#484: Creating a Synthetic Peak Experience in VR with SoundSelf

Robin-ArnottRobin Arnott had a peak experience from a LSD trip at Burning Man, and wanted to see if he could replicate this type of peak psychedelic experience within virtual reality. The result of four years of work is a transcendent experience called SoundSelf that creates a diffuse feedback loop between your toning and a variety of generative abstract art visuals. So I had a chance to catch up with Robin to talk about using VR to cultivate a synthetic peak experience, using VR as a transformative technology, and the role of contemplative spiritual practices.


SoundSelf is the closest experience I’ve had where I felt like I had taken a digital drug, and it’s the type of experience that is really difficult to describe. Pendleton Ward was raving about his peak experience with SoundSelf VR back in episode #410, and I expect that this could be one of many unique lived “erlebnis” experiences that you just have to try to understand.

There’s a beta release available at SoundSelf.com, but the full release of the experience should be launching sometime in 2017.


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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So back in episode 410, I had a chance to talk to Pendleton Ward and he was sharing with me this transcendent peak experience that he had with the experience called Soundself. And after I had that conversation, I wanted to have my own experience of Soundself to have one of those experiences that is actually really difficult to describe and to put into words. And so I had a chance to try it out at the Art of Dying show in San Francisco on Halloween, and then had an opportunity to catch up with the creator, Robin Arnett, to talk about how he has architected this synthetic peak experience and how it was inspired by his own peak experience from an LSD trip at Burning Man. So we'll be talking about virtual reality as a transformative technology, how to create a synthetic peak experience, and how contemplative spiritual practices fit into all of that. On today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. But first, a quick word from our sponsor. Today's episode is brought to you by the Voices of VR Patreon campaign. The Voices of VR podcast started as a passion project, but now it's my livelihood. And so, if you're enjoying the content on the Voices of VR podcast, then consider it a service to you and the wider community, and send me a tip. Just a couple of dollars a month makes a huge difference, especially if everybody contributes. So, donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So this interview with Robin Arnott happened on November 27th in Portland, Oregon. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:51.918] Robin Arnott: I'm Robin Arnott. I'm working on what I call a technodelic. It's called SoundSelf. It is a virtual reality experience that is designed to create what some people might call an altered state. It's inspired by my first peak experience on LSD. And it's been in the works for about four years now, and it is a very weird project. It's very different from pretty much anything I've ever seen before. So here's how you play. You lay down, and you're wearing the virtual reality headset, and you chant with your voice. You produce long tones. Like this, and the game listens to you. It's recording you, and it's resonating with your voice. So it's producing sounds, instrumental sounds, that when you hear them, feel like they're coming from your chest, where you feel the vibration of your voice. And then you stop chanting, and that sound continues. Then you pick up with a new sound, and each of these sounds sort of adds to this dynamic, shifting musical soundscape that you're listening to. And the sounds that you're hearing and producing also each play into this abstract visual experience. So the whole thing is designed to overpower the part of your mind that understands the universe and overpower that so much so that you're just left with raw perception and a sense of self that expands beyond the boundaries of skin and concept and into everything you perceive from the sounds you're hearing and the visuals you're seeing. The whole thing is designed just as a feedback loop to deconstruct your typical lived sense of self and give you access to a deeper sense of self or deeper lived experience.

[00:03:42.034] Kent Bye: Yeah I had a chance to actually try it out for the first time at the Art of Dying show and there's some other people in the room having other experiences and so there's a little part of me that was a bit self-conscious of sort of toning and making all this noise but I just really went with it because it was really immersive and the thing that I really noticed was that there was a real connection between what sounds I was making and what was changing visually. And I think that Mel Slater and his conceptualization of presence, he has the two major illusions that you have to try to cultivate with presence, which one of them is the place illusion, where you feel like you're kind of in another place. The other one that I think that you were really working with here was the plausibility illusion, where you actually feel like whatever you're putting out into the world is reacting to how you would expect it to react. Now, This was an experience where I didn't actually know what to expect. And so I think that gets to a little bit about what you were saying is that is a new lived experience that I had never had before, where I was able to make sounds and have a direct interaction and a deep sense of presence because of that. As I went in further and further into the experience, the more that I made that sounds, the more I felt like I was actually immersed within this whole abstract experience.

