cultural tradition, and the basic feature of this state is distributed cognition and interactivity. The main objective of defining and protecting cultural heritage is to “maintain, increase, and diffuse knowledge” (UNESCO, 1972), so the value of cultural heritage lies principally in the containment and connection of its knowledge. We can even consider cultural heritage as a structure with the capability to maintain, increase, and diffuse knowledge. When digitized cultural heritage exists in network, its knowledge structure is a cognitive system that is broadly accessible to all of society and open to all intelligences. It is also situated in the changeable state of virtual existence because of its connectivity, interaction, and exchange with information and data, maintaining a continuous process of symbolic and informational regeneration. Knowledge of cultural heritage is always in the midst of being revised, continuously transforming as it interacts with cultural heritage imagery, and as such, causing collective memory to occupy an ever-changing state.
3 The Evolution of Cultural Heritage towards “Hyper-Presence”
From the perspective of the informatization of cultural heritage, this article references Baudrillard's (1994) idea of “simulations.” In relation to communication studies, there are three types of presence in cultural heritage: simulated restoration presence, informationally reproduced presence, and symbolically regenerated presence. These three types of presence embody the function of maintaining, increasing, and diffusing cultural heritage knowledge. There is a progressive relationship between them: as cultural heritage gradually evolves from material presence towards independent informatized presence and generates new knowledge in network society via the reproduction of symbols, it influences the cognition of cultural heritage knowledge. This third type of presence is related to hyper-presence, which embodies the informational interactivity and distributed cognition of informatized cultural heritage in network society.
The simulated restoration presence of cultural heritage relies on replication technology to create presence; restoring artifacts using modern materials is the socialized spectacle of cultural heritage. For the purposes of this article, cultural heritage is limited to tangible cultural heritage, which “includes buildings and historic places, monuments, artifacts, etc., which are considered worthy of preservation for the future” (UNESCO, 2017a). Cultural heritage is a concept in contemporary society defined from the perspectives of history, art, and science (UNESCO, 2017b); it is a cultural model that gives ancient artifacts contemporary meaning. When an artifact that has been passed down through the generations is considered cultural heritage, it is given a mission in contemporary society. The symbolic meanings of artifacts can be reinterpreted in a contemporary context, departing from past function to reconstruct cultural memory in contemporary society. For example, inscriptions on sacrificial objects once symbolized absolute power, and although “each sign then refers unequivocally to a status” (Baudrillard, 1983), cultural heritage symbols today serve as historical evidence, and as such, they undertake the contemporary task of communicating cultural information to society.
Simulated restoration is a mixture of specialized knowledge from restoration experts and original cultural heritage. The work of these experts to simulate lost or damaged areas of cultural artifacts incorporates scientific, technological, and cultural knowledge and perspective, which through restoration work, forms a material simulation of missing elements of an object combined with the original to fabricate a simulated restoration presence. Simulated restoration presence is the use of technological and cultural knowledge to simulate the original and create a presence that transcends nature. The restoration of damaged or even destroyed artifacts can “turn back” time on the damage to the object through simulation, representing for the viewer a plausible likeness of experts' best representation of the original likely form. It is “a substance out-of-the-cycle” (Baudrillard, 1983), the cultural heritage “spectacle” that contemporary society creates based on the need for symbols and dissemination; it is “theatrical illusion” (Baudrillard, 1983) extending humanity's cultural memory. Simulated restoration presence employs a mixture (of original object and simulated missing elements) to replace antiquities and transform artifacts into a signifier of cultural symbolism. In this way, cultural heritage is significant. The signified symbol is cultural memory with a point of view; it is a means by which contemporary society constructs historical memory, closely linked to cognitive presence.
Informationally reproduced presence is cultural heritage in the form of information replicated on a large scale. Cultural heritage becomes present in a social network through the simulation of information, establishing a link between an artifact's physical appearance and its significance. Information is a pattern (Shannon & Weaver, 1949) that produces meaning in the interactive context of encoding, transmission, decoding, and cognition; through objective or subjective construction and through understanding, meaning becomes knowledge, the foundation of the informatized presence of cultural heritage. As cultural heritage, artifacts are given a contemporary social mission to disseminate cultural information broadly, meaning that cultural heritage must become a mediated presence (Biocca, Burgoon, Harms, & Stoner, 2001). The mediated presence of cultural heritage relies on the replication, transmission, and cognition of information, which is closely related to social presence. Artifacts were vehicles for information presented in cabinets of curiosities, the Ashmolean Museum, and the Musée du Louvre, beginning the shift towards socialized media from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. In media from print and photography to VR and AR, form, content, and knowledge relating to artifacts was replicated on a large scale, carefully simulated, serially produced, and broadly disseminated through pictures, texts, or 3D virtual spaces.
Through the integration of many types of information, informationally reproduced presence forms cognition of cultural content. Information integration is an open structure that can hold a more abundant composite of information content, with more diverse informational forms (than simulated restoration). It exists independently and can supersede or incorporate a person's cognition when directly faced with the original object itself. People's cultural memories come from information systems, which can be separated from the site of appreciation of original work. Cultural memory can exist in cultural information networks, becoming an informational node hyperlinked to the internet. The various informational nodes of media information systems can be mutually linked using interactive integration to form content, thus creating cultural cognition. For example, through careful simulations in various media, vast information series were produced and disseminated for the famed Mona Lisa; on the internet, in publications, and in photographs, viewers can obtain comprehensive, in-depth knowledge, and even use VR to visit the Mona Lisa room in the Louvre. This knowledge and experience can be integrated with information to form people's cultural content cognition of the Mona Lisa. The mediated presence of the Mona Lisa can provide a richer experience of the work than simply viewing the original. Even if they have never seen the original painting, viewers can have a cultural memory of the Mona Lisa through mediated experience. The integration of various types of information not only substitutes cognition of directly facing the Mona Lisa, it also incorporates people's experience when actually viewing the original. Lee pointed out that “presence is defined as psychological similarities between virtual and actual objects when people experience—perceive, manipulate, or interact with virtual objects” (Lee, 2004). Appreciation of the Mona Lisa on site can also be considered as a mediated presence (because natural perception can, in a sense, be regarded as mediated) (Lee, 2004) and can be incorporated into social and cultural information networks, becoming an informational node. Compared to appreciating an original work, mediated presence can more efficiently execute the task of conveying the cultural information of cultural heritage. As Baudrillard (1983) wrote, “The second order simulacrum simplifies the problem by the absorption of the appearances, or by the liquidation of the real, whichever.”
