#1181: VR Renaissance in Moral Psychology, Perspectival Thought Experiments in Philosophy, & Bounds of Empathy

Moral philosopher Erick J. Ramirez writes that we “we are now in the beginning stages of a methodological VR renaissance in moral psychology” in his book The Ethics of Virtual and Augmented Worlds: Building Worlds. He argues that our imagination is too limited for perspectival thought experiments like the trolley problem where we’re asked to put ourselves into a specific situation and make a prediction for what action we’d take. He’s been experimenting with VR at the intersection of experimental moral psychology and philosophy, and also exploring the potentials and limitations of empathy in VR, which he splits up the generic concept of empathy into terms like “empathic contagion” describing the mirroring response of empathy, “descriptive or normative mind-reading” regarding the theory of mind, as well as “in-their-shoes experiences, and “what-it’s-like” experiences.” We explore what he means by “virtually real” experiences and how he looks at the qualities of VR in terms of “perspectival fidelity, context-realism, and psychological features unique to each user.”

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that's looking at the future of spatial computing and the ethical and moral dilemmas of XR. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Today's episode is with Eric Ramirez, who's an associate professor of philosophy at Santa Clara University, and he's in the philosophy and neuroscience department, has actually written a book called The Ethics of Virtual and Augmented Reality, Building Worlds, and he's a moral philosopher, so he's looking at recreating things like the Charlie Problem within virtual reality, which I have another interview that I've done previously that I'll be airing in the next episode with Andrew Kissel of the Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, who's been also looking at different aspects of recreating moral dilemmas. But Eric's looking at aspects of empathy. How does empathy work? Can you start to have different moral judgments that are happening in the context of virtual reality? And he sees that there's a problem with this concept of thought experiments, specifically perspectival thought experiments, where you're asked to put yourself into specific situations and to imagine the full context of that situation. He is looking at this intersection of psychology and neuroscience and moral psychology and just how difficult it is for us to imagine the full contextual and relational dimensions of putting us into these specific situations with all sorts of Unconscious things that we're processing so very difficult to do and so he's seeing that we're actually on the brink of this VR renaissance of doing these different types of moral psychology investigations using virtual reality technologies, which does a lot better job of putting people into these different situations, at least a simulation of these situations, way better than we can imagine them and see what our reactions are going to be once we're kind of put in these different situations. So we cover all those different things as well as two different aspects of what he calls these virtual real experiences and his takes on presence and his whole taxonomy of Different types of empathy that he's looking at in terms of virtual reality So that's what we're coming on today's episode of the voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Eric Ramirez happened on Monday January 16th 2023 so with that let's go ahead and dive right in and

[00:02:23.307] Erick Ramirez: My name is Eric Ramirez and I am an associate professor at Santa Clara University. I teach in the philosophy department and then I also teach in the neuroscience program here. And in terms of extended reality, I think I really got to start there maybe about eight years ago as a kind of off branch of some other research that I was doing in moral psychology about empathy, figuring out all the different things empathy is and, uh, trying to explore, along with a lot of other people, this was kind of a thing that a lot of people were doing at this time, was figuring out whether virtual reality in particular then was an avenue for enhancing empathy or at least maybe improvements in terms of like how we do research on moral psychology using VR instead of things like the trolley problem, right, as a written prompt. And yeah, it sort of bubbled out from there in lots of different directions.

[00:03:17.802] Kent Bye: Okay. Yeah. Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into working with VR.

[00:03:23.263] Erick Ramirez: Absolutely. So, uh, I got my PhD in, uh, from UC San Diego and there I was doing research there also in philosophy and psychology on moral emotions, moral judgment, moral concepts, things like that. And, and specifically looking at certain kinds of populations, that I'm going to combine here for the sake of example, but that's all I want to imply in terms of like psychopathy, high functioning persons with autism. And one of the reasons why we were looking at those particular populations is that they're often both diagnosed, but also talked about in terms of like empathic deficits, different kinds of empathic deficits, but empathic deficits. And so for me, thinking about how empathy works in different ways for different kinds of people and how it affects acquisition of moral knowledge. And this is especially true, I think, for psychopathy. helped me better understand how it is that we do research on oral psychology in general. So like I said, the trolley problem and especially there, what kinds of psychological capacities we assume people have when we ask them to imagine that they find themselves in front of a trolley with a switch and that like all these things are happening and so on. And then we ask them to make a decision. So the kinds of capacities that we assume people have to recreate in the mind, the situation, all of the situational aspects that apply and then give us a realistic outcome. And so I've always been dissatisfied with that way of getting knowledge about moral judgment. I think it's probably not the most accurate way of figuring out what people really would do or what they would really think and so on. And at that time, it was the sort of early stages of people trying to do this in VR, trying to recreate these situations in virtual reality. because there's this hope that one of the problems with asking people to imagine this stuff, right, is that our imaginations are not neutral, and they are limited in sort of what we can do, right? in the trolley problem. You're supposed to imagine that you're under this incredible time pressure, right? I mean, this trolley is coming and it's coming fast. You have only seconds to make a choice. But of course, you're sitting there with a piece of paper and there isn't a trolley. And so the way that time sensitivity affects your moral judgments just doesn't look on a pen and paper version the way it would work in a real situation with time sensitivity. You just can't imagine that. You can't build it in. But you can do it in VR. And so the results that people were getting from these virtual reality thought experiments looked really interestingly different from the results that people get when you just ask them to imagine things, right? Sitting in a classroom or in a lab or something with a piece of paper and looking at those empathic capacities and how they relate to VR is kind of what got me started in this area of thinking about, well, what kinds of things can we use virtual reality for? And looking more at how people experience simulated content is what got me interested in thinking about some of the ethics or ethical issues that might happen in those contexts too.

[00:06:27.788] Kent Bye: Yeah, we were just at a symposium at Stanford that was looking at existing law and extended reality and looking at as a research effort to have different lawyers and experts from the VR industry and academics. And so just curious to hear some of your takes on as a philosopher, as you're coming into this, because you've written a whole book on the ethics of virtual and augmented reality. And so you're looking at these issues of empathy from a moral philosopher perspective. And so as you walk in and see the landscape of existing law, What's your take in terms of, you know, some of these different issues as to whether or not they need to be legislated by law, or if it's more of a institutional review boards at colleges and when they start to review different experimentations, what are the ethics around that? So I'd love to hear some of your take on being at the symposium and what your takeaways of that were.

