"The VR industry," I recently mused to some friends, "has turned millennia-old philosophical thought experiments into practical business challenges." As a perect example of that, read this Rock Paper Shotgun thread where VR users report feelings of temporary confusion between what's virtual and the real:
I took off the headset and went through to the bedroom to get ready for bed. It was fine for a few minutes but then I had to go to the side of the room to get something and suddenly I felt convinced I was still in VR. Like, I was inching across the room because I was expecting the virtual grid to appear at any moment and tell me that the *real* edge of the room was imminent. If I went too fast I would walk into an unseen wall or wardrobe...
The 5 or 10 minutes after taking off the headset is a weird, sort of uncomfortable thing. I’ve noticed that it leaves me feeling drained, mentally exhausted. I fully expect to be able to phase through walls and furniture. It definitely leaves a lingering sense of altered perception but I can’t tell if it’s something that will lessen or become exacerbated after becoming well acclimated to spending more and more time in VR.
In other words, "Am I still in The Matrix, or have I woken up?" Or as René Descartes put it some four hundred years ago, "Am I in the clutches of an Evil Deceiver?" To wit:
The evil demon presents a complete illusion of an external world, including other minds, to Descartes' senses, where there is no such external world in existence. The evil genius also presents to Descartes' senses a complete illusion of his own body, including all bodily sensations.
So now Facebook, Sony, Google, and all the other major companies financing and developing VR need to discuss how to deal with their products' Evil Deceiver problem: How widespread is the phenomenon? Will it become more widespread when our products become more popular? Does it become more pronounced with extended VR use? And above all: Can we be sued blind by customers who hurt themselves because our products create temporary perceptual and proprioceptive confusion between what's virtual and what's real? Because like Husserl said (or maybe it was your mom), epistemological thought experiments are all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
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