Efficient information patterns are central to information reproduction. This includes efficiently producing or reproducing volumes of information (e.g., large-scale replication and reproduction of new information, or the use of more efficient information production models to expand the production of volumes of information) and more rapid cognition and understanding of information. In contemporary society, people primarily understand the world through media, so the core value of cultural heritage is to provide society with continuous cultural information. Social meaning networks provide cultural production with content and meaning and cultural production promotes the continued renewal of social meaning networks, creating new cultural content and meaning. Bourriaud (2002) prefers “to inscribe the work of art within a network of signs and significations,” and he writes that “the contemporary work of art does not position itself as the termination point of the ‘creative process’ (a ‘finished product’ to be contemplated) but as a site of navigation, a portal, a generator of activities. We tinker with production, we surf on a network of signs, we insert our forms on existing lines.” Cultural heritage information is part of the social meaning network and is distributed across the internet in the form of cultural symbols and information. It is also a “site” produced by culture; an efficient informationally reproduced model can quickly infuse social and cultural production with more cultural heritage content and meaning, which in turn promotes cultural production and manifests the value of cultural heritage. Producing new cultural content and symbols also enriches and renews cultural heritage information. This interaction creates informationally reproduced presence. Efficient information patterns must also aid the viewer to rapidly process and understand information. Information patterns should directly communicate sensations and perceptions, such as the information patterns of VR (which will be discussed in later sections). Efficient information patterns are the core of the “mediated” reproduction of presence and the key to cultural heritage adapting to social change.
Symbolically regenerated presence is cultural heritage achieving independent presence from large-scale information replication, thereby becoming a new source for the production of cultural symbols, presenting informatized cultural heritage as continuously regenerated and disseminated symbols within social networks. “Symbol, a communication element intended to simply represent or stand for a complex of person, object, group, or idea” (Symbol, Encyclopædia Britannica, 2018). Symbols can represent social relationships between people and between people and society; simply put, they are ways of connecting people. Symbols can convey experience and extend social relationships. The regeneration of symbols can renew and reconstruct social relationships. Based on the present social context, cultural heritage constructs, adjusts, and renews social relationships through regenerated symbols, causing changes to cultural traditions and interacting with societal developments—in a way, cultural heritage constantly reconstructs collective memory based on the present. The fusion and regeneration of symbols embodies social evolution. This continuously changing symbolic fusion is an expression of the incessant renewal of collective memory in network society and also what brings about constant adjustment to the cognitive psychological state.
The regenerated symbolic presence of cultural heritage is independent symbolic fusion and continuously derives new symbols from its renewed state. Symbolic fusion forms linkage or exchange between information or data and new symbols born of it, even using the form of symbolic fusion for self-renewal, thereby continuing to derive new symbols. The foundation of the regenerated symbolic presence of cultural heritage is presence reproduced through media information that employs information integration methods to produce new symbolic content. Informatized cultural heritage is a kind of cultural model, while symbolic fusion is a manifestation of cultural modeling that organizes the mechanisms and compositional principles of cultural symbols. Symbolic fusion regenerates new symbols that express cognition of past presence in today's society, conforming to the cultural traditions of current collective memory. Consequently, in today's cultural memory, informatized cultural heritage models are an expression of self-value.
The regenerated symbolic presence of cultural heritage continuously presupposes a context for cultural heritage. This allows cultural heritage to exist in a state of constant change while also situating contemporary society's cultural traditions in an endlessly regenerated cycle (Baudrillard, 1993) of state change, forming the characteristics of cultural memory in today's society. Cultural heritage and traditions are important components of collective memory. Cultural traditions embody socio-historical frameworks—the preset organizational mechanisms and principles of society, including cultural heritage. Past experience can be passed down through generations, but these frameworks do not have a frontloaded meaning with a fixed, unified source in society; they constantly adjust and shape meaning in society based on various complex situations, such that cultural traditions can function as existing mechanisms and principles that are employed as society develops. Cultural tradition and cultural heritage influence one another, circulating and coexisting. Cultural heritage can concretize and visualize cultural traditions, providing evidence of cultural principles and supporting an organizing mechanism. Within the framework of modernity, cultural traditions are part of social networks and set the context for the presence of cultural heritage, which is constantly renewed by various symbolic regenerations. The accumulation of symbols of cultural heritage can be resurrected and reintroduced into contemporary society in ways similar to fashion (Baudrillard, 1993), interacting with other symbols and information, while also generating new symbols to create new accumulations, thereby regenerating and creating cycles. The renewal of cultural symbols also changes the form and content of cultural traditions, reinvigorating society's existing organizational mechanisms and principles. Renewed cultural traditions presuppose a new context for cultural heritage symbols that enter society and a new social network environment for symbolic regeneration, thereby creating a cyclical, symbiotic environment. Collective memory is constructed and developed in the regenerative cycle of cultural heritage and cultural traditions.
VR employs high-definition simulation models to promote communication between information and direct human sensory experience, allowing informatized cultural heritage to more efficiently integrate information and infuse symbols. VR technologies can simulate many of the symbols of cultural heritage, more completely and more directly connecting with sensation and perception through the information patterns of multifaceted perceptual interactions to create a high-definition cognitive illusion of cultural heritage. Thus, the informatized cultural heritage constructed by VR technologies can create more immediate experiences. For example, with VR simulations of ancient musical performances and high-quality 3D models of instruments, performances can be simulated from an audience-focused perspective, coordinating the high-definition aural acoustical experience of a performance with high-fidelity music. Technology develops careful simulations of cultural heritage symbols into high-definition virtuality, and symbols are presented as more concrete (and even more material), directly intervening in intuition. High-definition virtual symbols become “myriads of stimuli” (Baudrillard, 1993) that present informatized cultural heritage through “sensorial mimetics” (Baudrillard, 1993). Informatized cultural heritage is directly connected to cognition and imagination. It blends physical presence, social presence, and self-presence, in hyper-presence, an ever-changing state that lies in links, interactions, and exchanges between data or information.
High-definition VR employs sensorial mimetics to simulate a feeling similar to touching an object, engendering in people the “sense of reality.” Let's examine Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night on the Google Arts & Culture website; visually, the high-definition presentation of the texture of an oil painting (high-definition images of the painting permit a viewer to see the craquelure in the paint) provides a highly authentic viewing experience. Using visual simulation, viewers feel they are viewing the painting at close range, high-definition virtual visuals even produce the illusion that the painting comes into contact with the viewer's body. Although “the high-definition presentation of the texture of an oil painting” is the viewer's inner experience, as a form of information, it can establish a connection to the actual experience of viewing the oil painting, producing the “sense of reality” when viewing digital images of oil paintings. Viewing the high-definition Starry Night isn't just seeing the contents of an oil painting composition, it simulates interacting with a “real” oil painting as object and is a “simulated haptic experience.” So the “high-definition presentation of the texture of an oil painting” can even have a separate, independent presence from Starry Night, becoming an information pattern and composite screen before which viewers visualize the “realism” of Van Gogh's oil painting as object. The information pattern that VR employs simulates human visual, auditory, and tactile cognition of objects, such as visual space, primary perspective, three-dimensionality, stereo sound, etc. These VR information patterns are closely linked to human visual, auditory, and tactile experiences, serving as “myriads of stimuli” (Baudrillard, 1994), and also create a simulation akin to touching an object, forming an information pattern for object “realism.” The function of high-definition cultural heritage information patterns is to construct an historical “sense of reality” for people and is a means for viewers to have a virtual technological “real” experience of cultural heritage.
