The Cosmic Perspective
Using Virtual reality as a tool for to raise the collective consciousness of mankind and increase empathy in
Right now it's hard to argue that we don't live with the most material abundance and relative safety ever in human history. The technological revolutions of the last century has created material wealth, abundance and invention that seen through the lens of somebody that lived just a century before would seem like pure magic. However, although we have this abundance and relative safety, our collective psyche seems to be taking a big hit as we are currently experiencing a global epidemic of existential distress. Anxiety and depression are being diagnosed at levels never before seen. As stated in the video below The UN now estimated that 800.000 people in the world committed suicide each year. That is more people dying than in all armed conflicts and natural disaster combined, in the same time period . What might be wrong with the way we live and function as a collective mind and society today?
BEYOND ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION...
A CALL TO AWAKENING!
For each day that passes, information technologies gets more connected to each other. However, it also seems like through politics, race, religion and scarcity we are getting ever more divided and polarized among each other. Which I feel it's an illogical, disgrace, unnecessary notion that I would like to fight. Because if one stops, takes a deep breath and actually looks at what we actually are, a different story begins to emerge. That when you break it down on a deep level, everything is made of atoms and those atoms are mostly empty space of vibrating strings of energy and when these waves of light enters our retina our brain decodes and constructs this seemingly material world in our brain. When you look at what a human being is in this way, what you find is that we are not separate blots of matter. We are all made out of atoms and those small vibrating strings of energy, which flows through everything in the universe (Limar, I, 2011)
"As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter." - Max Planck (1944)
What if instead of feeling as a separate entity from this energy, we could feel as one with it, instead? We theorize that we found an experience that makes one feel this connection to everything (Newberg & d’Aquili, 2000; Yaden et al., 2015).
“Suddenly you notice that there aren't these separations. That we are not on these separate island shouting across to somebody else and trying to hear what they are saying and misunderstanding. You know, you used the word yourself: Empathy. These things are flowing underneath, we are all parts of a single continent. It meets underneath the water and with that goes such delight. The sober certainty of waking bliss” -Gerald Heard, (1956)
The power of Virtual reality
Ever since I experienced virtual reality for the first time, it has captured my imagination and I have been fascinated by its possibilities to awoke emotions and as a powerful storytelling tool. Mainly through its ability to increase compassion and through getting a different point of view and thereby gaining a broader perspective of things. Much like cinema and a beautifully crafted story can serve as an engine of empathy, VR might be the next level to that engine. This potential has served as a basis for the development of this article and thesis.
Another reason the authors believe that virtual reality is a valuable tool for this, is that it seems to have the unique ability to get people to think and ponder over fundamental questions about reality and themselves, and getting people to ask themself highly existential questions such as: “Who I’m I, and what is the self?” This was the result of a direct experience of this phenomenon of taking off the headset after spending longer amounts of time in virtual reality. After one’s awareness has been in a virtual world and then, returning back to reality and the body, it created a "lag" or a second of disconnection and then reconnection where one's consciousness snaps back to the material reality of being in a body, in a room, hooked up to a computer, after being immersed in a virtual mediated dream space in some other location and body.
This pondering over the self paired with its inherent ability of immersion as a storytelling was the seed that originally made me think about the notion of trying to recreate an experience I had experienced in the past, but in virtual reality. More specifically, if it was possible to recreate the feelings that this experiences brought by. Which alleviated and helped me tremendously with my depression. I describe this experience as of the utmost importance, and it dramatically contextualized my world view. It have characterized the experience as follows in the past: “ It helped me alot being less afraid and more loving of the world and people around me, whilst also helping me gain more self confidence”
This experience took me out of a minor depression and drastically changed my overall mood and well being for the better. “It reinforced my whole sense of self, in the world and gave me a sense of purpose, gained more self love and understanding of the the world around me as a result of it”. It took me from a purely materialistic atheist to seeing himself as part of something bigger, feeling myself as a focal point to this bigger field of energy, all coexisting and connected to each other. My notion of God shifted from a traditional theistic God to a pantheistic view of God.
VR and behaviour change
Research into Virtual reality and behaviour change done Stanford University shows that when done right, VR has the potential to change who we relate and act towards other people Bailenson, J.N. (2018). One of the researchers in the study commented about the far reaching potential of VR and also its ability to recreate experiences in a interview with cbsnews: "Virtual reality is not a media experience. When it's done well, it's an actual experience, in general, our findings show that VR causes more behavior change, causes more engagement, causes more influence than other types of traditional media."
The Stanford University research team has also shown that giving a person a virtual avatar of different gender can be a great exercise in empathy and can actually change the way people act toward other people. One of the bolder claims made by Bailenson in his recent publication is that VR can help save the planet using by this theque of being able to put on in other places, shoes and situation.
For example, to raise awareness of climate change, but contextualizing it better with virtual mediated experience from the dying coral reefs. Using VR instead of traditional 2D media here becomes much more impactful by the virtue of the embodied cognition which is a learning experience provide. Which means that we learn by doing and by actually walking somewhere or feeling something. VR is an active, not passive, opportunity to do to this and to explore new places, viewpoints and experiences.