#532: The Extremes of Mental Presence: Cognitive Enhancement, Biohacking, Psychedelics, & Transhumanism

eric-matznerEric Matzner identifies as a Techno-Optimistic Futurist who sometimes works an entire second workday within VR exploring different ways to expand his mind. He’s pushing the limits of mental presence by using nootropic supplements for cognitive enhancement from his company Nootroo, experimenting with psychedelics and VR with the psychonauts from /r/RiftIntoTheMind, exploring sensory addition & biohacking with the Northpaw device, using EEG sensors and VR to have an embodied experience of neurofeedback, teaching himself how to type with one hand with a chorded Twiddler3 Keyboard, and Rapid Serial Visual Presentation to read up to 1000 words a minute using Virtual Desktop.

I had a chance to catch up with Matzner at an UploadVR party during GDC where he shared his explorations into the extremes of mental presence. For me, I’m interested in the balance between mental & social presence with embodied presence, emotional presence, and active presence. But Matzner wants to push the limits of what types of experiences are possible as well as use VR to help him focus on his learning practices.


Part of the extremes of the air element is the risk of disassociation from his body and the real world, and Matzner is openly wondering whether or not reality is going to be able to keep up with how compelling VR is to him. He’s a part of an emerging group of Transhumanist Merry Pranksters of Silicon Valley experimenting with immersive technologies and daily habits to optimize productivity and happiness.

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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So on today's episode, I'm going to be covering the extremes of mental presence, covering everything from cognitive enhancement, biohacking, psychedelics, transhumanism, porn. I'm going to be talking with Eric Matzner. He's somebody I ran into at an upload VR party and he runs a nootropics company called Nootro. Nootropics are these supplements in order to enhance your brain functioning. And so Eric is somebody who is just really into learning and growing his mind. And so today's episode is kind of like a report from the trenches of somebody who is trying to push the limits for how you could use VR to expand your mind. So that's what we'll be covering 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 in 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 Voices of VR. So this interview with Eric happened during GDC at the Upload VR Party on Monday, February 27th, 2017. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:43.650] Eric Matzner: Yes, hi, I'm Eric Matzner. I run a nootropics company called Nootro. I'm very much into the mind and perception, and I'm a futurist with a rift and a gear and a number of other tools that allow for me to experiment in virtual reality at my own pace.

[00:02:01.383] Kent Bye: So it sounds like you're kind of using VR to optimize the perception and learning process, or what is it the questions that you're trying to answer and solve with VR?

[00:02:11.751] Eric Matzner: So in VR we are simulating another world in a level that's great enough to create immersion and so we're truly in there and what is it about our brain that is so easily quote-unquote tricked into believing that this reality is real where you see those videos of people in there and they fall over because they forget where they are or they're like screaming because of fear so great yet they don't take off the headset because their brain has forgot where they are.

[00:02:40.357] Kent Bye: And so it sounds like you're doing a little bit of a looking at the neuroscience of this. So what can you tell me in terms of what have you learned about the nature of VR based upon our perception?

[00:02:49.510] Eric Matzner: Yeah, so there's actually a good amount of research on VR starting all the way in the 70s into the 80s and 90s. And unfortunately, you know, back then the technology wasn't as good. However, they were able to delve into like what really is required for immersion, for example. It has to be inclusive where physical reality shut out. It has to be extensive where the range of sensory modalities accommodating, meaning like you can hear at the right pace, the things that are the right size, that there's not a lot of delay. It has to be surrounding in that it's a panoramic view. If it was just, you know, sometimes it's 180 type of situations, it doesn't give you the full immersion. And then it has to be vivid. It has to have the fidelity and variety of energy that simulates the real world. And so, you know, it doesn't have to be pictographically the same, like the resolution of, like, humanity, and it can obviously be a cartoon or whatever that kind of view is, but it has to fit within the model of that virtual world.

[00:03:45.280] Kent Bye: Yeah, the thing that makes me think of is the presence researcher of Mel Slater, him talking about breaking down the two basic illusions of presence into the place illusion, so that you feel like you're immersed into a world, and then the plausibility illusion, such that everything in the world is plausible, and that it makes sense, and that, you know, it matches your expectations, and I think matching your expectations of what you think it should be, and then what you actually perceive, then it starts to trick your mind to actually believing that you're actually in that place.

[00:04:13.450] Eric Matzner: Yeah, so there's definitely something to that. I mean, there's that feeling when you're in the game and there's a table there and you're holding the controllers and you just want to, like, drop them on the table, you know. That sense of presence is, you know, a state of consciousness. And actually, in delving into the consciousness-presence argument, it made me really think about being present in the real world, actually. Like, that is a psychological construct that we're creating in the moment in reality. So maybe you know, our presence is susceptible to the inputs from the world, right? So, you know, there's something like, are you looking at it or did you visit it? And I had this, you know, and personally, I've had some experiences like in Alt Space. I remember my first experience in there that really, my early days of VR and the gear before I had a Rift, where I was walking around and, you know, I was, there was talking to some girl in VR and other people were like up in her face and, you know, there's no way to like move, I'm like, You want to get out of here? We leave this main room and we're walking around the lake and I still to this day remember her and I slowly walking. It felt like I had a memory of this, like it was a date or that we were there experiencing something beyond this virtual world.

[00:05:25.371] Kent Bye: Yeah, I did this interview really exploring how the Germans had two words for experience. The one word is Erlebnis, which is the direct experience. It's the experience of you having a lived experience of something that is in your body. And then there is Erfahrung, which is the kind of learned experience. And after you have a direct experience, you store it as your memory as a learned experience. But it's also things that people tell you, so you may have experienced indirectly, either from reading about it or anything else that's sort of being culturally indoctrinated into you. And so you have this balance between your direct experiences that you've lived with your direct sensory input, and then you have the erfahrung. And I think that the thing is, is that in VR, you can start to simulate that direct experience if you engage all of your embodied presence and active presence and social mental presence, emotional presence. You get that same sort of erlebnis, direct experience in VR. And I think it stores it in your mind as a derfahung that is essentially indistinguishable from whether or not it happened in real life or in a simulation. And so we start to blur the line as to, well, did this happen? And what is reality?

[00:06:33.633] Eric Matzner: Yeah, I mean, that's a really interesting concept. I've not actually heard that phrase before, but, you know, this objective and subjective reality kind of thing starts to realistically blur. I mean, I've had some experiences where I almost feel like I prefer the virtual world to the real world. I remember one of the early ones, you know, I was in my apartment, a different apartment I used to live in, and I was sitting there in the Gear VR, and I'm in there, and next thing I know, I like, the battery dies and it overheats and I pull it off and I'm sitting in a dark room in a swivel chair with no lights on, you know, I had gone from day to night. I'd been in there for hours, who knows how many hours, and my power cable had come unplugged. And I was like, where am I? And I was like, do my eyes work? Because I was opening them, but it was pitch black. And so it really freaked me out. And, you know, that same day I was, you know, I turned the lights back on. I got a little normal. I was really so wanting to be in this world. And I'm in there in a virtual space. Just listening to like a visual I was in a visualization platform where I'm floating through a river and the mountains are moving You know the sound reactive to the space and you know in the meantime, I'm supposed to go it was Super Bowl weekend I'm supposed to go meet this girl at a club and I like peek out of my headset at my phone It's like alright meet me in this can I last minute? I just run over to the club and I get there and and they've got a little projection on the wall behind the DJ. And I'm looking at it, and I'm looking at the world, and I'm like, this is boring, man. And I'm honestly thinking, if the real world doesn't step up its game, it's going to lose me to the virtual one.

[00:08:07.017] Kent Bye: Well, it sounds like you had put together a little bit of a talk looking at the insights of what you can learn from brain science and learning about what can you feed back into VR. So what are some of the other big points that you were making in this talk?

[00:08:19.332] Eric Matzner: Yeah, so the talk on VR and the mind, you know, I gave a large neuroscience basis for why VR works and how the immersion and those things work. But I think as with, you know, even in real life with other subjective experiences, you know, you can kind of learn at the edge cases by utilizing substances that alter the mind. And part of that was looking into the research and the burgeoning communities of people who are like psychonauts. And, you know, there's a subreddit called Rift into the Mind where people are taking drugs, and then discussing which are the best experiences and which are the best platforms and different things to do and what combinations. And it's a whole world of research, informal research going on. But I did actually find lots of formal research. And just looking into, for example, there was a study that stood out on ketamine, which is a dissociative agent, and military burn victims. And so these burn victims in the hospital have to have their scabs peeled. Daily and so you can imagine the torture that that is if you ever scratched off a scab imagine like your whole body with Multiple degree burns, which is even just talking about it makes you twitch, right? It's like a very uncomfortable thing. And so they have this scale of like, you know How much did you enjoy this treatment and it's like zero out of nine, right? Because it's like painful they give these guys ketamine and then put them in like, you know this is 90s or early 2000s VR where they're like, oh just like a little penguin in an ice place kind of like uh from fight club almost that scenery is what it looks like and they're like totally disconnected from the real world where their wounds are being treated and scabs peeled and they're like nine out of nine i enjoyed the therapy because they're so dissociated from their body that they are not Feeling the pain they're not feeling that and so it really starts to you know Question like what the potential is of like if you could really? Truly be immersed and leaving this world in that way like if you could go in there You know it reminds me a little bit also like inception where they're slowing down time and you know taking a drug to slow down time and living in these simulations in their mind so

