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Brief Published: 5 Jul 2017

Cyberdelics: VR Psychedelics for Empathy

Virtual Awakening's Death is Only the Beginning

Virtual reality (VR) installations allowed people to experience the empathetic effects of psychedelic drugs at this year's Breaking Convention – a conference on psychedelic consciousness held at London's University of Greenwich (June 30 to July 2).

  • Identity-Dissolving Experience: Welcome Home, a performance by British immersive theatre company Infinite Experience, mixed VR visuals with live actors to plunge participants into a sensorial world similar to that of an ayahuasca journey. Exploring the illusion of identity, the installation shifts awareness and understanding to a connection beyond self to others and the wider universe. 
  • New Connections: Artist Batuhan Bintas and musician Christian Duka, both UK-based, presented Cyber Mushroom – a project combining VR visuals with binaural music to lull the mind's brainwaves and induce meditative states of consciousness. The concept reframes the idea of reading a book as an observer, instead offering participants direct access to characters' experiences and imaginations.  
  • Near-Death Simulation: British VR experience creator Virtual Awakening exhibited Death is Only the Beginning, which guides visitors through stages of a near-death experience. As well as subjecting the viewer to visions of the afterlife, the installation also shows an imagined review of their involvement in the key issues currently facing the wider world – from political unrest and polarisation, to environmental destruction.

The projects also reflect a rising interest in the positive impact of hallucinogens: 69% of US graduates support psychedelic drug research into their potential benefits for emotional wellbeing (YouGov, 2017).

For more on the rise of empathy-inducing tech, see SXSW 2017: Storytelling in Context, Tech for a Divided Society: DLD 2017 and Retail Tech: Future-Shaping Tools & Trends, 2017/18.