Meet Micah Zayner, a VR artist who has clocked some of the most, if not the most, hours in virtual reality. From 5 full days a week in VR as well as often working up to 16 hours in VR on the weekends, he has experienced some very real side effects from spending so much time in a virtual environment.
Ever heard of stories where the protagonist begins to mix what is real and what is not? Or what is dream and what is reality? After immersing in VR as Zayner has, the boundaries between VR, dream, and reality, can begin to blur.
After weeks of creating art in VR, Zayner said he began to have incredibly realistic and detailed dreams, or what is known as lucid dreaming.
“I’d wake up with my heart…” he gestured to his chest and uses his hands to indicate a rapid beating, “… pounding,” he said.
“It was the first time I made eye contact with a person in my dreams. After this experience, I had to take two months off of VR. This was after 5 full days a week in VR as well as 8 hours on Saturday and Sunday,” said Zayner.
Sometimes when recalling memories, Zayner also can’t remember if they were in VR or reality.
Zayner explained that this is a result of the brain trying to make sense of how to interpret VR and in this process it brings the virtual closer to dream as well as dream closer to reality.
Even more fascinating, Zayner explained that as we use VR, we create neural connections that have never before existed. Is there a possibility that over generations this may evolve into a new way of thinking?
I didn’t expect VR to have such a close tie to the way we dream, but explained in this way, it makes sense. In VR, motion, patterns and vision don’t follow the rules of day to day physics. In conjunction with the lack of a physical body when looking down and also the slightly blurred graphics, it’s no wonder these traits seep into the perhaps closer reality of a dream world.
If you don’t have a VR headset at home, there are other ways to mimic the lucid experience. For a few days check in and look at your hands while asking the question, am I dreaming? The goal is for this to become an automatic task, and then while dreaming, you perform a similar check in.
Of course I tried this, and after a few days I became aware while dreaming and woke up with surprise. A few times after this experience, I was able to continue to lucid dream without waking up.
It’s a very unusual feeling, and poses the questions how will VR affect our psychology overtime? Lucid dreaming as a side effect of constant use of VR seems to re-wire the brain to some extent and I’m curious to learn more about this over long term use of VR in varied scenarios.
I’d like to say that lucid dreaming, like VR, offers an experience of the imagination, but crossing the imaginary world with the real world may home some interesting (and potentially good!) side effects.
Have you had any interesting side effects after a prolonged period of time spent in VR?