[00:10:23.090] Kent Bye: So what else can you tell me about the Rift in the Mind community and some of the preliminary conclusions and insights that people have? I know I just watched a whole documentary on the Grateful Dead and they were talking about the merry pranksters of these people who are doing the acid test and basically acid parties where people drop acid and kind of dance around. pushing the limits of what is possible with taking these consciousness-altering substances and then having these experiences together. And so it feels like in the early days of VR, there's a little bit of that same element of the Merry Pranksters, of seeing what you can do, you know, especially with the Rift of the Mind, they're literally doing the combination of, you know, these substances that then can change your physiology and your perception.

[00:11:01.636] Eric Matzner: Yeah, so, you know, there's definitely people having their VR set up at parties where people are on all sorts of substances and I've seen people experimenting in ways that probably would never be done in a lab or no one would ever get funding or research for. And here in San Francisco, you're definitely on the cutting edge where there's people taking different substances and then also mixing with that technology very heavily. And I think that they're definitely pushing some boundaries in terms of what an entheogen is. It's a substance that makes you go inside yourself. What do you call it when you take something and go inside another world or like beyond yourself? And so I think that as the tools to create environments and worlds, you know, increase, we'll be able to like maybe more fully realize the type of sceneries and things that might help us explore our mind. And I think in that same regard, Somebody drawing in 3D space where they can maybe emulate any sort of physical item they could be sculpting. It can allow for that expression that would be impossible in terms of a timeline or very material goods. They can then experiment and iterate in a more rapid way. And I think it's almost a meta question. And like part of the VR on the Mind talk that I gave, I summed it up by talking about VRML. There's a story about VRML, which is virtual reality modeling language. And there's actually an excerpt from one of the maps. It's an organization that studies psychedelics. But the people in an interview with these guys who made this virtual reality modeling language, and they were talking about the sophistication in the building of the language itself, they were taking ACID so they could discuss the complex visual illusion so that they could then model that language and then they would take even more ACID and then write it, the coding on itself. So the point that I made there was that drugs and ACID and LSD are integrated in the virtual reality world because those drugs give us the ability to create virtual worlds in our heads and maybe we'll need them less potentially as we can create the virtual realities in real world. And so there's something tugging at it where we have a desire to create things that don't exist in the physical world. And to have that and be able to share it with others, whereas you take a drug, you know, it's kind of limited to your perception. But if we can then share that with other people because we're creating those things in a virtual, in a made up sense, you know, that makes it real. I think that that maybe is a way for us to step forward in connecting with people and ideas and things. And I think the synergy of those processes and, you know, even taking the drugs and using the virtual modeling software and things like that allow for us to express ourselves in a level that previously was impossible.

[00:13:46.781] Kent Bye: Yeah, it makes me think of three different things. One is that dreams, when you dream at night, is essentially all your experiences synthesized into a symbolic language that comes from your own direct experiences, but is coming from within, sort of your deep soul, I guess. It's kind of debatable as to where they're coming from. There's a lot of indigenous theories as to the meaning of dreams and really being able to do a Freudian or Jungian dream interpretation and analysis, but it's a deep depth psychology level, which is coming from within. And then it also reminds me of Dungeons and Dragons, which is like the theater of the mind, which is what is the extent that you can have a D&D campaign where you're constructing a narrative collaboratively. So you're having this construction and you're using your imagination. And each person, just like when you're reading a book, you have this projection of what that looks like. You're able to use that same level of imagination, that the theater of the mind has almost a boundless ability to be able to imagine different things. And so once you have somebody else create that experience, then it's bounding it in some way. And then it also reminds me of just the process of doing any type of a shamanic journeying, whether you're using an entheogenic substance or you're doing breathwork or other type of shamanic drumming, where There's all sorts of different practices that people have used to be able to go within and have those images come from your experiences. Again, it's like an act of dreaming was what Jung would call it. So you have all these different modalities of going into your inner self to be able to do exploration. And by adding in VR and an external entheogenic substance, it's catalyzing that internal process on a physiological level, but yet you're giving external stimuli to be able to help perhaps amplify it, or be able to unlock things that you wouldn't ever be able to actually perceive before, because you'll be able to see things that are in VR that can't really exist in reality. And so, you know, when you're already doing Altered State, you're getting into that, but it seems like you're able to perhaps amplify that inner experience by using the VR and whatever practices you're using to get into an altered state.