[00:04:56.305] Robin Arnott: Yeah, so there's two things here I want to touch on, and the first is that abstraction you're describing. And actually, I'd kind of like to invite your listeners to see if they can touch in on this. You know, your experience of the universe is fundamentally, on a deep level, entirely abstract. And everything that is non-abstract is emotion of the mind. So if you listen to my voice right now, you can hear the words I'm saying and probably imagine me saying them, but you can also feel it just as a total meaningless slew of sounds. So as I'm speaking right now, there's the quality of my voice. It's just sound. But then there's this layer of meaning that we pack on top of it, right? And that layer of meaning is sort of how we experience the world most of the time. But if you can ignore that layer of meaning, there's just this incredible abstract dance happening all the time. So, to immerse a person, I like how you call it like a plausibility illusion, because I think the illusion is actually what is our normal lived experience, which is living in meaning, seeing all of these meanings, and believing those meanings, and almost sort of dismissing the abstract dance that those meanings are just an interpretation of. So I think the real illusion is those meanings, right? And so to create this abstract experience that encourages you to go beyond or just to see through the shifting meanings that we usually place on the world, I think that itself is incredibly powerful and touches something really deep in us. And the other thing that I wanted to touch on is you're chanting and you kind of feel it respond to you. And this has been like, I think, one of the most difficult elements of designing this experience because if it responds to you in a way that's predictable, then it becomes an instrument and it becomes such an extension of your normal lived experience that kind of masks the mystery, right? So any controls in a game, you know, pressing this button makes you jump or this button makes you do this ability or something. It's such a natural extension of our agency, which is why those games work incredibly well, but I think it misses the opportunity to go a step deeper than our lived experience. Whereas, like, we've been trying to do this balance where on the other side of that is either it's really tight to you, the reactivity of the experience is so tight to you that it feels like a natural extension of your agency, or it's so loose that you don't feel yourself in it at all. And so it's somewhere in the middle there where you know it's you, but it doesn't respond to your intentions, but it's responding to something else. If there's magic to the game, I think that's it. It's just lying in this place where you feel yourself in it and that self is so mysterious and weird and deep and not our normal experience of what we are.

[00:07:44.640] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that there's a couple of things there that come to mind. First of all, the actual visuals that I was seeing did feel a little bit procedurally generated or abstract enough that there was no discernible pattern that I could tell. So it does give you that sense of something that I had never experienced before. And then the other points that you're making earlier, that the world we're living in is an illusion, almost as if we're projecting our meanings in our stories that we tell about ourselves or the world. A couple things come to mind in that. One is that it sounds very Buddhist, from a Buddhist perspective, that they will talk about the world in that way, that the world is an illusion, and that there's different levels of awareness that you can get to where you're able to see that. But also just from a cognitive science perspective, I know that there's the process of looking at perception, that there's all this quantum reality that we are kind of filtering out because it's not allowing us to really determine whether or not that snake is going to harm us. And so we see the world in terms of the threats that are given to us.

