Thursday, 12 November 2015

The future for virtual reality: part three

headphones not included
photo: D. Coetzee, Berkeley University
For my point of departure, today, I am using Taylor Clark's How Palmer Luckey Created Oculus RiftThe link goes to the online article of the Smithsonian Magazine. Some of what I say might make little sense if you have not read this first, and it is the best account I have found, anywhere, of the story of  Palmer Luckey and his creation.

As an example of the value of this advice, I also noticed the "screen door effect" mentioned in the article, but I recall it it best from the darker scenes at the start of my experience. Whether I just got used to it or my senses compensated, I cannot say. Perhaps, too, the later samples had been subject to improvements.I do think, though, that this effect might well be worth some scientific study.

I became interested in how sensations can fool the body doing some research at the Foothills Hospital Medical Library here in Calgary many years ago. The paper was by a Tasmanian doctor: A.A. Robinson, Heart disease, cancer and vehicle travel, Medical Hypotheses, Elsvier, Volume 5, Issue 3, March 1979, Pages 323-328. You can read the first part and rent or purchase another, later, paper by the same author on this topic: The motor vehicle, stress and circulatory system, Stress Medicine, Vol. 4: 173-176, (1988). The problem is that evolution can foresee nothing so when you are going faster than is usual for any human body, it is responding to visual input and pumping all manner of chemicals through your system in an attempt to compensate for all of that extra energy you must be using. In turn, these chemicals might be leading to the manner of your eventual death and will probably hasten that event as well. I much prefer reading while riding on the bus, but you have to feel for the bus driver.

There might be, however, be a plus to the use of virtual reality from this effect: if you are exercising on a stationary machine then your eyes are telling your body that you are not going anywhere. How far would your exercise be improved if the chemicals  delivered to your system are commensurate with your effort plus the signals that your eyes are receiving from your virtual reality headset?

But we have other senses as well as sight: if you run past something making a sound, the sound volume increases as you approach it and diminishes as you go further past it. The Doppler effect also changes the sound, but you only (consciously) notice this with great speeds. The autonomic system evolved as it was far better survival for you to become less conscious of bodily functions and more conscious of  nearby predators or food sources.

There are also psychological ramifications with possible virtual reality research, but tabloid journalism is only interested in the bad and might give you the false impression that any bad result does not also have  very good applications. Furthermore, certain psychological types flourish with new experiences or changes in perceptions, while for others it is the cause of much harm. We all fool ourselves: we think that the moon is orbiting the earth and some people might be upset with the idea that the moon is just falling (because of gravity) through curved space. There is even one hypothesis that the third dimension is nothing but an illusion and everything exists in only two dimensions. String theory postulates even more dimensions as being real. About the only thing we can be sure of is that we do not know the true nature of reality and are bound by our narrow human perceptions and evolved sensations.

I will be expanding on the psychological ramifications of the future of virtual reality tomorrow, with something on art. Think about what I have said here, and if your field is the hard sciences, then also think about the uses of virtual reality from within your speciality. There is sure to be something there...

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