[00:07:15.282] Erick Ramirez: Yeah, no, this is good. It's also, I think the hardest question you can ask is good. And so, like you said, I think this is really, it will really depend on what it is we're using VR to do. extended reality, because I think you can get similar issues with augmented reality too. If what we're trying to do is research, I think there are just already pretty decent frameworks in terms of how we think about research on human subjects. And there, I think we just need to better understand how harms might play out in the context of simulated content, just to more finally make decisions about possible risks that people might have in extended reality experiments. I think right now we actually don't have a solid understanding or anything like a kind of universal understanding of how to apply existing principles, like the Belmont principles and other things about human subjects experimentation to virtual reality. So you can get experiments that may not be replicatable in maybe 10 or 15 years as we better understand some of the risks involved. I think that in some ways, VR and XR experimentation on people is in a similar state as general human subjects experimentation was in the 60s and 70s, right? We're kind of making some mistakes, I think, and trying to learn about what went wrong in those cases so that we can prevent them in the future. And in that sort of application, I think we can take care of this at institutional review boards. But if we're talking about commercial uses, for example, of extended reality, there is a sense, and we can talk a lot more about this, but there's a sense in which the way that people can be harmed in virtual reality or extended reality might need some legislative background just to prevent certain things from happening or to minimize the degree to which people can be harmed, both to themselves but also to other people. And so I think it'll depend on what we're doing with the technology, whether we want the law to come in or there's something like an institutional review board.

[00:09:16.673] Kent Bye: Yeah. And in your book, The Ethics of Virtual and Augmented Reality, you start to dig into what you call the thought experiment paradigm, which is trying to imagine yourself in these situations, which you've talked about a little bit. And you talk about how from a phenomenological perspective, there's this conscious and unconscious aspects of the conscious doxastic and then the non-conscious sub-doxastic. And so maybe you could elaborate on that a little bit in terms of our limits of our imagination of what we're able to do and not do when it comes to these different types of thought experiments and why you're arguing that we should potentially think about abandoning this thought experiment paradigm and look to virtual and augmented reality as an alternative.

[00:09:58.666] Erick Ramirez: Yeah. And I think just to be as clear as I can about it, I think thought experiments have a place. There are lots of things we can use thought experiments for that we shouldn't abandon, but Where I do think that they run into problems in terms of the psychology that thought experiments recruit, the psychological capacities they assume we have that I think we don't have, is in what I call perspectival thought experiments. So thought experiments that are specifically geared to have you imagine that you're in a situation that's really different from the situation that you're in and where the differences matter. So the trolley problem is one of those. But there are lots of them. You can imagine lots and lots of different situations. There's a different version of the trolley problem you might be familiar with, with the bridge instead of a switch where you have to push somebody over the bridge to save five people. Also perspectival. What makes it perspectival, as I said, is that in order to complete the thought experiment, you have to put yourself into that position and then make a judgment inside that place. That's where things can get really complicated for me in the sense that when we imagine things, the docks access stuff, the conscious things, I can imagine what it might look like for me to be in front of a train track, what it might look like for there to be a switch in front of me, even though there isn't one right now. But some of the features of that real-life situation I'm trying to imagine, are going to have effects on me that are non-conscious. So time pressure, as I said, being one of them, the facial expressions, if I can see them on the people tied on the tracks, right? There might be emotional effects that they have, and there might be other kinds of biases that are at play in these kinds of situations that I can't imagine because they're non-conscious, right? They're implicit or they're in the background. And so when you imagine something, you can't imagine something in the background, right? You have to imagine the time pressure. And so the way that the time pressure affects me in my imagination just ends up being really different from the way it affects me in a real life situation. Sometimes we talk about this in terms of like experimental validity. So ecological validity, how well the situation in the lab is like the situation I'm trying to actually investigate. And I think there, Thought experiments like that just don't have good ecological validity. And it's one reason why a lot of psychologists have been experimenting with virtual reality as a way of maybe getting better ecological validity in their experiments. And that's also what ends up, I think, opening the door for some ethical issues as well. As we get more ecologically valid experiments, then we might have to start worrying about what it is we're actually doing to people.

[00:12:39.075] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had a chance to do one of the VR philosophy labs from University of Virginia, Old Dominion, that we're starting to look at some of the different thought experiments of actually being embodied into the context of the Charlie problem. And I might've already known a lot about that as a issue, but there was something different about actually being embodied into the experience. And I think there's this being embodied into that situation in a virtual context. So there's all these questions of presence. And do I actually feel present? And is this plausible? Is it real? The place illusion, plausibility illusion from cider, but all these other aspects of, you know, is this enough, as you say, ecological validity to make these different types of moral judgments, moral behaviors, and moral emotions, and the different interactions that happen So just from my small experience from Silos, I could definitely see the validity of that. You mentioned in your book that there might be, might be on the brink of a moral philosophy VR renaissance, where we start to have more people from the philosophical community start to build out some of these different types of simulations. And I'd love to hear some of your reflections of some of the work that's already been done, what kind of explorations you're looking at and what makes you say that we may be on the brink of wider adoption in the philosophical community towards doing these types of moral experiments.

[00:13:56.231] Erick Ramirez: Absolutely. And so if you were at Old Dominion and you must have been working with Andrew Kissel, was that right? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. He's a good people. We're working on a book together actually, or an anthology, but, uh, yeah, exactly. So, uh, from about maybe 25, 26 years now, there's been this movement within philosophy that is a kind of new approach or style of doing philosophy, right? I mean, I'm not sure how much you know about the history of 20th century philosophy, but there's this kind of strange, strange divide among philosophers who refer to themselves as like analytic or continental in terms of like their philosophical approach. But that is less important to me than what's begun to happen kind of in the late 20th, early 21st century of a kind of new approach to doing philosophy. They call themselves experimental philosophers. And experimental philosophers are almost always interdisciplinarily trained, right? So most experimentalists have some background, if not a degree in psychology, in addition to a degree in philosophy. And one of the things that they've begun to do, and at this point, we've got like a quarter century of doing it, is realize which sorts of philosophical problems actually have kind of testable empirical assumptions built into them and get to testing those assumptions. And so whether the default assumption among people is whether moral realism or moral relativism, for example, is something philosophers just kind of have been assuming for a long time. And we can actually get data on that, right? To figure out what it is people really think about, how far moral concepts extend, right? Is it just for me? Is it for my culture? Is it across the world? And so on. this data on trolley problems, for example, it started out of these really interesting non-experimental philosophers, Philippa Foote and Judith Thompson, right? I mean, it's where we get a lot of the experiments that people do now. And Foote gave us the footbridge version of the trolley problem, right? And she didn't collect data. She just thought this was this really interesting way of reconfiguring the trolley problem to get a different intuition out of it than most people get, right? Most people get the utilitarian. Of course you switch, you would be crazy not to switch, but the footbridge version just seems so different, right? And so that has had a lot of experimental attention, right? What is it that's going on in neurologically, but also in terms of people's psychological mechanisms, their cognitive psychology, when they make different judgments. And so experimental philosophers, I think, are this overlapping Venn diagram between psychologists and philosophers who are interested in seeing whether we can make progress in philosophy by collecting data about things. And here is where I think, because written thought experiments have such limitations in terms of what they tell us about what people really think, how they really feel, what they would really do. The inclusion of new tools like virtual reality really promises to tell us a lot more about those things, right? Not about what people might hope they would do in the trolley problem, but what they might actually do, right? What they really would do, how they really would think. And I think we've got some good reasons for thinking that VR really is a better tool. And just a classic example, though this is also a VR ethics example, is the studies that Mel Slater did in 2006, I want to say, where he replicated the Milgram paradigm, right? And there, if you ask most people, I do this all the time with undergrads. If you ask most people whether they would flip a switch and deliver lethal shocks to somebody, they're not going to predict that they would. Here again, it's thinking through the situational features and building them into the imagination, you're just not very good at doing that. We know from the Milgram study in the 60s, that people would. Depending on which Milgram study we're talking about, you get two-thirds to 90 percent compliance on lethal shock. Slater replicated that, right? Slater replicated using a cave-style VR system. So I think that gives us some evidence to think that VR-style moral dilemmas look a lot more, the data we get from them, looks a lot more like what we would get in real life than handing somebody a little prompt and getting an output, a judgment output. But, you know, just like Milgram's study is controversial, I think studies like Slater's are also controversial.

