Immersive visual and aural experiences have a powerful effect on the brain. For example, “mirror box” experiments can trick the brain into uncurling phantom limbs:
Here we describe such a tool, which we call the Hallucination Machine. It comprises a novel combination of two powerful technologies: deep convolutional neural networks (DCNNs) and panoramic videos of natural scenes, viewed immersively through a head-mounted display (panoramic VR). By doing this, we are able to simulate visual hallucinatory experiences in a biologically plausible and ecologically valid way. Two experiments illustrate potential applications of the Hallucination Machine. First, we show that the system induces visual phenomenology qualitatively similar to classical psychedelics. In a second experiment, we find that simulated hallucinations do not evoke the temporal distortion commonly associated with altered states. Overall, the Hallucination Machine offers a valuable new technique for simulating altered phenomenology without directly altering the underlying neurophysiology.
And simply looking through 3D glasses can rewire the brain, correcting depth-perception deficits:
Perhaps some of the positive effects of psychedelic drugs can be triggered through sufficiently realistic virtual reality experiences.
Mobile VR continues to improve, and is fairly low-risk for companies like Google to set up — doesn’t require special sensors, and soon processors will be fast enough to do high-quality positional tracking just through the camera (the algorithms will be there, too). So, VR won’t be going away, and therapeutic uses will continue to expand.