[00:08:45.268] Robin Arnott: Why we're so tense all the time. This is why we're so tense all the time. That abstract conscious experience, the way we frame and interpret it, has a survival function. So you described seeing a snake in the grass. You know, in order for us to survive, we sort of have to have this layer of ourself that is interpreted, that is looking at this abstract dance and interpreting it. You know, that has to have sort of an anxious bias. But something I've been thinking a lot about lately, and I've only just kind of found the words for, breaking through that layer of interpretation. So you mentioned Buddhism, and I'm very inspired by Buddhist thought and Buddhist practice and Buddhist history. And it was only when I went to the Buddhist Geeks Conference a few years ago that I began to realize, like, oh my god, there's this whole school of practice, this school of understanding reality, that's so in line with the way I was beginning to see the world. And now, Buddhism has been a very useful frame for me. Enlightenment as a total either cessation of identification with those mental movements, the interpretations, or as a total persistent reckoning with the abstract dance and whatever is beyond. I think our culture is sort of beginning to reintegrate enlightenment and awakening. And the sciences are beginning to, especially neuroscience, is beginning to study Buddhist monks who have been practicing for a long time and who claim to be enlightened. But enlightenment has sort of been this pie-in-the-sky ideal, the Buddha is enlightened and we can only strive to that. But I don't think that's the case. This story, this narrative, because it's a survival function, only needs to be just believable enough to be passable. Just believable enough for us to not see past it. Which means that if you find the right contemplation practice, it doesn't take long to see through it. And this is a VR podcast, right? Perhaps in the near future, or perhaps now, you find the right virtual reality software, you find the right set of experiences that can kind of train you to... It doesn't take a lot to see past that, because it's not a perfect illusion. It's just good enough. Because we don't have all things to be better or more effective than they need to be we don't have as good Scent as a dog does we don't have as good sight as an eagle does and certainly we have probably a more rich and compelling layer of interpretive Story to our reality than most animals do but it's just good enough. It's just good enough to be believable and So I think we're, over the next 10 years, we're going to see a lot of technologies like meditation. Meditation is a technology. We're going to be seeing a lot more accessible technologies and Western friendly technologies. You know, we like electronic things and software and stuff like that. I think we're going to and already beginning to see technologies that are geared towards helping people transcend that interpretive layer.

[00:11:37.178] Kent Bye: Yeah, my understanding of enlightenment for monks who are able to go up on top of a mountain, sit in a cave, and meditate for 10 to 20 years, and they have this awakening experience where they're able to pierce through the veil and, you know, there's other people have sudden awakening experience. I know I've done an interview with Edgar Mitchell, who on the way back from walking on the moon, he had this spiritual awakening experience where he felt like he was looking at the sun and looking at the moon and looking at the stars as he was coming back on Apollo 14 ship back to the earth. And he had this awakening that this profound sense of unity with everything in the universe and that science couldn't describe Religious literature couldn't describe and he had to turn to the mystical literature and find that this was this Samadhi experience So he started to study it scientifically and started the Institute of noetic sciences Doing all this consciousness research for the last, you know, 30 plus years and And I think that right now, just from the perspective of enlightenment, it's a little bit like we don't have a lot of clear examples of people who are walking around that are both claiming to be enlightened but also can clearly demonstrate it. There may be some of these studies that are doing it, but it sounds like the deeper thread of what I hear you saying is that potentially there's something deeper within the fundamental nature of virtual reality technology of how it's able to break us out of this collective consensus in a certain way, maybe start to prime our minds a little bit, if we do the contemplative practices day in and day out, I suspect that we're not going to be able to just have a shortcut to enlightenment by just doing a few VR experiences. But the Institute of Noetic Sciences has actually studied what causes spiritual transformation over the course of 10 years, in a book called Living Deeply. And they said that there was actually four principles of any spiritual practice. One is that you are putting your intention towards a certain practice, so you're intending to do something. You're cultivating a certain amount of attention, so you're cultivating your sense of awareness. You're doing it every day or some sort of consistent repetition, so it's a practice that you're continually working on. but also there's a sense of guidance and being able to either get a teacher that's able to help you walk that path if they're further down the road, but also books to be able to read and have some sort of sense that you're actually having progress and moving forward. And so I think anything that you can have those four qualities, you can turn into a spiritual practice. So I mean, I think one of the things that I've been waiting for for my own interacting with VR is to kind of treat it as a spiritual practice. What are the things that I I'm going to do every day in order to kind of cultivate that contemplative type of feeling. And the one experience that I've found so far has been audio shield to be able to actually go in every day and play 10 to 15 minutes, a few songs. And it's something that keeps bringing me back over and over again, but it sounds like sound self could potentially be that type of experience for somebody, something that they're able to work on day in and day out and have different experiences. Is that sort of your intention for creating it?

