Consciousness, VR And The End Of Reality

*Disclaimer: This is an MRTV community article. The opinions, representations and statements made within the article are those of the author and not necessarily those of MRTV.*

I have a theory. One you can’t read in a book, or see on TV. It is a theory that found me, I certainly wasn’t looking for it.

It started with a feeling. A feeling that happened again today.

It made me stop all my VR use. And I’m not talking about simulation sickness.

What I’m about to describe may be new to you, but it may also be very familiar. At some level you might have known this all along. I’m about to tell you why humanity has gone down the wrong path. We assume more technology will make our lives better, but in fact – the opposite appears to be happening.

Modern life

The general consensus is that life is getting better for more people than ever before. The world is safer and more stable, fewer wars and famines occur. The vast majority of the human population has greater access to education, food and clean drinking water.

It’s a rosy picture of a better world. But there is a problem with this image.

World suicide rates are increasing at an incredible rate. The World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that by 2020, someone will kill themselves every twenty seconds. If life is so much better, why are more and more people every year resorting to suicide?

Running out of space

This is that feeling I mentioned. I believe its related. The theory is about human evolution. And for people that love their smart-phone or VR, it’s not a good one.

This theory centres around the following idea:

What we do, how we focus our attention – will increase or decrease our field of awareness.

If we take this proposal to be fact, and then look back over human history – an interesting trend emerges. Humanity, by creating technology, has increasingly narrowed it’s own consciousness.

But for a great many centuries, this ‘narrowing’ of human consciousness was not a trend. For thousands of years, education was auditory; you listened. Listening is a much wider field of awareness, especially with closed eyes. Even as words began to be written down, it was more common to listen to them read aloud, than to actually be able to read them yourself. It would not be until the publishing of books that a significant percentage of the world population would start to read more intently and commonly.

However before that would happen, what kind of world did these people experience? The theory continues that for human beings for whom education was primarily auditory, the world felt larger and more spacious. These people were less prone to anger. They could deal with life’s difficulties because they had the space in their own consciousness to do so.

Contrast that with today. What do rising suicide rates tell us about humanity and the perceived sense of space? Because it is when someone feels like they have no space – that they cannot take it any more – that the worst decisions are made. When we run out of space, we run out of patience. As our actions become more desperate; we are in great danger of exaggerating the seriousness of our situation and completely over-reacting.

The printed page

Continuing down the trend-line of human technological evolution, the printing press was invented in 1440. This could be considered one of the most profound and truly monumental changes in human history. Not only could people now be more readily educated through reading, but how they experienced the world would also change. However, this moment also opened a Pandora’s box; great works of intellect and creativity could be put into print and spread across the planet, while at the same time a change on a different level was taking place. A shift in how humanity was using it’s consciousness.

For the first time in human history, more people en masse were staring intently at small printed characters in the pages of a book. What effect does this behaviour have on your field of awareness? Do you feel less capable of dealing with life?

Smart-phone, dumb move?

While the printed page can be a small area to focus one’s attention on, a smart-phone is an even smaller one. Again what are the implications for the gradual reduction in the area of space that people spend increasing amounts of time concentrating on? Is there a correlation between the narrowing of awareness and mental health decline?

The point of this article is what comes next.

VR, and the end of reality

VR seems to be an even greater narrowing – two small squares on a smart-phone sized screen. Optics are used to create the illusion of a much larger image – but what actually is the reality of what we are doing? I believe rather than expanding experience in an unlimited way, we are reducing life to unbearable slithers of light. With VR headsets already offering near-human field of view or close to it, there is logic in believing that this dilemma could undo itself.

However for now, I feel there are good and bad practises when it comes to Virtual Reality experiences.

Your own personal movie theatre

The application of the home cinema in VR is particularly troubling for me. We are given the sense of a large screen, but in actuality we are focusing our attention on an incredibly small area of LCD real-estate. And some people may spend several hours each day in this setting watching Films and TV shows.

A walk in the park

My suggestion is that if you are a regular VR user, or stare at your smart-phone way too much, consider how you are using your attention. If life does seem to be getting harder for you, perhaps it’s time to take a break, go for a walk or jog in the great outdoors – some place that reminds you how a large open space feels.

Our own personal philosophy is obviously a key factor here. And if we don’t have one, then it is likely we possess a casually materialistic world-view. Existing in such a world perspective colours how we see everything, including our own consciousness. It is something contained within the body, something that is limited – if it exists at all. But many Asian religions do not support this.

For example, in Buddhism, one interpretation is that the Buddha expanded (or purified) his own consciousness to such a degree that it not only spanned the entire planet, but across the cosmos.

Whatever challenge you face in life, please consider your consciousness is not fixed, and that in reality – feeling like you can’t take it any-more – might just be a doorway into another world. Patience, they say – is the ultimate purifier.


Author note: If this article appeared glib on the topic of suicide and suicide statistics, it was not the author’s intention. The purpose here was an examination of one potential factor in their causation. For those that do want further reading on the topic, please visit: https://www.befrienders.org/suicide-
statistics

Have your say!

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks a lot James for this very interesting and professionally written article.

    As I started to read this text, I was about to respond that for some of us, VR is a salutary “open space” on another universe allowing us to breath out of a painful reality. And with apps like Rec Room, it can be a very social activity too, VR doesn’t always mean alone or secluded.

    Then I finished your article and I must say it changed my point of view as it reminded me of my own experience.

    We’re intellectual beings, maybe essentially one for us so called “geeks” and consort, but we’re also animals even if we tend to ignore or forget it. We need our surrounding world (physical and social), and we need to keep contact with it. Our problems in live would tend to make it feel narrowed, but if we find the way to get out there and breath fresh air, to get temporarily out of our daily limits, we could be reminded that a whole world exists, full of possibilities and diversity. A breath of hope, of freshness…
    Escapes are necessary sometimes, and focusing on some things to forget others are one way to deal with problems that can only be temporary. When pleasure becomes a dependency, we have to find the will to get back to our roots to recover ourselves so that what was a pleasure can become a pleasure again.

    I’m sorry If I sound illuminated or like a guru for some of you, but I assure you I’m atheist and Cartesian to the bone, I just learned those things out of a non so easy life.

    Reply
    • I can appreciate how this article might seem like a criticism of technology generally and Smart-phones and VR headsets specifically. However I would suggest what actually is being pointed out here is that how ‘we interface with technology’ is the problem. For example, I read many news articles every day, and it is almost entirely done using text-to-speech (TTS). It is possible to read vast amounts of literature without ever running your eyes along a complete sentence on a page. A different ‘interface’ option exists.

      AR Glasses will mean people don’t need to look at their Smart-phone as much or at all. Ready Player One style VR ski-goggles with massive wrap-around display panels would in theory solve the current interface issue of VR headset design.

      Reply

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