[00:18:26.633] Kent Bye: Yeah, you talk about that in the book in terms of the Milgram experiment, where they're being told to do this learning study and that they have to, if they get an answer wrong, shock the person on the other side. It was an actor who was speaking, but they had pre-recorded sounds of pain and that there was a supervisor of the experiment who is guiding them to continue, please continue, keep going on. And there's a whole list of things that even if they were trying to voluntarily stop, they would almost be coerced which sort of brings up all these other issues of the psychological trauma that the people that were forced to deliver those lethal shocks were dealing with. But in Slater's version, you're seeing a virtual human. So you know, it's not a quote unquote, real person, it's a virtual representation of a person. But yet, the behaviors that people were able to exhibit in that context, were still, like Slater said, in his write up that people were treating the virtual beings as if they were real humans, and doing the same type of behaviors that Milgram saw. So wondering if you have any other further reflections on this, as we start to move down this path, there is this risk of thinking that because it's virtual reality, that it doesn't have these same type of psychological or emotional traumas that you may get because it's a virtual simulation. And therefore, you know, in Chalmers book, Reality Plus, he makes a lot of these arguments of the virtual versus the real. And even within the context of the presence language from Slater, he frames it as illusionary. And so there's this contrasting the virtual with the not real or the illusionary. And I think you're also pushing back to that illusionary language of saying that it is actually genuine reality. I think you call it something like the virtually real experiences, which for me, I like the elegance of Chalmers just saying that a virtual experience is a genuine reality. It's not like an illusionary reality. So I'd love to hear some of your reflections on the ethical aspects of Slater's experiment that he did replicating Milgram's experiment back in 2006. And some of these issues of the virtual versus the real versus the physical.

[00:20:27.473] Erick Ramirez: Yeah. And there's a lot of neat issues there. Right. And I think part of this is going to have to do with what it is that we care about. So in Milgram's original experiments, right from 60 years ago, almost, That's also a simulation, right? Nobody was actually being harmed. In fact, they couldn't even really see the person. It's a very real sense in which it's a simulation, right? And yet, one of the reasons why we still talk about the Milgram studies, any psychology undergrad taking their first methods class is going to read about the Milgram studies. They're probably going to read about like the Stanford prison thing, or the experiment, if you want to call it that, as these kinds of experiments where we learned what not to do. And in part, we learned what not to do, not because people were actually physically harmed, but because of the psychological experiences the subjects in them had. And so I think if what we care about are psychological harms, then there we really can talk about the psychological harms of virtual experiences being basically identical to the psychological harms that you might experience in real life. Not too dissimilar, right, from Jordan Bellarmine, right? Who experienced and wrote about her experience being sexually assaulted in VR, right? And there too, she describes how this is, she knows there's no actual touching. It's a virtual space and yet it feels real to her. And I think it's that aspect that I think is what, for me, is one of the central ethical dimensions of simulated experiences. Any of us who have had these kinds of simulated experiences? No, not all of them have this impact, right? Some simulated experiences are clearly just like game experiences or something, right? If you're playing Half-Life Alyx or something, right? Like you don't actually think you're being threatened. You don't actually think that you're about to be eaten or destroyed or something. It's a kind of game experience. And yet sometimes those experiences really do have this character, this virtually real nature. And that's part of what we've been trying to figure out is what is it about certain kinds of simulations that tends to lead people in them to have virtually real experiences? Because not all of them do. And so if what we care about is that sometimes people might be harmed psychologically, then that becomes for me a central part of the research project is how do we prevent that from happening either commercially, right? You don't want to create games that traumatize people accidentally, but also experimentally. So how, if we need to run this experiment, how do we design the simulation to minimize the risk of harm in it while still getting the thing we want out of it, right? Still getting the data that we want. And so I guess the sort of long and short of that part of my answer is if we care about physical harms, that then like when we're talking about extended reality, unless you're walking into a wall or breaking glass or something, you're probably not experiencing physical harms in the literal sense, unless we involve haptics as well. But if we're talking about psychological harms, then I think there's a lot to say about how we experience things and how those things might trigger things in us. One of the things that led me down this path really was just how impressive the research on virtual reality exposure therapy is. This came out a little bit in Bailenson's talk at the conference that you were mentioning, right? It's like the applications, the use cases for VR. And, you know, he talked about this in terms of training. So like for Walmart or football players, but psychological training like this is also one of the big use cases for VR for me. And the fact that you can get results using virtual reality exposure therapy, right? Where you can slowly introduce somebody to more and more realistic simulations of whatever their triggers might be to teach them cognitive strategies for controlling their own body. And that those look like the results from traditional exposure therapy and much better than the results from what's called the imaginative exposure therapy, where you ask people to imagine that they're in a room with a spider or whatever the case may be. is to me, one of the things that really, really set me off in the direction of thinking, wow, the psychological responses we can generate in VR, not always, it depends on design, but that we can generate really can look a lot like real life psychological responses. And so that's both amazing because it means we can create situations to get all sorts of much better data, but it's also why we should be careful with it.