[00:14:34.198] Robin Arnott: It's in the same neck of the woods as my intention, but there's a discernment I want to make here between practice, which allows us to really deepen where we're psychologically grounded, so that you can live from those more transcendent spaces. That's where those four principles or ingredients of spiritual practice come in, right, is for building up where your root of self is. And that's from the Eastern tradition, the Eastern window, that's how I think people see it. And also, as Buddhism has come to the West, and other Eastern or esoteric practices have kind of become more popularized in the West, I think that's the most important frame. But we have this existing frame in the West, which I think when it comes together with the frame of the spiritual practice, they can be very powerful. And that existing frame is a frame of the peak experience or psychedelic experience, which comes without expectation, without planning or necessarily doing the inner work, although a certain amount of inner work has to be done before It's available to us. And by psychedelic experience, I don't necessarily mean something you have when you take a drug. I mean, you're just sitting on the subway and then pow, something hits you that totally tears apart your experience of reality. Then, you're back in your Robin sitting on the subway again, if you're me or whatever. And that can happen without having a ritual practice. That can happen without having a community. So sound self, the idea came to me all of a sudden about six months after my first experience of that sort. I didn't have a spiritual practice, but I was at Burning Man and on a small dose of LSD and the whole illusion just fell away from me for three minutes and then came back. And I think that a spiritual practice, what are these four things again? There's intention, attention, ritual, and community, or the Buddhist word would be Sangha. These things are essential for a deepening, but in the West where there's so much I think the cards are changing, but right now if you want to embark on what is essentially like a journey of slow psychological suicide, because you're setting your ego aside, you're setting your whole story, your whole belief about who and what you are aside, and you're letting it sort of die, it's a terrifying process. It takes a lot of work, a lot of intention, It takes a really fine development of attention, like you say, dedication, practiced ritual, and community, you know, people that you can talk to, people that have gone through this path before, people who can tell you you're not crazy. And here in the West, unfortunately, I think probably partly because our scientific institutions have so long been in a sort of cold war with our religious institutions, which are the western embodiment of spirituality, that there's a dogma of materialism in the sciences now that has Extended past the boundaries of the sciences and into just our Western culture that we live in a dogma of materialism Which means that you don't have unless you seek it out. You don't have that community So it's harder to develop. I think a spiritual practice here in the West, but we do have a history of the psychedelic 60s we have psychedelic music we have these We call them recreational drugs, but there's so much more than that, or they can be. I have fashioned sound self, and that is, I think, a powerful introduction to people who are not embedded in a spiritual community, because you have that incredible experience that you can't describe, and you realize there's nothing in my culture that can mentor me through understanding what I just experienced. So I have to seek that out, and maybe I have to find a community where I can develop these four cornerstones. That experience is what I've been trying to facilitate with sound self. A temporary peak experience into something that you can't explain easily. And if that leads to a deeper or a more deliberate spiritual relationship, wonderful. And if it doesn't, wonderful. But my intention with it from the get-go was never to be a part of a spiritual practice, but it was to be that sort of blast from a canon psychedelic experience.