[00:15:59.567] Eric Matzner: Yeah, so a couple of things on that point is that I don't think it has to stand alone. Just because it's virtual doesn't mean it doesn't affect you in the real world or you see like we're talking about earlier the people falling over in the real world or not you know screaming feeling that panic in the real world even though it's virtual it transcends. And on that same regard, one of my favorite things to do in VR is to meditate, because I can't look around at other things. My focus is directly on that thing. I have some times where I'll wear an EEG headset and then look at my brainwaves inside the VR. And so I'm actually becoming more integrated with my physiological being through the technology. I'm a techno-optimistic futurist, so I like to say that this technology helps me feel more connected to the world and more connected to reality. But at the same time, there is science-based evidence showing that the mind can connect with the real and the virtual world. There's a study where they put a heating band on your arm, and so you have this band on your arm, and in VR, they project a fake arm in the same position, and then they have different colors that they're putting on the spot on your arm and your virtual arm, And depending on that heating band color, you'll say the pain is excruciating or uncomfortable at a different level. So when it's blue, which is, you know, in the real world considered a cool color, like if you look at something that's blue, it's usually not hot. For example, you know, if you look at steel, it's red. So our brains know that things, lava red, like that's an actual physical indicator of temperature. And so when, when you put a red band on, you're much more apt to say it's too hot and it's too uncomfortable. Even though it could have been the same temperature, the blue one was not uncomfortable. So I think that there's a bridge between the real world and the virtual world. And I think mixed reality offers a very significant bridge to those, but there's something for a purely virtual world laid on top of the real world, like some of these experiences that you're going to be doing when you're on a roller coaster or you're in the void or whatever it is. you know, when the virtual world lays on top of the real world, then you start to just see that virtual world as the main world. And that's what leads you into this potentially dicey world where, you know, maybe that virtual world becomes the real world, where, like I'm saying, I almost preferred at some point the engagement and the activity and the stimulation that I was given by the virtual world versus the real world. So, you know, that's, I think there's something to ask where potentially are we blurring the line between what is a virtual world what is a real world if that feeling is as real in there as it is in the virtual world I mean if you look at like VR porn for example you know that's like the elephant in the room right you know as a technologist you know it's known that every you know every new technology someone will use it for porn it's usually the first mover frankly like when the internet People needed faster internet connections for porn. VHS versus Betamax is a classic one. Betamax didn't allow porn. That's why we all had VCRs, right? Because that was the market maker, the people willing to pay. And if you look at the virtual VR porn world, there's a Reddit, NSF4W. There's definitely a wide range of things out there, but I'm not sure I want to go on record talking about my personal experiences in that world, but I can tell you that very much along the lines of what I'm saying now, where I've done mixed reality things, where there's a mimicking of what's going on in the real world, that it's being presented in the virtual world. and it feels real. So on the very deep levels that our bodies interpret the visual stimulus to that stimulus, it is believable to the brain. The brain is constructing reality and constructing auditory things based on visual cues and there's a synchronizing audio and video there's a thing called the McGurk effect for example where if someone goes bah bah bah or fa fa fa and you play the same audio but you change what the visual appearance of their lips while they're going or buh, it will change what you hear from that audio. And so just Google McGurk Effect, there's a guy in a beach, it's a great video. But you can understand that the creation of the world is not so simple and not so straightforward, and we're using