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David Byrne Seeks to Challenge Human Bias with New Virtual Reality Exhibit

Nicholas Hunt, Getty Images
Nicholas Hunt, Getty Images

We tend to love David Byrne best when he’s making music, but the former Talking Heads frontman has a wide variety of interests — which have recently expanded to include “virtual reality science experiments” with the debut of his latest project, dubbed Neurosociety.

As explained by KQED last fall, the “theatrical thought experiment” involves the user donning a virtual reality headset to experience a room from the perspective of a doll. “I’d read about certain experiments that labs had done, and my immediate thought was ‘I want to do that,'” recalled Byrne. “‘I want to be the subject. I want to see what that’s like.’”

While certainly ambitious, that’s just a portion of the Neurosociety experience. Byrne collaborated with tech investor Mala Gaonkar to visit dozens of research labs, devising along the way a series of experiments forcing participants to take a fresh look at the biases ingrained in the way we interpret data. “What you see might not actually be what’s out there,” Gaonkar explained. “And what you feel, including your deepest sense of identity, might not actually be what’s out there.”

The duo then teamed up with the Pace art gallery to house the project, which is in the midst of an installation at the Pace Art + Technology building in Menlo Park, CA. While Byrne admits “it’s a bit pretentious” to think visiting the exhibit might fundamentally alter our approach to dealing with other people — specifically those we’re conditioned to believe are foreign or dangerous — he’s found a personal value in putting it together.

“It really does change how you think about things, how you think about what we are and how we react and how make decisions and how we are in the world,” said Byrne. “It certainly happened to us.”

To learn more about Neurosociety, visit the installation’s website and listen to Byrne and Gaonkar’s interview with KQED, embedded below.

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