[00:18:56.130] Kent Bye: Yeah, that makes sense. And part of this book, Living Deeply, by Marilyn Schlitz, where she did this 10-year study of what are the components and ingredients of these spiritual transformations. These, what you're kind of referring to as a peak experience, could be referred to this transcendent spiritual transformation that people can go through. And what she found was that the most common cause for that for people was to go through some sort of tragedy or trauma or death, and that somehow woke them up into realizing the finite length of their life and facing their own mortality and that usually going through hardship causes people to go through the most change most often but that said there's also times where people see a view over a mountain at Esalen or maybe it's just they read a book or they get a piece of information or they have some sort of mind-opening experience that I think could be coming from something like Soundself or a virtual reality experience that really opens up their mind in a new way. So it sounds like you're really trying to architect this type of synthetic peak experience for people to go through so that they can perhaps get shaken out of whatever ruts that they're in and start to see the world in a new way.

[00:20:05.904] Robin Arnott: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I am absolutely trying to architect a synthetic peak experience for people, and I think this is the first technology of its kind, and I think as such we're going to see over the next 10-20 years, we're going to see new faces of this technology, new uses of virtual reality that are so much like, that are gonna make what I'm doing look incredibly clumsy. But it's still, it is doing that. And that's exciting and cool, I think.

[00:20:36.838] Kent Bye: And so maybe you could share some of what you've seen from showing SoundSelf to people over the last four years. What type of reactions in the spectrum of what people are experiencing? And if you're able to create this synthetic peak experience for people.

[00:20:51.356] Robin Arnott: Yeah, that's a fun question. So let me describe something I see quite often when I show it at PAX, is you'll get somebody coming in, and these are people who have no meditation experience, who if I were to talk to them about spirituality, some of them may be able to engage with me and talk about their spiritual path, but I think for the most part, that's not really part of the dialogue there. So you have somebody coming in, I describe the experience to them, and if you're not paying attention to me, describe how to play it because nobody does. Because it's like, yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll get it, just stop talking to me. So they put on the virtual reality headset and they'll start interacting with the experience. And I see their hands start to clench. And you can kind of hear, you know, they're experimenting, they're trying different sounds. And you can hear in their voice there's frustration. And I think what's happening here is they're trying to control it because that's what you expect from a video game And it doesn't work. It doesn't respond to that. It doesn't respond to you trying to control it. So they're getting anxious They're getting worked up. They're getting tense and then at some point something shifts all of a sudden and They get so frustrated that they just give up on the experience and as soon as they do it totally changes, and they become surrendered to it. And I hear people just laugh, people who were just a minute ago tensing and anxious, they're laughing now, and they get out of the VR experience and they say, I could have done that for hours. So, wow, like, this is an abstract experience and people are laughing their heads off. I see people come out of it and they can't describe it, which is something that makes it difficult for me as, you know, I'm an artist and so on, but I also have to think of this as a businessman and I can't describe the experience. Nobody can. So, like, people come out of the experience and they'll try to describe it and they can't. Which is similar to what you get after a psychedelic experience. You can't really describe a psychedelic experience you've had because it transcends language. So that's one thing that I see all the time. People cry sometimes and again, this is an abstract experience, you know, like you'd get people crying with that dragon cancer, right? But that's an experience that resonates with some emotional truth. We all have or will experience the death of a loved one. There's something like really deep and personal that touches us about that dragon cancer. But this is an abstract experience. You're seeing shapes that don't congeal into any meaningful form at all. You're hearing sounds that are not language, and people come out of it crying. That's wild. And you know like sometimes people come out of it And they're just like yeah, whatever don't really and because I'm not gonna get everybody and there's this other kind of response to it Which is very interesting and it's taken a lot of development to get this to happen less which is where it'll just sort of stir up something in the person and They'll get like pretty deeply triggered by it, and they'll have a trauma response to it and And I think I would have been able to ship this a year and a half, two years earlier, if not for those experiences, because I wanted to make sure those didn't happen, or happened as rarely as possible. Which, you know, like, I think if something gets triggered, then you're seeing something. You're seeing something, and that can be very powerful and a very positive experience, ultimately, to see something you don't want to see, and to have to grapple with that. But this isn't a psychological context, this is an entertainment context, and it doesn't feel quite right to me to give people that experience.

