Synchronized VR Triggers Out of Body Experiences

“Spirit Levitation: Out of Body Experience” by Loutish.Pixel

An out-of-body experience (OBE) is one of the most mysterious and inexplicable things a human being can endure. But thanks to new science, triggering one may be as easy as getting a person to watch a video of themselves with their heartbeat projected onto it. According to the study, it’s easy to trick the mind into thinking it belongs to an external body and manipulate a person’s self-consciousness by externalizing the body’s internal rhythms.

These findings were made by a team consisting of Dr Jane Aspell – Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK – and Lukas Heydrich, a Phd Student at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. Together, the two set out to see find how our internal organs contribute to bodily self-consciousness and whether they can be manipulated to induce an OBE.

electrocardiogramThe underlying goal, according to Ruskin, was finding out how our body merges information such as the visual, auditory, and olfactory with information coming from within. How this leads to the perception we call “reality”, and how it could be altered, is what is being studied here for the first time;

If you think about your body, you have several sources of information about it: you can see your hands and legs, you can feel the seat you’re sitting on via vision, you know you are standing upright thanks to your sense of balance etc. There is also a vast number of signals being sent to your brain from inside of your body every second that you are alive: about your heartbeat, your blood pressure, how full your stomach is, what electrolytes are in your blood, how fast you are breathing.

For their experiment, they attached 17 participants to electrocardiogram sensors and had them view videos of their own bodies through virtual reality goggles so that their body appeared to be two meters (6.5 ft) in front of them. Participants were then shown their own heartbeats in the form of a flashing outline around their “body doubles” that pulsed in sync with their own.

outofbody-1After a few minutes, many of the participants reported sensations of being in an entirely different part of the room rather than their physical body and feeling that their “selves” were closer to their virtual doubles. According to the team, this is the first study that clearly shows how visual signals containing information about the body’s internal organs (i.e. heartbeat) can change their perception of themselves. As Aspell put it:

It confirms that the brain is able to integrate visual information with cardiac information. It seems that the brain is very sensitive to patterns in the world which may relate to self – when the flashing was synchronous with the heartbeat this caused changes to subjects’ self-perception.

While it may sound like technologically-inspired mysticism, the research has several medical applications. One option is to help people with distorted views of themselves – i.e. anorexia, bulimia or other perceptual disorders – to connect with their actual physical appearance. Aspell is currently studying “yo-yo” dieters and says she plans to continue investigating how the internal body shapes who we are.

The Swiss National Science Foundation and the Fondation Bertarelli supported the study which is slated for publication in the APS journal Psychological Science.


The Future Is Here: Google Glasses!

It’s like something out of a cyberpunk wet dream. Long the subject of speculative science fiction, it seems that we now have a working prototype for a set of goggles that can handle our wireless and networking needs. Merging the concepts of Augmented Reality with a Head-Mounted Display (HMD), Google has created what are now known as the “Google Glasses”.

Also known as “Project Glass”, this device is the first working model for what is often referred to as mobile computing. While still being tested, the project has been unveiled and Google Inc announced that they will now be conducting public trials to test their portability and ergonomics.

But of course, some of the terminology needs a little explanation. For example, augmented reality. By definition, this is the live direct, or indirect, view of the real world with computer generated imagery laid over top. One can be walking down the street or otherwise interacting with their world, but will also be able to view a desktop browser, a web page, or streaming video laid just overtop.

According to Google, the glasses will function much like an iPhone with the Siri application, in that wearers will be able to get onto the internet using voice commands. If this goes through, Apple Inc. will have its work cut out for it if they want to remain top dog in the technology race. I wonder what Steve Jobs would have made of this, may he rest in peace!

The project is just one of several being worked on by Google X Lab’s team of crack engineers, which includes Babak Parviz, an electrical engineer who has also worked on putting displays into contact lenses; Steve Lee, a project manager and “geolocation specialist”; and Sebastian Thrun, who developed Udacity education program as well as working on their self-driving car project.

Naturally, this news is causing a great deal of excitement, but I can’t help but wonder if certain people – not the least of which is William Gibson – aren’t getting just a tinge of self-satisfaction as well? You see, it was this Vancouver-based, American born purveyor of cyberpunk that predicted both the use of “cyberspace goggles” and augmented reality many years ago. The former were featured extensively in his Sprawl Trilogy and a similar device, known as Virtual Light glasses, made several appearances in his subsequent Bridge Trilogy.

What’s more, his latest books (known as the Bigend Trilogy) also made extensive mention of Augmented Reality before most people had heard of it. Beginning with Spook Country (2007), the second book in the series, he described an artist who used wireless signals and VR goggles to simulate the appearance of dead celebrities all over LA. This new type of touristic art, known as “locative art” was the first time AR was mentioned in a pop culture context. In his third book of the series, Zero History (2010), he mentions the technology yet again but says how it has been renamed “Augmented Reality” now that its more popular. As always, Gibson was on the cutting edge, or just ahead of the curve.

Click on the links below for a little “light reading” on the announcement: