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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Inception helmet creates alternative reality

Inception helmet creates alternative reality
Substitutional Reality system 

 The characters in Christopher Nolan's 2010 film Inception cannot distinguish between dreams and reality.
Photograph: Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros

Christopher Nolan's 2010 blockbuster Inception was set in a distant future where military technology enables one to infiltrate and surreptitiously alter other people's dreams. Leonardo Di Caprio plays Dom Cobb, an industrial spy tasked with planting an idea into the mind of a powerful businessman. The film has a complex, layered structure: Cobb and the other characters create dreams within dreams within dreams, but they cannot distinguish between reality and the dream states they fabricate.

Most of us distinguish between real and imagined events using unconscious processes to monitor the accuracy of our experiences. But these processes can break down in some psychiatric conditions. Patients with schizophrenia, for example, can experience auditory and visual hallucinations that they believe are real, while some brain damaged and delusional patients live in a world of perpetual false memories. Japanese researchers have developed an "Inception helmet" that manipulates reality to simulate such experiences, and could be used to study cognitive dysfunction in psychiatric disorders.

The Substitutional Reality (SR) system, developed by researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute's Laboratory for Adaptive Intelligence, is made of cheap, commercially available electronic components: a panoramic video camera used for recording, a computer for storing the recorded footage, and a head-mounted visual display that can switch seamlessly between the recorded footage and a live feed captured by a camera and microphone attached to it.

"In a dream, we naturally accept what is happening and hardly doubt its reality, however unrealistic it may seem on reflection." says Keisuke Suzuki, the lead author of a recent paper describing the SR system. "Our motivation is to explore the cognitive mechanisms underlying our strong conviction in reality. How can people trust what they perceive? Answering these questions requires an experimental platform which can present scenes that participants believe are completely real, but where we are still able to manipulate the contents."

To test the system, Suzuki and his colleagues designed a simple, yet ingenious, experiment. They recruited a group of participants, and then filmed each one as they entered a room and received instructions from one of the researchers. In turn, each participant was asked to sit in a chair in the same room, and don the head-mounted display, which then played a sequence of live and recorded scenes, and substituted one for the other without the participants' knowledge.

The first scene was a 'fake live' scene – a recording of one of the researchers appearing at the door and asking if the participant felt comfortable wearing the device, and to test it by looking around the room. Next came a 'doppelgänger' scene, in which the participants saw the recording of themselves receiving instructions from the researcher. This was followed by a second fake live scene, in which the experimenter re-enters the room and explains how the experiment was designed. The final scene was a live feed of the researcher re-entering the room, to reveal that all the previous scenes had actually been recordings.

The doppelgänger scene contradicted reality and made the participants realize immediately that they were experiencing a recording instead of a live feed. Most of them failed, however to distinguish between the live and recorded scenes during the rest of the experiment, even after the doppelgänger scene revealed how the system works. Several noticed a small difference between the audio quality of the live and recorded scenes, and used this to establish when the switch between the two had been made, but the rest subjectively experienced the 'fake live' scenes as being real.

The researchers then examined several factors that might affect the performance of the system. They found that head movements reduced the likelihood that participants would detect the switch between live and recorded scenes, and that the ability to detect the switch decreased with faster head movements. In the first experiment, the researchers switched between live and recorded scenes while the participants moved their heads to look around the room, and this effectively masked the "visual slip" that occurred during the switch.

Another factor is motion parallax, a depth cue associated with movement. As we move, nearby objects seem to move faster than objects that are further away, and objects also appear to change shape with changes in head position. These cues are present in the live feed but are missing from the recorded scenes, and could potentially be used to distinguish between live and recorded scenes. The researchers tested this by asking the participants to determine whether they were experiencing a live or recorded scene by monitoring the displacement of a chair placed at varying distances from them, and found that it had no significant effect.

The SR system thus offers an affordable way of manipulating participants' perception of reality, and could serve as a useful tool for investigating reality monitoring in psychiatric conditions.

"Psychiatric patients sometimes have delusive beliefs, as if they are in an alternative reality, and schizophrenics may also experience perceptual hallucinations – literally seeing things that are not there," says Suzuki. "SR provides a unique opportunity to model these experiences in healthy subjects, which could be useful for investigating the cognitive mechanisms underlying hallucinations and delusions."

"We've already explored the so-called 'doppelgänger' delusion, in which participants suddenly see themselves enter the room," he adds. "There's much more that can be done. For example, we can use the system to manipulate the matches between expected and actual sensory inputs in highly realistic environments, probing one current theory of schizophrenia. This might allow us to regenerate schizophrenic symptoms in a controlled fashion, perhaps providing avenues for therapy. Of course, all these potential applications require a very careful consideration of the relevant ethics."

Suzuki, who is now at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, is developing an enhanced SR system that he and his colleagues plan to use for several different projects. "A primary focus will be on the psychiatric applications, but the system could also be a powerful tool to investigate how our conscious experiences are constituted in daily natural scenes," he says.

"It will also open a new direction in cybertherapy. Virtual reality technologies effectively treat post-traumatic stress disorder and phobias by repeatedly exposing patients to traumatic episodes in immersive devices. The SR system provides the conviction of being in the 'real' world, which is absent in current VR technologies."

Reference: Suzuki, K., et al. (2012). Substitutional Reality System: A Novel Experimental Platform for Experiencing Alternative Reality. Scientific Reports, 2: 459. DOI: 10.1038/srep00459 (SEE BELOW)

See MIRAGE - Performance art using the Substitutional Reality system developed by researchers at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan.

Substitutional Reality System:

A Novel Experimental Platform for Experiencing Alternative Reality


We have developed a novel experimental platform, referred to as a substitutional reality (SR) system, for studying the conviction of the perception of live reality and related metacognitive functions. The SR system was designed to manipulate people's reality by allowing them to experience live scenes (in which they were physically present) and recorded scenes (which were recorded and edited in advance) in an alternating manner without noticing a reality gap. All of the naïve participants (n = 21) successfully believed that they had experienced live scenes when recorded scenes had been presented. Additional psychophysical experiments suggest the depth of visual objects does not affect the perceptual discriminability between scenes, and the scene switch during head movement enhance substitutional performance. The SR system, with its reality manipulation, is a novel and affordable method for studying metacognitive functions and psychiatric disorders.

Subject terms:

 Biological techniques

Figures at a glance



2.      A cartoon depiction for each step of Experiment I's sequence is shown.






Have you ever thought that what you were experiencing could be a dream or that friends you were talking to would disappear when you blinked? In principle, we believe what we see, but is it the case that what we see is necessarily really happening? A more accurate statement could be that we see what we believe. Consciously or unconsciously, we have a strong conviction that we experience live, ongoing reality. We refer to this simply as having a conviction about reality (CR). Usually, CR is falsely maintained in dreams. Consider the movie “Inception”, in which people were unable to discriminate between reality and dreams. To return to reality, they needed a physical “kick”, or a clue prepared as an emergency key. What happens if we do not have the clue once we are trapped in the dream? This type of disorientation is not limited to science fiction; similar occurrences are a part of some psychiatric diseases1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

During periods when we are awake, we usually do not need such an explicit clue because the maintenance of a CR is a basic metacognitive function that humans have (“cognition of cognition”). Although the definition of metacognition has not been fully established, introspection, confidence and self-monitoring are also considered metacognitive processes that relate to each other7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Clinical studies have shown that CR is a key issue for understanding metacognition. For example, disoriented patients cannot properly recognise time, objects or people in reality1. These patients often confabulate their ongoing reality, creating stories that are clearly inconsistent with their current situation (e.g., reduplicative paramnesia, geographical mislocation, and spontaneous confabulation)2, 3, 4, 5, 6. These confabulations are a result of metacognitive dysfunction in that these patients seem to lose the appropriate introspections to their cognitions.

Recent psychological studies examining “choice blindness” have revealed that confabulation with regard to reality can be induced in normal healthy participants by manipulating the outcome of their decisions using a simple sleight of hand (e.g., exchanging cards or a trick jam container)13, 14, 15. In these experiments, participants selected a card and were then asked to justify their decision, either with or without the card being switched. A significant number of participants did not notice the switch and proceeded to confabulate reasons for selecting the card that they did not in fact select, apparently violating introspective consistency. However, if their CR was weakened (i.e., when they started doubting that reality was manipulated and thus not as they subjectively experienced, in this case, by becoming aware of the sleight of hand), the frequency of such confabulations drastically decreased. If the experimenter explained the trick, none of the participants confabulated because their CR had disappeared. In another study, when a virtual agent presented the card trick on a computer screen, people noticed the trick easily16. These studies suggest that 1) reality manipulation is a promising tool to investigate metacognitive function and 2) CR should be maintained for the manipulation to be successful.

In this report, we describe an experimental setup that allows novel types of reality manipulation while maintaining participants' CR, substantially extending previous reality manipulations utilized in cognitive science such as the choice blindness studies described above. In this setup, participants' live reality was covertly substituted with an alternative reality without their noticing the change; thus, their CR remained intact. This situation is referred to as substitutional reality (SR) and our implementation of SR as “SR system”, in which participants can experience live scenes and previously recorded scenes as equally realistic such that everything in these scenes seems to exist in the surrounding physical reality. The SR system implements and extends several techniques that have been used in virtual or mixed reality (VR or MR) systems (a head-mounted display (HMD) and a panoramic video camera). VR/MR systems have been broadly and successfully used in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and various therapies17. We will describe the SR system configuration in the next section, as well as discuss its advantages and disadvantages with respect to VR/MR systems in a later discussion section.

