A world that isn’t real but is real Take an ostrich feather and tick….what do you mean you don’t have one? That’s absurd. Okay, go and get an eagle’s talon and softly caress…that, too? What’s going on? Okay, take your finger and poke your cheek. I assume you have one or can borrow one, so tell me, how did it feel? Is it real? It’s real because your brain is constantly shooting signals to and from your skin where you have touch receptors. They shoot a message to the brain to tell them that something is poking your cheek. Your eyes can sense this object and send the signal to the brain. Your brain, now armed with the feeling and visibility of the finger, correctly establishes that you are poking yourself in the face.
Brilliant! However, what if we can make your eyes see a fake finger and electrically stimulate your cheek to make it feel like something is poking you? Your brain is relatively easy to trick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxwn1w7MJvk. This is something called multi-sensory perception. Often, your brain uses visual information above other information. When you drink a glass of tea from a red cup, your brain sees the red cup and the tea will taste slightly sweeter. If you hold your nose while eating strawberry ice-cream, 80% of the taste will vanish immediately. 80% of taste depends on olfaction (smell). Heck, we can even trick your brain with a picture. The pros Indeed, your brain is as weak and easily manipulated as an unsturdy and easily hoodwinked goldfish (which DON’T have 3 second memories - they can encode memories for months!). There are some quite apparent advantageous elements to a world with lots of VR. For one, we could tackle climate change quite radically if we all stop moving arooooooooound the place. 29% of carbon emissions in the developed world (read: the most affluent countries) comes from transportation.
Now, we can’t transport goods with VR, but if a doctor could treat a patient, or a teacher could teach a class, or a dance troupe could bust open some swagger than swag moves without ever leaving their bedrooms, you’d save a huge amount of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere and pushing Earth toward a giant, fearsome furnace unfit for life. Nooooooo….nooooooooo……..NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! *Sorry - I freaked out*. VR could redesign the need for movement. Plus, you could wear pyjamas all day. Additionally, humans, without a need to physically travel, would have far more time to stay fit, spend time with loved ones, and sniff the delightful floral scent of hyacinths wafting through the air from that mad guy next door who has 9,876.
Humans need contact and need to move. If we don’t leave our bedrooms, we’ll invariably barely move a muscle because it will mostly be happening inside our minds.
If we’re able to construct some kind of contraption that allows us to mimic actual movement, it’ll cost a massive amount of CO2 and be frighteningly expensive (you see, we need to think of cost in CO2 before the cost in wonga/dosh/dollars). As a consequence of minimal movement, humans create a calorie surplus and that leads to weight gain. Weight gain invariably leads to health problems because the human body evolved to be within certain ranges of weight before it starts to creak and shudder from too much gravity pulling down too much mass. Thus, more calories than you burn would create a health pandemic as heart disease would rise exponentially. The opposite, of course, would be true if we create a calorie deficit by moving more than we consume. This presents a pickle because where is the line? When would VR help and when would it hinder?
Oh…and you could play games
Lest we forget, VR would unlock a rich tapestry of games and more games and even more games that could be so lifelike that your brain would think it was really happening. You could ski at the Olympics. You could scale Mount Everest. You could dance with BTS. The possibilities are endless. However, though this dopamine release would be dandy, we’re still left with the all important issue of addiction.
Games are made by companies. Companies want profit. Thus, game companies WANT people to become irreversibly addicted to games. Human history is interesting. Ferraris do nothing to help our planet, but all of the money spent on them every year was spent on poverty or education or climate change, we’d live in a very different world. Humans love joy, and we love chasing VERY expensive ways to find it.