This blog is an exploration into how new forms of immersive media such as virtual reality might affect our minds. Forms of media that could be considered immersive, creating a feeling of ‘presence’, have been around for a while. Film has always done a good job of that for me. The current wave of VR technology though, has the potential to create a truly immersive experience. The job of making this happen in a beneficial way is now in the hands of the developers. At one end of the spectrum lies computer generated VR with the ability to move around and interact with a virtual environment. At the other is the new breed of 360 spherical video allowing much less interactivity though a high degree of visual realism. There seems to be a threshold at which our mind is ‘tricked’ into perceiving the reality presented as real. When this happens, a curious sensation occurs. Part of us takes the experience as real while part of us is aware that it is not real. This is a sensation similar to that attained in lucid dreaming. Where in dreams, attaining lucidity is the struggle to be consciously aware of the illusion, virtual reality comes from the opposite direction, deliberately ‘tricking’ the mind into believing the illusion. They end up in a similar place. Allowing the mind to suspend disbelief and buy in to the seeming reality of the experience. There is often a slight shock when waking from a lucid dream or taking off a VR headset. When believing an experience to be real a deeper psychological and emotional impact can happen. Our unconscious mind seems fundamentally unable to differentiate between a perceived experience and one that actually happens. Techniques such as hypnosis have long been using this to create changes in the mind. This could also occur in a vivid virtual reality experience. We are exposing ourselves to an experience and emotional state that our mind fundamentally believes is real. As in hypnosis this has potential for positive change though we could also be exposing ourselves to psychological damage. The closer we get to a believable virtual reality the higher the stakes become. I believe filmmakers and VR developers have a responsibility to lead humanity on a positive journey with this.
Lucid Dreaming – a simulation
I’ve been running the London video production company Promo Video for the past 10 years and a practitioner of lucid dreaming and out of body experience (OBE) for 20. The two things are coinciding in a virtual reality production to simulate the lucid dream/OBE experience. The key to lucid dreaming is to recognise the dream from within the dream. Our rational mind is quite ineffectual in the dream state making this difficult. There are many techniques, mostly involving recognising physical impossibilities or sensations associated with the dream. There is also the possibility of maintaining awareness throughout the onset of sleep leading to ‘out of body experience’ (OBE) type sensations and then lucid dreaming. Our aim is to simulate the sensations and reality testing so as to instigate a moment of recognition while asleep.
One of the effects of being completely immersed in a dream yet aware of the illusion is that waking reality can feel illusionary. From this perspective come paradigm shattering notions on the nature of reality. The idea that reality is an illusion created by our consciousness has been the core of practices like Dzogchen Buddhism for thousands of years. To what extent we can take our material universe as a kind of ‘virtual reality’ or ‘simulation’ is also being explored on the fringes of physics and philosophy. As the technology and media we experience on a daily basis become more immersive we may find our perspective on reality changing. This blog is an exploration into this fascinating though precarious time in human evolution. Not an examination of different theories and view points to ascertain credibility but more to see how learning about and viewing the world from different perspectives can affect our experience of reality.