multiple sensory inputs to determine it. And if you can alter those inputs and you can modify them, they can still receive a combination. It's like analog and digital can be mixed together in a way, like the real world, the analog can be mixed with the digital without much loss to the brain. And you know, the brain, you know, I'm a transhumanist, an inklet that has eight pager motors arranged in a circle around your foot with a digital compass in there and whichever way is north, it'll vibrate. It's called the North Paw. And so it'll vibrate constantly, like it works eight hours straight. You feel which way north is. And so what happens after you wear it for a week or two straight, You just know where north is all the time. You just start to feel it. You take it off and your brain just remembers which way north is. It like synthesizes that feeling. And so I liken that to, you know, there's a guy Neil Harbisson for example. He's a first official cyborg. He has a camera on his head. that translates color into sound. And he's colorblind, so he hears sound in a synesthetic way. And so when he looks at you based on your outfit and your face, he can feel your color. He can feel and he can see behind him with it. You know, he can do all these different things. But what he proves and what this Northpaw proves and what these other things prove the grinders who put the magnets in their hands they could feel the waves is a prove that the brain is willing to take on peripherals like a computer it's almost like USB and so like how do you plug in your VR headset US you know it's anxiety she my PCIe whatever but we are like a hub you know we are our brain is like constantly searching for signals and if you you know if you look even into like the cochlear implants and these other things like there's even ways where you can for blind people to put a Sensor where that will imprint the vision onto their tongue by mapping visual input on her tongue people will start to see basic shapes and colors that were otherwise gone from them and And so we know that our brain is ready to connect to whatever signal is being put into it. And so I think part of it is we have to be aware of what signals we're putting in, and the questions like, if I'm going and murdering in VR all day, like, am I wiring my brain for murder in the real world? You know, I'm not one to think that video games are like that, and I play Superhot, and I love it. you know, at least shooting games, it doesn't make me want to go out in the real world and shoot, but the question is, like, for somebody who's younger, their mind is maybe more, like, open to, you know, to have higher neuroplasticity, maybe they could be conditioned for certain things in a negative way, but, you know, honestly, I'm not one of those people who thinks violence begets violence, and maybe they even have an outlet for it, but the question is, if they don't have that, where's the reality stop and that virtual world begin? And so I think that, you know, can be used for negative, but the real interesting thing, and there's a lot of research on this as well, is people doing, for example, experiments where they're afraid of heights, or they're afraid of spiders, or whatever the snakes, and they put them there, and they put them in the virtual world. with the snake there and because it seems so real because the brain if you meet those tick marks for immersive and all those things the perception becomes objective and becomes almost as real and you'll see their heart rate spike up but because there's on that same level it can't attack them they let that merge with their real fear and it starts to displace the fear and there's actually a good amount of research showing that you can overcome fears through virtual reality and I can say that the first time at CES three or four years ago in a little booth in the back of Oculus hanging out with Palmer Luckey that I was there and I was standing on a platform and I like literally felt like I was gonna go over the edge and I got that pit in my stomach you get when you're on the edge of something tall and that was when I realized that Even though I know going into it that it's not real, I felt real in there. And so we need to be aware of this blurry line, I think, between the real world and the virtual world. And those drugs give you a way to blur it even further and let us see deeper into it. But even without those drugs, it's becoming a thing where we're stepping in between the real and the synthesized.

