Designing Reality

3 min readMay 17, 2022

What makes something feel real?

Source: 愚木混株

Internally Congruent Perception

Our bodies have a wide range of senses, and our minds have great libraries of experiences and expectations that all come together to form a cohesive picture of what is truly real.

You can think of yourself as having an internal truth-checking algorithm that compares the incoming data from your different senses to your previous experience and expectations. The goal is to achieve what we could call sensory congruence, where enough of our senses and experiences line up to our satisfaction.

Without sensory congruence things quickly become jarring and unsettling. Consider, for example, how difficult it is to watch a movie where the audio is out of sync with the video, or how deeply unsettling it would be to have the sensation of someone grabbing your foot without seeing anyone there to grab you.

Is it blue and black, or white and gold? A lack of agreement on what people were seeing is what kicked up “The Dress” viral phenomenon in 2015.

Our need for sensory congruence is an important thing to keep at the forefront of our minds when we design multimedia experiences. The more harmonious and congruent our sensory inputs, the more they match with our understanding of the world, and the more pleasant they will be to perceive.

Intersubjectivity, or Externally Congruent Perception

However, our internal truth-checking algorithm has advanced social proofing built-in, as well. In my opinion as a behavioral engineer, one of the most neglected aspects of human psychology is that we have a deep need for external verification of our perceptions.

If you find yourself the only person not laughing at a joke, that’s an uncomfortable sensation — not only because it places you as an outsider to the tribe, but also because you’re now subconsciously doubting your perception of the events that transpired.

Source: War and Peas

Imagine being the only person to hear a voice calling for help, or the only one to detect a strong smell of flowers in the air. When the outside world stops validating our perceptions we very quickly descend into what we fear is madness.

We crave intersubjectivity or externally congruent perception of events. Reality is that which is intersubjective. If you think about it, the reason an inside joke is so rewarding is that it demonstrates that the other party really did experience what you did, once.

It’s proof of past intersubjectivity.

Intersubjectivity As A Design Principle

Shared AR is two, twenty, or two hundred people seeing and interacting with the same matterless creature on their devices

The need for intersubjectivity is our guiding design principle at Matterless Studios.

It’s why we believe that shared AR is an entirely different medium than traditional AR, and why we know that our matterless companions will feel more real than any other digital entity you’ve ever interacted with.

They are designed to react to the world in ways that validate our perceptions, that make us feel grounded, that make the pet feel present, and that makes the experience real. The matterless creatures are not being designed to be entertaining, addictive, or even stimulating. They are being designed to address a long-neglected human need — the desire for intersubjectivity.

They are here to ground you in the present moment, connect you with the world and your peers, and generate reality.

— Nils Pihl, CEO, Matterless Studios.




Matterless is building digital toys and companions in shared augmented reality. Play with magic.