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A new life, a happier life, a virtual life

We experience the physical world from the moment we are born, to the moment we pass from it, via seven basic senses. We see, we hear, we touch, we smell, we taste. We use balance and equilibrium to determine our orientation in this space, and finally we use intuition, to navigate how things truly work.

Enjoyment and hurt, pain, suffering and euphoria. All are experienced through these senses, alone or in combination. The sum total of human experience can be boiled down to these input methods, taking data from what we perceive as outside world and passing it inwards to the processing centre at our core, the brain. This is what gives us awareness, sense of self, a reason to interact. Without any input at all, we would not even have self, for self is meaningless without some sense of outside.

We have no fundamental way of proving that the world outside is truly there, that does not pass through our senses. No way of proving the chair is solid, or the floor is actually there that does not go through sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, balance or intuition. Even if we injure ourselves, the pain we feel, the damage we see, that still goes through our senses. Our senses are still the only means of verification we have.

If, hypothetically, our senses were co-opted, re-routed completely into some parallel dimension, so we saw what was in that dimension, heard what was in that realm, felt what was in there, smelt and tasted from within. If we felt ourselves move through that dimension, felt pain and pleasure through interactions with creatures living inside. If all this were true, we would perceive ourselves to be within that dimension, even if we were in fact, bodily, within this one. We go, or we perceive that we go, wherever all our senses do.

Virtual environments fulfil that concept of the other dimension. Entering one in full immersion is exactly like mentally stepping into that other dimension. If you can feel and sense the world exactly as if it is real, who is to say it isn't real? At least as real as this one?

Currently, immersion technologies in VR are basic, and crude. You don a head-mounted display unit called a HMD to immerse your sight and sound in the virtual environment. It fits over the head, typically blocking out the outside world, and fully immersing the user in a virtual world by providing slightly different views to each eye, and containing a tracking system, to track the position of the user's head, updating the image to follow that movement.

HMDs naturally drape over the ears like glasses so they usually extend into the ears, placing tiny speakers inside the lobes, and using a technique called binaural sound, takes into account how the human form, particularly head shape, and ear shadows, distort sound waves coming from different directions to feed realistic, believable sounds into the ears.

Telehaptic systems give tactile touch, mostly pressure and texture, upon the physical form in response to conditions in the virtual. Datagloves and cyber suits allow the grasping of virtual objects, and caress by physically non-present people.

Scent collars and scent domes mix and match custom smells extruded up towards the nose, carried on the air, to match the experience in the VR at the time, whilst chewable taste sensors control the five basic tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, salty and sweet.

Balance can be overridden and controlled through a process called galvanic vestibular stimulation, or GVS. When a weak DC current is delivered to the mastoid behind your ear, the body responds by shifting it's balance toward the anode. The stronger the current, the more powerful its pull. If it is strong enough, it not only throws the body off balance but alters the course of movement.

All these systems perform the task of overriding your physical senses with others that hint at another reality. However, hint is all they do, none are powerful enough to completely override the physical senses to the point the physical does not feel there any more - you never really fully leave one dimension to enter another sensorally, and are always peripherally aware of both.

That is beginning to change with something called BMI - Brain Machine Interface, and something called SimStim.

BMI stands for Brain-Machine Interface, and is a fifty year old field dedicated to connecting the human brain directly to a computer, bypassing the body altogether. BMI can be used to control a computer by thought, or, going one stage further, control a virtual body by natural thought. When the natural nerve impulses are mapped directly onto controlling a prosthetic or virtual limb, it is called SIMulated STIMulation, or SimStim.

Once full SimStim is achieved - or even the very partial level we have currently, it becomes possible to live the life desired, free of whatever truly unwanted, unloved physical baggage they have been saddled with, to push them towards SimStim to begin with.

A life in which the form they wear is one of their choosing, one in which the visage they present matches the person inside. A life which feels as physically real as the one left behind, in which the person is more active, more vibrant, more alive than they wound have been otherwise.

With such basic needs met, those who live lives via the medium of VR, via the physicality of VR, will achieve more via such a virtually mediated life than they could have in one they felt trapped in without it. Such liberation leads to a reduction of anger and stress, and an increase in happiness and contentment.

However, it should be noted that a life in VR is not a panacea for all ills and woes. Whilst it is likely that over time the majority of people who can, will spend a sizeable portion of life within VR, by no means will everyone choose VR over the outside world, for a life choice. It will be used for many things, as it is used for many things today, but relatively few will choose it as the way to best express themselves, overall.

Neither can VR life cure the ills of the physical world itself. It cannot solve the problems of drought and starvation, although VR simulations can help manage food supplies more effectively. It cannot solve the problems of war and hatred, and if anything becomes just another vector for such.

In the final analysis, it is no better, or worse than any other way of living a life. It has much to contribute, and much it cannot do. At the end of the day, all it can offer is perhaps, the chance of individual happiness and productive life. For those who seek it, that may just be enough.

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