[00:24:17.694] Kent Bye: And so what do you want to experience in VR then?

[00:24:20.609] Eric Matzner: I'm a little weird in VR, honestly. I run this Neutropics company called Neutro, like I said. I'm into optimizing and learning, and I'm really into meta-learning. And so I'm into it. If someone wants to steal this and build it, just send it to me, because I really have no time to build it. But I like speed reading, and I like to be immersed in the speed reading. And so I have a Movierto BT-300, which is like a projector, AR glasses, and I project Speed reading you know using a spritz type algorithm RSVP rapid stereo visual presentation where I can read a thousand words a minute I project that in front of me. I would like to see a VR environment that analyzes the text and then creates images on the fly based on the text that are synesthetically allow you to connect the visual things with the text, with the audio potential, and the words, where you can decipher, that's the name of my thing, Decipher. If anyone wants to build it, contact me, ericatmatzner.com. But honestly, I just want it for me. Right now, I just mirror an iPhone app in the AR glasses where I use virtual desktop and I run Headless Ghost. You know what Headless Ghost is? Oh, you mean to have extra... Yeah, so to make a graphics card. use the monitor, you actually have to have something plugged in. If you don't have a second monitor, you can buy a little thing called the Headless Ghost, you plug it in, you tell it that resolution you want, and in like virtual desktop, you can then have that desktop there. So I'll use like two or three screens, I'll create like crazy environments for like learning. I've actually been studying the optimal resolution and things like that for video, like because the Rift, the resolution's not super great for reading text. Thankfully, all of our devices and things have accessibility settings built in. And those accessibility settings are actually pretty useful if you want to invert the colors, for example, and have just the background black. It actually turns out hackers figured this out a long time ago. The original terminal black background with green text, green text is very visible on a black background. We originally had terrible resolution screens with limited colors and things, and that was what they figured out back then was actually optimal for looking in a dark room, which is kind of like a headset. So I use Hacker Vision as a Chrome plugin I use. I increase the text size greatly, and then I use a speed reading app to flash the words like that on there. That's one of my favorite things to do, is lay down in a Chase lounge and just stream information into my mind. You know, that kind of stuff I think offers a lot of promise. I'll like do a whole second work day inside there where I'll go in. You know, after I'm in the real world, like when I'm inside VR, I can't see outside, I can't see my phone, I can't see all these things and all I can focus on is really what's in front of me. My screen feels like it's a two-story tall building and I have a standing desk, so I feel like I'm just like, I'll like physically walk around or move around. to like the different parts of my screen almost in three or four quadrants and so I'll have like one window here another window there and I like am completely in the zone as long as I'm doing that and so that to me has a lot of promise where you can I can imagine the desk of the future has no screen on it and it's just a virtual world. Luckily I have armrests for my hands so I can stay close to my keyboard. But to me it makes me wonder about the UI of future systems where I have like a one-handed twiddler keyboard, it's a corded keyboard, it has a mouse on the top but you type by using combinations of key presses. So I've been training for that to be able to utilize in VR because I imagine it's going to be hard to be at a keyboard if you're walking around in a truly inside-out tracking where you're not stuck at a desk. So there's things like that. That kind of stuff offers longevity to me because I'm not necessarily a game player myself, but I always like to learn and I always like to get out of the world I was in that day. So it offers me a place to kind of unwind. You know, I like some of those experiences of videos. I mean, I had a friend who he was supposed to go on a trip to Cuba. He ended up in the hospital. He was all sad. So I brought my VR rig to the thing. I found a video of like 360 Havana, Cuba, you know, and I brought it there for him and he, you know, watched it and he had a great time. He also may or may not have had some porn there with his girlfriend, with his wife and had to block the hospital door. But let's just say that somebody in pain, someone therapeutically who can't go somewhere, they have the ability now to experience that world without leaving. And so I think there's, you know, huge opportunity in terms of immersive experiences and almost like teleportation where I've done things telepresently. So I can imagine like a VR telepresence robot that's just like a camera you control and you can look around and see all those things. And I think about all your pictures that you had before you had a digital camera. They're almost useless, right? You're like, oh, I can't do that. Or like, if you look at a live picture now on an iPhone, you can get more context for it. I compete on a Hyperloop team called Rloop that met on Reddit in the SpaceX Hyperloop competition, and my job is a cinematographer, and so I was filming and doing different things, and there's all these guys with way better cameras than me, but I had a Ricoh Theta, and I got a 360 camera where you can see a pod, and you can see Elon Musk looking at the pod. You can see the whole crowd around. you know, just amazed and looking back and I was able to get the camera there and that, you know, you can't capture that with any other type of equipment and you can't recreate that experience with anything else and it almost gives me like a VR FOMO, like a Romo, I don't even know if there's a word for that, whereas like, Every experience that I'm capturing in 2D or a standard photo or a standard video, I wish was in VR and 360 because there's not going to be the same way to recreate that experience otherwise. And it's almost like Ghostbusters, somewhere you throw up this camera and suddenly I've captured a portal of the world. It is an amazing ability to be able to relive that experience in that way. That right there alone is its own amazing kind of thing that can let you be in multiple places at once almost. There's no experience such as VR that lets you really feel like you're there. Like HD, that's what they used to say about HDF Edition, feels like you're there. No, it's like VR, you feel like you're there. So capturing that kind of stuff and making sure that extending the amount that we're able to live, I think, is really important. And I think if you can help people understand different cultures through their VR capturing and capturing those experiences, it has a great potential to alter what it means to experience something.

[00:30:44.815] Kent Bye: Awesome. And just to kind of wrap things up here, I'm just curious to hear what you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable.