[00:24:15.496] Kent Bye: That's really curious to me to hear that this might trigger people into some sort of trauma reaction. And like you said, it's a pretty abstract experience and I recall it being fairly abstract. And there may have been the feeling of laughter because it's transcending anything I've ever experienced before. So it's sort of like blazing new neural pathways in my mind. And that feeling can feel like enjoyment or fun. But this trauma reaction, were you able to isolate it down to any key components that you were able to then change the experience?

[00:24:45.213] Robin Arnott: Yeah, I think it was the sound mostly so if the sound isn't pleasant it can make you feel kind of unsafe and The experience sort of forces you to let go of control So if you let go of control an environment that you feel safe in then that's magical, you know Then you're just letting go of layers of yourself if you let go of control an environment you don't feel safe in I think that's what's triggering

[00:25:13.282] Kent Bye: Interesting. And so I did the experience once. Is this something that you expect people to do over and over again? Or, you know, keep coming back to is it change from time to time? Or, you know, in some sense, and because I've only went through it one time, I sort of get a sense that there's a progression, but yet I was interacting with it. But how many different variations are there to this? And do you see this as something that people experience over and over again?

[00:25:37.427] Robin Arnott: Yeah, I think so. You're right in identifying the visuals as being generative. There's a lot of variability in what you can witness, and it's designed to be able to be played again and again and again and again. So I know there are some people, at least from early days of Soundself, early in development, when I was a lot more in touch with Kickstarter backers and so on, I know there were some people who were using early builds of it as part of a daily ritual. And I think that's totally wonderful and part of the reason it takes them so long to build is just building out the variability in the experience so that if you want that, it can support that. But it's interesting because I think to me, because my spiritual path began with psychedelics. So I think to me, I've always seen it as a psychedelic. And you don't do LSD every weekday morning. You know, you do it once here and there, and it shows you what you need to see. And if you're doing it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, then gosh, I can't even imagine why you would do that. But for me, I imagined and built it as a, you have this experience, I think your first time with it is probably going to be the most impactful. It's probably going to have the biggest capacity to surprise you and shake you. But you have that experience that lasts 45 minutes or so, and it can support you integrating that as a ritual, if you want it to. But I think one of the surprising things to me about designing a thing is you find people use it in a different way to how you intended. And then it's a question of like, is it important to me to support that? And to me, yes it is. It's important to me to support creating an experience that people can experience again and again and again so that they can integrate it as a ritual if that's valuable to them.

[00:27:18.844] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you see as the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:27:26.048] Robin Arnott: The ultimate potential of virtual reality. Okay, so you sit in your gaming room, and you put on a virtual reality headset, and you experience a different reality. Maybe it's a different person's reality, and so there's an empathy response in there, or maybe it's a fiction, so it's immersive, or maybe it's something like sound self, so it's a psychedelic reality that isn't a story. What happens when you take off the virtual reality headset? That's what's interesting to me. What happens when you take off the virtual reality headset and then put on the virtual reality headset again tomorrow, and then take it off again, and put it on again, take it off again, and put it on again? At some point, when you take off the virtual reality headset and begin to ask yourself, can I take off this virtual reality headset? If you get in the habit of changing your reality so fluidly, you're playing a VR game every day, every week, or whatever, at what point do people begin to question intrinsic truth of their storied experience outside of virtual reality? At what point do you go to work on Monday, and you're having a bad day, and you wonder, gee, can I just take off my virtual reality headset right now? And the answer is yes, you can. And one of the paths to doing that is meditation. But I think once you have people so in the habit of shifting reality, it means they're going to be less inclined to believe the illusions of their normal lived reality. And I think when you have that happen, it's going to be a lot harder to impose top-down control on people. I think it has the capacity to change the world in that way, but I don't think it's any particular kind of VR experience that's going to do that. I think it's the habit of putting on and taking off realities.