Simulated restoration presence, informationally reproduced presence, and symbolically regenerated presence cause cultural heritage to progressively turn from a materialized presence to an independent informatized presence, even using regeneration of symbols to influence cognition in network society. VR engages high-definition information patterns to establish direct communication between cultural heritage information content and people's cognition and imagination, more effectively disseminating knowledge. Next, this article will present a combined case analysis, starting with the fundamental work of cultural heritage informatization—data collection and database construction, with VR as the nucleus and using informationally reproduced presence and symbolically regenerated presence to specifically research how VR constructs the hyper-presence of cultural heritage, establishes integration among the distributed cognition of all intelligences, and constructs collective memory of cultural traditions.
4 Data Collection and Database Construction: The Cognitive Agent of Cultural Heritage
In order for cultural heritage to transform into an independent informatized presence that can regenerate symbols, it must change from a physical entity to a digital information presence, severing the link between information and substance, realizing information integration and symbolic fusion—plus it must be capable of reusing data to produce new symbols and information content. Data collection and database building are the foundation of informatization, three-dimensional data and information become the agents for cognitive cultural heritage knowledge, while human cognition of traditional culture changes into VR. Data collection work, including high-definition imagery and three-dimensional scans, provides basic data for building a VR project, establishing a foundation for informatized cultural heritage to realize its function to maintain, increase, and diffuse knowledge.
Culture heritage related data collection extracts data on objects to be saved in databases, providing foundational material for information encoding. Data collection is the construction of cultural heritage, represented through technological and subjective treatments such as the resolution of collected images and the modeling accuracy of 3D scans. Through information, databases simulate the presence of cultural heritage, recording cultural symbols, knowledge, and meaning. Data storage and informatized simulations create editable and reusable content, reproducing cultural information. This information can be disseminated via the internet, embedding more symbols in the nodes and flows of social networks, which in turn produces new symbols. As described by Niu (2015), 3D data collection is “the collection of data on archeological objects. It can be used in model building and restoration and allows for the informatized management and presentation of this data,” which can “preserve various types of data related to the artifacts, build 3D or modeling databases for the objects, […] Using virtual technologies to repair and restore artifacts also improves the precision of artifact restoration.”
The aim of cultural heritage 3D data collection and database building is to reuse 3D data, allowing it to be edited and applied to new cultural content re-creations, providing more widespread cultural heritage research and dissemination. Different data collection technology is used in the work of various organizations. For instance, the Palace Museum utilizes 3D laser measurement technology, while Guangzhou Zhengdu Data Processing Services uses Civetta fully automated 360 capturing technology to gather 3D data.
Jointly founded by the Palace Museum and Toppan Printing, the data collection work of the Institute for Digitization of the Palace Museum Heritage is comprised primarily of “three parts including topological control network, 3D laser scanning, and digital photography, gathering mostly high-precision point cloud and digital photographs” (Wang, 2011). Owing to differences in measurement distances and resolution requirements, the Institute organized “using varied, different range 3D laser scanners, […] Primarily employing the Leica HDS3000 midrange scanner and the Leica HDS4500 short range scanner” (Wang, 2011). (See Figure 1.)
The Institute utilized 3D measurements and other advanced technologies to comprehensively and accurately collect and preserve basic information such as the sizes, shapes, materials, and colors of cultural heritage objects at the Palace Museum, in order to create full records of buildings and items in the collection with the goal of gradually building an editable 3D database of “digital artifacts” for the Palace Museum. Toppan (2015) described the basic process of digitization in the following steps:
Photography: Cracks and brush strokes are recorded in detail using high-definition photography, which are then digitized as high-definition images.
3D geometric measurement: The three-dimensional form of the cultural treasure is digitally measured and recorded with contactless optical schemes incapable of inflicting physical damage. The measurement data is then used to produce an accurate CG model.
Color measurement: Original colors are preserved precisely, uninfluenced by the environment and on-site condition during the photo shoot. Once recorded, these colors are used in the color management of CG texture images.
Scholarly editing: The CG images are edited by specialists in the field to ensure legitimate scholarly value.
Meanwhile, Guangzhou Zhengdu Data Processing is building a database of ancient and historic villages in China. It has already captured the visual data for 134 historic villages in Guangdong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang provinces, including historically significant buildings, town layouts, trees, streets, and alleys, recording regional cultural landscapes in data. Their databases are comprised of two parts:
3D data collection: Images are collected to gather high-precision 3D image data.
HDR light data collection: Includes collecting tens of thousands of pieces of HDR light data on ancient architectural sites, historic village environments, particular regional landscapes, and modern urban scenes.
Based on their database, Zhengdu established the Historic Village Big Data Visual Asset Management Platform, providing its clients with maps, data connections, 3D presentations, high-resolution displays, and measurement support (see Figure 2) The platform allows users to access 3D data for ancient villages online, then edit and render 3D models and measure them in real time. Through the internet, their clients can reuse and recreate 3D data sources.
Rome Reborn represents the past of the city of Rome through a database built for 3D modeling. According to Bernard Frischer (2013), the purpose of the 3D model was “to spatialize and present information and theories about how the city looked at this moment in time, which was more or less the height of its development as the capital of the Roman Empire. A secondary, but important, goal was to create the cyber infrastructure whereby the model could be updated, corrected, and augmented.”
Like the database work at the Institute for Digitization of Palace Museum Heritage and Zhengdu Data Processing, this program emphasizes the editability of the data in the 3D models that house and represent cultural heritage. Like Zhengdu's program, which gives clients the ability to access and reuse models and data online, Rome Reborn highlights that “the sources of archaeological information or speculative reasoning behind the digital reconstructions, as well as valuable online resources for understanding the sites of ancient Rome, have been made available to users” (Frischer, 2013).
Data collection and database construction separates cultural heritage information from its material existence, providing raw data for the recoding of cultural information. The Palace Museum, Zhengdu, and Rome Reborn projects all emphasize the reuse of data, embodying how, after the dissociation of the data from its material existence, the cultural heritage of ancient architecture (the Imperial Palace, historic villages, and Roman architecture) could have broader usage. It has the potential to form even richer and more varied related cultural content which can be conveniently integrated with other applications, allowing the source of human architectural cultural heritage knowledge to extend forth from the physical entities themselves to reach a broadly networked virtual world. As network society further develops, historical architectural cultural content in databases could become the primary source of information for human cognition of this antique architectural cultural heritage. The VR Palace Museum, ancient villages, and Roman architecture could replace the physical entities, becoming the “agent” for human cognition of this architectural cultural heritage.