[00:24:58.285] Kent Bye: Yeah, as I think about the implications of where does the law come in and how does the law start to define things, I think this is one of the areas where I see at least some distinct differences between how we look at, say, the fighting words clauses of the First Amendment, meaning that, like, if you're actually face to face with somebody and the words you use are leading towards a physical altercation, that has a different type of interpretation of First Amendment fighting words interpretation. versus if you're doing that in a virtual context where there isn't the same threat of a physical violence. And so, and even sexual assault or how these other things are currently defined, the ways that they're maybe happening in a virtual context don't meet the same levels of standards, then they would be prosecuted as sexual assault or physical assault types of crimes. And so one of the things that you are doing in this book of ethics of virtual and augmented reality is starting to look at these issues of presence and how to start to define some of these different aspects of, you know, I know from Slater, he has the place illusion and plausibility illusion. And even from presence researchers, there's different aspects of social presence and emotional presence. And there's the research that's happening from the experimental psychologists, neuroscientists, from trying to define what those presences. And then Slater wrote his article on the place illusion and plausibility illusion in a philosophical context, But I still think that there's a lot more work to be done in terms of trying to define philosophically these aspects of presence. Chalmers in his book, Reality Plus, starts to have a certain definition that allows him to say that virtual reality is a genuine reality. And he's trying to suss out different dimensions of those aspects of presence that make it a genuine reality rather than an illusionary reality. And you do something similar in the sense that you're trying to define the context realism, the perspectival fidelity and the psychological features of presence, but love to hear your take of as you are one foot into the psychological neuroscience world, but also the philosophy world, how you see this issue of presence and the philosophical work that needs to be done in order to more firmly define these different aspects of presence and why it matters.

[00:27:01.958] Erick Ramirez: Yeah. And I think speaking partially to Chalmers' arguments, I mean, I think his claims are really interesting in the sense that he's, he's at least partially interested in metaphysics, right? So he wants to know, are these things really real or not, or are they just fiction or are they illusions or something? And I think he's got some interesting arguments for why we should think that at least in some cases, these are really real objects with really real properties and not just virtually real or something. Right. When it comes to presence there, I think presence is in a way, it's an imprecise word, right? It's like talking about empathy, for example, right? I mean, if I tell you that I need to work on being more empathetic, I don't really know what I just told you, because there are so many different things that that could mean depending on what particular researcher is investigating empathy, right? I mean, empathy as a non-cognitive mirror neuron activity, or empathy as a way of predicting other people's mental states, or empathy as being able to imagine what I might be like if I was sitting where you're sitting, right? These are all ways of talking about empathy. And I think with presence, In a way, it's going to have to be function-specific, what we mean, or what I care about with respect to presence. You had this great slide during your presentation at this talk, where you had all the components of presence that people have proposed, or elements of presence. And it's a long list. And in part, it's because what we care about when we're talking about presence is just going to be dependent on the application we have in mind. One of the things that led me to think about virtually real experiences as a kind of subtype of presence, for example, is both firsthand experience, right? So like I've had this experience where I felt clearly present in a space, but not feel as if those experiences were actually happening to me, right? I was in the virtual space, not in my living room. but it was still a fictional space in that sense, right? Like the events weren't really happening. And then contrasting that with other instances, for me, it was Richie's blank experience, right? But it was other instances in which I actually also started to realize that my body was treating this experience as if it was real, right? Your hands get clammy and you might struggle to take a step or two. And to me, that's a different response than merely feeling present in a space because it's now evoking a lot of non, conscious physical responses from me. And there had to be a name for that. And so I just called it virtually real experience. But I wouldn't be surprised if this is an overlapping concept with lots of other friends nearby in that sense, or maybe even subsumed by certain kinds of presence that Slater would want to just describe differently. But in general, I think this is also standard academic stuff. There are so many terms that get thrown around that are overlapping that as long as we're precise in a particular instance about what we mean, I think we can avoid misunderstanding. But it's not easy.

[00:30:00.939] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that, you know, what I've ran into, I've done interviews with Slater and Richard Scarbez, Dustin Chertoff, a lot of different presence researchers, and there's been surveys of different presence, you know, the one that you're referencing is Scarbez in 2017 did a whole survey, Chertoff did a bunch of surveys back in 2009, 2010. And I think one of the challenges I found at least in covering it is that there are real limits in terms of trying to empirically and scientifically describe these different qualities of presence because, you know, the ideal is to be able to have something that goes beyond someone's ability to articulate it themselves. You want to just measure something from their body. But yet, what I found is that it's kind of a culmination where you really kind of have to have a comprehensive theory about consciousness and what consciousness is itself and presence research gets into all these other deeper aspects of the philosophy of mind and phenomenology and other aspects that I think are more in the philosophical realm, frankly, than in the scientific realm that are difficult to empirically validate in certain ways. I feel like there's this tension of what we know from the science world versus what we need to lean on different philosophical approaches because there's gaps in trying to do it. In some ways, I take more of a design approach of saying, as people who are designing here are the different qualities of presence that you're trying to trade off between, but also those qualities of presence that I use can be used as a taxonomy for newer rights and different aspects of all the different stuff that technology is going to be measuring. That's trying to recreate from a neuro rights perspective, our sense of our mental privacy, our identity, and our actions. And so when you look at it through trying to frame it from a privacy lens, you have different ways of using those aspects of presence to categorize all these things that we're radiating from our bodies that technology companies may be trying to use to psychographically profile us in different ways. And so that's how I tie together different aspects of the presence, both from a design perspective, experiential design, but also from looking at these neuro rights and privacy perspectives. But I think, you know, from your perspective, you're talking about context, realism, and perspectival fidelity and psychological features, which there's many different ways of trying to crack this nut of trying to describe these things. And you get a little bit of the girdle and completeness of, you know, trying to, to have a complete description of something that is maybe impossible to be completely describing all these different elements. But yeah, I'd love to hear any of your other reflections on what your approach was to try to crack this nut.

