Lucid Dreaming is ability to become aware that you’re dreaming, and to potentially even start to interact and direct what happens within your dream. Arthur Gillard is a VR enthusiast who has been tracking the intersection between immersive technologies and lucid dreaming through a Twitter account called Lucid Virtuality. We talk about VR can be used as a training ground for lucid dreaming, how skills you learn to do in VR could be transferable to lucid dreams, tips for how to know that you’re in a lucid dream, and how the real world is becoming more dreamline as we learn to interrogate our dreams through lucid dreaming and overlay dreamlike augmentation on top of our reality.
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[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. So one of the interesting themes that have come up in covering virtual reality over the last five years is the connection between virtual reality and dreams. What are dreams? Why do we dream? It's a bit of an open question as to the nature of dreams, whether or not they serve any specific function or purpose. But one thing that does seem to be clear is that there seems to be this interesting connection between going into virtual reality and then having things shift or change within your dreams. Even going as so far as to have some people who are doing these different interfaces within virtual reality or then taking those same interfaces and feeling like they're able to start to have these lucid dreams within their dream life to be able to start to participate or have more agency within their dreams through this process of lucid dreaming. So Arthur Gillard is a enthusiast in VR. He's been very interested in tracking these connections between lucid dreaming and virtual reality. And he runs an account on Twitter called lucidvirtuality. And yeah, he had a chance to visit Portland, Oregon, and sit down with me to have this big, long discussion about dreaming, lucid dreaming, and the connection between VR and lucid dreaming. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Arthur happened on Monday, July 2nd, 2018 in Portland, Oregon. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:01:38.679] Arthur Gillard: My name is Arthur Gillard, and I've been interested in lucid dreaming for a really long time and been interested in VR since the 1990s. And I'm particularly interested in the intersection between those two things. So, in terms of VR, I tend to like dreamlike experiences, surreal, first-person puzzlers, things that involve flying, things that are psychedelic, you know, that kind of thing.
[00:02:07.377] Kent Bye: Great. So I've definitely heard of lucid dreaming. I've never personally experienced a lucid dreaming. I know that I've have some hemisync audio induction programs that could train me to be able to know the difference between whether or not I'm dreaming or awake. And what I've gathered from a number of people I've talked to who have had experience of lucid dreaming is that when you're in a dream there's these different tasks that you do to test whether or not you are dreaming or not and that you're to some extent putting your conscious awareness into something that is otherwise a pretty unconscious state and then once you realize you're in a dream you're able to do all sorts of different amazing things within your dream life because it's basically like you're able to generate all sorts of possibilities of what you're able to do. So maybe you could describe to me your own direct experience with lucid dreaming and what you've been able to do outside of VR and how VR has started to play into that.
[00:02:59.597] Arthur Gillard: OK, so lucid dreaming, it's useful to define it. And it's basically dreaming with the awareness that you're dreaming while the dream is still going on. And in some cases, that's a really explicit, oh my god, I'm dreaming right now. And sometimes it's more of a tacit lucidity, although people will argue about that, where you basically recognize you're dreaming and you're acting accordingly, but you may not explicitly say to yourself, I'm dreaming. So I first became interested in lucid dreaming when I read an article by Steven LaBerge in Omni back in the 1980s when I was taking philosophy. And I was really amazed by the possibility of that because I had always been interested in dreams and in twilight state experiences like sleep paralysis prior to that and when I realized that it was possible to be conscious in your dream. I really wanted to do that. And so I practiced various techniques like becoming aware of dream signs, indications that you might be dreaming. And if you sincerely ask yourself the question, am I dreaming right now? And you can test it by, for example, one of my most effective is trying to breathe through my nose with my nose pinched shut. And if I can breathe freely through my nose when I'm pinching my nostrils shut, it means that I'm dreaming. That I'm just like pinching the nose of my dream body, and it doesn't stop my physical body from dreaming. And it's a really weird sensation, which is its own reward. But also, it can make you realize that you're dreaming. Other tests that are useful are looking at text, especially small text, and then looking away, looking back, and see if it's changed. digital clocks malfunction in a fascinating way in dreams, which is depicted really well in the movie Waking Life. So if you look at a digital clock and the display is going haywire, seriously ask yourself if you're dreaming because you probably are. And then once you realize you're dreaming you can do all kinds of things. One of my favorite things to do is fly. Sometimes I just wander around just looking at everything and being amazed that my brain is able to create such amazing graphics, so to speak. And there are various kinds of experiments you can do. Like one that I've done a few times that's interesting is to look into a mirror and say, show me my true nature. So yeah, those are some of the things that I like to do.
[00:05:37.386] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know that people like Freud and Jung have looked at dreams as part of our unconscious processes to take all the data that we've experienced over the course of the day and all those experiences and try to synthesize them into some sort of symbolic representation that may be in some ways trying to push different parts of our psyche forward. And so just to kind of start off here, what do you see as the function of a dream? Like, why do we dream?
[00:06:03.066] Arthur Gillard: Right. I kind of go back and forth on that and I remain open to various possibilities. I will say that of the two people you mentioned, I'm much more interested in Jung than Freud. In fact, I think one of the great tragedies with Freud was that he didn't really experience lucid dreaming himself and he had heard of a famous book on lucid dreaming in the 19th century and tried to get a copy of it and was unable to do so which is kind of mind-blowing in itself and so lucid dreaming was only mentioned once or twice in his work but in any case Right now I sort of default to the brain is creating a simulation of reality like Chris Beasley has talked about this recently how based on sensory interaction with the environment we create this sort of virtual reality in a way of the world that we're in but it's about half a second behind actual reality But at night, your brain is still doing that, but now it's not constrained by sensory input. And so you can create all kinds of weird scenarios. Your brain just sort of does this naturally. That said, first of all, looking at what your brain comes up with when it's just left to its own devices can bring up a lot of interesting symbolic material that is worth looking at or analyzing and can at least sort of tell you where you're at at a given time. I should also say that despite what I just said, I'm not a reductive materialist. I think that there could be greater depths to dreaming, but we start with the simulation hypothesis and then, you know, it sort of can be fun to look at different angles and speculate, but I'm really cautious to draw too many solid conclusions. Do you know what I mean?