Databases can extend human cognition through the close connection of devices and humans, creating cognitive agents for man-machine combinations. From the perspective of cultural heritage, artifacts are objects, but they are also expressions of cultural information. With reference to theories of embodied cognition (Wilson & Foglia, 2011; Rosch, Thompson, & Varela, 1991), when people view the simulated restoration presence of cultural heritage, their bodies are cognitive agents, establishing a feedback mechanism with the object of cultural heritage. For instance, when visiting the Palace Museum site, a person's body creates direct feedback information cognition with the architectural scaffolding, components, environment, and space; the body serves as the agent for cognition of the historical architecture of the Palace Museum. “In viewing cognition as embedded or situated, embodied cognitive science emphasizes feedback between an agent and the world. We have seen that this feedback is structured by the nature of an agent's body… This in turn suggests that agents with different kinds of bodies can be differentiated in terms of degrees of embodiment” (Dawson, 2013). When cultural heritage is collected as data and saved in a database, people can interact with it through media and devices, and databases and devices extend or change an agent's body, constructing a cognitive agent for man-machine combinations, such that “it is no longer possible to distinguish meaningfully between the biological organism and the informational circuits in which the organism is enmeshed” (Hayles, 1999). For example, when people use VR to recognize historic architecture information from a 3D database, via interaction with the VR equipment and architectural data in the database, their body becomes cognizant of cultural heritage knowledge. The person's body, the VR equipment, the database, and the network collectively form the agent's body, establishing feedback between information and architectural heritage. The essence of cognition is the communication of information, but human cognition does not only originate from bodily consciousness. Hayles continues, “because we are essentially information, we can do away with the body” (Hayles, 1999). Information in databases can create new feedback between people and cultural heritage through the internet and media devices.
Databases mean that the cognitive agent in man–machine combinations and people's understandings of cultural heritage are oriented toward collective intelligence. For the purposes of this article, collective intelligence can be understood as distributed cognition, networked knowledge sharing, and convergence culture (Jenkins, 2006) in the process of forming knowledge using multiple forms of coordination. According to Rogers and Ellis (1994), distributed cognition is “a collection of individuals and artifacts and their relations to each other in a particular work practice.” Wilson and Foglia (2011) believe that “many features of cognition are embodied in that they are deeply dependent upon characteristics of the physical body of an agent, such that the agent's beyond-the-brain body plays a significant causal role, or a physically constitutive role, in that agent's cognitive processing.” Cultural heritage databases share knowledge in real time through links online, and a viewer “continually learns from feedback to produce just-in-time knowledge” (Glenn, 2009). “Cognitive processing” realizes the cognitive agency of man-machine combinations online; it is “an emergent property between people and ways of processing information” (Glenn, 2008) and “a form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills” (Lévy, 1994). The man–machine cognitive agent more closely connects cultural knowledge, memory, and social networks, and the virtual presence of cultural heritage exists within a fluid, changing state due to the constant interaction of physical presence, social presence, and self-presence.
Cultural heritage databases continue to expand, building a cultural ecosystem and producing new collective memories. Culture and collective memory are constantly mutually shaping one another. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2017) defines memory as “vital to our knowledge of the world in general and of the personal past in particular. It underwrites our identities as individuals and our ties to other people,” which is collective human experience. Collective memory is the accumulation of past events and experiences identified by a group of people, which coalesces in people's minds and gradually nurtures culture. According to UNESCO (2017a), culture is a “complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, laws, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by [a human] as a member of society.” The media plays a similarly fundamental role in culture. Various types of culture interact with life today, creating our cultural ecology and forming a way of life. People in this cultural ecosystem are always creating and changing life, and new cultural content creates new accumulations of experiences and new memories, which construct a flowing, circulating, and vital cultural ecology. As a result, more cultural heritage is being carefully replicated, so that symbols and information can be saved in databases. In February 2017, China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage proposed the National Memory Project:
Based on objects, buildings, classic books, and national archives and by presenting key pieces from the traditional culture, revolutionary culture, and advanced socialist culture of the Chinese people, the Administration will implement national historical, cultural, artistic, and scientific memory projects and national memory digitization and preservation plans to build a national spiritual symbol shared by all … [and] … a national mobile cultural heritage resource sharing project… Using the digitized products of the first national mobile cultural heritage census, the Administration will establish a mobile cultural heritage resource sharing mechanism. Information on more than one million objects of cultural heritage will be made public […] (State Administration of Cultural Heritage, 2017).
In this way, the continued accumulation of data renews the cultural ecology and validates our collective memories.
Therefore, data collection and database construction is an information accumulation process, transforming more and more cultural heritage into high-definition imagery, 3D data, and information for entry into databases, is becoming the primary means to maintain, enhance, and diffuse knowledge, as well as the main source from which people obtain knowledge of cultural heritage. Continually accumulated database information provides people with more abundant cultural heritage knowledge, and through the reuse of data more information is reproduced to enhance knowledge content. As a result, data reuse is the key to realizing an informationally reproduced presence. The man-machine combination cognitive agent becomes an important method for cultural heritage knowledge dissemination and innovation in network society, spurring the development of distributed cultural heritage cognition.
5 Informationally Reproduced Presence: The VR Platform as an Efficient Means of Achieving Direct Communication Between Sensation and Perception
When database and networked information become the primary source for knowledge and information of cultural heritage cognition, cultural heritage information can be separated from its substance—as an independent existence formed from information, it can be an informationally reproduced presence in social networks. Compared to simulated restoration presence, the advantage of informationally reproduced presence lies in being networked to more quickly and extensively transmit information, more openly integrate various categories of information, and more efficiently disseminate knowledge. Using VR technology to meticulously simulate cultural heritage makes it possible for people's perception of cultural heritage information to approach the sensation of an antique object's substance (and its related content), such as how sensorial mimetics can simulate the materiality, structure, and adornment of an artifact to achieve more direct communication between people and information, allowing for faster comprehension of content. Since high efficiency VR transmission methods are capable of becoming an important means of cognition for cultural artifacts, the informationally reproduced presence of cultural heritage thus gains greater independence. Through integrating text, image, or video media, VR also becomes a cognitive platform for virtual immersive media, strengthening the spread of knowledge as well as increasing capacity for information reproduction, using VR integration of varied information to form cognition of cultural content.
Cultural heritage is presented in various media through the sustained reproduction of information. Cultural heritage is a mediated presence, with efficient information patterns at its core. This not only more effectively produces or reproduces information; information patterns and media presentation methods more directly engage with human sensation and perception. According to Baron (2001), “sensation is the simple detection of sensory stimuli materialized by some sort of physical energy. Perception, on the other hand, is the subjective interpretation of sensory stimuli affected by both sensation and other subjective factors such as previous experience, expectations, emotion, and cognitive processing.” Loomis (1992) believes that “the natural perception of the real world is mediated in the same way that the perception of a technology-generated virtual world is.” This is actually information transmission between what Lombard called “first-order mediated experience” (natural perception) and “second-order mediated experience” (technology-mediated perception) (Lombard, 2000). Sensation and perception can be carefully simulated by various technologies (from simulations of sight and sound to touch and smell), which allows the presentation of information in various media to place “second-order mediated experience” into more direct contact with “first-order mediated experience.” This is the shift from reading or watching something to an immersive experience. Immersive experiences bring together visual, aural, and tactile perceptions. VR carefully simulates various human experiences, using programs and equipment to simulate “sensory stimuli” and directly build connections between “subjective interpretation” and VR programs and content. Through what Norbert Wiener called an “analogy,” “VR puts the user's sensory system into a direct feedback loop with a computer” (Hayles, 1999) for more effective information transmission.