[00:32:23.632] Erick Ramirez: Yeah. And I think, you know, I think you're right. You kind of, you put your, your finger right on it in the sense that So this is an aspect of philosophy I actually wish I had a stronger background in, but I don't, which is phenomenology, right? So like, how, how can we be talking about the nature of extended reality and the way we experience things in it without a really good, well-established vocabulary for talking about experience itself? You know, the other place where I sort of, my, my deep background on this, right, is, is about emotion, which is some of the work that I was doing in my dissertation was about theory of emotion. You know, there too, I think you see a lot of these kinds of problems of people wanting to focus on neurological or physiological categories to define emotional experience, right? So what is discussed? Well, discussed has this particular neurological profile and it involves lower blood pressure or something like that, right? But that doesn't seem to capture what it is that makes disgust, disgust, right? Disgust has a phenomenal aspect that we might even say, even if you get that profile, if you don't get the experience, then it's not disgust, right? That disgust is a way of talking about a phenomenal thing. And here too, I think when we talk about presence, we're talking about phenomenology. We're talking about how it feels to be somewhere. And here too, I think you get the same thing. You see me do this too in the book, right? I say like, well, let's look at, what people do or what their bodies are doing while they're in the simulation, because that might tell us whether they're treating this as if it's real. But ideally, we'd be able to see what the experience is like. And this is classic problem with our minds, like we can't get into people's minds. And so you have to infer things about them. And actually, this was something I really appreciated about the conference was how much of the discussion was framed around how much we can infer about people from what data we collect using these devices, right? I mean, you don't need to exactly know what somebody's feeling if you can predict it pretty accurately by recording facial expressions and body movements and maybe something like heart rate, let's say, right? I mean, you can pretty clearly guess certain things pretty accurately. And that was all the more reason why this kind of data, I think, you know, I don't know about you, but when I try to talk to students about this, I find that students seem remarkably blase about data privacy in a way because they give it up so often that they don't see a particular distinction between one kind of data and some other kind of data. But I think something the conference made really clear is this is a unique kind of data, right? It's not just location, but it's pretty intimate things about you that either are collected or can be inferred. It's one of the reasons why this concern about data privacy, and you raised these concerns during our conversation just now, Britton Heller worries about this a lot. And it's something that we do need to take more seriously in that respect as well, because it does get at this aspect of our inner experience too. This external data can be pretty good at figuring out what's going on in your head.

[00:35:34.216] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, because you have done a lot of work philosophically on empathy, I'd love to dive into your framework that you have a taxonomy of different types of empathy. And this obviously was a big issue in the VR community after Chris Milk's VR is an Empathy Machine TED talk that he did back in like 2015. There's also been a lot of discussions I've had with different people in the community in terms of the limits of empathy. So philosophically, you're taking a look at this and trying to really actually break this down. I know Paul Bloom has a whole book against empathy that you referenced a little bit here, but there's also, you know, when people use the word empathy, it means a lot of things. And it's kind of one of those ambiguous terms that you're trying to, in some ways, pin down the different types. And so I'd love to hear you break down a little bit of the different aspects of the mirror neurons and the contagion aspects of the empathy, but also the more cognitive aspects of either the mind reading, which you have the two aspects of trying to imagine what other people are thinking or the more moral judgments that they may be doing. And then the perspectival taking, which is, you know, trying to be in their shoes and the more simulation of what's it like to be in their world.

[00:36:39.944] Erick Ramirez: Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is part of what latches onto some other ethical questions about XR that I've written about in other places too. So I guess if we had to do this kind of camp setting, I would say, I'm really worried about thinking of extended reality as an empathy machine or an empathy enhancer. But in order to make sense of why I think that you're exactly right, we need to talk about what I think empathy is in the first place. And part of this just is like different fields have come to this in different directions. And so I think for a lot of us, one of the ways that we get empathy, that we think about empathy, right, is this kind of co-feeling, right, feeling the same thing somebody else is feeling. And that I think often we talk about in terms of mirroring or contagion, right? So somatosensory cortex, which is the strip on both sides, sort of roughly right in the middle of your head, where sensory and motor information comes and goes, we have neurons there whose job seems to just be to monitor the environment around you, and if it sees something that looks like you, to preferentially fire what it thinks it's seeing in the world. If you see somebody fall down, you might feel a little weird tingle in your knees, and that's a mirroring response. If you see somebody smile, you might start to feel the muscles in your cheeks start to want to raise up in a smile. And one way of thinking about empathy just is as that mirroring response, right? Emotional contagion, in other words. Early in our conversation, I told you one of the things that got me started here was thinking about these two different kinds of populations in terms of psychopathy. and persons who have high-functioning autism. And psychopathy, in particular, is a condition that's at least partially thought of as people with deficient mirroring response, or at least non-typical mirroring, either because somatosensory cortex lacks myelination there for mirroring neurons, so they just don't fire very well or at all, or they don't have any mirroring response. And so they get a very different profile about how they understand the world, how they learn moral judgments, because they lack that kind of empathy. for them, right? Most of us learn a lot of morality by doing things and then feeling things. And so if I, as a child, right, I hope I didn't do this, but I must have because it's normal. But if I knock somebody over and then see their suffering, I feel a little that too, right? And so I start to build an association between certain kinds of behaviors and affects that conditions me to not want to do certain things. And so you might imagine if I lack that, my moral profile is going to look pretty different. And if I like that capacity, but sometimes people don't want to talk about empathy as a non-conscious thing, because mirroring happens pretty automatically. You don't have to think about it. You just find yourself feeling things. And this is dimensional, right? So some people do have more of this capacity than others at either extreme, right? You have like psychopathy at one end, and then you have a population That's also really interesting. They're very different. They're called mirror-touch synesthetes. Mirror-touch synesthetes are people with a kind of hyper-mirroring response. And so you can imagine that it makes it hard for them to consume fiction or media in general because so much of it is violent and they feel that especially strongly. So that kind of mirroring is one kind of empathy. But then we also think about empathy in terms of theory of mind, right? So meaning how we understand what other people want or need, how they are different from us, right? Um, why their personalities might lead them to make decisions different from our own and so on. And that kind of empathy is usually we talk about it in terms of theory of mind or in philosophy of mind, we call that theory, theory, conceptions of empathy, but in psychology, we might think of that as theory of mind, right? When, when do children develop theory of mind? It's pretty young and there are some developmental milestone tests you can do just to make sure children understand that other people see the world differently than they do. It's one of the diagnostic features for autism spectrum disorder as well, sort of lack of theory of mind or difficulty with theory of mind in that way. And those kinds of empathies, I think, are really interesting, but they're not what I was interested in when I was thinking about virtual reality, augmented reality, and thought experiments. It was really this perspectival kind of empathy, this putting myself in somebody else's position kind of empathy, right? So this is not just understanding how other minds work, but it's this ability to use my imagination to create a simulation, essentially, right? To put myself into this world where I'm in somebody else's position figuring out what I might do from that position. Or sometimes people talk about empathy of this kind in terms of literally just like putting myself not in your shoes, but like, what's it like to be you? Right. And there, I think both of those kinds of empathies can become really problematic in different ways. And that's, I think the word VR has put itself into the position or called itself an empathy machine or an empathy enhancer, right? Is that VR, the claim is anyway, that it can put you into somebody else's position or that it can show you what it's like to feel, you know, what it might be like to be some other kind of person. And there, I struggle to see how that's possible, for example. And I struggle to see how that's possible. I think this is one of those places for me where you get lots of different fields converging on this kind of answer. on the one hand, you know, you might think, and this is sort of where I started in philosophy. When we talk about epistemology theory of knowledge, right. Um, there's a kind of view in epistemology that assesses or explains limitations that you have in terms of what you can know based on who you are, where you're situated, right. Where epistemology is positional. So like, there are only so many things I, as the kind of person I am can know about the world. And maybe you as a different kind of person can know different things about that world. because of who you are and how you're situated. And I think we see similar kinds of theories. For me, this is what's called a structural intersectional frame as well. When we think about intersectionality, there's lots of ways that you can get at it, political, representational, and structural. And structural is about experience. It's how we experience the world. So part of the claim there is that the way that, let's say, a black woman might experience an event is going to be different than the way that I will experience that same event in part due to how these features of our identity, how we internalize certain conceptions of ourselves in the world affect how we see things, right? So if you come at this from psychology or cognitive psychology, I think this, there's a long history in terms of what's called top-down effects on perception, right? So cognitive psychologists like to talk about how our concept structure experience. And I think what all these different views have in common is the claim that what it means for me to experience something is going to be really richly informed and partially determined by who I am. And not just who I am in some kind of thin sense, but like the fact that me, that I am an immigrant to the US, right? I'm from Nicaragua, that I lived in Southern California, that we had certain kinds of experiences that I identify as a man and so on, that these will structure how I perceive and read a scene. And to think that a simulation can give somebody that I think is a mistake because they're going to come at that simulation with their own internalized sense of who they are and their concepts and so on. So the problem I have with empathy enhancement in that sense is I think it's a simplistic picture of what experience is. It's to think that experience is something that a camera in a three-dimensional scene can give another person. But I think experience is much richer than that, right? There's this old assignment you can do in like a photography class, right? Where you have everybody take a picture of the same thing and you end up getting a lot of different photos. They don't look alike because everybody has a different way they approach the scene. And so for me, when I think about empathy in VR, if we're thinking about it in terms of mirroring, then I think there's no problem at all, right? If I watch somebody have a skateboard accident in VR, And assuming I have mirror neurons that function normally, then I'm going to experience that. And if you have the same VR experience, then you're probably also going to feel that mirroring response from watching somebody fall down in VR. But if we're talking about understanding what it's like to be somebody else, there, I think the problem gets harder, the more and more different the person that you're supposed to be is different from who you are. And so I would prefer that we don't think about virtual reality or augmented reality as an empathy enhancer. In other work, I talk about sympathy as a better target for XR than empathy, because sympathy just doesn't have the problem of having you experience somebody else's experiences. Sympathy is always about you caring about something else, not you being somebody else. And there, I think VR really could get you to become a much more sympathetic person towards other people. And I think that it's much more likely to succeed at doing that than it is to get you to understand what it's like to be somebody very, very different. I see these simulations a lot. Like, here's what it's like to be a Syrian refugee. Or here's what it's like to be, in my case, right? So here's what it's like to be a Nicaraguan refugee, right? And I think a simulation is not going to be able to transfer that experience.