[00:07:51.542] Kent Bye: Yeah, I guess the question of where we go when we dream, whether or not it's actually a real place or what's happening or what the function is, I think it's a bit of an open question as to why we dream, first of all. And I think that, to me, when I look at someone like Jung, I agree that I tend to lean more towards Jung than Freud, but looking at the dream life as, I think, this discovery of the unconscious, and there's something about the polarity between our consciousness and our unconsciousness is that There's things that our unconscious life is picking up on and that it's able to translate these experiences into some sort of symbolic representation and those symbolic representations have a meaning and that sometimes have very specific meaning for what we think they might mean or sometimes they may be pulling from a larger collective pool of mythic or archetypal symbols and that we don't necessarily even recognize consciously, but yet we're tapping into these different archetypes that as we dream, they're actually giving us information. And so I think the people who are diving into the depths of the dreams can start to unpack some of those symbols to get some insights into their life.
[00:08:54.693] Arthur Gillard: Yeah, I would agree with that. What I experience as my conscious self is just the tip of a really big iceberg. And how it seems to me is that there's this part of me that sort of takes credit for everything and makes up a story about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. And that's all arising out of this vast array of unconscious material and processes. And we don't know ultimately how that hooks into everything. So it could be just my brain's model of the world and all that. It could get into really archetypal realms. I would be really happy if when I die it turns out that the bardo is like a dream state and my consciousness persists and And I don't know, it's an open question, but I definitely think that wherever all that unconscious stuff is coming from, by going consciously into those depths through whatever means, you can really figure out a lot more about yourself and grow. And you don't even necessarily have to understand things consciously. Like, for example, if you encountered a monster in your dreams and instead of running away from it or fighting it, you decided to embrace it, then I think that that maneuver tends to integrate shadow material and you don't necessarily have to know what that represents in order to do that. And either you could do that spontaneously in a non-lucid dream, or you could have a lucid dream and consciously decide to do it, but either way, it's a useful thing to do.
[00:10:31.045] Kent Bye: Yeah, part of the reason why I start there and ask that is because I feel a little conflicted around lucid dreaming because I don't know if it's a disruption of the normal process of these different symbols that may be coming up. I think, first of all, there's a lot of people that dream and don't pay attention to it. Then the next step is maybe you're paying attention to dreams, you're writing them down and trying to read into them these deeper messages that may be coming from your own conscious. And then the next step seems to be like, hey, let's go play around and have fun in these dreams. But I don't know if that process of You exerting your conscious awareness in your agency within your dreams would then somehow be disrupting this other natural process Which would be these, you know mining of these deeper symbols that are trying to tell you something It's like this difference between I guess the young and again the young being your expression of your agency in your conscious will within your dreams versus the the yen ego disillusionment so that you're able to dissolve your ego to be able to really see what is emerging naturally from the dream life. And so I guess that's the fundamental question I have around this process of lucid dreaming is, are you disrupting that process of those symbols coming into your life? Or is it something that you're actually able to get deeper insight into those symbols?
[00:11:41.190] Arthur Gillard: Right, yeah, I've thought about that a lot myself. In my own case, over the course of my life, I've had dozens of lucid dreams and I've had dozens of so-called out-of-body experiences. So the vast majority of my dreams have not been lucid, even when I'm trying really hard to have lucid dreams. And that's actually one of the reasons I became interested in dreamlike aspects of virtual reality, because it's like, wow, this is as easy as putting on a headset and I'm there. There are disadvantages as well, but In any case, that is a concern I've definitely read from other people. And Stephen LaBerge, in one of his books, was talking about when he taught himself to dream lucidly, like very well, to the point where I think he was having several lucid dreams a night. And he started to ask that very question, you know, is this interfering with some natural process that needs to do its own thing? And as soon as that concern arose, like his lucid dreams just stopped. I mean, he had to sort of work to get back there.
[00:12:39.603] Kent Bye: How do you interpret that? Just maybe there's a process of trying too hard or worrying too much about it?
[00:12:45.006] Arthur Gillard: I mean, I don't recall him saying what he thought why that happened. My interpretation would be that his concern somehow triggered the deeper processes of mind to halt that process. I don't think he was right, but even if he was, a point he himself made was even at his highest frequency of lucid dreaming he was having more non-lucid dreams than lucid dreams. Secondly, I think that there's an approach you can take to lucid dreaming that is sort of, I'm going to dominate the dream space and I'm just going to make things, whatever I want to happen, happen, and sort of be the god of this domain. Good luck with that because the dream often seems to fight back eventually. And secondly, you can also decide, okay, I'm lucid in the dream, I know I'm dreaming, but I'm just going to witness this dream, like I'm just going to go along with it. And even if you're controlling the dream, like let's say you say to yourself, I want to be in the middle of a forest right now. And you find yourself in the middle of a forest. You haven't created each individual tree. If there are animals, you haven't decided what animals are there, what they're doing. It's like, I think it's a paradigmatic case of your mind or part of a very tiny part of your mind taking credit for everything that is happening.
[00:14:06.207] Kent Bye: Yeah, I imagine it as kind of like the most intense like D&D adventure where it's like a collaborative storytelling where you're saying like, oh, let's go on this path on this adventure, but then the dungeon master may create a certain amount of the world that's there and then you're going back and forth. And so it sounds like you don't have a complete agency, but you're in this world where you're able to have some control, but not complete control is what it sounds like.
[00:14:29.079] Arthur Gillard: Yeah exactly and I mean some people have more control than others. In some dreams I've had a huge amount of control and I learned to do certain things over time like if I came to a door and the door was locked I realized in a dream that I could just know that there was a key in my pocket and reach in and pull it out and unlock the door. But thinking about it later, it's like that whole thing, the key, the lock, the door is all a fabrication. Like I could have just walked through the door. I could have said there is no door, you know. And in any case, I didn't create a locked door. I just sort of found it, you know what I mean? So there's this weird dynamic that goes on and I guess the final thing I would say on that thread of conversation is by lucid dreaming you can decide to sort of explore in a certain direction is how I would look at it rather than make something happen like I could decide to fly but what I see when I'm flying is something that I it feels more like I'm discovering or if I look in a mirror and say show me my true nature I'm not deciding what to see I just see what I see and so it's almost like interrogating the dream and asking questions and saying, show me something.