The Palace Museum's 3D VR program “Watchtower” is “a 3D model of a watchtower carefully constructed based on blueprints and on-site measurements. Animations show the complex construction process involving nine beams, eighteen pillars, and seventy-two ridgepoles, along with virtual representations of the Qing-era moat planted with lotus flowers” (Palace Museum and Toppan, 2017) (see Figure 3). Viewers can interactively visit the watchtower in VR, and through animated demonstrations and interactive elements, viewers gain a deeper understanding of the watchtower's complex architectural structure. This VR project uses 3D technology to painstakingly simulate the structure, space, and materiality of the watchtower; experiencing 3D imagery in VR is very close to the visual sensation of looking at architecture; VR perspective is as consistent as possible with people's visual viewing habits, which causes people's perception of the image (second-order mediated experience) and the visual sensation (first-order mediated experience) to engage in more direct communication. Through meticulous simulation and the integration of varied intellectual information, VR creates interactive integration of viewer's sensation and perception, allowing them to form cognition and comprehension of the Forbidden City.
VR can be considered a virtual, immersive media cognition platform that brings together panoramic pictures or videos, text, images, and sounds. Through real-time interaction with user vision, hearing, and touch, VR creates a virtual immersive experience and user process information through multi-faceted sensory and perceptual interaction. This platform transforms information on a database into a more direct mode of communication that facilitates the transformation of information processing into the understanding and experience of knowledge. For example, in several of our case studies, data on architectural structures has been visualized in models, and these immersive VR presentations allow users to personally experience the sense of space in a building through the visual and tactile transformation of architectural data and information. “Virtuality is the cultural perception that material objects are interpenetrated by information patterns” (Hayles, 1999). The transformation of information patterns is also related to cultural context, including previous experience, expectation, emotion, and cognitive processing. Databases of cultural heritage information are part of the cognitive agent in man-machine combinations. The careful simulation of human vision, hearing, and touch in VR create greater accuracy in the feedback between humans and cultural heritage. Both the physical presence and simulated restoration presence of cultural heritage are transformed through analogy and information into an approximation of human sensation and perception. By dealing “preeminently with pattern apart from content” (Wiener, 1950), people build intellectual understanding and cultural memory.
The Palace Museum utilized panoramic photography and 3D technologies to replicate cultural heritage information for the Forbidden City. Information about the architecture and environment of the Forbidden City was presented panoramically, using VR technology, and giving viewers a more direct sense of the space. The Panoramic Palace Museum program, as the name suggests, presents the famed historic site in panoramic photography. Through their smart phones, viewers can use the online, interactive map to choose the places they want to “visit,” and the link will take them to the interface for that location, placing them within that building at the Palace Museum via VR experience. The Panoramic Palace Museum can be understood as a virtual, immersive media cognitive platform that incorporates VR, interactive maps, images, text, and audio information. VR imagery diligently simulates the sensation of being inside the Forbidden City, viewing the imperial palace. For instance, panoramic imagery, visual angle, and perspective accompany the viewer's “previous experience, expectations, emotion, and cognitive processing” (Baron, 2001), so the sensation of VR simulation transforms into perception of the imperial palace, moreover cartographic and textual content transforms perception into more rational and concrete understanding.
VR can also incorporate the museum's physical exhibitions into virtual online presentations. Exhibitions of VR versions of cultural heritage are also virtual, immersive media cognition platforms. Panoramic imagery can be hyperlinked, while text, image, and audio academic content can be integrated into this platform. Traditionally presented information patterns are transformed through panoramic photography and 3D modeling into VR information patterns; hotspots and hyperlinks are placed on important artworks in the VR environment, allowing visitors to learn more about them and reproducing the knowledge presented in the exhibition. Europeana Pro's EUseum program uses 3D modeling technology to create VR representations of Europe's museums and exhibitions, while key exhibitions at the Palace Museum (such as “The Forbidden City and the Maritime Silk Road Exhibition”) can be experienced through panoramic photographs combined with a VR system and an interactive map with hotspots on (pictures of) important pieces (see Figure 4).
Informationally reproduced presence means that information nodes in social and cultural networks can be incorporated into informational reproduction, expanding the volume of information and enriching cultural memory through serial reproduction. Informational reproduction is not simply duplicating the material information of an artifact, but rather channeling more technological and cultural content: historical research, cultural innovation, on-site experience, technological invention, scientific discovery, fashion, theoretical innovation, and new ideas can become a motivation, a raw material, or a method in informational reproduction, which means that the presence of cultural heritage is constantly being developed, enriched, and diversified in various media.
The purpose of informational reproduction is to make informatized cultural heritage more useful. In this context, useful can mean providing users with more knowledge, capability for more rapid and convenient audience cognition and comprehension, capacity for more extensive dissemination of knowledge in society, providing more abundant and varied informational content, or forging a closer connection between cultural heritage and society. Information nodes from the social cultural network carry out information reproduction, consolidating increased information loads, embodying the purpose of informational reproduction, and elevating the value of cultural heritage. VR information reproduction includes two processes: simplification and enrichment. Simplification is the process of “extracting only what it needs and filtering out everything else” (Sloman & Fernbach, 2017), while enrichment refers to increasing useful VR content and creating functional value. For example, the simplification of complex model 3D scans (like point cloud) for reuse in a polygon matrix, uses simple geometric forms to approximately express the appearance of an artifact and make it into informational content that is easy for viewers to quickly comprehend. In order to provide viewers with more artifact information, additional content can be added to the simplified format, such as adding further details to the geometric forms to present the lavish features of the artifact's appearance; imbuing the model simulation with shading and texture thus making objects in the user's field of vision more lifelike. As an immersive media cognition platform, VR integration of media such as panorama or video, text, images, and audio content creates a diversity of presentational forms for platform information; when viewers have more informational cognition methods, the knowledge they gain from the interface is richer and more comprehensive, elevating efficacy of dissemination.
Informationally reproduced presence can channel imaginary cultural heritage content into informational reproduction, creating a merged historical and imaginary VR value-add functionality. In 2017, the Palace Museum's Virtual Palace Museum program released the Lingzhao Pavilion1 3D VR viewing experience. Historical knowledge, architectural sites, and restorations were brought together in a VR system, serially reproducing cultural heritage information. (See Figures 5 and 6.) The VR system renders the Lingzhao Pavilion as it stands today and as it would have appeared if it had been completed. Viewers can freely switch between the images as they virtually view and visit the building. The system places hotspots on important parts of the building, with supplementary explanations in text and pictures, providing rich knowledge content. The present state of this historic steel-frame structure and a visualization of its restoration are juxtaposed on the VR platform, allowing viewers to compare the two, simply and conveniently understanding the architectural remains, deepening their understanding of the Lingzhao Pavilion, and enriching cultural memory. Value-add functionality makes the Lingzhao Pavilion VR platform more useful; informationally reproduced presence creates more agile informational service and richer content.
