The researchers selected a several-block-square area of Dumbo because the neighborhood contains several different types of urban settings in a kind of microcosm. There are big, loud pieces of infrastructure, such as the Manhattan Bridge; narrow cobbled streets with boutiques and galleries; a public waterfront park; and quieter residential and office blocks. Not all of us walked every part of the area under consideration. Different groups took different routes, all with the help of guides to keep us on track, prevent us from tripping, and troubleshoot any hardware or software problems.
An earlier experiment, with a single user walking around Lincoln Center, yielded a data visualization that the team is using as a prototype. Collins told me that it reflected an interesting result: when the subject was in parts of the Lincoln Center plaza that are more open to the city’s streets, he recorded more “meditative” brain waves; when he was in the more enclosed and architecturally circumscribed, ultramodernist part of the campus, his response was more attentive.
Collins says that by its nature, the Dumbo data-gathering effort was not a rigorous scientific experiment, but more of a large-scale art project. The conditions were obviously anything but laboratory-controlled. “We had to embrace the noise,” he says. “In a sense, we’re embracing everything [neuroscience researchers] are trying to remove.” Still, he says, when he discusses his work with neuroscientists, “at first they’re laughing. And then they’re saying, ‘Hey, what’s happening here?’”