[BRAINS!] Are Humans Ready For Virtual Reality?

Category: Gadgets

Virtual reality gear is “the next big thing,” and it’s already here. Oculus Rift, the most advanced and highly touted VR headset, was officially released on March 28, 2016. More VR headsets are coming from Samsung, Google, Valve and HTC, and others. The hardware and software are finally ready, say the geeks. But is the human brain prepared for the experience? Read on...

"This is Your Brain on VR…"

Virtual Reality (VR) is a highly immersive experience. Users report that it actually feels as if you have left your own body and taken control of another. We can be fooled into believing that we are our avatars, the fictional characters in video games. How do one’s thoughts, values, and behavior change when one believes one is The Incredible Hulk?

We just don’t know. Research into VR’s effects is limited because VR hasn’t been available to study until very recently. Sure, laboratory experiments on enthusiastic volunteers have occurred under controlled conditions. Ominously, that best case scenario has yielded warnings from Oculus and Samsung that users should take a 10 minute break every 30 minutes from VR, and avoid driving or operating heavy equipment soon after a VR session. Yikes.

Samsung’s list of cautions and warnings is uncomfortably lengthy. Here’s a good example: “Ease into the use of the Gear VR to allow your body to adjust; use for only a few minutes at a time at first, and only increase the amount of time using the Gear VR gradually as you become accustomed to virtual reality.” Really? What other consumer product requires such caution but not a doctor’s prescription?

Virtual reality dangers

People who are advised to consult a physician before using Samsung’s Gear VR include those who “are pregnant, elderly, have psychiatric disorders, suffer from a heart condition, have pre-existing binocular vision abnormalities or suffer from a heart condition or other serious medical condition.” Wow. The thought of people with certain psychiatric disorders engaging in virtual reality is scary.

All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

Naturally, the (mostly young) geek enthusiasts poo-poo concerns about VR being harmful to the human brain and body. In an online forum, one of these know-it-all kids recently sneered: “Are we going to once again see the same old arguments made about Dungeons & Dragons, Nintendo, the Internet and cell phone used being trotted out as alarmist attitudes towards VR? Why is it always cranky old people who feel a need to do this?”

I replied, “Because we're wiser than you, pipsqueak.” Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, and understanding is not wisdom. Wisdom comes only after long years of contemplating what you understand.

Palmer Luckey, the inventor of Oculus Rift, is only 23 years old right now. No, I do not trust him to meddle with my brain. And you might want to pore over the Oculus Rift's Terms of Service before you hook yourself up. A Gizmodo article says there are some "devilish details" in there.

The “alarmist attitudes” about D&D, Nintendo, the Internet, and cell phones have all been validated by subsequent research. The Association for Psychological Research has released numerous studies that find strong correlations between heavy cell phone use and a variety of mental illnesses. Even moderate video game use yields increased anxiety, depression, and social phobia. And Internet addiction is such a real thing that there are numerous expensive treatment options for it, along with horror stories about parents who let their kids die while playing on Facebook.

For now, VR is expensive; an Oculus Rift starter kit costs $1500, about the same as the base price of Google Glass. Perhaps VR will die the same well-deserved death that Glass did. But if it takes hold of enough customers, prices will plummet. Then we may see some serious fallout.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[BRAINS!] Are Humans Ready For Virtual Reality?"

Posted by:

05 Apr 2016

"poo-poo"? My inner 5th-grader is in stitches!

I assume you meant to say "pooh-pooh" (dismiss as being foolish or impractical) as opposed to "poo-poo" (childish reference to feces).

Posted by:

Ralph Balch
05 Apr 2016

If Luckey turned it over to the p**n industry,it would be an instant success! lol

Posted by:

BettyJo Nelson
05 Apr 2016

At the risk of being called an "old" alarmist and/or paranoid, I can definitely see the potential for brainwashing and the use of subliminal messages for marketing or to think and believe a certain government mantra. There was a time of ethics and morals but as time has progressed and those in charge have thrown those things out the window it gets more frightening. Us "old" folks won't be around to have to live with the consequences of the abuse of this type of technology. But you young, know it all young people will. Be aware.

Posted by:

Richard Dengrove
05 Apr 2016

There is a problem with a correlation between increased mental illness and cell phone use, and between game playing and anxiety, depression and social phobia. Does cell phone use and game playing cause craziness; or are crazy people more likely to use the cell phone or and do game playing? Correlation is not a cause. This, from a seventy year old.