[00:15:42.422] Kent Bye: Yeah, and so it sounds like that you have had some experiences with lucid dreaming, but it's not like you can on demand every night do lucid dreaming. And that potentially you've been interested in VR as either a way to provide the same experiences of lucid dreaming, but also perhaps help induce these lucid dreamings. Maybe you could talk a bit about how virtual reality has started to come into this picture. Sure.
[00:16:05.300] Arthur Gillard: Well at a certain point it occurred to me that virtual reality would be an excellent realm to create a kind of training ground to learn how to have lucid dreams. And I know of a few people that are apparently working on things like that or things that are related to that one way or another. But I'm really waiting for that to manifest. There's also this idea that just by going into an artificial reality that you know is synthetic and coming out of it, you could start to question reality. And in a dream, you could say, wait, is this real? And so that hasn't explicitly happened for me. But I have now started to have lots of dreams where in the dream, I think that I'm in a virtual reality. So things may be weird or I may have the ability to do certain things, but I don't say, oh, that's because I'm dreaming. I'll think it's because I'm in a virtual reality. But on the other hand, I kind of am in a virtual reality because I'm in the brain simulation of something, you know. So it's definitely altered my dreams in ways that are fascinating, but I'm looking forward to more of a training scenario like Jared Bittner is working on something along those lines. And I was talking to someone else, exchanged some messages on Twitter who was working on a game like that, but it seems to have been dropped. I haven't heard from him lately. Danny Bittman also was looking at doing something where he would, as I understood it from a bit of communication with him, use Tilt Brush in order to create representations of dreams. And I think the goal there was to increase the ability to have lucid dreaming and also just to explore the dream. Apparently he dropped that for now because his dream virtual reality loop was getting way too intense which sounds fascinating to me. So I'm really hoping that he'll go back into that. One other thing that I would say about in terms of training in dreams is like leaving aside the question of can you use virtual reality to train to have lucid dreams There's, can you use virtual reality to train in dream skills that will transfer to your dreams? So you could practice doing things in virtual reality with the intention that you'll start doing them in dreams. And because I sort of learned to do things in dreams that then I could sometimes do even in a non-lucid dream, I know that that's possible. So I'm looking forward to more of that. What did you learn to do in a dream? Well the key technique like if I need something I can decide that it's going to be somewhere like a key in my pocket or around a corner or at a certain point I saw some menacing figures and I just sort of waved my hand and made them disappear. Now, I wouldn't say that's the highest use of consciousness in dreaming, but it can be useful and it was kind of interesting that once I figured that out in the dream, I was able to do that in other dreams.
[00:19:12.415] Kent Bye: Oh, I see. So you're able to carry over skills over to other dreams, not like you're able to do that in reality, like walk up to a door and find a key.
[00:19:18.077] Arthur Gillard: Exactly. Exactly. In fact, for that reason, it is more valuable to practice in a dream, or I would argue in virtual reality, to approach something that you're afraid of and interrogate it, because that is something that you can transfer to waking life. Whereas if you use magical abilities to destroy an enemy or make it disappear, it doesn't really help you in waking life. So there are more effective ways of working with dreams, I would say. Yeah.
[00:19:46.866] Kent Bye: Yeah, I've certainly had a number of anecdotal stories of dreaming and lucid dreaming over doing the Voices of VR podcast over four plus years. And one that comes to mind is Stephanie Mendoza, who lives here in Portland. was also doing a lot of stuff in Anyland. And she was creating a lot of stuff in Anyland. And she told me about a dream where she was in a dream, but with the Anyland interface. So she was able to actually start to create parts of her dream using the same user interface that she would create any other world in Anyland. And so part of this world building creation process of being able to translate that into the dream life, it seemed like for her, it was like a one-to-one translation between the user interface, between the VR experience of Anyland and what interface she had in her dream life. And she doesn't remember exactly what she built, but she remembers thinking, whatever I build here in this dream, she would be able to then come out of the dream and build it. There's another experience that's coming out from the PlayStation VR, also PlayStation is from Media Molecule called Dreams, which is trying to democratize the ability for you to create a representation of a dream using either the controller or potentially even the six degree of freedom controllers that they have. just this idea that we're gonna be able to have dreams that we're recording and be able to share them out. And then I'd saw some of the experiments that Danny Bittman was making and I hadn't heard that he was stopping those experiments because they were getting too confused as that loop. But just talking to the VR artists, I think there's a similar skills of that process of how that experience of that world building and how that may actually change this experience of lucid dreaming. but that as a collective society, what does it mean to be able to potentially start to record our dreams and then share them and then see if there's any collective patterns that we're able to get insight as to what's happening, not only on your individual psyche, but maybe some sort of collective psyche insight and know that this is a practice that some of the indigenous communities have had where they get together and they do a dream interpretation in the mornings to get insights as to what dreams are. So then to be able to take those dreams and then say, well, maybe this is a, symbolic representation of what's happening in our collective culture. And so I think that with virtual reality, there's going to be potentially a huge opportunity to be able to take some of this process of using virtual reality as a language to be able to create these expressions of our dreams to then share to the collective and see if we get any deeper insight into them.
[00:22:10.385] Arthur Gillard: Right. Wow. Okay, that was a lot. Um, first of all, I loved that any land conversation with Stephanie Mendoza. That was amazing. And I haven't tried any land myself as of yet. But it sounds really interesting. It sounds more for people who are really into like programming and creation kind of
[00:22:28.427] Kent Bye: It's sort of a, it's a user interface for you to go into VR and create everything within VR. It's very little programming, but so they've created an interface for you to create VR within VR, which is most of the other social VR has been, you use something like Unity to create something, you know, type in the computer, but this is trying to design something from creating VR within VR. So it was from that experience that she had that using all those embodied interactions to be able to then somehow translate it into her dream life.