[00:30:55.545] Eric Matzner: Yeah, so kind of riffing off of the last stuff, I think sharing reality together with other people is pretty key to it. I think that being able to be whoever you want to be in the virtual world as well, so you can have an avatar and you can, you know, be whoever whatever and you can leave that behind and be judged on the merits of like your production or what you say and like what you can do and I think it's an equalizer in the world and you can bring people together from all different places and times and whatever and that kind of interaction allows a lot of potential creation in the world. I think virtual reality has a lot of ability to help with training. I think that anything where you'd want to be more immersed and where you'd want to kind of get more heads down. I mean for learning you know there's a lot of opportunities in terms of you want to learn how like an engine works you could be inside the engine and looking around you know or you cannot do that in the real world. All the things where reality would be the limitation I think that the virtual reality picks up right there. I think that It has potential in our world if we're going to Mars or other planets and we're going to have to be suspended or hanging out for a long time in a confined space. I was on a cruise ship and I brought my VR rig and I brought my headset and I really didn't want to be on that fucking cruise, but there I was on another planet hanging out. And so, you know, I didn't have to bring my monitor. I literally brought my headless ghost and my headset and I have a little SF, you know, small form factor desktop. Shout out to Hard Forum and S4 Mini. But the idea is like, you can be in the worst location, in the smallest country, as long as you've got an internet connection, enough technology, every headset in a couple years, two or three years, headsets are going to be not so expensive. available to hopefully like anyone with a cell phone through like a daydream or a gear type thing. It's not unreasonable to believe that even people in the lower income countries will have access to VR. You suddenly have access to the world, to an Oscars party, to an NBA game front row. I think it's a great equalizer because it can democratize exclusive experiences or resource-limited experiences that otherwise would be hard for people to experience. And so now we can have one person there with a camera that can share it with millions or tens of millions or hundreds of millions. And so, you know, that equalization, the front row at a lecture at Stanford or MIT, now that's not, you know, limited to them. it's one thing to watch the video on there, but it's a different thing to be able to look around and see your classmates. And so I think that, and there's also these, what's called in futurology parlance, like adjacent possibilities, is like when VR and when ideas have sex, like when VR merges with some other technologies in ways that we can't really even comprehend right now, that's where you see even bigger synergies going on, where there's like, you know, sorry, They're filming a mixed reality Fruit Ninja video behind us. This is what I'm saying is like we're literally in mixed reality right now where we have somebody swiping around at invisible fruit and I'm like literally dodging her swipes. They're real to her. See that is actually I think a capstone on what we've been saying is that when she's in there it is real to her. And so you know VR is in the eye of the beholder and the headset holder at this point and so who is to say that that fruit is not real and that she's not really a ninja? And I think if you take enough drugs, that that becomes even further a reality.

[00:34:35.666] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.

[00:34:36.907] Eric Matzner: Yeah. Thanks, Kent. I appreciate it.

