The Virtual Geek

Can philosophy help us understand and relate to Virtual Reality?Who knows? But that’s the sort of questions that intrigue Joakim Vindenes, a research fellow at the Center for the Science of Learning and Technology (SLATE) at the University of Bergen.


Main content

Joakim researches applied virtual reality (VR) and uses the blog Matrise.no as an outlet for his creative ponderings on VR, science, consciousness, and philosophy. 

He is also an associate participant in the ViSmedia research project, in which he examines the use of VR and 360 Video in journalism.  However, he is not sure what kind of mark VR will make on modern journalism.

- VR might be used in some of the large-scale cases, where they go all-in with a large staff. I can't imagine VR being a part of the daily journalism quite yet, though. An exploration into which formats of news presentation and storytelling that will be a particular fit for the medium is necessary. This has been the aim of one of our VR Journalism courses at the University of Bergen.

VR and 360-videos have in common that they are demanding to do properly, and rather dull when not done properly.

- The thing with VR and 360-videos is that they require a lot of work in order to be interesting and useful. A crappy 360-video is not of much interest to me. VR is a very rich and personal format and needs to be handled carefully in production to truly exploit its unique benefits.


Established VR blog

Joakim with VR

Joakim researches applied virtual reality (VR) and uses the blog Matrise.no


- The blog Matrise is a hobby project. There are no strict rules for what I publish there, except that it will have something to do with VR, he says. 

A typical example is the blog post, The Virtual Freud, which deals with how virtual reality can allow us another perspective on ourselves, and how this may better our mental health.

- The entry discusses how VR can affect our perspective on ourselves. So, on the blog, I use a scientific paper as a starting point for a discussion, where I relate the findings and concepts to philosophy and my own ideas.

At Matrise, Joakim Vindenes also discusses how VR can benefit anxiety sufferers through virtual therapy and mindfulness meditation. 

- The piece on mindfulness meditation is a bit different, as it also touches into religious history. As with The Virtual Freud, it is related to consciousness: can VR allow us to step outside our normal understanding of ourselves and the world? 

Interdisciplinary perspectives on VR seems to come naturally to Joakim Vindenes. At SLATE he works along experts on information technology, psychology and pedagogy, and is particularly interested in how VR can be used for learning purposes, and how VR may help resolve social issues. 


Virtual embodiment

The rubber hand illusion demonstrates that when a subject hand is being stroked, but he can’t see it, instead he can see a rubber hand being stroked, the subject's brain will assume that the rubber hand is the actual hand. Joakim Vindenes write about experiments with virtual embodiment led by Prof. Mel Slater, which takes this idea one step further. 

- You can hack the brain, so to speak, so that the body thinks that the virtual body is the actual body. I find this kind of research to be very interesting, as it really exploits the possibility of VR to alter our bodily consciousness.

Self-identification with a virtual body can be exploited to, for instance, reduce implicit racial bias and make offenders of domestic violence get better in noticing the fear in victims.

- A male aggressor is being placed inside the virtual body of a smaller female and identifies with that body. Or a white person can be placed inside a body of dark complexion. 


What audience?

Although Matrise deals with rather large and complex societal issues, Joakim Vindenes creates the blog mostly for himself and has no intended audience.

- I don't know who the readers are, but I assume they are particularly interested in these matters. 

Though a popularization of science, Matrise does not constitute an easy read. 

- Matrise is less complicated to read than a scientific paper, but I guess it is still quite a demanding read, with lots of abstract concepts and rather long texts. I created a glossary with definitions of the words and concept I use, so I don't have to explain the words every time I use them, I can just refer to the glossary. Joakim is now writing two  chapters on VR in an international reader which is going to be published in in a few months.