[00:22:55.535] Arthur Gillard: Yeah, it sounded really interesting to me. That idea of going into a dream, creating something or discovering it, depending on how you look at it, and then coming out and creating that thing and then sharing with other people is fascinating to me. I think that that is the thing that sort of happens in the culture anyway, in the sense that people could be inspired by dreams or other altered states like Steve Jobs dropping acid and then coming up with interesting ideas and then creating them in the real world. So the world has become kind of more psychedelic in a way because people have taken LSD and then created things. Steve Jobs is like dropping acid so you don't have to. So if someone is a really skilled lucid dreamer and they create something and then they're like, wow, this is interesting. Let me make this in the real world. Then in a sense, the real world is becoming more dreamlike, which I think it kind of is with virtual reality and augmented reality. because there are all these sort of dream layers being added on to our daily experience. The Media Molecule program that you mentioned, I find that really fascinating and I've been following that. And the only thing that really irritates me about it is that it's probably going to be a PlayStation 4 exclusive, PSVR and PlayStation, which means I won't really have access to it. So I'm hoping that other people are inspired by the idea to create similar things, and I think it will happen eventually. There's an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation called Schisms, where various members of the crew are basically abducted by aliens, like classic alien abduction scenario. And they can't really remember very clearly, but there's a scene where they get together in the holodeck. And based on their fragmentary memories, they start instructing the holodeck to build the environment that they remember. And each of them is sort of like, there was a table in the center of the room and then it creates a table and then it's like no it was more metallic and the holodeck changes it and so they create this manifestation of the abduction experience. Well when I saw that I thought that would be amazing for dreams like to instead of writing a dream down, to create it in a virtual reality setting and then, you know, re-inhabit it or say to someone, instead of, let me tell you about this dream I had last night, let me show you this dream I had. Which Danny Bittman, I've seen some of his stuff that he's posted online and it's amazing. I also have a friend who's really interested in dreaming and at a certain point she drew some of her dreams because she's an animation artist and what she reported was that it made the dream so much more sort of tangible and you know it deepened her exploration of the dream and I think that could be even more true with virtual reality.
[00:25:51.055] Kent Bye: Yeah just within the last couple of weeks there's been a couple of pieces either from the media or bits from history that have come up about dreams. One was James Corbett and Paul McCartney were driving around and Paul McCartney shared that one of the songs that he had written his mother had came to him in a dream Just let it be and that was the line that Became the whole chorus of that music and they sort of made a whole tune around that so artists getting inspiration from their dreams or also the story of Wolfgang Pauly who actually got insight about the neutrino from a dream and then worked with young to help interpret his dreams and then Went on to then discover the neutrino and so I was reading a book called the jazz of physics by stefan alexander and he was telling a story about him being at grad school and his Mentor was saying that he was struggling and saying, you know, hey in order for you to really do this level of innovation and insight when it comes to this level of theoretical physics and math, you really need to let your unconscious processes go to work. And so go practice some music and here read the letters between Jung and Pauli because they're discussing all these different things about how the inner life is kind of matching the external life with these synchronicities. And so you have this ability to see if there's something that is your internal state then being matched in your external state then that's something to pay attention to and so learning how to work with your intuition to be able to do either mathematical innovation or scientific discovery and so It was kind of shocking to me to see how these different worlds that I had been involved with, with Jung and depth psychology for a number of years, starting to come into the mainstream through mathematical intuition or science, or even art, just more people discussing this interface between the dream world and reality and what that interface exactly is and what is actually going on there.
[00:27:41.871] Arthur Gillard: Yeah, I think all of that stuff is fascinating. I'd forgotten about the Pauli-Jung connection. I read about it a super long time ago. But I do think a lot of insight, whether in science or the art, comes from the unconscious. However, it's accessed often in dreams. But I think in science, I think that happens a lot. But there's this cover story that it's all this sort of very dry, meticulous, rational process. And I suspect that a lot of the interesting discoveries come from the imagination. And then the rational mind sort of reconstructs the steps in between. So I think it would be great if we collectively embraced those processes more. And I think that is happening over time.
[00:28:27.096] Kent Bye: Yeah, you're someone who's been tracking this pretty closely in terms of what's happening with research and lucid dreaming and also people that are working with virtuality and lucid dreaming. What can you tell me with what's happening out there in terms of the general interest or research into this phenomena of lucid dreaming?
[00:28:43.173] Arthur Gillard: Well, actually, there were two recent papers that I read that were quite interesting. One was by Alexandra Kitson, who's, I believe, a PhD student at Simon Fraser University. And she co-authored a paper that was looking at what are the qualities of lucid dreams that lead to a high degree of introspection that results in psychological and spiritual growth. And how can we reproduce those in virtual reality so that virtual reality becomes more like a lucid dream? So in the paper, she pointed out that virtual reality is uncannily parallel to lucid dreaming, which I certainly agree with, and proposed that VR design principles could be formulated based on lucid dreaming to sort of enhance that effect. So for example, they studied, I think, nine lucid dreamers and asked them a bunch of questions about what their dreams were like. and concluded that vivid visualization was one of the key aspects of the dream that people identified with lucid dreaming. It wasn't a matter of whether the graphics or visuals were realistic, but just that they'd be sort of vivid and you really felt like you were there. That has an obvious parallel. But also that people had a sense of control that was empowering. They had a sense of exploration and play and possibility. and that they were operating in an environment that was free from constraints, free from judgment, free from repercussions, and they could just experiment and play. And so they were proposing that if VR designers consciously brought those aspects into play as much as possible, then virtual reality would become more like a lucid dream, and that could increase the introspection element that leads to psychological and spiritual growth. And that's very preliminary, but I think that's a really interesting direction to go in. And then the other paper that came out recently was co-authored by Andrew Holacek, who's a dream yoga teacher who's affiliated with the Integral Institute. And there they were looking at more, how would they call it, virtual lucidity, I think. So an analogous quality to lucid dreaming, but you're aware that you're having a virtual experience. And what they say they discovered is that, first of all, there's this notion that to be really present or immersed in VR is to sort of not realize that it's fake. But what they found instead was that people that had a high degree of virtual lucidity also felt more present. And that definitely matches my experience. I can know that I'm in a virtual experience very clearly and yet feel very immersed in it. It can even allow me to feel more immersed because if it's a scary scenario, for example, I'm less afraid. And what they were actually working with was Richie's Plank Experience, is that what it's called? And so they would have people walk the plank and suggest that they could step off if they could. And they found that people who had a high degree of virtual lucidity had less fear, more enjoyment, and were also more willing to step off the plank. So I think that those two papers seem very complementary.
