A Virtual Reality Retreat

Ruben Baart
May 4th 2017

After virtual reality meditation, here comes the VR full retreat. Infinity House opened its doors as the world’s first virtual retreat for the sake of self-enrichment. Instead of spending the average price of $250 a day, this immersive wellbeing experience simply needs a pair of goggles.

The self acclaimed "gateway to a new and harmonious life" presents an alternative dimension in which the guests are said to achieve "all that [they] desire". Throughout several categories and with the help of experienced personal trainers, the visitors are promised to reach their goals towards a higher state of consciousness, which in turn will have positive effects on their health and wellbeing. "Scientifically, scans show that mediation increases the cortical folding which means that the brain can process information faster as well as increasing whole brain function" the promotional video explains.

A dreamy narration takes the viewer on a guided tour to a world that appears similar to the corporate feel of Life Extension, a fictional company the movie Vanilla Sky, which specializes in cryonic suspension. With slogans as "All that you can imagine" and "Design your new adventure" the comparison is uncanny. In the movie, the protagonist decides to take life in his own hands after he experiences an unfortunate turn of events, and signs up for the company's lucid dream experience, which results in a bad trip and can only end with a horrid scenario he chose for himself.

Yes, virtual reality is a temporal simulation that we can escape by taking off our goggles. But if there is one thing the VR production house sets out to prove is that simulations are now more meaningful than the reality they represent. In their book Boundaries of Self and Reality Online, psychologists Jayne Gackenbach & Johnathan Bown put virtual experiences to the test. Using the notion of 'game transfer phenomenom', the researchers describe the moment where the physical reality and its virtual counterpart start to blend (an effect commonly found among gamers). Similarly, Gackenbach found that gamers who often spend time in virtual worlds are more in control of their dream worlds than non-gamers (what she calls 'lucidity'), suggesting that spending time in virtual worlds might teach them to experience a dream as such. In her latest research, Gackenbach poses the same questions towards virtual reality.

With the long-awaited mainstream takeover of immersive devices (2015? 2016? 2017?), Gackenbach opens an important debate in anticipation to intensified brain results. "All this points to one thing" she said during the CGSA Annual Conference of the University of Calgary."When you alter people’s waking realities, their memory changes. The more you think you’re in one reality, it alters your memory of other realities".

Virtual chambers have a surreal quality that can be similarly read as dreams. A number of psychologists are researching the effects of virtual reality and consciousness inference in dreaming, but also in waking state (remember Pokemon Go?). While augmented reality apps might seem less physically immersive than virtual reality, chances are big they lead to similar neurological confusion, and this might be a problem. Before we start plunging ourselves into virtual bathhouses and augmented meditations, it is important to reflect on our technologies. A wise man once said: "We are sleepwalking into our technological future" and this might be the proof. One thing is for sure, the worlds are definitely merging. But wasn't that the dream all along?

Sources: Infinite 360VR ProductionsLiveScienceThe Atlantic, Psychology Today

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Joyce Nabuurs: To me this question seems to be a logical next step in the emancipation movement of the past century. More and more women entered the workspace, but the responsibility for pregnancy and childrearing remained female.

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