Viewers' onsite experience can also be incorporated into informationally reproduced presence. The VR platform can integrate virtual and viewer experience, blending experiential modes to strengthen the connection between cultural heritage and contemporary audiences. In Waterford, Ireland, the King of the Vikings program incorporates on-site experience into the serial reproduction of information, using object simulations, actor performances, stories, historical knowledge, props, costumes, and visitor experiences in historical environments as information nodes in a social and cultural information network. When combined with a VR experience, these elements constitute a combined multi-media experience and serially reproduce information related to the history of the Vikings. Viewers learn more about the Vikings, and cultural memory is blended and formed through various media experiences (Waterford in Your Pocket, 2017).
Although informationally reproduced presence is an independent informatized presence, it is also an open information platform which can incorporate more technological and cultural content; via informationally reproduced presence, cultural heritage forms a closer connection with network society, in which all intelligences of the entire society have the possibility to participate in cultural heritage information reproduction. Informationally reproduced presence also allows cultural heritage to become an information node in the social cultural network; viewers' cultural heritage cognition does not only originate from artifact data collection and specialized research by the heritage museum, it can also come from widespread distributed cognition, reflecting networked social minds. Meticulous VR simulations of cultural artifacts employ sensorial mimetics to achieve more direct connection between sensation and perception; “frequently, perception is a form of structural information”(Blascovich & Bailenson, 2012), VR permits all intelligences to engage in more direct and speedy exchange, reproducing more information. The continuous collection of all types of information allows for richer informationally reproduced presence and establishes a foundation for the development of cultural heritage symbolically regenerated presence.
6 Symbolically Regenerated Presence: Blending VR and Distributed Cognition to Build a Hyper-Presence for Cultural Heritage
Through multifaceted perceptual interaction, VR connects to distributed cognition, which together with constantly regenerating high-definition cultural heritage symbols, constitutes the symbolically regenerated presence of cultural heritage. In network society, the hyper-presence of informatized cultural heritage is formed via symbolic fusion. If the overall system of intelligences manifests in an agent's body, then VR establishes direct sensory interaction between intelligences through high-definition virtual environments and blends the various perceptions distributed within the agents' bodies into an overall perception. VR can be a common metaphorical method for this entire system in creating sensorial mimetics. Common metaphors are ways that collective intelligence communicates within itself and understands the world, analogous to information dissemination between intelligences. Thus, the VR simulation of cultural heritage is the use of code to create sensorial mimetics, virtually building the immediate experience of history. The immediate experience of history not only includes passing down past experience and extending social connections; it also includes the renewal and reconstruction of collective memory. In the coordination between intelligences, the adjustment, construction, and renewal of immediate experience forms the system's overall understanding of history and continues to regenerate new cultural symbols as history develops. VR platforms blend coordination through sensorial mimetics, using high-definition virtual symbols and regenerated symbols of cultural heritage to connect past and present societies, so symbols collectively construct the hyper-presence of informatized cultural heritage, which forms the cultural memories of contemporary society.
Informatized cultural heritage online is a cultural model that is open to all of society. In this model, society builds meaning in response to various complex situations and opens to the future, and virtual existence is in a state of constant change due to ever-changing (informational) connections. This constructive process is impacted by distributed cognition and networked social minds. Intelligences, including people, agents, artificial intelligences, and robots, can join in this process through the internet, sending symbols into this open cultural model. Symbols play a key role in connecting intelligences and establishing connections between pieces of information, between elements of cognition, between meanings, and even between thoughts. The continuous regeneration of symbols in informatized cultural heritage can maintain and create connections to complex social changes, bring together past, present, and future, continually construct meaning in contemporary society, and meld people and the world together into one system, thereby giving cultural heritage value in contemporary society. The constant regeneration of symbols is a creative process that spans time and space in a social network; informatized cultural heritage exists in distributed and networked forms in a fluid state. Cultural heritage is spread through symbols that meld into every part of society, creating cultural phenomena anywhere (and even anytime). These cultural phenomena constitute a part of cultural imagination and memory. Thus, intelligences that are distributed across the whole network and all of society make up a system; the hyper-presence of cultural heritage exists within a fluid state, formed by coordination inside this system. Our understanding of informatized cultural heritage also lies within the continually shifting psychological state of cognition, and it is our perception and understanding of the coordination within the system.
Symbolically regenerated presence is the process of disassembling, collecting, and rebuilding cultural heritage symbols through distributed cognition and networked social minds. Informatized cultural heritage organizes cultural symbols (“being together”), as well as the sustained regeneration of new cultural symbols, into the symbolically regenerated presence of cultural heritage, which includes physical presence, social presence, and self-presence. In particular, through VR technologies and high-definition VR, the presence constituted by symbols is more concrete, and subsequently, the analogies between information dissemination and human thought have increased. Symbols are the basic elements of presence. The regenerated symbols of cultural heritage can construct “virtual (para-authentic or artificial) physical objects” or a “virtual environment” through the cultural heritage model, creating the physical presence of cultural heritage. As hyperlinked nodes on the social and cultural information network, regenerated symbols link to, interact with, combine with, and transform into other information in society, embodying the social presence of cultural heritage symbols, namely, “the sense of accessibility of the other being's psychological, emotional, and intentional states” (Biocca & Harms, 2002). Distributed cognition and networked knowledge sharing allow cultural heritage to collectively regenerate symbols through human and non-human elements. People intervene in social and cultural information networks, while individual intelligences become nodes of knowledge in distributed cognition. Regenerated cultural heritage symbols also embody the interaction between symbols and self-presence. Networked social minds comprised of various intelligences play key roles in the process of disassembling, collecting, and rebuilding cultural heritage symbols, promoting the interaction between physical presence, social presence, and self-presence. In the regenerated symbols of cultural heritage, physical presence is no longer closed and fixed; it is an open structure, a process of collective thought and mutual influence in the linked relationships of social networks, which embody the collective role of a symbol's social presence and self-presence. The social presence of regenerated symbols exists in a fluid, changeable state online; embodying the relationship between society and the physical presence of symbols on the internet and the self-presence of symbols in networked social minds. Self-presence in the process of symbolic regeneration is embodied by social presence. Social presence provides a virtual environment for the symbolic regeneration process of self-presence, and the symbolic regeneration process is how networked social minds enter into and act on the open structure of the physical presence of symbols. The regeneration of symbols is the result of the production process. The symbolic regeneration process and the self-presence of regenerated symbols are also distributed.
As the cognitive agent in man–machine combinations, VR blends the physical presence, social presence, and self-presence of informatized cultural heritage in high-definition. Informatized cultural heritage lies between metaphor and analogy, a hyper-presence in a VR space. VR is the externalization of human cognition, transforming the cognitive method of metaphors into the symbolic production method of analogy, providing a high-definition virtual environment for the symbolic regeneration of cultural heritage. Hayles (1999) cites David Porush, noting that:
He argues that cognition is basically metaphoric, for the brain does not so much perceive the world as create it through non-representational processes […] VR can thus be understood as an exteriorization of our neural processes […] at that moment the irreducibly complex froth of noise bathing our synapse becomes linked, through metaphor, with the complexity of the world's noise (Hayles, 1999).