[00:32:07.205] Kent Bye: Interesting. Yeah, I was just in Toronto at VRTO and I had a chance to moderate a panel with six different psychonauts. People have done quite a lot of different psychedelic exploration. And one of the things that I brought up was whether or not virtual reality is going to be able to simulate the psychedelic experience. How much of the psychedelic experience, first of all, is a chemical experience, but also the content of these psychedelic experiences, which I'd say is very similar to the content of a dream. What is the extent that you could just generate this symbolic content that would somehow be related to someone's life? I think that There seems to be some sort of direct connection between your direct experiences of all of your unconscious processing of all that sensory data that then gets Translated into the symbols that could potentially have deeper meaning or it could not it could just be sort of random If it is random, then we are could be equivalent to what you're experiencing within a dream but if it isn't random if it is very specific to you then I I personally have a lot of skepticism that you're gonna be able to go into a VR experience and then be able to have anything that's similar to what would be an authentic dream. It'd be something that is a simulation, but would be having the content coming from somebody else's brain and mind rather than from your own experiences. So I don't know what, at that point, how you're gonna really be able to compare something like a VR experience versus a lucid dream or dreaming in general.
[00:33:28.496] Arthur Gillard: Right. Well, the psychonauts you're referring to, they were talking about psychedelics and that kind of thing?
[00:33:33.238] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah. And I think there was a similar kind of like hesitation as to whether or not you'd be able to replicate the architecture of the visuals that you're getting, but it's not giving the full aspects that are happening in your neurology, which is turning off your default mode network in your brain that allows these new connections to be made which has a sensation of ego disillusionment and that sensation is being catalyzed by The chemicals and that there's meditative practices that you can do for many many years for you to get to that same state But what's the ability for you to get an external stimulus from a VR experience? That's going to be able to do everything and it's doing in the brain that you get from that chemical and I think just the same in a virtual reality experience versus a dream, there seems to be some potential process that the body does that is drawing from your own direct experiences and whatever is happening in your life that is then creating these different symbols in those dream. And what is the extent that VR could be able to ever simulate that?
[00:34:30.151] Arthur Gillard: Right, yeah, that's a really good question. I mean, one thing I would say about psychedelics is that regardless of the value they have, and I do think they can have enormous value therapeutically and spiritually and perhaps in other ways. However, taking a psychedelic is like strapping a rocket to your back and lighting the fuse. And first of all, you're not really in control of the experience. you're going to end up far from your waking, normal waking consciousness. And because of that, it's hard to integrate the experience into your regular life. Whereas with a long-term meditative process or a therapeutic process or something, Like you said, you're kind of getting there under your own steam in a certain way, and so it's much easier to integrate because you are going every step of the way yourself. In terms of virtual reality, the distinction you alluded to, I think, is central. When you dream, it's coming from your own unconscious processes, and when you're in virtual reality, it's coming from someone else's conscious and or unconscious processes. So there are a couple of ways that I look at that. One is there's a value to exploring someone else's dream. Like if someone says like here's this dream experience and you know take what you can from it. Like if a friend tells me a dream I often resonate with certain elements of it and it can have value for me to sort of think about what that dream means. And there's also, I think, an interesting sense in which virtual reality is kind of like a public dream. And it can even be a dream sort of on behalf of the collective, maybe. Particularly with artists, I think they're dreaming for all of us, in a sense, whether they're creating a tangible work of art or a movie or something. And virtual reality, I think, just sort of makes the whole process more vivid and embodied. I've even heard of people, speaking strictly of dreams, someone having a dream for someone else. If their partner never remembers dreams, they might have a dream that is really speaking to processes that their partner is going through. And if they share that dream, that can be valuable. But there is a sort of more speculative aspect for me, which is right now there's a lot of approaches to virtual reality and other technology where it's like, how can we examine a person and sort of pick up on their subconscious tells and find out about unconscious processes and use it to manipulate them? First of all, I think that's kind of evil. And I think it's very evil. Yeah, you know, I mean, I see that a lot from like Facebook is all over that kind of stuff. So I find it really unnerving that Facebook is one of the big players in virtual reality. But I hope that that inspires other people to go in a different direction, which is Facebook is kind of representing the control freak side, like how can we control people. And then there's another philosophy, which is sort of to liberate people. and to help them know themselves better. So all of that technology, whether it be eye tracking, or pupil dilation, or galvanic skin response, or brainwave information that can tell you things about somebody that they don't even know themselves, if you then use that to represent to them something about themselves, then they can learn and grow through that. And that's the side I'm more interested in. So the potential application to virtual reality, I think, is can we use technology that can pick up in this subconscious stuff and use that to somehow create or alter experiences in a way that does reflect their subconscious to some extent. And if we can do that, doesn't virtual reality become more like a dream in that meaningful sense that is reflecting your subconscious?
[00:38:19.050] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's really interesting. And I think the important key that I would say here is that the user has to own all that biometric data. Like they have to maintain control and that it's not being sent up across the cloud and being processed. But your computer becomes an edge device where it is maybe doing some processing on it, but everything sort of stays locally because I think the danger is having all this biometric data shared up into the cloud and having other people have access to it, which then you are foregoing your rights to privacy to all that data. But I do agree that there's a huge opportunity for some sort of introspective application of all of this unconscious data and to find different ways of mining it. I think that doing that symbolic translation into whatever is happening and whatever those tales might be, whether you're using some sort of esoteric philosophical tradition or whether or not you are taking a purely data-driven approach, that this does represent an opportunity for us to potentially have access to a whole layer of our unconscious that we aren't aware of, and what's it mean to start to become aware of that. How do you translate something that is equated to something like a neural network and artificial intelligence, which is a bunch of weights in the neurons, which are numbers, but that doesn't necessarily tell you a direct story. And so how do you translate that into an explanation or extrapolate that into a deeper symbol? So do you have any idea for how that would actually work to take some of this, what is essentially a bunch of raw data, a bunch of numbers, and then try to actually translate that into deeper insight into your unconscious psyche?
