Imagine: there’s a machine you can step into that transports your mind into a simulation, where you are to experience nothing but euphoria.
The scientists watching over your body zap it with dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, a well thought out script to make you feel nothing but pleasure, and everything else you need to make your experience the ride of a lifetime.
In fact, that’s the main downside — this is for life. If you sign yourself away to this “experience machine,” you’ll be there until your heart in the real world stops beating, and the scientists will make you forget that you ever had a life outside their script.
Would you decide to live inside this solo matrix where all you experience is infinite pleasure?
Robert Nozick’s “experience machine” thought experiment would probably get a resounding “NO” from most Buddhist practitioners. Buddhist philosophy teaches there is a way to end all suffering by facing reality squarely, rather than running from it.
Mindfulness practice is about neutralizing the experiences of the everyday — no longer categorizing them as “good” or “bad,” but just experiencing them. In fact, by running away from bad experiences, we are judging their actuality as such, and we miss the opportunity to learn from, and allow them to aid, in the Buddhist quest towards enlightenment.
However, modern philosophers have extended the “experience machine” thought experiment, leaving a less theoretical question for modern Buddhists.
That is, are the phones, video games, social media websites, and other staples of the modern day largely just “mini experience machines” to escape the real world? For instance, when I play Tetris as an escape from the boredom of waiting for the bus, am I missing an opportunity to learn how to sit with myself during less pleasurable times?
Some researchers even liken smartphones to adult pacifiers, since they’re always there to safeguard us from psychological discomfort, just like your baby’s binky is.
If so, emerging virtual reality technology might be the least mindful thing to befall humanity.
Perhaps it does not get much more “escapist” than a reality-obscuring headset with the goal of plopping you into a simulation more pleasurable than real-life.
Studies have already shown that smartphones are linked to depression, social media to anxiety, and video games can cause an addiction. Therefore, as technology increasingly finds its way into different aspects of our waking reality, Buddhism must find ways to reconcile technology and mindfulness, or even see if it’s possible to reverse the trend and use technology as a force for mindfulness.
Afterall, Buddhism also teaches that we should follow the middle path, which is avoiding both extremes of spoiling oneself in sensual pleasures, and severe asceticism.
Removing all technological staples would probably be akin to the latter, but perhaps Buddhism can help us find a way out of our often unhealthy relationship with the technological experience machines that surround us. If we play our cards right, emerging virtual reality technology could even be seen as a way to explore different states of consciousness, rather than merely avoid them.
That’s our mission here at BardoVR. We’re creating a VR experience called AfterDeath, a game-based psychedelic journey through the Tibetan Book of the Dead, an ancient text which describes the visions one's consciousness experiences from the moment of death until its rebirth in another form.
By utilizing mental and emotional strategies prescribed by spiritual masters for achieving higher states of awareness, AfterDeath players can experience the meditative bliss of heaven-- or ignore them and find themselves in the depths of hell...
If you’d like to see our latest demos or learn more about what we do, come visit our website at www.bardovr.com.