People understand information and the world through metaphor, and information is transmitted to people through analogy. Metaphor and analogy can be understood as processes contrary to cognition and information dissemination. When human cognition is externalized and presented in VR, metaphor also appears in virtual environments. The externalization of the sensory processes of vision, hearing, and touch provides metaphor with more concrete (or more material) references, which can be understood as a “mirror” that establishes a referential relationship between cognition and information dissemination. Information dissemination can also take this mirror as a reference, transforming information into a state that is easy for people to comprehend through analogy. Symbolic regeneration can be a mode of analogy for cognition through information dissemination, but it can also be a metaphor for cognitive information. The high-definition virtual representation of symbols is intended to more directly exchange and transform the process of information dissemination and the neural processes of vision, hearing, and touch, making metaphor into more direct and more concrete cognitive information. VR directly presents the physical presence of informatized cultural heritage through visual, auditory, and tactile perceptions, which produces concrete, material virtual cognition. This concrete cognition comes from the metaphor for the physical presence of informatized cultural heritage in individual and networked social minds. While serving as a concrete (or material) reference, it can become an analogy for the use of high-definition symbols recreated and disseminated by other people (or other intelligences) to communicate information. In virtual spaces, the regeneration of high-definition cultural heritage symbols are therefore hyperlinked nodes in the social and cultural information network, and the resulting informatized cultural heritage exists in metaphor and analogy, becoming a kind of hyper-presence.
The sensorial mimetics of cultural heritage created in VR reflects network society building cultural memory through coordination; in the cultural heritage model, symbols and regenerated symbols use a common metaphor to establish collective memory. Zhengdu and Technische Universität Kaiserslautern worked together on an international VR experiment. Using their historic village big data visual asset management platform, Zhengdu shared VR data on Kaihua Temple2 in Gaoping, Shanxi Province, from their Chinese Historic Village Database (see Figures 7 and 8) with the students and teachers of the digital department at Technische Universität Kaiserslautern, who had never seen Kaihua Temple (or ever been to China). Relying entirely on this VR data, an understanding of the VR data for Kaihua Temple, and a vision of Chinese culture, they used this data and independently created a virtual reality VR Kaihua Temple, which was then shown to local people at the Kaisersaultern Museum (see Figure 9).
Based on this data, the students and teachers of the Technische Universität Kaiserslautern made a VR recreation of Kaihua Temple from their perspective, which reflected their vision and understanding of ancient Chinese architecture and Buddhism from a Western cultural perspective. The VR recreation of the Kaihua Temple retained the architectural form and structure of the Kaihua Temple, but the students added innovative elements to the central temple space, the Buddha statue, the colors of the wall paintings, and the overall interior environment (see Figure 10). A miniature model of the Kaihua Temple sits in the middle of the interior, made of semi-transparent ash-colored plaster (see Figures 11 and 12). A miniature image of the original Buddha statue was placed within this model, while the original Buddha covered in gold leaf was transformed into a sculpture of semi-transparent grey metal. Color correction of the wall paintings on the four walls of the temple interior shifted the original yellow-green tones to blue-purple in the VR rendering. The transformation from yellow to grey-blue cooled the entire VR environment of the temple interior. Although this is a departure from the Eastern cultural tradition, Chinese cultural experts have accepted these creative elements, which give Kaihua Temple a new image in the contemporary digital context.
In creating the VR Kaihua Temple, the students and teachers of the Technische Universität Kaiserslautern utilized elements of video game interfaces and Western visions of Eastern mysticism, particularly in the interior. Within this VR, visitors can “visit” the externalization of a metaphor of German students' understanding and imagination of ancient Eastern architecture and Buddhism. Through101112 more direct and concrete visual, auditory, and tactile references, they transformed the information dissemination analogy of the recreated Kaihua Temple into the “Kaihua Temple in VR” program. The material for the virtual recreation of the Kaihua Temple came entirely from VR data and information on a database of historic Chinese villages. These German students (who had never seen the original architecture of Kaihua Temple) deconstructed some of this data and information, and linked and reconstructed the information on contemporary culture and cultural contexts to produce new information. Thus, VR information was exchanged between the cultural heritage model and the external environment; it was “the generation by models of a real without origin or reality” (Baudrillard, 1994). Based on their understanding and cultural context, the German students created many new symbols for the inside of the temple: the central space, the Buddha statue, the wall paintings, and the overall interior ambience. They injected new symbols into the open cultural model of the cultural heritage of the Kaihua Temple, reflecting distributed cognition across nations and cultures, between German students in Kaiserslautern and cultural experts and databases in Guangzhou, linked together via the internet. “Kaihua Temple in VR” is the joint product of distributed cognition and networked social minds. The German regeneration of symbols of Kaihua Temple could also become a source for the later derivations of new symbols, and this continued regeneration could create a symbolically regenerated presence for Kaihua Temple. Koselleck saw history as a single collective and believed that plural forms of history only provide a partial viewpoint, and that these viewpoints should be incorporated into the abstract concept of modern history (Koselleck, 2002). Through symbolic regeneration, the Kaihua Temple was renewed in the online world. The VR creations of German students and teachers and the VR data in Zhengdu's databases contribute their own (partial) viewpoints from different perspectives: the cultural symbols and regenerated symbols of the “two Kaihua Temples,” such as traditional culture and (regenerated) contemporary cultural symbols, Buddhist cultural symbols and (regenerated) gaming symbols. The collective presentation and fusion into a virtual existence on the VR platform creates a contemporary historical form for the temple's cultural heritage. When viewers confront the totality of the two Kaihua Temples, they must continuously modulate their cognition of the differences in information and understanding, which allows for communication between the symbolic meanings of the two Kaihua Temples and their own cognition. By disassembling, collecting, and rebuilding symbols, viewers link different types of information to their own knowledge to achieve cognitive balance, building an understanding of the totality and creating the hyper-presence of Kaihua Temple as informatized cultural heritage. Therefore, VR is a model that directly links memories together through sensorial mimetics. With high-definition virtual symbols, they directly connect memories and cognition to construct collective memory. This specific image of cultural heritage changes and renews cultural traditions, becoming a traditional cultural form of the future and representing the continued regeneration of cyclical changes in cultural traditions in the contemporary social environment. Disseminated to the entire world through the internet, the cultural symbols and regenerated symbols of the two Kaihua Temples are circulated in society and merge with it, becoming the informatized presence of the temple's cultural heritage and creating today's collective memory of Kaihua Temple.