[00:39:50.897] Arthur Gillard: Okay, so a couple years ago I contributed to a Kickstarter for a horror game called Nevermind that now has a VR version actually. And the idea behind the game was that you would have a heart rate monitor and it could tell when you're getting stressed out and the game would become more difficult. So you would have to relax in the face of an experience that was freaking you out in order to progress in the game, which the idea being that this would be a transferable skill, which some users of the game have reported. And so in exchanges that I had with the creator while the Kickstarter was going on, at one point I suggested, she didn't use this in the actual game, but I suggested having someone wander through this vague space and they would be presented with certain kinds of stimuli at different points, like sort of randomly, but you would be looking at whether they started to get highly activated by that. And then you would like magnify that. And so you could find out what people were afraid of. And she thought that was a really interesting idea. And so that seems to me like a simple example. You know, it's hard to say how far we could go with this. And it's like, I'm not an expert in any of the relevant fields. So I'm just sort of speculating, but it does seem to me like if you were able to present different stimuli and just sort of see how people react, you could sort of infer what was salient for them. It wouldn't exactly be like dreaming, but I think it would be more like that in an interesting way. And who knows how far we can go with it, like we have to find out. Or at least I hope we find out.
[00:41:39.060] Kent Bye: So working with dreams is something that I know that people may have various different issues with in terms of, first of all, not being able to remember their dreams or not to make any sense of their dreams. And so do you have any tips for people to, first of all, remember their dreams if they aren't remembering them, and then how to work with them and interpret them?
[00:41:57.288] Arthur Gillard: OK, well, in terms of remembering dreams, my strong default is to not remember my dreams, and that's pretty common. So I really have to work at it. And what works for me and for a lot of people is to either have a notebook by your bedside, and as soon as you wake up, the first thing you should do is ask yourself, what was I just dreaming? And, you know, you're sort of telling yourself or your subconscious that this is important to you and also you're just practicing the skill of remembering. And I do find that that increases my dream recall a lot. These days I usually use a recording app on my phone and I speak the dream and then later I describe it. So that is by far the most effective way to increase your dream recall. Well, in addition to that, an interesting thing that can be helpful is to use something like galantamine. It's a supplement that is available over the counter, and it's used to treat memory problems in Alzheimer's patients. So if you take it in the middle of the night, after you've done the first half of your sleep, and then... So you wake up in the middle of the night and then take it? And it's actually a variation of the wake-back-to-bed technique, which is interrupt your sleep, usually roughly in the middle or maybe a couple of hours before you'd normally wake up, get up, do some activity. It could be reading, it could be meditating, doing dream work even, and then go back to sleep with the intention to have a lucid dream or, say, the intention to remember your dreams. I really would strongly recommend not over-relying on glantamine, but if you want to boost your memory recall of dreams, that's a good way to do it. In terms of working with dreams, there are a lot of good books on the subject. I mean, the ones that will come to mind immediately would be more like books on lucid dreaming, like Exploring the World of Lucid Dreams by Stephen LaBerge is really good. But I would say just think about what your dream might mean, you know, feel into it. You could try doing gestalt work with it, where you embody different characters in the dream and sort of have a dialogue. as different characters and just sort of see what they would say. Like you do that while you're awake and it's a way of consciously engaging with the dream. Which I think would be really easily adaptable to virtual reality by the way. What else? Well, I find it interesting to find a mirror and say, show me my true nature or something like that. Or do something that is going to evoke a change in the dream but not necessarily under your control. Like some people will find a dream television and change the channel or something. Or if someone is artistic, a really interesting thing to do is to find a painting in the dream and then paint that in waking life. I've heard from a number of artists who do that and I think that's really fascinating and a way to sort of enter into a dialogue with your dream.
[00:44:56.203] Kent Bye: Interesting yeah, I found for myself that if I set the intention like I'm gonna remember my dream And I have something to write next to my bed, and then when I wake up try not to move too much So try to stay fairly still maybe reflect on a little bit get it locked in my mind And then start to maybe write down and I've also experienced a number of different Retreats where we did do dream interpretation in the morning and the different processes that were recommended was to first of all write down just the facts of what happened in the dream don't try to do any interpretation or anything and then Once you share what happened in the dream then start to read into it a little bit more and then that's at the point when if you're doing it with other people then you can invite other people to either ask questions or to Look at what other people see in terms of the deeper symbols I've often had a dream where I thought I had had it all figured out and then I work with it with a group of people and then the dream gets unlocked of like all sorts of other almost like secret messages that are there. And so having other people to talk about the dream, I think is also really interesting. And I expect that that's one of the things that I find really interesting about virtual reality is this potential where you could start to have these virtual dream analysis groups where people maybe go into Tilt Brush and I don't know if like going from the bed and moving like there's oftentimes if even if I just change positions and go to the bathroom sometimes that's enough for the dream to go completely away. So to think that people are going to wake up from that dream and hold the dream enough with enough vivid detail that they're going to be able to then Go into a VR experience and create it like your example of being able to record it straight away to just record the dream and then maybe then you go into a brush after you've recorded and you can listen to yourself and then you can extrapolate it and really Hold in your mind, but I do think that there seems to be this intentional component. Like if you're intending to do it, you can remember it more, but also as you start to work with it and unpack it, then maybe it becomes more stronger or more vivid so that then as you go through this process of these feedback loops of either writing it down or working with it, then you can have much more visceral dreams that you can become more vivid and remember and work with more. I don't know if you've had that same experience.
[00:47:07.420] Arthur Gillard: Well, one thing I would say is I don't currently have a lot of people in my life that are interested in talking about dreams. But when I have had that, I agree that I also found that was a very powerful way of exploring dreams more deeply. And I often found that it was easier for me to interpret someone else's dream than my own dream. And so that experience you related where you think you have your dream all figured out and then your friend will say, well, what about this? And you go, oh, you know, like that's happened to me so many times or I've done that for other people. And so it has occurred to me that like dream exploration groups in VR would be a really good thing. even just talking about your dreams in that context, it means that somebody could be geographically remote, but they share that interest and you could meet up. But even more powerful would be to use something like Tilt Brush, where I'm hoping easier ways of recreating dreams will come along, and then you could collectively work with that and be kind of inside the dream, exploring it further, and maybe testing out different responses, like what if I said this? So you could have your friend acting as one of the characters in the dream and you're yourself or vice versa You know, I think there's a lot of interesting dynamics that could arise there.