However to introduce the SR system, we first consider an example of SR-based reality manipulation with CR maintained, that is easily achievable by the SR system, but would be technically very difficult or, in some cases, impossible with any other methods, including VR/MR systems. In our example, we can present a realistic experimental room with experimenters working to set something up or even speaking to the subject, without the subject noticing that the entire scenario is in fact not happening. Additionally, we can cause participants to experience inconsistent or contradictory episodes, such as encountering themselves. Another example is experiencing identical episodes repeatedly (e.g., conversations or one-time-only events, such as breaking a unique piece of art). Such episodes create a déjà vu-like rare situation in that participants experience the same event repeatedly in their live reality, and they are sure that the same event happened before. Visual experience of the world with different natural laws (i.e., weaker gravity or faster time) can also be implemented. If we consciously experience these events and yet believe them to be real, how do we perceive/recognise them? How does our brain manage the inconsistencies? Do we deceive ourselves with confabulations or somehow discover the substitutions and lose a CR? Even if a CR is maintained in these episodes, we may experience an uncertainty about the reality of the situation. How is this uncertainty manifested, both behaviourally and in terms of physiological signals? Using the SR system, these important questions can be investigated, allowing the SR system to be a novel and affordable method for studying metacognitive functions.

From Nature – Much more @ http://www.nature.com/srep/2012/120621/srep00459/full/srep00459.html

Virtual reality used to transfer men's minds into a woman's body

Researchers projected men's sense of self into a virtual reality woman, changing the way they behaved and thought
Virtual reality googles
Men who took part in the virtual reality experiment said it felt as if they occupied the woman's body. They even flinched when she was slapped. Photograph: Guardian

Scientists have transferred men's minds into a virtual woman's body in an experiment that could enlighten the prejudiced and shed light on how humans distinguish themselves from others.

In a study at Barcelona University, men donned a virtual reality (VR) headset that allowed them to see and hear the world as a female character. When they looked down they could even see their new body and clothes.

The "body-swapping" effect was so convincing that the men's sense of self was transferred into the virtual woman, causing them to react reflexively to events in the virtual world in which they were immersed.

Men who took part in the experiment reported feeling as though they occupied the woman's body and even gasped and flinched when she was slapped by another character in the virtual world.

"This work opens up another avenue for virtual reality, which is not just to transform your sense of place, but also your sense of self," said Mel Slater, a virtual reality researcher at the Catalan Institute of Research and Advanced Studies and University College London. "There isn't any other technology that allows you to look down and see another body that isn't yours and give you the illusion that it is," he said.

"If you can temporarily give people the illusion that their bodies are different, then the evidence suggests it also affects their behaviour and the way they think. They can have new experiences: a person who is thin can know what it's like to be fat. A man can have an experience of what it's like to be a woman."

In the study, 24 men took turns wearing a VR headset that immersed them in a virtual room. Some men saw the virtual environment through the eyes of a female character who was sitting down, while others had a viewpoint that was just to the side of her.

During the experiment, a second virtual female approached and appeared to rub the person's shoulder or arm. Researchers in the lab mimicked this sensation in the real world for some of the volunteers by rubbing their shoulder or arm, helping to reinforce their feeling of occupying the character's body.

Later in the study, the second character lashed out and slapped the face of the character the men were playing. "Their reaction was immediate," said Slater. "They would take in a quick breath and maybe move their head to one side. Some moved their whole bodies. The more people reported being in the girl's body, the stronger physical reaction they had."

Sensors on the men's bodies showed their heart rates fell sharply for a few seconds and then ramped up – a classic response to a perceived attack.

As expected, the body swapping effect was felt more keenly by men who saw their virtual world through the female character's eyes than those whose viewpoint was slightly to one side of her. In all cases, the feeling was temporary and lasted only as long as the study.

The study, which appears in the online science journal PLoS One, suggests that our minds have a very fluid picture of our bodies. The research is expected to shed light on the thorny neuroscientific puzzle of how our brain tells the difference between a part of our own body, and something else in the wider world.

The work might also improve rehabilitation for patients who have experienced strokes and other medical problems by immersing them in a world that helps them to use their bodies to the full again.

From theguardian @ http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/neurophilosophy/2012/aug/26/inception-helmet-alternative-reality  & http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/may/12/virtual-reality-men-woman-body?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

For more information about the matrix of virtual reality see http://nexusilluminati.blogspot.com/search/label/virtual%20reality

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