Collective memory is constantly being built and changed, and cultural heritage is a way of verifying memory, which must be an open cultural model. Halbwachs (2002) believed that collective memory was a socially constructed concept, so the ways that the information and symbolism of cultural heritage are constructed changes as society evolves. Furthermore, he wrote, “in effect society thinks according to totalities; it attaches one notion to another and groups these into more complex representations of persons and events which in their turn are comprised in still more complex notions.” Symbols are the primary components of the manifestation of cultural heritage, which is an important part of the presence of cultural heritage. Distributed cognition expands sources and interactions, and VR simulates the appearance of cultural heritage in high definition, establishing direct connections between symbols, information, and concepts, thereby making cultural heritage more complex and variable in the contemporary moment, as a state of hyper-presence. As a virtual, immersive media platform for cognition, VR blends together various experiential cognitions distributed across times and places. Using high-definition virtual methods, VR more directly and concretely conveys the experience of embodiment, which more closely combines distributed cognition and networked social minds with a metaphor for cultural heritage. Koselleck (1995) believes that the body and language are servers for memory storage. Bodily memories are perceptual, immediate experience. Marcel Proust believed that memories from sensory impressions were “involuntary memory,” which was a more direct type of memory. VR uses technology to simulate immediate experience using the senses, recording and representing memory in perceptions and creating memories of cultural heritage in sensations. Assmann (2007a) sees individual memory as based on a certain perspective, namely, the limitations of location. These memories do not exist independently; they are placed together in a cultural database along with other people's memories, pictures, and materials. Because their structures easily intersect, overlap, and link, they can verify one another. In themselves, individual memories are incomplete, limited, and unfinished. They are fleeting and unstable. In particular, with the changes in meaning structures and evaluation models, things that were important in the past can later become unimportant, and things that were unimportant can become important later on. Through the internet, people's personal memories are gathered into an agent's body, and each individual is an individual sensorimotor capacity in this system. Although each individual's memories have a personal perspective and are not entirely complete, people are broadly associated through the internet, and closely connected to various databases, so a range of intelligences can start to piece together these fragmented memories. Through consolidation, adjustment, and blending, this system forms the collective memory of cultural heritage. For example, the immediate experiences of two Kaihua Temples together create an overall understanding of the temple. VR directly communicates cognition through perceptual means, providing communication intersections, overlaps, and links with more concrete (or more material) references. In particular, it provides a perceptual communication method for cross-cultural exchange beyond language, blending together various symbols, perceptions, and memories to create contemporary memories of cultural heritage with distributed cognition.
VR can sidestep Assmann's (2007a) criticism of the consolidation of memory by constantly renewing memory through media-based innovation. She notes that the material must allow memory to shake off the vortex of rigidity and inflexibility. The stability of memory is determined by its ability to renew itself. Information patterns are also symbols and the renewal and change of information patterns are the regeneration and reconstruction of symbols. Here, renewal and reconstruction indicate a focus on the vital analysis of things done in the past from the perspective of ever-changing contemporary issues. This reconstruction is directed at ceremonial, ossified formulas and completed through renewing creation. Coincidently, this also includes renewing creation in various art forms (Assmann, 2007a). VR is more direct than language and text; it represents a more immersive experience than photography and a more tactile experience than video. It is a technology with entirely different information patterns and modes of content production. “Different technologies of text production suggest different models of signification; changes in signification are linked with shifts in consumption; shifting patterns of consumption initiate new experiences of embodiment; and embodiment experience interacts with codes of representation to generate new kinds of textual worlds” (Hayles, 1999). VR externalizes human cognition, establishing a link between metaphor and analogy, creating a new world through high-definition symbols of cultural heritage. Thus, it can expand our historical imagination and recollect incisive past forms (Assmann, 2007a); in an ever-changing network society, VR can make a major cultural contribution to maintaining the reality of memory (Assmann, 2007b).
Renewed memory can also augment the connection between cultural heritage and contemporary society, which makes cultural heritage more useful as resource for traditional culture. The transformation of collective memory influences people's thinking and can change cultural heritage cognition in the overall system of all intelligences, which leads to changes in behavior among people (even all intelligences). When the “two Kaihua Temples” coexist in network society forming holistic cognition, the Kaihua Temple is not only an ancient Song dynasty structure, (to a certain extent) it also has video game-style virtual content. When the virtual existence of the “two Kaihua Temples” reaches cognitive balance for people, they'll accept reclaimed symbolic game content; and Kaihua Temple, as a source of traditional culture, will have been nimbly reused. Its cultural symbolism and regenerated symbolism can be of broader service in other arenas, such as game development, CG film content, and beyond. As such, symbolically regeneration presence is a means for cultural heritage to continuously adapt to societal evolution, hyper-presence as the embodiment of collective memory in network society can be perpetually restructured, allowing cultural heritage to continuously function as the continued renewal of cultural traditions.
Through sensorial mimetics, VR simulates and shapes collective memory constructed by the system. The symbolic regeneration of high-definition cultural heritage transforms memory into a constantly changing and renewing immediate experience, which forms people's continuously adjusted cognitive psychological state in network society. Cultural heritage today is collectively comprised of symbols and regenerated symbols. Constantly regenerating cultural symbols are a presence of cultural heritage suited to the evolution of society. The model of cultural heritage constantly adjusts structures and organizes new cultural symbols, constructs new representation, uses networked social minds to establish new presence for cultural heritage, and builds a new presence for cultural heritage in a hyper-presence tailored to society's evolution, such as “Kaihua Temple in VR.”
Simulated restoration presence, informational reproduced presence, and symbolically regenerated presence embody the progressive development of cultural heritage cognition dissemination in network society. Simulated restoration mixture and multi-informational integration, developed for continuously self-renewing symbolic fusion, ensure that cultural heritage can play a greater role in cultural dissemination and the renewal of cultural traditions in contemporary society. Via data collection and database construction, cultural heritage has developed from simulated restoration to independent informationally reproduced presence. For example, an editable 3D database of “digital artifacts” is built for Palace Museum and used to create the 3D VR program “The Watchtower.” Informationally reproduced presence employs VR technology to form a virtual, immersive media cognition platform, establishing direct communication between sensation and perception to realize a more effective mode of communication; examples include: The Panoramic Palace Museum program, Lingzhao Pavilion 3D VR, VR Viking experience, etc. Independent informatized presence makes cultural heritage into an open cultural model in network society, developed for the distribution of symbolically regenerated presence across social networks. Continuously regenerated high-definition cultural heritage symbolic content renews cultural traditions, allowing cultural heritage to serve a greater purpose in contemporary society, such as the totality of the “two Kaihua Temples.”
In the near future, cultural heritage content will expand to include technological contributions and information originating from all intelligences in network society, the continuous emergence of more complex information will cause collective memory to become more complex and varied, existing in a state of hyper-presence. Perhaps VR, network, and intelligent technology will have more impact on the transformation of cultural traditions, technologically generated symbols will enter collective memory, even becoming an important part of people's cultural identity. Humans and other intelligences will form cultural symbiosis, co-creating the future cultural ecology.
This project is supported by Research Center for Culture-Technology Integration Innovation of Hubei University, Key Research Base of Humanities and Social Sciences of Hubei Province. The project is also supported by Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts Research Program 15XJA030.
Construction began on the Lingzhao Pavilion in 1908, but it was left incomplete due to the 1911 Revolution. The pavilion was damaged by warlords in 1917.
Kaihua Temple is “an unmodified and well-preserved building clearly dated to the Song dynasty. Such heritage is extremely precious in China, which has no more than 20 such buildings in total” (Zhao, 2017); speech at an event for the Kaihua Temple in Virtual Reality program.