“The drugs of the future will be more like computers. Computers of the future will be much more like drugs.”-Terence Mckenna
The other day I stopped by my old workplace, Bravo Media Inc., to catch up with a few former coworkers. This post-production company has always maintained an innovative and collaborative culture, and today they are at the forefront of a new medium that will revolutionize how humanity interacts with technology and with each other, virtual reality.
Virtual Reality gives users the ability to immerse themselves and interact with a computer-generated environment in varying degrees. Although this technology has been developing since the 1960s, virtual reality did not gain traction until the 1990s when several gaming companies attempted to sell virtual reality products to consumers. Unfortunately, the technology at the time was not sufficient to handle the complex capabilities needed to create an entrancing experience. It would take another 20 years for that to happen with the debut of the Oculus Rift and smartphones capable of handling virtual reality apps.
What does the future hold for this groundbreaking medium? So far, it has been utilized to train surgeons, prepare flight pilots, treat phobias, and even build empathy. In 2015, Samsung and the UN created an original virtual reality film that puts you in the shoes of a 12-year-old Syrian refugee, detailing her experiences at a refugee camp in Jordan.
Machiavelli once said that “Men judge more by the eye than the hand…all men can see who you appear to be, but few men know who you are.” Although our vision can be deceiving, the certainty of touching something unquestionably validifies what is in front of us. For example, a surface may present itself as smooth to the eyes, but course once our fingers run across it. What virtual reality does is go on the appearances that traditional media has portrayed to our eyes for the past 100+ years and makes the us feel the experience as if it were happening to us. This fact is scientifically proven since virtual reality seamlessly tricks your brain into believing what is real. Cognitive psychologist, Jeremy Bailenson has been running experiments in the Virtual Human Interaction Lab since 2003 and concluded that:
“If your avatar is taller than you are in real life, you become more confident. If you have a particularly attractive avatar, you become friendlier. If you’re young, and you have an avatar that is a senior citizen, you save more money. These changes last even after you leave the virtual realm.”
The applications for virtual reality are endless. Congressmen will attend hearings and votes remotely and be closer to their constituents. Football fans will fill the cleats of their favorite player and watch the action from a first-person angle. Historians will witness epic battles such as the invasion of Normandy and experience the adversity that young men had to endure.
The implications of this technology are staggering. Imagine yourself 100 years in the future being a 50-year-old something on welfare and stranded on the lowest rungs of society. You might live a meaningless life in the real world, but down the street, there is a Virtual Reality Center that offers unlimited possibilities in experiences where you can transform into whoever you yearn to be and travel wherever your dreams take you. This escape from “reality” blurs the lines of what is real. Your mind’s stimuli cannot contrast between virtual reality and actual reality. If you are the ideal version of yourself in virtual reality but a poverty stricken individual in real life struggling to live day to day, would you want to wake up? What’s the difference between participating in virtual reality and ingesting a mind-altering substance?
What makes virtual reality psychedelic is that it dissolves the boundaries that our egos have built up over the course of our lifetimes. If we break the word psychedelic down to its Ancient Greek roots, then it translates to the soul (psyche) manifesting clarity (delic). Virtual reality gives us the opportunity to understand the irrational inconsistencies and lack of apathy ingrained in our belief systems and adjust them accordingly. Getting over fears of heights and experiencing the plight of a Syrian refugee is barely the tip of the iceberg.