[00:48:24.750] Kent Bye: So yeah, I think that would be very powerful I've also heard people talking about dreams like every character in the dream is actually just a representation of yourself I don't know if you've heard that as well
[00:48:34.602] Arthur Gillard: I have heard that and I find it extremely useful to take that approach in terms of thinking about the interpretation of my dream. I go through different periods where I'm more into interpretation. Other times where I'm just like, wow, that was a crazy experience. It's fascinating, you know. But when I'm in interpretive mode, I do find it useful to think about that. Because it's all coming from your mind. And even if there's some sort of psychic collective thing going on, that just sort of means that your mind opens up into a deeper, wider field. You know what I mean? So whether you're talking about the small ego or the big world self or something, it's all you, ultimately.
[00:49:15.846] Kent Bye: And so what do you want to experience in VR? Everything.
[00:49:20.229] Arthur Gillard: To be more specific. Well, on one level, I would like to be able to run in virtual reality, or swim like I think I heard of waterproof VR systems and be created where You're actually in a pool or something, but you're seeing a virtual reality. That sounds amazing. I would also, I hope to see at some point something like, so if you had enough full body tracking, kind of like HTC Vive with additional foot tracking, I think would be enough. and then you had a program that was going to use some sort of AI system to teach you Tai Chi, say I think that would be a really interesting way to convey the fundamentals of a martial art or yoga or something because the software could tell where your body is in space and whether you're doing the moves correctly I would love to do that. I would also really like to do a lot more stuff using sort of biofeedback and neurofeedback in a virtual reality setting. I think there are various ways that could be useful or fun or interesting. I mean, I've done some biofeedback not in VR settings and I find it fascinating to work with information that's normally unconscious and change it and you don't even know how you're changing it. So, yeah.
[00:50:42.462] Kent Bye: Great. And, uh, and finally, what do you think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?
[00:50:52.286] Arthur Gillard: That is a really big question. Um, in a certain sense, I find it hard to think of like the ultimate potential because it's like asking what is the ultimate potential of evolution or something? You know, it's just like everything, but, I think that, I believe I alluded to earlier, if we can figure out ways to look at unconscious processes in people and represent that to them, sort of the deeper we can go with that, the more virtual reality becomes like dreaming. And then it really does start to become like a lucid dream. And, you know, there are people who think that we're going to be able to do a meticulous read of what the brain is doing and represent exactly what people are dreaming. And that would be great, but I'm skeptical. But I wonder how far we can go just using things like gaze and biofeedback of various kinds. That's sort of on an individual level, but on a collective level, I think that virtual reality can be a way of collectively dreaming better futures. Like if we create models of societies or ways of being or practices or relationships or anything, and experiment with them in virtual reality, which, as with dreaming, is a consequence-free environment, free from constraints or judgment, and we can play with possibilities and figure out what kind of societies do we want to have, what works better, and try to create more utopia scenarios rather than dystopia. I think this is what Monica Bielski's work is getting at, and I find her approach very inspiring. You know, there's so many dystopias in movies, in fiction, in virtual reality, and I think it's lazy and I think it's unhelpful. If you're asking, what would a great society look like? Or, okay, here's a dystopia. The present is very dystopic in some ways now and getting more so. How can we get to a utopia from here or from this or that dire scenario? And so I think that virtual reality potentially offers us a way to collectively dream better futures into being. And then sometimes I think that maybe we're on our way to creating some sort of technological equivalent of the dream time, where we're starting to create layers of virtual reality and augmented reality superimposed over the physical world, even augmented reality objects and phenomena that are anchored to physical locations. And it seems to me like where this may be headed is creating something that functionally would be similar to the Aboriginal Dreamtime as I understand it, which is probably pretty limited. But especially if we start creating VR and AR that is a kind of hybrid of human activity and artificial intelligence activity, So I'm thinking of Mechanical Turk systems where there's an AI system that's working on various goals. And then there are humans that are doing things that they are specialized to do, like pattern recognition. And if we start doing this in a VR, AR kind of realm, then perhaps it starts to generate that. I can't concretize it more than that.
[00:54:16.477] Kent Bye: Yeah, I've been studying a lot of, like, these concepts of the platonic realm of ideal forms and how there's, in the philosophy of math, there's Platonists and fictionalists, and fictionalists see that math objects are just describing reality, but mathematical Platonists are saying, no, actually, these are real objects, and somehow they might be actually interfacing with reality in some way. And the big challenge for mathematical realism is, if that's true, then how do you interface with this transcendent realm? And Rictaranus and the Passion of the Western Mind goes into all the different ways of platonic epistemology, whether that's through empirical observation or math and science and logic and music, mythology, story, symbols, all these things that are symbolic portals into something that is transcendent. And as we have these augmented virtual reality technologies, what does it mean to start to overlay these symbolic portals that could actually get us tapped into the deeper dimensions of reality that are embedded on top of reality? But I'm thinking about that a lot in terms of what does it mean to start to blur the lines between what is this transcendent ideal realm and create an interface to that? And then does that change our relationship to real reality or to create this feeling of walking around in this technologically mediated dream time?
[00:55:38.098] Arthur Gillard: Yeah, exactly. Like, if there is a deeper, higher, dream-like realm that is, in a sense, more real than the physical universe, which is purely speculative, I don't know. But if there is, then could the manifestation of VR and AR be an element of how that comes more deeply into our conscious lives, and how we start to participate in it more consciously or lucidly? So a sort of step on that path is this idea that I encountered in a Werner Wenge novel of synthetic serendipity, where you have these kind of AI systems that are making connections between people and ideas and sort of presenting something to you that is like just the right thing or idea at the right time. So it's like a synchronicity, but this has been generated by an artificial process. But perhaps something deeper is going on with these platonic realms or transcendental realms are coming more fully into the physical world.
[00:56:38.761] Kent Bye: What do you think that would mean collectively if we had access to that?
[00:56:43.443] Arthur Gillard: The ultimate potential in that sense for me would be I've long been fascinated by Teilhard de Chardin's idea of the noosphere as this layer of mind that is sort of waking up like the earth as a whole is waking up and we're part of that. And so in a sense it becomes the dreams or the thoughts of the world soul. And we would sort of be in relation to that like neurons are to your brain. Or maybe sub-personalities and stuff like that is to your mind as a whole. And so we wouldn't necessarily be able to see the top level of what was happening. any more than an individual neuron can understand what my whole mind or brain is doing. But at the same time, it's participating in that and it's part of that. And so how I would hope that would manifest, I mean, it could manifest in a way that we would have no conscious way of apprehending that. But how I would like it to manifest is that we would have a sense of participation in a level of mind and soul that was both higher and deeper than our own individual consciousness.