[00:34:39.929] Kent Bye: So that was Eric Matzner. He's the founder of a nootropics company called Nootro, based out of San Francisco. And he is using virtual reality to do all sorts of cognitive enhancement and explorations of the mind. So, I have a number of different takeaways about this interview. First of all, Eric is the first interview that I've done with this sub-community of either quantified self or biohackers or people who are really into cognitive enhancement. Eric is the essence of the air element. It's all about, for him, mental presence. And there's a lot of edges that he's pushing into that air element. But I think that with the transhumanists in general, this is one of the issues that I have with them is that sometimes they can sort of want to completely dissociate from being connected to here on the planet and just completely live their lives in the virtual reality. And, you know, Eric is saying, you know, reality has got to step up its game. Otherwise, it's going to lose me to the virtual reality. And to me, you know, there's a part of the earth element, which is the body and being this body connected to the earth and really be connected to living on this planet. So I think this is sort of the existential question around the future of virtual reality is people get afraid of people will just completely dissociate and be disconnected from their lives and start to live a reality that is completely virtual. I think that's one possible future, but I also believe that there's something about the mixed reality where you're actually interacting with real life in a way that the virtual world, I'm not sure, is ever going to fully be able to assimilate all the haptics, all the smells, all the tastes, or even interacting with other people live face to face. Maybe we'll get there at some point, maybe 50 years from now, I think we'll probably get there. But in the short term, at least, I think we're going to have this kind of mixed reality world. But there's just some deeper philosophical questions about how far this techno-optimistic futurism can go. How much do we want to start to blend our bodies with machines? This whole ethic of biohacking and starting to put technology within your body To me, this idea that I covered with David Eagleman, talking about sensory replacement, sensory addition, putting magnets in your fingertips with the grinders, being able to essentially develop new senses. As you develop more senses, you're expanding your sense of reality. But I guess the question that I have is, Do we start to cultivate completely new senses and like David Eagleman is saying, you know, start to put stock market data directly into our body, or do we use our existing senses to be able to be connected to the earth and the planet and to each other in a way that we're being emotionally present and present with our bodies and being active in our lives in different ways? So to me, having a balance of social mental presence with active presence, with emotional presence, with embodied presence, I think to me, this is what I'm really super interested in is the balance. But as we look at the extremes, we look at how far you could go with the cognitive enhancement. This whole discussion about psychedelics, for example, I think is super interesting because when you take a psychedelic, you're actually changing the physical chemistry of your body. There was just a keynote at the Vision Summit by Richard Dawkins, and he was talking about how, you know, all of our mind is like virtual reality software. So the construction of our reality is something that's happening internal into our minds. And Eric was talking about in this podcast where the lines between that subjectivity and objectivity really start to get blurred as we get to be using more and more virtual reality technologies. And in combining psychedelics with VR, I think even more so people are kind of realizing how diffuse that line is between the subjective reality and the objective realities. So, to me, there's some real pragmatic applications that Eric brings up. For example, using ketamine in combination with virtual reality to treat burn patients. There's a dissociative element with ketamine that is disconnecting you from your body, and if you're giving the visual stimulus with virtual reality, then people who have these burns and need to basically rip off the scabs and change the bandages every day, that's an excruciatingly painful process. using virtual reality as a distraction therapy in combination with ketamine and these other psychedelics can help heal people from traumas. And who knows whatever else is able to happen if you start to take these psychedelics. I think it starts to activate that dream-like quality that is actually projecting your own symbolic meaning within your own altered state of experience or your trip or whatever you want to call it. But essentially there's only so much that somebody else can create a content within a virtual reality experience. And then there's a lot of it that you're kind of projecting into your own life, especially when you start to get into these different altered states. So using virtual reality and potentially other ways of getting into these altered states in order to do this really depth internal analysis of what's happening inside of you and really just getting in alignment with who you are and why you're here and what you want to do in this life. And to me, it was super fascinating to hear that Eric actually often has an entire second workday where he goes into VR and does a whole range of different things, whether it's meditating and having like neurofeedback being fed into a VR experience where he can have a direct experience of what's happening within his body. You know, he mentioned to me afterwards that he does this competitive meditations where people are actually competing to see how well they can get into these deep meditative states. And I think that the spritz algorithm is really amazing. It basically flashes words super fast in front of you and instead of, you know, moving your eyes left or right, you're just fixing your eyes in a single place and having the series of words rapidly iterate in front of you so that you could read up to like a thousand words a minute. And the Twiddler Keyboard is something that I've seen in a documentary about Steve Mann where he's been doing a lot of these mobile augmented reality systems for a long time and he wanted to be able to basically type while he was walking around and not even looking at a keyboard but it's essentially this Twiddler Keyboard is these things that you put in your hand and you're using your combination of your four fingers to do all the different buttons for typing and so Eric is trying to train himself to use this because he sees that in the future that for text input we're going to have these twiddler keyboards. So we're going to be moving away from the existing keyboard and moving into these corded keyboards that are one-handed. And finally, just to comment about this concept of adjacent possibilities, because we have all these exponential technologies that are changing so quickly, and when you start to combine them, then you start to get some really fascinating and interesting things that are only possible when you see the convergence of these exponential technologies together. So, for example, there's virtual reality that is coming from a lot of this mobile cell phone technology, whether it's the screens and the IMUs, Everything else that had basically come together and allowed us to have these VR systems. You add that with artificial intelligence and you get all this amazing computer vision. You have the ability to have inside out tracking and to be able to look around and identify objects. So we're going to have like these augmented reality systems that are going to be made possible by the combination of virtual reality and artificial intelligence. And so what's it mean when you start to look out into the long range of the different computing paradigms, when you start to add in like quantum computers? Right now, it's not even possible to have a quantum computer within a mobile phone. But what if that's possible within the next nine years? What does that mean in terms of adding that technology with all these other technologies? So Stephen Johnson's Weirder Ideas come from, explores these concepts of adjacent possibilities. And then Forrester Research put out a research paper back in 2011, talking about this as a way to be able to look into the future and to be able to kind of predict where these markets are going. And for you to, you know, see if you can see how you can combine these different exponential technologies into these new products or entirely new industries that don't even exist yet. 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 enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, even leave a review on iTunes. And also consider becoming a donor. Just a few dollars a month makes a huge difference to allow me to continue to do this podcast. So you can donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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