[00:46:12.597] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think there's certainly a lot of different attempts of different experiences that I've seen. I'd say there's a wide range of the direct experiences that I've had personally that have allowed me to maybe have a deeper sympathy or a deeper understanding. And I'm wondering if it's a matter of the language that we use as to not trying to claim that we're trying to cultivate this empathy being that you're going to understand what it means to be, you know, there's experiences about Black women in prison, you know, the trauma of that experience is difficult to convey unless you actually have an embodied lived experience of that. And on top of that, because you're talking about the theory of mind and the way that we code information, the way that we interpret the experiences into language and how we even perceive the world is perhaps filtered through that lens. And so to try to recreate those filters, I think is can be a tall task. However, there are experiences that I've had in VR that have been able to allow me to have a deeper understanding. I know that you mentioned in your book, A Thousand Cut Journey, which I've had a chance to see. Have you had a chance to see that? And I'm wondering if it's a problem that you mentioned this nudging and the moral implications of nudging as related to autonomy. versus some of these different larger aspects of say, unconscious bias and racism that we have and trying to show people some experiences, what it feels like to be on the other side of that unconscious bias so that we are perhaps not undermining other people's autonomy by our unconscious biases. And so VR is a method to potentially do that type of diversity, equity, and inclusion training that has certainly been an application that's been used of VR. So I'd love to hear some of your takes on that.

[00:47:48.673] Erick Ramirez: Yeah. And here I actually think, so this is, we've got an unpublished paper on this question about anti-bias work in virtual reality. I think it's undeniable that experiences we have in virtual reality can, at least in the short term, change us. They can change the way we think, they can change the way we feel, they can change the way we act. We don't have super good data about medium and long-term changes, whether these changes last for very long. When it comes to non-VR anti-bias interventions, there we do have pretty good data that they're not very good. The changes, whether you want to measure that by IAT score or whether you want to measure it in some other way, those changes tend to be extremely short-lasting. We're talking hours to days. I think there is a need for better interventions in this area. The only non-VR interventions that seem to have real effects on people are things we can't do at scale. So taking a class that's really diverse on this subject can impact people, at least in the medium term, in terms of how they react to bias and so on. Living with people who are intersectionally different from you can impact you in this way, right? Living and working with people. But again, we can't put that at scale. And so when it comes to extended reality, I do think that there's a place for these technologies. I really do. And the way we try to frame them in terms of, as I just said to you, in terms of sympathy enhancing or provoking simulations, not empathy enhancing ones, right? So putting you as you are into simulations where you have to work with or talk to or hear from other people about their experiences is I think not only less ethically fraught than a simulation that puts you in the position of somebody that's not you, but also is going to impact you and help you develop sympathy in a way that could have long-term effects on you. I've got a friend here at Santa Clara who's in art history department who has made simulations like these before. He's a Japanese-American. His name is Takeshi Moro. Takeshi has created simulations where he's recorded Japanese-Americans who were in internment camps in World War II, for example. Essentially, you enter these simulations, not to be them, right? Not just like, now I know what it's like to be in an internment camp in the 40s, but instead to listen to their accounts, right? To be in a recreation of the space that they're in and they can walk you through it, tell you what it was like to be there. And that I think is not only more likely to make use of the moral psychological mechanisms built on you already to care, but again, it's going to do this in a way that doesn't lead you to have the false belief that you now understand what it was like. from the first person anyway. So absolutely. I think when we talk about anti-bias VR simulations, there's a place for them. And I actually think I'm excited to, we're trying to make some of these ourselves for a pilot study here, but I think there's definitely room for that here. And I'm only worried about simulations that give you the impression that you now know what it's like to be a different kind of person. both just for the sake of truth and content, but also I'm not sure that those experiences are likely to last as long as simulations that have you using your own sympathetic mechanisms to interact with people.

