In early October, a group of reality explorers gathered on the Big Sur coast at the Esalen Institute. The institute’s original intention of seeking alternative methods for exploring human consciousness made it a perfect 5-day host for those of us playing in and exploring all definitions of reality.
Breakfast served up crisp October air, sun, and salty breezes with a side of home grown grains, fruits, and veggies.
While Virtual and Augmented Realities are not entirely new, they are quickly accelerating in popularity. The current paradigm for VR defines it as a novelty and entertainment device. To shift the paradigm away from gimmicks, Digital Raign invited this powerful group of reality explorers to Esalen to understand the power of this technology to transform lives.
Exploring this technology leads people to ask big open-ended questions like: Is this real life? Unless you are a lucid dreamer — or a Chicago Cubs fan — there may be very few times where you have an intentional reality check.
What is “real” is difficult to pinpoint. To simplify it all the way down to Morpheus — “your mind makes it real.” Virtual reality technologies have a lot of power over our minds.
Esalen butterflies = the best.
“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, flittering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly …suddenly I awoke… Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.”
For example, your occipital lobe is receiving fully immersed visual cues. While you may cognitively intuit that what you see inside your headset is not your physical body’s reality, your subconscious logs it as real. Virtual reality offers you an opportunity to step outside of yourself.
In early years, if you wanted to explore your reality, the available vehicles for discovery were meditation or psychedelics — like LSD, mescaline, ayahuasca, psilocybin. Now you can add virtual reality.
Venturing into an out-of-body or out-of-self exploration is often negatively associated with a search for pleasure or self-indulgence. At the core of this exploration however, is to seek out the answers to questions like, “Who am I?” or “Why am I here?”
The pursuit of the later is also the fundamental question behind a well constructed VR experience.
Facebook and Samsung announced their VR partnership in February. Fear ensued; indicated by the image above. There were cries over the fear of our new dystopian future. By July everyone was going crazy for the nostalgia and social benefits of Pokémon Go.
Now we know there were $500M of investments in VR/AR in Q3 alone.
VR is now mainstream. Look no further than The New York Times announcement of The Daily 360. The market is hungry for new content daily and NYT is serving it up! The immersive experiences coming from these new investments and The Daily 360, take you somewhere unique each time you visit while inside head mounted display (HMD).
VR has been dubbed the “empathy machine”. The camera view gives you a new persona inside the VR experience you’ve stepped into. As creators of new worlds and experiences in virtual, augmented and mixed realities, in Esalen, we asked ourselves: where do we want to take people?
Follow the white rabbit?
VR is a great medium for taking people deeper inside their own reality. Taking them to experiences and places they wouldn’t usually go. To answer for themselves who am I and why am I here — in this default reality.
The moment you disengage with the HMD is the most important moment in all immersive experiences. At the culmination of every out-of-self experience, there is the return to yourself. The moment when you stop and reflect on what the experience has changed in you. How it affected your perception. In VR, this usually happens right around the time you take off the HMD.
Technology is only a tool. Visiting the experience is the easy part. Driving the visitor into action is the hard part. That’s where I work. Capturing stories and experiences in immersive 360 to help others listen, observe, and create. Driving people to create benefits for others with this tool is what will move VR beyond a gimmick.
That’s me with the refugee camp leader. Plus a Ricoh Theta S, coffee, and some deep conversation — make for a typical Silicon Valley scene only this time in a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon.
VR For Good
The VR community has a For Good movement. The UN and Amnesty International use VR for building awareness and fundraising. Both have launched VR initiatives; the UNVR app and Syria 360 respectively.
When the UN team presented Clouds Over Sidra at the Cartagena Data Festival users said, “Damn! You should attach a credit card reader. I’ll give you all my money.”
At Conn3ct in October Oculus announced their VR For Good Pilot program. UploadVR recently hosted a 3 part series that highlighted the work of Silicon Valley startups to explore meditation, health tools, and awareness and empathy initiatives.
What good is an empathy machine, if you are blinded to your own reality?
We don’t just need more content in VR, we need empowering content in VR. Content that moves people to action. That moves people out of their seats when they are reminded of their power.
Your actions affect everyone around you. Your awareness and mindfulness are critical factors for the success of VR. Abandoning the momentum of a transformational experience is wasted potential.
Without responsible content creation you’ll find yourself with an $800 device full of high quality advertisements.
The responsible creation of experiences that enlighten and empower visitors into action outside the HMD is currently in the hearts of the few that attended the Esalen workshop. It’s also in the hands of the many who are beginning to explore the medium.
The most poignant outcome from our time at Esalen was realizing our power. Creators are guides on a journey to self-discovery. If you’re a creator, I pose the question to you now: where do you want to take people?