As we got closer, I started worrying about the other participants infringing on their personal space. Then I remembered that oceans and thousands of miles separated me from them—and wasn’t dropping the notion of personal space the whole thing? So I tried to settle into intimacy.
“What happens in VR is a sense of completely forgetting about the existence of the outside world,” says Agnieszka Sekula, PhD candidate at the Center for Human Psychopharmacology in Australia and cofounder of a company that uses VR to enhance psychedelic therapy. ” “So under psychedelics there’s definitely a similarity to this sense of experiencing an alternate reality that feels more real than it actually is out there.”
But, she adds, “there’s definitely a difference between what a psychedelic experience feels like and what a virtual reality feels like.” Because of this, she appreciates that Isnes-D charts a new route for transit rather than copying an already existing one.
More research is needed on the lasting effects of the Isness-D experience and whether virtual reality, in general, can produce the same benefits as psychedelics. The leading theory on how psychedelics improve clinical outcomes (a debate that has been settled) is that their effects are driven by both the subjective experience of a trip and the drug’s neurochemical effects on the brain. Since VR reflects only subjective experience, its clinical benefit, which has not yet been rigorously tested, may not be as strong.
We moved closer until we met in the center of the circle – four plumes of smoke billowing together.
Jacob Ade, a psychiatric researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, says he wishes the study measured the mental health of the participants. They believe that VR could potentially downgrade the default mode network—a brain network that activates when our thoughts aren’t directed at a specific task, and which psychedelics can suppress (the scientists’ study). believe that this ego causes death). The people shown amazing videos have reduced activity in this network. VR is better at creating awe than regular video, so the Isness-D can likewise dial it up.
Already, a startup called ANUMA that grew out of Glowacki’s lab allows anyone with a VR headset to sign up for Isness sessions weekly. The startup sells a smaller version of Isness-D to companies for virtual wellness retreats, and offers a similar experience called Ripple to help patients, their families, and their caregivers cope with a terminal illness. A co-author of the paper describing Isnes-D is also operating it in couples and family therapy.
“What we’ve found is that representing people as pure glare really frees them from a lot of judgment and guesswork,” Glowecki says. This includes negative thoughts about their bodies and prejudices. He has personally facilitated Anuma sessions for cancer patients and their loved ones. One, a woman suffering from pancreatic cancer, died a few days later. The last time she and her friends gathered, she was like a mixed ball of light.
For one phase of my Isness-D experience, moving created a brief electric trail that marked where I was just now. After a few moments of this, the narrator added: “How does it feel to look at the past?” I started thinking about the people in my past that I missed or hurt. In the scruff, I used my finger to write their names in the air. As I wrote to them, I saw them disappear.