[00:51:24.082] Kent Bye: I saw in your book that you had mentioned that these types of claims that we're going to be putting you into the shoes of someone else or to give you a sense of what it's like to be there. I've gone to Sundance, Tribeca, South by Southwest, Venice, and if a doc lab. And I see lots of these different types of experiences like this. And I see that they're using the same types of media that a documentary, a film, a book, a podcast, other media are doing. It's sometimes unbodied from a first person perspective. Other times it's more of an omniscient, you know, third person perspective. And you mentioned something like how these different types of perspectival taking experiences are unethical according to at least four or five different types of moral judgments. And I'm wondering if you can maybe elaborate on those a little bit, just because from my experience, I feel like they're not so much unethical, maybe the language around them, how they describe them and their claims they're making about them, or maybe the things that are more problematic of saying that you're going to be embodying versus the experiences themselves. from this perspective of nudging and autonomy. And if you have any other thoughts or maybe elaborate on why you saying those experiences within themselves may be unethical.

[00:52:32.056] Erick Ramirez: Yeah, good. Um, when it comes to the nudge ethics stuff, and this also is just a field that has a huge history behind it, right? Sort of like situational and technological nudging, like Cass Sunstein has a book, I think it's just called nudge. I think part of what makes a nudge unethical is if the force of the nudge, meaning, and a nudge just being any modification to a space or a situation that's meant to change you in some way, right? Calorie information is a nudge, but not an unethical one, usually, on a menu, is if the power of the nudge depends on false information. So if, and I think this is in the book, but if not, here it goes, if, and this would be, I think, a pretty successful nudge, all the calorie information on a menu was exaggerated by 50%, right? That would make it a more powerful nudge than if it was giving you honest information or accurate information. But it's unethical in that sense, because it's subverting your own agency and autonomy in order to get you to move to a certain space, right? To eat less or whatever. What I think is going on in a lot of these empathy enhancing nudges is something similar. which is that the force of the nudge, if it depends on you having the belief that you now know what it's like to be whoever it is that you're embodying, then it's giving you false information. Better, I think, if we can have a nudge that doesn't give you false information but can still move you than one that moves you but with false information. And there, I think, is why I think the sympathy simulations are better than the empathy simulations. Though, even as I say that, right, like, the empathy word is fraught. If it's a mirroring thing, there's no problem at all. And I think you can use mirroring in a sympathy simulation quite well. And it is a kind of empathy. So talking about empathy enhancement, I think in this sense, maybe it's just the less precise in their shoes or like perspective taking simulations are the only ones that I think have this kind of deception problem. And there's a whole other can of worms here that we can talk about just embodiment, right? And this, I said something during our panel, I mentioned a tiny bit about, but I think, yeah, how we exist in bodies in extended reality is, is something that we really should care more about than we do.

[00:54:53.150] Kent Bye: No, I have to clarify just because, you know, from Slater's perspective, he's kind of casting this place illusion and plausibility illusion, you know, from that perspective, everything is illusionary and it's all fake and it's all deceitful from that perspective of that extreme level of saying any type of virtual simulation is going to be not real or false. And I don't know if you're taking that extreme of a view saying that any type of immersive experience is going to have deceit or how do you define what is an accurate level of simulation to the degree that you can recreate anything in a simulation is always going to have the map is not the territory. So obviously there's always going to be a gap between what you can simulate and what's going to be real. And so how do you draw the line between the threshold of what's false versus what's ethically moral to do in order to achieve a larger purpose of trying to write a larger injustice?

[00:55:42.095] Erick Ramirez: Yeah, good. And here, I think it's not that the content is simulated that makes it deceptive any more than, you know, the fact that written words aren't really there. It's like, it's just like a colored water on some pulp. We could describe it that way. Now I start to sound like Chalmers a little bit. What matters to me is the content of your experience and whether the content of your experience is true or not. And what I mean by true or not is, if I have an experience that is claiming to give me the experience of what it might be like to be a cow, then I think whatever it is I experience in that simulation is not actually what it's like to be a cow. And so if I end that simulation believing that I now understand cow plights, like, oh, we should treat them better because they suffer, like this is the short-arm cow VR simulation, then that's the deception, right? Is that, that like your experience is a match to the experience that you're projecting it onto the person, place or thing. You don't have that problem with sympathy because it's always you, right? It's always you and your experiences. So your experiences are just your experiences. So there isn't going to be this deception built into that in the way that there would be if I'm like, oh, now I understand what it's like to try to, and this is, you know, it's interesting because I am an immigrant. I did come to the United States and we did struggle with our own documentation and so on, but I didn't go through the experience that the people in Iñárritu's Carne y Arena did. Right. And so even me going through that experience, isn't going to tell me what it was, what it's actually like, because I didn't go through that experience. And so even if there's like some rough overlap, I think you still have good epistemological intersectional and cognitive psychological reasons for thinking that those experiences don't work the way you think they do.

[00:57:43.429] Kent Bye: Hmm. Have you had a chance to do a card at the arena or a thousand cut journey?

[00:57:48.123] Erick Ramirez: Thousand cut journey. Yes, but not gonna actually, cause it's just traveling and I've never, it was in Los Angeles when I was not too far, but I didn't get a chance to go through it.

[00:57:57.408] Kent Bye: Okay. Great. And, uh, and finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality might be and what am I be able to enable?

[00:58:06.413] Erick Ramirez: This is a huge question. I think extended reality will probably change. a lot about how the world looks and functions in a hundred years than, you know, the car and the internet did in terms of how those things change society, social structures, even political structures. And I'm serious when I say that. I think I'm impressed enough by how people experience simulated experiences in general, how people experience their identities in simulated spaces. You know, there's this documentary we met in VR that HBO has put out now. And I think the way that we interact socially in those contexts, the way that identity can change in those contexts, I take all of that pretty seriously. I think the way we live, work and play, maybe even carry out political and civic functions is going to be pretty different by the time. Hopefully we're thinking about retirement, right? Uh, we'll, I think we'll be living in a pretty different world.

