When I started writing this post, I had a very simple premise of talking about Virtual Reality. But then I googled the word “reality” and I realized that I am at the tip of an iceberg, one that I’m not sure I want to really explore or understand.
It seems that virtual reality is about to explode. Actually, it already is, but soon it will become an everyday occurrence for anyone who wants to try it. To me, a child of the 60’s and 70’s, I am wary, suspicious and flat out unhappy with the premise that my “reality” will be contained in a pair of glasses or a helmet.
Virtual reality is based on the premise that our brains are very easy to fool. We take information in sensorily (at this point, the virtual reality people are concentrating on sight, but sound, smell, touch and even taste are probably not far behind).
An article in the October 2015 issue of The Atlantic, written by Maria Konnikova, quoted Jeremy Bailenson as saying “We have a reptilian instinct that responds as if it’s real: Don’t step off that cliff; this battle is scary […] The brain hasn’t evolved to tell you it’s not real.”
That means that virtual reality, while not really real, is perceived that way by our brains. Your brain would react to a virtual video of a rollercoaster as if you were really on the rollercoaster. If you were afraid of heights, it might be advisable not to “put yourself” on top of a cliff. Even though you are physically standing in a room on the ground floor of a building, your brain would react as if you were really standing on the cliff.
In my brief search online, I found an add for the new Google cardboard plastic:
Google Cardboard Plastic combines everything you love about virtual reality headsets with everything you love about reality.
It honestly looks like a plastic box with a cut out for your eyes and your nose. (The original was an actual cardboard box.) The gist is that you place your iPhone in the box in front of your eyes, turn on the virtual reality app, and pretend you are doing lots of fun things from playing tennis to mountain climbing to…oh whatever the app writers have dreamed up. The apps are still evolving and from what I understand, there are various levels of ability.
But here was the sentence that really got me when I was looking at the website:
“We wanted to make something feel real.”
So I am back to my original premise for this post. What the hell is reality? If reality is not something that happens every single moment, why are you trying to make something feel real?
Here’s the Wikipedia definition:
“Reality is the state of things as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. In a wider definition, reality includes everything that is and has been, whether or not it is observable or comprehensible. A still broader definition includes everything that has existed, exists, or will exist.”
: the true situation that exists : the real situation
: something that actually exists or happens : a real event, occurrence, situation, etc.
In other words, reality just is. It is our every waking moment, it is that which happens. It is not our perception of what happens, it is what actually happens. I am typing on this keyboard. That is the reality. I look up and the words appear on the screen. Is that reality or is that virtual reality? If I turn the computer off, where do the words go? Even if the words go away, that doesn’t take away from the fact, the reality that I typed them out on the keyboard. It doesn’t change the fact that I thought them in my head. It doesn’t take away from the fact that as I type, I see one of my cats pacing around the room, I hear the basketball game on the TV downstairs and feel the cool air in the room and the floor under my feet. That is my reality. And yet…I can be distracted from this reality so very easily.
I have been struggling with the concept of virtual reality as an artist. I think in some ways, the arts are the precursor to what has now become a new technology. There are certain paintings that I look at that “trick” my brain into feeling a certain way. I react emotionally to music, to theater, to art, and especially to dance. And yet, what I am seeing is not necessarily my reality. It is a representation of reality. Storytelling, either verbal or visual, is a really good way of transforming your reality. That’s probably why I love books so much. I find that when I read an intense story or watch a very emotional movie, I am transported to a different emotional place than the one that I existed in before. My brain no longer reacts only to the realities of the room I am in, or the situations I am currently dealing with. I am reacting to an imposed reality. A reality that was thought up by someone else. I think this is why we find movies, music, sports…all the types of entertainment we seek out…so important. Because they open up our vision of “reality”.
So why am I so suspicious of this next evolution of reality? It’s new. It’s plastic. It’s technology. At some point, there will be an amazing way of using it that will further mankind. But in the process, will we lose something as well?
At least this is what I am thinking today. I need to ponder this whole issue some more. If you have any thoughts on the idea of “reality” and what it has come to mean, feel free to chime in.
And I will leave you with a photo, a virtual reality picture of spring, which is trying to decide if it really wants to happen or not. These colors, which I can look at, touch, smell if I just walk outdoors, are amazingly vibrant this year…