Written mainly from this joint in Canal St-Martin, Paris. I ordered two teas during the busy lunch break and I can never return.

Transitioning from VR to the real world

If you haven’t checked out the treasure trove of videos of people reacting to using VR for the first time, I’ll give you a minute to get yourself acquainted.

I have to admit the reason I chose this vid was partly to do with the extreme reaction and partly to do with the shifty looking Russian entrepreneur. As hard as it is, I’ll ask you to put aside his Don Johnson / juvenile defendant attire for a second and focus on the reaction. And yes I know the patsy was pushed — the aftermath resembles the all-too-familiar “why do you always take things too far, who invited you anyway Charles” scene of the author’s childhood — but there’s no doubting he was in a completely different world, despite his skylarking at the beginning. And there’s also no doubting he almost had a psychotic episode because of it…

Virtual Reality is the best. In fact it’s hard to imagine a better thing. That would be my scholarly opinion. All this talk out there about how tricking your lizard brain can be dangerous if done incorrectly has been done to death lately, so I want to talk about the period immediately after you’ve experienced VR instead.

Anyone who’s ever meditated knows that you don’t just “switch on” and “switch off” meditation like some kind of…err switch. That would be Maverick-flying-past-the-control-tower-one-more-time dangerous. Things turned out ok for him, but his relationship with his bald boss was pretty hairy there for a while. Science shows your brain’s chemistry changes in non-trivial ways during meditation — like it kind of heals itself from all the stuff you do during non-meditation — and as you can imagine jumping between states at the drop of a hat is not ideal. There’s nothing worse than someone jolting you out of your meditation prematurely; you feel nauseous, your heart beat goes all over the place, and you feel weird and uneasy for the next 10–15 minutes. You need some time to adjust to your new reality. In meditation it’s about 3–5 minutes and it’s IMHO the most important part of meditation.

And that’s just meditation. Even though experienced meditators can dive into some pretty surreal LSD-esque places while meditating, VR is a different kettle of hot water altogether. It’s literally another reality. And it’s getting better and more realistic by the minute. And yet they just give you the goggles and let you go at it and then when it’s all over then they take the goggles off and say “A Bientot motherbitches!”. No easing into or out of this different reality we just whipped up with more computing power than Die Hard 4.0. The most important and potentially troublesome transition is from altered state to default state — eg the transition from VR back to reality — yet the only instructions the supervisors give you after your VR experience is to “take it easy there mate!”. You know, while your brain reacts to the complete mindfuck it’s just been handed.

All I’m proposing is a similar 3–5 minute adjustment period post the VR show finishing. In meditation you slowly open your eyes and come to grips with the world. In VR you might require the subject to keep the goggles on for an extra minute, then take them off and slowly open your eyes and adjust to reality for a few minutes. It’s not hard.

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