[00:29:20.725] Kent Bye: Yeah, it sounds like the cultivation of treating VR is that spiritual practice of being able to be exposed to alternate realities that are perhaps completely impossible on this reality, but that you're getting a sense of kind of making your mind a little bit more plastic and fluid to be able to accept other realities. And through the practice of meditation, what I've found through meditating over the years is that it's a little bit of like, a red button that is intervening and allowing you to stop and pause and to consider and to make a choice and a decision as to what your reaction might be. Whereas before it might be ingrained and almost automatic from a stimulus response perspective, you're kind of intervening through the practice of cultivating that awareness so you're able to stop and question. So it sounds like what you're saying is that you're using VR as that ability to be able to stop and question the nature of your reality and who's in the process of cultivating those stories that you're telling yourself and being able to perhaps use your own direct experience to be able to construct a reality that Is able to get you more grounded and in the flow of your own life, but also as a collective Humanity be able to work together to create the world that works for everybody.

[00:30:29.979] Robin Arnott: Yeah. Yeah You've said it better than I could yeah I loved how you said meditation over the years has given you the ability to kind of, you know, maybe you're getting reactive. Man, just today I was getting really reactive with my girlfriend and just feeling triggered and so on. And I was able to sort of step back and see I was being triggered but, you know, it didn't end that I was being triggered. So yeah, that's a powerful skill set to be able to sort of step back and be like, okay, is this the way I want to be responding to this situation? But can we step back and say, is this the reality I want? and I'm so used to changing realities by putting on and taking off the VR headset, can I just do that right now? Actually, I wanna just go ahead and challenge your listeners right now. Can you do that right now? Can you just take off the virtual reality headset you're wearing right now and see the world a little differently?

[00:31:26.398] Kent Bye: Awesome, homework for everybody. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say?

[00:31:33.727] Robin Arnott: It's exciting times we live in. I'd say it's just really exciting times we live in. The role of technology in our lives is shifting. I think something I'm really eager about is once we stop seeing technology being used as a tool for distracting and hoarding attention, being used more and more as a tool for expanding us, I think that's going to be like a major maturation experience for humanity. And I think we're beginning to see it. You don't find it at Walmart, you know, and the stuff you see on the shelves at Walmart, you know. But there's some really remarkable technology being designed today. I have a friend who's designing a system that can trigger a lucid dream. I know so many people making technologies that shift the way that your brain is functioning in the moment to help you be more grounded. So I'm just really excited about technology right now, because I think what that means to us is changing.