Posted by:

Mac 'n' Cheese
05 Apr 2016

Hi, Gretchen, Too bad your inner fifth grader knows only the secondary definition of poo-poo. Here's the full dictionary entry:

Verb. (third-person singular simple present poopoos, present participle poopooing, simple past and past participle poopooed) To mildly deprecate or dismiss something as unimportant. She poopooed the idea. (intransitive, informal) To defecate.--www.yourdictionary.com

Yes, there is an alternate spelling, pooh-pooh, which you should use, to avoid confusing your inner fifth grader. ;-)


Posted by:

05 Apr 2016

61 years old : I read on the official manual of Samsung 3D TV not to drink alcohol when viewing 3D content! That was about 2 years ago.
In fact anything that meddles with perception is to be used with caution. VR may be good in a working environment, because then we seem to be in a different mind set.

Posted by:

Jay R
05 Apr 2016

What could I ever want virtual reality for when I could have at least $1500 in reality. I'm losing touch with reality....It's such a fine line..I hate to see it go.

Posted by:

05 Apr 2016

First it was rose-colored glasses; then it was 3D; now we have ourselves VR. Wooh-Hooh (or should that be Woo-Hoo?)!
I like the technical details of 'Augmented Reality' that Microsoft is delivering with HoloDeck!

Posted by:

06 Apr 2016

So we seem to have AI----->Skynet or VR----->The Matrix. It seems as though we are happily entering the early stages of either scenario. I liked the movies but am not at all keen on either becoming our reality. Luddites unite!

Posted by:

06 Apr 2016

Does anyone remember Timothy Leary and that experiment into the mind and how well that turned out. Just how many of those daredevils got back to normal?
I find technology fascinating and since being immersed in it's rapid evolution in 1982, Apple 2C was obsolete before it hit the ground good. I can scarcely keep up now.
No the people coming along behind my children's generation are weaker mentally as time goes by.
Thanks, What a great topic.

Posted by:

06 Apr 2016

As a man of 75 I can be considered as an elder. I have been into computers since the 60s when I got my first ZX81 and kept abreast of them ever since.
Fact is, so little is known about V R that very few people have the right to comment about it. Only time will tell who is right and who is wrong. Young people today may be smart but not necessarily sensible. I can see the possibility of addiction though most are already addicted to phones and computer games. Can you imagine if mobile phones were banned today, mass suicide.

Posted by:

Paul Konti
06 Apr 2016

I wonder if something positive can in fact come out of VR. Under strict professional supervision, perhaps it could be used to cure an addiction, depression, or a mental disorder.
I would be very interested to hear your views - no matter how wild. Let us brainstorm on this one, shall we?

Posted by:

06 Apr 2016

I am concerned about the warnings of using VR headsets. We have enough addicts with video playing games and online Role Playing Games. My godson loved StarCraft, his wife called it StarCrack. I think, that says it all.

I believe playing games on computers or PS4 or XBox One are fine. As long as the game player isn't playing their games every minute they can, ignoring their family and social contacts.

In all honesty, anything that allows you to ignore family and friends is not a good thing. Isolation is the killer of the mind. Humans need interaction with other humans to truly be a whole person. Humans are social and being social with inanimate objects really makes no sense. I am talking about addiction, not casual game playing.

I play my games, casual games, every day but, I interact with my family and friends daily, as well. Now, I can get into a game, but, my games only last hours and there is no Role Playing. I don't like those kinds of games.

Posted by:

J Russell
06 Apr 2016

Would you buy a car that has a 50-50 chance of exploding when you started it? How about we reduce the odds to 20% chance of exploding, 10%, 5%? At what percentage in your favor would it be acceptable enough to get you to buy a car that will explode, you just don’t know when? I’m pretty sure the new Virtual Reality equipment won’t explode, but based on the recommendations of at least one manufacture the harmful effects could be at least as bad, not just to the user but anyone near them. Go ahead by one and try it out. I’ll be very interested in reading how your rate it, in a couple of years.

Posted by:

Gloria Huffman
07 Apr 2016

"Bob Rankin: 'Because we're wiser than you, pipsqueak. Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, and understanding is not wisdom. Wisdom comes only after long years of contemplating what you understand."

Beautiful. May I post this on Facebook with your name, Bob?

Posted by:

Bruce Butterfield
07 Apr 2016

Another old crock here. I have enough trouble with real realty, so who needs the virtual version?

By the way, Bob, so pleased at last to know somebody who understands the difference between pouring ( such as milk) over something and poring over a situation being considered (or maybe Grandpa's will).

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