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How VR Could Change Your Perspective On THE UNIVERSE

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The iSpace lab at SFU is already doing exciting research into this question. What is the Overview effect, you ask? Well, it is an awe-striking experience resulting in a cognitive shift that leaves people with a more united and caring world view. This phenomenon is usually experienced when people see Earth from outer space but it can also be mildly experienced in airplanes or tall buildings and seeing how small we are from that perspective. “Awe and self-transcendence are among the deepest and most powerful aspects of the human experience; it should come as no surprise that they emerge as we gaze upon our home planet and our whole world comes into view.” (Yaden, 2016)

The awe and self-transcendence tend to create a shift in identity. “When you go around the world in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing”(White, 1987, p39). In some astronauts, like Mitchell, this shift also creates a renewed sense of motivation. He states that “in other space, you develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it” (New Mexico Museum of Space History, 2015, bio).

Culture also changes how the Overview effect is interpreted. When asked to recall their experiences, Chinese participants were “more likely to interpret their experiences in terms of social and cultural duty”, while American participants were “more likely to offer supernatural interpretations” (Yaden, 2016). 

Overall, his kind of cognitive shift could positively shape people’s perceptions of the world. Virtual Reality may be the tool in unlocking this cognitive shift with more safety and less expense. 

How would the Overview effect would change society? One Eyemole suggests that it may increase environmental awareness, another said it may increase the feeling of meaninglessness. Perhaps this could be used in treating anxiety and depression. Or for others, a new source of inspiration for art and philosophy. Possibly a placebo effect may come into play and people would find meaning in their lives because of their sheer desire for it. Or maybe, as one Eyemole suggested, the Overview effect would lose its effect.

The answer to all these questions remain unknown for now, but it is because of the research at iSpace labs and the emerging field Virtual Reality research that ask then test these questions. You should check out their cool research at http://ispace.iat.sfu.ca/project/earthgazing/

Now sit back and close your eyes and imagine this. If the Overview could be replicated in a virtual environment, how would it change you? 
 

The Eyemole Manifesto

On December 8th, 1995, the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine suffered a stroke. Twenty days later, Jean-Dominique Bauby awoke from his coma. Although cognizant of his surroundings and in surprisingly good mental health, he was paralyzed – only able to blink his left eye. He used this one motor command to communicate with those around him and went on to write his memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In this memoir, he communicates his diminished ability to joke with his son:

Want to play hangman? asks Theophile, and I ache to tell him that I have enough on my plate playing quadriplegic. But my communication system disqualifies repartee: the keenest rapier grows dull and falls flat when it takes several minutes to thrust it home.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) allow the brain’s electrical activity to be translated into computer language. No actual motion needs to occur – one only needs to imagine certain states (playing outside vs. talking to a friend), certain emotions (love for a spouse vs. disgust at seeing a cockroach), or even certain concepts(up vs down).  The electrical activity in the brain is different enough during these states for us to be able to translate that to computer commands – if the late Bauby was still with us, we would be able build him a BCI-based enhanced communicator or mind-controlled exoskeleton suit.

At Eyemole, we are interested in putting BCI’s to a slightly different use. We are hoping we can tap into your emotions – and use that information to alter your reality around you. We use virtual and augmented reality platforms (like Oculus Rift goggles, or your phone) as a forum for creation. Imagine yourself in a virtual New York alleyway. It’s dusk and you’re alone. You round a corner and suddenly encounter a mugger. Holding a pistol to your chest and screaming at you, you feel a surge of fear and anger course through you. Using BCI-integrated VR, we will translate that deep fear and fury into a superpower you can unleash with a click of a button.

Later that month you sit on a park bench, sipping a latte. Across the plaza  from you, a plaid-vest senior is throwing breadcrumbs. Watching this old man defy by-laws by feeding pigeons, you smile at his tiny rebellion. It’s a nice day. A child and father walk by, eating ice-cream. Looking to the sky you notice the sun brightens, and stars impossibly shine through the bright blue-noon sky. In the distance – is that choral music? Strangers walking by smile at you, noting your peaceful disposition. Flowers start blossoming out of the plaza grass.

But at Eyemole, we are concerned with more than just building fun immersive worlds. We know that there are a lot of people out there with mental illnesses – one in five, in fact. Affective disorders (such as depression, bipolar disorder, or cyclothymia) produce characteristic electrical patterns in your brain, so we want to use BCI to detect those and modify your world through VR and AR to make you come back to a more emotionally healthy state.

So what is our dream? Our dream is to use our ability to read your emotions to make your worlds better.