What it's like to be dead? That's a question we humans cannot answer until we are there, at the end of our lives. The big unknown. But this virtual reality experience developed at the University of Barcelona might get you a glimpse into how it could feel like to be dead, and with that eventually reduce the angst of leaving this earth.
The experience was tested on 32 volunteers, the idea is to make users think that the virtual body perceived through the VR headset is their own. While wearing the headset, the illusion of living in the virtual body was built step by step, by training the computer generated body to match all the movements the physical body performed. A hit against the simulated head would be synched by a real hit on the person's actual head. The real time synchronisation is comparable to the so called rubber hand illusion, a trick often practiced by scientist, using fake body parts in order to explore how the mind, associates information gained from the senses to create a feeling of body ownership. An example would be a person with a missing limb, thinking the part is still attached even if it's physically impossible.
After believing the illusion, the test people watched their own body switch into a different perspective. They had the feeling of floating out of the virtually body and looking down, from a higher perspective. The researchers would then drop balls on the virtual representations of the volunteers while they were looking down from above, activating the vibrators on only half of them. Those who received vibrations still felt connected to their bodies, while those who didn't felt disconnected and said the experience reduced their fear of dying.
Even though this VR experience might not completely remove our fear of death, it tells something about the connection between a person's consciousness and his/her physical body. "It gives a sense that it’s possible to survive beyond death" Mel Slater, team leader of the project, said. The so-called outer-body-experience is nothing new and has been often reported by patients surviving a heart attack or a coma. Slater hopes this project could help terminally ill patients or people suffering from a life impairing death phobia.
This experiment shows again how we can use technology to simulate our notion of reality, luckily in this case there is the exit button to go back to real life.