[00:32:35.189] Kent Bye: Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. So that was Robin Arnett. He's the creator of Soundself, which is trying to use VR as a synthetic peak experience. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Soundself is one of those experiences that is pretty difficult to put into words. And it's kind of one of those things you actually have to go through to really experience it. And I expect that there's going to be a number of these type of abstract art experiences that people are creating that you just have to really experience to really fully get it. And so we've talked a lot about the philosophy behind it, but I'd really encourage, if you're interested in it, to actually go have the experience yourself and to see how you react to it. At this point, I expect Soundself to be releasing sometime in 2017, so just keep an eye out for it. So this concept of using virtual reality as a transformative technology is really interesting and compelling to me. And it really goes back to one of the very first interviews that I had done at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Conference with James Blaha, where he was talking about how he used virtual reality to cure his lazy eye. He was essentially blazing new neural pathways into his mind and allowing him to essentially see in 3D for the first time. And I think of that as a metaphor for what VR is able to do is unlock these latent human potentials within our mind and how that is actually going to play out in terms of other latent human potentials that we haven't fully discovered yet. I think if we look at the spiritual traditions of the East with these different meditation practices, there's a long lineage of people who have claimed to achieve these superhuman type of capabilities called Siddhis. And Dean Radin of the Institute of Noetic Sciences has explored a lot of those different Siddhis in his book called Supernormal. And so there's a lot of Buddhist philosophy that's underlying Robin's approach to how he's creating sound self. And thinking about how you are going into a VR experience and having kind of like this interim Bardo state where one of the things you experience is this abstract world. And the Buddhists will often say that the world is an illusion. And so he's trying to put you into this synthetic experience where there is no correlation between the patterns and your agency and what is actually happening in the experience. there's some limited amount of control where you can be able to put some sound input and there's these feedback loops that are happening but it's not something that you can control predictably if it were he said that it would be an instrument where you're able to express your agency and be able to start to play it as if you were playing an instrument and you can't really do that here in this experience because it's trying to give you this feeling of being out of control but in a safe environment so that you can really surrender and release to the mystery of it all in some sense. And so it sounds like this type of experience is already starting to give peak experiences to different people. If you go back to listen to episode 410, you could really hear the impact that this experience had on Pendleton Ward. But I expect to see a lot more of these types of transformative technologies as there's more and more ways to include our biofeedback within an experience to have EEGs or there's heart math where you connect something to your ear and it's able to detect your heart rate and With HeartMath, you're trying to achieve a certain coherence in your heart rate variability, which you can measure in some way with these technologies, but there's no really good way to give that information back to you. HeartMath has this different software where you actually have to open your eyes and look at a computer screen, but It'd be a lot different if you're actually immersed into an entire virtual reality experience. And so I expect that there's going to be more and more of these biofeedback type of technologies in addition to other brain entrainment technologies like binaural beats like from Holosync or Hemosync. These are just trying to create a hemispheric synchronization between your two sides of your brain and just create a different level of awareness and level of presence. And so I expect to see a lot more of these types of transformative technologies put into VR and starting with sound self and experiences from people like Android Jones and Some of these early meditation experiences, although those seem to be primarily concerned at first to just transporting you to another place to be able to meditate without giving a lot of biofeedback and agency within those experiences to really achieve what Robin's trying to do with sound self. There is also a thread here of talking about this cold war between science and spirituality. And a big reason for that is that a lot of these types of experiences that Robin is talking about are completely internal and subjective. There's no way to really objectively measure them. So they are, by their very nature, the realm of spirituality or religion or things that just go beyond the realm of what science can actually measure and inform. And so it could possibly be that the cross-section between science and spirituality are in some of these VR experiences where you could start to simulate these transcendent experiences within people. But a big part of what Robin was saying, that there's such a strong materialistic scientific paradigm within our culture, then what ends up happening is that there's not a lot of external support to be able to actually have that community or sangha or guidance to help people move through the progression of being able to deepen contemplative practice in that way. And so we've had to mostly turn to these Eastern spiritual traditions like Buddhism or meditation or yoga or Qigong or Tai Chi or any number of different contemplative spiritual practices. But perhaps this is where VR is going to be able to make an impact of being able to cultivate this community of people who are really interested in hacking their minds or cultivating a sense of awareness through digitally mediated technologies. And perhaps there'll start to be more and more of these virtual sanghas of people getting together to meditate virtually. I know in alt space, they've already had that a little bit where you go and you meditate together as a group. But because the social component of VR is so compelling, and if you may be in an area that doesn't have a lot of access to these types of practices or teachers, then virtual reality may be a place where people can go and start to get some of that guidance from individuals or a wider community. So overall, I'm just really excited about where this thread of virtual reality is going to go with using it as a transformative technology. And I really like that idea of going in between alternative realities within VR, such that when you're in real reality, you're able to then take off the metaphoric glasses of your stories and layers of meaning that you're projecting out into the world and be able to almost be like Neo in the Matrix and pierce the veil and go beyond what the Buddhists may call the illusion of reality. So if anybody is able to do that through VR, let me know. I'd love to talk to you. So that's all that I have for today. I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you want to support the podcast, then please do tell your friends, spread the word, and become a donor to the Patreon. Just a couple of dollars a month makes a huge difference. So go to patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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