[00:57:57.215] Kent Bye: Yeah, I was just in China as well as in Japan and exploring these cultures that I had no experience with and I just love to be able to take it in but what would it be like to be able to overlay that layer of dream time on top of these different places and Would there be these symbols that would maybe draw me to specific places and then potentially mediate different connections with people I think that I see this technology as to have an experience to get us to be more connected to ourselves, more connected to each other, and more connected to the planet. And I think that this idea of this noospheric representation of the collective world dream that is maybe reflecting this deeper intention of who we are and why we're here would, at the end of the day, perhaps get us more connected to ourselves, more connected to the people around us, and more connected to the planet and the whole cosmos.
[00:58:45.718] Arthur Gillard: Yeah, I agree. It's like going with the flow of deeper currents that are flowing through our lives. And it sort of doesn't matter exactly what that is based in ultimately. Just to know that there are deeper currents that are much deeper than our conscious minds. And instead of trying to fight that or deny that, we can sort of align ourselves with that. And maybe VR and AR as it evolves will help us to do that better.
[00:59:14.537] Kent Bye: Awesome, and is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say?
[00:59:19.140] Arthur Gillard: Yeah, a couple of things. One is that I really would not like to see virtual reality used as an escape. Like, I found Ready Player One a really entertaining movie, but the scenario it depicted was horrific. It's kind of like, the world's gone to hell. Oh, well, we've got this great virtual reality to play in. So as long as we have our escape playground, we can just let the world continue to be hell. That would be the most horrific scenario. So ultimately, is whatever you're doing helping to make the world a better place in some way? And if it's not, then do something different. And then on a more personal note, I'm really interested in dreamlike scenarios in virtual reality, and that is often In practice, that is often a nightmarish scenario, like horror games or whatever. I find them fascinating, but because VR is so immersive, I find them too scary. And so I would like designers of such games to include some sort of, I like to think of it as a kitten mode. where it's like a way of toning down the fear factor in various ways so that it makes it more palatable. Like when Hugh Hancock was working on the Left Hand Path, he deliberately created a low terror mode and an arachnophobe mode for people who couldn't handle the full intensity of the game. That meant that I was able to explore that world, whereas without that I might not have been able to. I would like designers to take into account that people have diverse needs and approaches and just accommodate that as much as possible. Similarly with violent games, first of all, I'm not very interested in first-person shooters. But the mechanics of games like that can be really compelling. But I don't like it when it's too realistic. So I would like ways for that to be toned down, at least for people who choose that. So for example, there's a game, a first-person shooter called Compound. It's like an old-style 1990s video game, but you're inside it and you're shooting characters. And even though the graphics are quite crude, I find them just realistic enough that it bothers me. And so I actually wrote to the designer and was like, is there some way you can tone this down? And it was a discussion group on Steam and various people chimed in. And the ultimate result was that he said, oh, I think that I'll create a mode where when you shoot the characters, they fall to the ground and start snoring. And I thought that was an excellent way to be like, I'm not killing people here. So yeah, I would like to see more options along those lines.
[01:02:07.768] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, I just wanted to thank you for joining me today on the podcast and doing this deep dive into dreaming and lucid dreaming. And yeah, just sharing all of your experiences and insights. So thank you.
[01:02:18.614] Arthur Gillard: Yeah, it was a pleasure. It was fun talking to you. Thanks, Kent.
[01:02:21.855] Kent Bye: So that was Arthur Gilliard. He's a enthusiast of virtual reality and someone who's tracking the connections between lucid dreaming and VR. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Well, the fact that there's potentially these interesting connections of VR and lucid dreaming and that VR could be seen as a way to potentially cultivate this awareness of being able to become more lucid within our dreaming. What I find interesting is just the more Buddhist perspective on the nature of reality and these stories and constructions. Our mind is fusing together all the sensory input and What if our waking life was somewhat of a dream and maybe there's certain dimensions of the illusion of reality that by doing different things within virtual reality, maybe we're able to start to see like what are the things that are the deepest truth of any type of experience versus the things that may be polluted by different aspects of our beliefs or perception or experiences that how much are able to get to the deepest truth of any situation? And to really look at the subjective perception of even just looking at the process of perception of how we're taking all this different sensory input and our brain is really this virtual reality machine that's constructing a reality in our brains. And as we dream, it's showing us the potential that our brain is able to do that all the time. I mean, a lot of people talk about dreams as this initial state of virtual reality. But to me, I think that there's so many interesting, fascinating questions about dreaming and lucid dreaming and the connection between VR and dreaming. And there's going to be a lot of experiences that are coming out in 2019, especially from that media molecule, the experience called dreams. And, you know, what is the potential of being able to actually use these VR technologies to start to communicate different aspects of our intimate life and in our dreams? And just in talking to a lot of the artists within virtual reality, they've been doing a lot of this deep exploration, like Danny Bittman, exploring these different dreams. to have this feedback loop cycle between that art that they're creating, that they're really interpreting these different aspects of their dreams, and that then feeding back into having them have even more visceral and powerful dreams at night. And to have these different embodied metaphors that they're experiencing within VR, and to sometimes have some of the very explicit user interfaces that they're experiencing within VR start to become available within their dream life, like Stephanie Mendoza was reporting in her experiences with Anyland. So I like the idea that VR could be seen as this training ground for allowing us to get into these deeper states of lucid dreaming and that we'll be able to potentially train ourselves to do stuff within VR experiences that we want to bring in into our dream life. like Arthur said, that you could start to look at and analyze your dreams. But while you're actually in the dream, being able to actually interrogate your dream and interact with it in real time. And that does seem to be this element of not having complete and full control to be able to do whatever you want. But it's a little bit of you expressing some agency, but there's still a certain amount of the context of the dream that is still kind of faded to you in some ways. So I think there's probably more open questions than answers that are still to do with dreaming and the nature of dreaming and the connection between virtual reality. But after this conversation and other conversations, I'd be super curious to hear what other people's experiences are to see how they've found their experiences within VR has been changing their experiences within their dreams. And if they're able to take these insights from their dreams and see if they apply to their lives in any specific way. So that's all that 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 listeners-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your donations in order to continue to bring you this type of coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.