[00:59:03.283] Kent Bye: And your last chapter, you talk a little bit more about identity and different aspects of representation of self. I don't know if you have any other final thoughts on the takeaways that you have with the implications of these immersive technologies and how we identify from a philosophical context.

[00:59:19.023] Erick Ramirez: Yeah. So to me, the last chapter of the book is the most speculative, but it's the one that I think gets at some of these issues about how we're going to change. And yeah, I think what it means to be me is going to be different in a world where I strongly identify as a blended aspect of my physical and augmented reality or extended reality selves. And this is one reason why, you know, at the conference, I said, we, we need to be protective of these body layers or avatars. than we currently are because we can take them very seriously. I think we really can, you know, not just in the way in which like I bought a loot box with a cool skin in it or something, but in a deep identity sense, I think we can identify with aspects of augmented reality overlays, filters, avatars that we get to create to express ourselves. And I think that it's a bi-directional relationship. I think we change those avatars, but I think they can actually cause us to change our physical bodies too. It's a question that we've never really had to deal with until now. We've spent a lot of time playing computer games, but I think the immersive nature of extended reality is what makes these things different. And I think how we regulate, how we protect these identities is a huge problem for the near term future.

[01:00:37.282] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[01:00:44.282] Erick Ramirez: As somebody who only has a small role in the actual production of simulated content, I mean, we make some simulations, right? We create simulations of the trolley problem, other kinds of moral judgment simulations. I'm really impressed at how much this technology is developing, how many people are as excited about it as I am, including you, by the way. And it's good to know that there are people who are trying to build in protection from the start as these things get out of the lab, get out of R&D and into the world, because I think we are going to need people who want to use these technologies, but keep them from having the worst effects they could anyway on social structures and people. So I appreciate all of that. It's been really impressive and humbling, and I'm excited to see where it goes.

[01:01:36.125] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Eric, thanks again for joining me on the podcast and your book, Ethics of Virtual and Augmented Reality, digs into a lot of these different moral philosophy questions and yeah, appreciated hearing your thoughts on empathy and identity and all the future of the VR renaissance of doing experimental moral philosophy in VR. So yeah, thanks again for joining me today on the podcast. Of course. It was good to talk to you. So that was Eric Ramirez. He's an associate professor of philosophy at the Santa Clara University and focusing specifically on moral philosophy and neuroscience. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, it's really striking to me to see that he's kind of arguing against the use of perspectival thought experiments in terms of kind of like this intersection of experimental philosophy. He sees that there's still obviously a lot of value for these different types of thought experiments and philosophy at large, but whenever you're asked specifically to imagine yourself in a certain situation, like the trolley problem, where you're trying to imagine yourself in this time-sensitive situation, you're not seeing the emotional reactions, you're not having all these other contextual dimensions for your perception and everything else that you would have if you're actually embodied in this situation. And so he's seeing that virtual reality is actually a solution to some of these different limitations of our imagination to put us into these perspectival points of view. And that he sees that there's really kind of on this brink of a renaissance of moral psychology research using virtual reality technologies. And the next interview I'll be talking with Andrew Kissel, who's also been really pushing forward some of these different moral dilemma thought experiments in the context of virtual reality and recreating different aspects of the Charlie problem. But another big focus of Eric's work is looking at these aspects of empathy and the limitations of empathy and the different types of empathy. There's the generic concept of empathy, which means many different things. And he sees that it's everything from the empathic contagion that happens when you have mirroring with other people. So you're seeing their situation and you're having a physiological reaction to their situation. You have the descriptive or normative mind reading, which is the theory of mind and trying to get into somebody else's mind or their experiences. And then you have their in-the-shoes experiences and then the what's-it-like experiences. And he's pointing out that there's a lot of problems with whenever people are saying that VR is an empathy machine and kind of stepping over the limitations of all the other fully contextual dimensions that you're missing when you're taking somebody's perspective and somebody's different Experiences and that it's a less an empathy and more of a sympathy where you're creating experiences that are kind of a proxy That you're identifying with it rather than really fully understanding what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes And so he's kind of stepping through in his book deconstructing different aspects of VR as an ability machine mean that we've heard a lot about since Chris milk's TED talk back in 2015. I And that generally there's a lot of different testable aspects of philosophy moving into this realm of experimental philosophy and this intersection between psychology and philosophy. You can start to recreate some of these different dimensions, like the Milgram experiment, which is what Mel Slater did. And that, you know, we wouldn't necessarily predict that we'd be willing to give a person that's on the other side, as we're in something like the Milgram experience, or in the case of Slater, a virtual human that we would kind of predict that we would give people a lethal shock, but when you have this kind of power structure and the obedience dynamic, and they're basically able to replicate some of the major findings that some of these psychological research has found, which then begs the question, if you're doing things in a virtual environment, then are there other types of psychological harms that you're doing in the context of this type of virtual reality research, which gets into these deeper ethical questions around what are the limits and what are institutional review boards going to say are acceptable or not acceptable based upon what we know in terms of the side effects psychologically or emotionally or otherwise. So clearly there's a difference in terms of physical harms that are happening in some of these different experiences, but there's all these other psychological dimensions. And so as Eric is trying to explicate this, he's talking about these concepts of like virtually real experiences and different pieces of the puzzle that he's identifying as perspectival fidelity context realism and the psychological features that are unique to each of the users and kind of like different proxies to different perspectives on presence and I guess if there's one complaint that I have in the book is that there doesn't seem to be a lot of reference to existing work when it comes to some of these different aspects of presence and sometimes it does feel like he may be reinventing the wheel a little bit. I would point to like Richard Scarbez and some of the research that he's done with kind of doing a survey of some of these different qualities of presence, as well as Dustin Chertoff or other researchers that have done kind of a survey of these different presence concepts. But at the end of the day, they're still trying to look at the intersection of what we know from what's happening from the VR research. And I think there is a role for the philosophical insights to come in, because even like Slater's Place Illusion and Plausibility Illusion, that was published within a psychological journal. And so there is, I think, room for philosophers to come in and start to maybe suss out some of the other dimensions of presence that are not necessarily comprehensively covered through the lens of just what you can empirically measure. You know, David Chalmers has taken his own stab at that in the context of Reality Plus. And Eric is also starting to explore some of those dimensions as well in his book of The Ethics of Virtual and Augmented Reality, Building Worlds, which is published by Rutelich. So I'll be covering a lot more about the intersection of moral philosophy and VR in my next interview with Andrew Kissel, which I did back at the end of 2001 after I gave a talk on process philosophy. So I'll be digging into much more of that in the next episode of Voices of VR. But that's all I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a supported podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. You can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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