Just sent in an abstract to a VR conference. Pondering how complex the relationship between perception and reality is, especially in the psychedelic sphere. Degrees of reality come into play, where, in the altered state, perceptions can appear hyper-real, more real than real, and where the ontological status of baseline reality is thrown into question, in the same way the ontological status of the psychedelic state is questionable from baseline (just hallucinations, right?). The navigation of multiple realities and the management thereof in the conduct of life as a commute among multiple realities becomes a practical task, a game in which one makes up the rules as one goes along. The abstract, please.
VR and Hallucination
VR, especially in a technologically focused discourse, is defined by a class of hardware and software, among them head-mounted displays, navigation and pointing devices; stereoscopic imaging. This presentation examines an experiential aspect of VR. Putting “virtual” in front of “reality” modifies the ontological status of a class of experience—that of “reality.” Reality has also been modified as augmented, mixed, and enhanced. Modifications of reality are closely tied to modifications of perception. Early psychedelic researcher Roland Fisher in his 1971 article “A Cartography of the Ecstatic and Meditative States” drew a model of the “perception-hallucination continuum” in which “These states are marked by a gradual turning inward toward a mental dimension at the expense of the physical.” He characterizes the hallucinatory state as “experiences of intense sensations that cannot be verified through voluntary motor activity.” New Media theorist Roy Ascott creates a model of three “VR’s”: Verifiable Reality, Virtual Reality, and Vegetal (entheogenically induced) Reality. Perception itself, according to the scientific description, can be viewed as a grand illusion where, through a unexplained and wholly mysterious (the binding problem) process at the heart of consciousness itself, sensation received by the eyes and multi-mediated through a series of electrical and chemical processes and pathways in the brain, is stitched together seamlessly by “the mind”, and experienced by “the self” as “out there”: a fully convincing wraparound reality which we experience as if we were looking out through the eyes which are actually receiving instruments. In this light, our experience of the world, all “reality,” is virtual in one sense and a hallucination in at least one other sense. The gold standard for the VR experience is—can we perform the same trick? And can we do it well enough to convince the experiencer that it is “real?” The ways in which we shift our perceptual assumptions, create and verify illusions, and enter “the willing suspension of disbelief” that allows us entry into imaginal worlds is central to the experience of VR worlds, whether those worlds are explicitly representational (robotic manipulations by VR) or explicitly imaginal (VR artistic creations). Is there such a thing as a virtual hallucination?