Technology 5 min read

What if the Other Part of Immersive VR is Psychedelic Drugs?

Atomazul |

Atomazul |

VR is still struggling for mainstream acceptance. While some developers worry about effective marketing, others are using nootropic supplements and psychedelic drugs to delve deeper into immersive VR. 

We recently covered Facebook Spaces, a VR experience focused on social interaction. Initially, we thought it might be a great platform to which Facebook could release content and friends all over the world, no matter how far away from each other, could truly enjoy their time together.

After all, as VR attempts to recreate your natural experience of the world, making connections with people and forming memories of direct experiences are some of the tenants of immersion within our shared reality.

Psychonauts use psychedelic drugs to enhance VR immersion.Click To Tweet

Facebook Spaces may hang around, but Facebook also recently announced that they would be shuddering their Oculus Story Studio, their internal VR content production unit.

Given the loosely explored ideas we’ll cover in this article, perhaps Facebook acts too soon.

Why is our Brain “so Easily Tricked?”

In the Voices of VR podcast, RoadtoVR‘s Kent Bye interviews Eric Metzner of Nootroo, a self-described “Techno-optimistic Futurist” who uses nootropic supplements and psychedelics in conjunction with VR (an Oculus Rift) to explore the boundaries of mental presence.

Metzner says that VR is now in a state where we can create true immersion for the human mind. Early on in the podcast, he asks, “what is it about our brains that is so ‘easily tricked?'” or essentially, what needs to be provided to create immersive VR?

In order to answer that, Metzner has used the nootropics and psychedelics we mentioned along with like-minded explorers (“psychonauts”) from r/RiftIntoTheMind while delving into VR. He looked back into fledgling VR immersion research in the 1970s through the 1990s, as well as biohacking with the Northpaw device, and using EEG sensors while inside VR.

With all of these, Metzner is able to increase sensory awareness and gather neurofeedback from his VR experiences. He has been able to push the limits of his mind’s capability, too, as he’s taught himself to type with one hand and read up to 1000 words per minute using Rapid Visual Presentation.

What the Brain Needs for Immersive VR:

Metzner says immersion needs to be inclusive. The “sensory modality needs to be accommodating,” meaning:

  • Physical reality needs to be shut out.
  • The user can hear at the right pace.
  • Objects are the right size.
  • There aren’t perceived delays or hiccups.
  • Views need to be panoramic.
  • The experience needs to be vivid. The experience needs “the fidelity and variety of energy that simulates a real world.”

Metzner adds that the VR world doesn’t necessarily have to mimic ours. That is, lifeforms in VR could be cartoon characters or even ethereal blobs as long as everything fits within the perceived model of the virtual world.

VR Psychonauts

As we covered before, the CIA has experimented with these same psychedelics under the Project MKUltra umbrella.

Instead of trying to immerse subjects in a marketable VR experience, the CIA was trying to discover mind control methodologies. Compared with what these psychedelics are being used to accomplish today, it certainly seems that the CIA’s goals were firmly rooted in a modernist ideology–one that ignores the possibilities for mind enhancement that these drugs offer.

In fact, VR explorers (and I call them that because they are indeed exploring a psychological realm perhaps no one has ventured into before) have used psychedelics to accomplish some mind-bending feats.

Take Logan, for example, who, while on psychedelic mushrooms, felt like a god lookng down on the creatures within Minecraft VR.

Other psychonauts talk of having epiphanies while tripping. What could better describe immersive VR than perhaps learning something about your actual self while living outside your normal reality?

Per Vice’s coverage: “Just like Neo taking the Red Pill so does taking a drug change the way you perceive the world, even if that world is a computer fabricated reality,” says @Tardigrade1, moderator of r/RiftIntoTheMind. “Psychedelics in particular make the VR experience overwhelmingly real.”

Using these drugs hasn’t just helped technophiles engage with VR. You have probably heard of the practice of “microdosing” by business executives.

The Future of Drug-fueled VR Experiences

The Netflix original show Stranger Things is what inspired us to look deeper into Project MKUltra, and surprisingly, we found many similarities between the show’s depiction of the character Eleven’s experiences and to what these VR psychonauts subject themselves.

If we think of VR as a sensory deprivation tank, “mind-expanding” drugs may help round out certain physical, biological, and hardware aspects to make a truly immersive VR experience.

VR and psychedelic drugs could help blur the lines between human consciousness and technological augmentation.

Despite this use of drugs being an obvious slippery slope and difficult to regulate. We feel it’s inevitable. Think of a Minority Report type underground sanctuary for this sort of fantastical disassociation (with less Tom Cruise, hopefully).

Technology won’t create demand for this, it will just be a different iteration: People will want it because it makes VR better just like some people want drugs because they make reality better.

Like any technology, it’s utility depend on its use. VR has the therapeutic capacity to help treat an addict’s addiction and it also has the capacity to encourage it.

Eventually, there will be demand for these drugs in conjunction with VR experiences. Perhaps even mixed reality will encourage this sort of “relaxed consciousness.” The question, for us, is how do we deal with it?  How will we regulate it? Or will we treat “enhanced VR” with the same zero-tolerance War on Drugs stance we have now?

We can imagine a brothel without a single, physical prostitute. Will these sorts of activities be okay because they don’t affect the physical world? Or will crimes and nefarious acts in VR eventually be considered a transgression in the physical world?

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