Virtual Reality: Our Version of a Dream? by@dylanthiam

Virtual Reality: Our Version of a Dream?

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We're accidently creating a man-made version of a dream. Dreams helped our ancestors by simulating threats and exposing them to potential future situations. Virtual worlds allow us to approach things that are dangerous or make us uncomfortable or scared in real life, and they help us find innovative solutions to problems. The difference is, virtual reality (VR) is persistent and under our control, unlocking a range of opportunities.

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Do you know why we dream?

The question has puzzled humanity for millennia, if not longer, and it still causes much debate and head-scratching. Now we have an idea of why dreams have persisted until this day, and they may have contributed to our survival throughout history.

With this post, I would like to suggest that we are inadvertently creating a man-made version of a persistent and (in the case of the metaverse) collective dream that has the potential to help us in the same way natural dreams helped our ancestors.

What are dreams?

We’re not entirely sure yet. But here’s a list of things we do know:

  • Dreams are a series of events and images that you see in your mind when you sleep,
  • Dreams take pieces of our memories and reconstruct them,
  • Dreams use these pieces of memory to simulate probable future events,
  • Lucid dreaming is when you are aware you’re dreaming and can influence the dream.

Thanks to the above, dreams may have helped our ancestors (and us):

  • Be more alert for specific dangers when awake (Threat Simulation Theory),
  • Consolidate, enhance and incorporate memories,
  • Process emotions,
  • Prepare for events that might happen,
  • Understand and solve problems in real life.

Have you ever woken up with a specific thought, idea, or solution to a problem you’ve been brooding over? That’s one way you may have experienced the benefits of dreams.

Note that not many people have experienced lucid dreaming, and not everyone remembers their dreams all the time, but it doesn’t mean that dreams aren’t helping on a subconscious level.

So a dream is a non-physical environment where you can test out things that might happen in the real world – where you can simulate real life – and it may have helped our ancestors tackle challenges in innovative ways.

Sound familiar?

We use this concept today in many areas. In the tech world for example, where we test out applications in a safe and realistic environment before launching them into the real world.

We call this a sandbox environment.

The connection with virtual reality

You’ve probably guessed what I’m getting at.

We already have sandbox games, which give players the freedom to explore and experiment. Virtual worlds allow you to try things that may make you uncomfortable or scared in the physical world, they allow you to fail and to try again.

Of course, I know we can do this without virtual reality. Humans have been using simulations (or their imaginations and dreams) to prepare for challenges since long before virtual came around.

But, wouldn’t you try to make your sandbox more realistic to make sure your solution works when going to production?

You can imagine scenarios about it, write it down, draw it – but seeing and living it is something else.

We can identify a few ways virtual reality may act as a dream. It can help us with:

  • Fears and anxieties, such as strong phobias
  • Strong emotions and psychological distress
  • Training for real-life emergencies

Virtual reality has been and is currently being tested to treat various phobias (flying and heights for example), to train patients to cope with difficulties, and study human emotions with more accurate results — and the list of examples is growing.

Ironically, there has already been lucid dreaming training in VR.

A sandbox for life

It’s thought that Mother Nature, at some point in our evolution, “decided” that more vivid dreaming was beneficial to our species. Dreams expose us to virtual, controlled threats and create simulations to help us develop skills that we might need in real life.

Now we’ve created our own version. A “sandbox for life” that we can control.

An increasing number of non-programmers will also be able to engage in productive experimentation in their worlds as it becomes easier to modify virtual spaces using visual builders and SDKs.

It will become even more immersive when we bring higher-quality virtual content into the physical world so we’re not restrained by chunky headsets or treadmills that simulate movement.

As an occasional lucid dreamer, I can say that I look forward to having an immersive virtual space that I can control even when I’m awake.

But on a larger scale, I think that having the ability to experiment in a realistic environment for more than just 4 hours per night could help us find new ways to approach the world.


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