SoundSelf is a technologically-mediated, psychedlic experience (aka “technodelic”) that is being released by Andromeda Media on Wednesday, April 22nd. Developer Robin Arnott has been working on it on 8 years now, and he just released a The Technodelic Manifesto that describes his vision for how immersive technologies paired with game design principles can help facilitate the “transformation of the player into deeper and more self-realized modes of consciousness.”
I’ve previously talked with Arnott about his SoundSelf experience and the concept of technodelics in episodes #484 in 2016, #655 in 2018, and #779 in 2019. The release of SoundSelf next week marks a new phase of the genre of consciousness hacking and technodelic experiences that are explicitly being designed for consciousness transformation.
I’m personally really excited to see how this experience is received, and how the broader consciousness hacking movement continues to evolve. I found that using SoundSelf for the past couple of weeks to be a wonderful catalyst to get into VR every day, and to start my day with an experience of gamified chanting that produced a mode of being that I found my body craving after the first couple of days. One of Arnott’s explicit goals was to try to gamify the process of chanting and meditative practice, and he’s been able to do a great job of that. If you find it difficult to become motivated or hard to maintain focus, then the gamification of your voice into unpredictable feedback loop cycles is a really compelling catalyst for maintaining engagement into the scaffolding of the practice.
I had a chance to catch up with Arnott to reflect upon the larger context of a pattern and habitual interrupt that the coronavirus pandemic represents, and how this can be an opportunity to create some new habits that can deepen your sense of presence & commitment to a consistent contemplative practice.
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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 in today's episode, we're going to be exploring Soundself, which is a technodelic that's been developed by Robin Arnott for the last eight years. It's going to be released here on April 22nd, 2020. And Robin just today, April 14th, 2020, he released a Technodelic Manifesto. And I actually had a chance to catch up with him about a week and a half ago, talking about this vision of technodelics, what are technodelics. It's using technology and game design principles to be able to focus a certain consciousness, to do that towards some sort of contemplative transformative practice. And so this was an experience inspired by the use of psychedelics. And so Robin has taken it upon himself to be able to try to use the tools of game design to be able to recreate these transformative experiences that you can come back to each and every day. And he sees this as this artificial intelligence that he's been cultivating. And so rather than just pushing buttons in the binary input, you are using your voice and how can he create an experience that actually reacts to the more subtle aspects of your voice, whether it's tonality and the rhythm and all these different dimensions. And I've had a chance to play with it for the last week and a half or so, and really enjoying being able to wake up and to do it as a first thing that I do in the morning as a practice. I found my body actually kind of craving this type of meditative toning experience. And so. I'm really excited to see where the technodelics can go. And so Robin really talks about his design process, but also this broader vision for what he sees as the future of using immersive technologies as these technodelics. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Robin happened on Friday, April 3rd, 2020, while he was in Austin, Texas, and I was in Portland, Oregon. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:03.485] Robin Arnott: So I'm Robin Arnott. We've spoken before on your show a couple times now. And my focus is really in the space of using virtual reality, using gaming as a whole, but especially virtual reality to induce altered states of consciousness. having the kinds of effects on a player as you might expect from meditation or psychedelics. And I've started calling these sorts of experiences, which I think we're going to be seeing more and more of, especially as psychedelics are in a resurgence right now, a very, very legal resurgence through the paths of therapy, mostly. So there's more interest in psychedelics. The technology is becoming more, like virtual reality allows us to be more immersed, which means that you can make more nuanced, subtle designs. And finally, something I'm really looking forward to is getting biosensors in these devices so that we can have even more subtle embodied experiences. And my whole thing has been for years and years just, okay, how do we use this technology to give people these elevated states of consciousness. So you're not just going into virtual reality to escape, in quotes, you're actually using this to come into a kind of deeper state of intimacy with yourself and maybe with other people too.
[00:03:20.384] Kent Bye: Well, I just had a chance to run through SoundSelf. This is the experience that you've been working on for years and years and years now. And then the global context is that there's a global pandemic. Coronavirus has been going for a number of months now. We're into April. So this has been happening since the beginning of the year. I was at Sundance when it first broke out and then I was watching it very closely and then I was going to potentially meet up with you in South by Southwest, but that all got canceled. So you've been on this long journey here for many, many years working on sound self. And now we face like a global pandemic and an opportunity to provide this as an experience, as an antidote for people. So maybe you could recap this journey you've been on and how you see this moment in time and this context and how you're working with it.
[00:04:08.288] Robin Arnott: Yeah, thank you. And thank you for bringing up the context of the coronavirus, which is such an interesting moment. So for me, I've been working on this thing for eight years, which is a long time to work on anything. And it was stressful. It has been stressful at times because I was making something that is so unique and so different. And for years and years, I was It's just like I could see the market wasn't ready for it. And that was really kind of disheartening because I was creating something that was giving people really, really powerful responses. But it was just like, shit, how do I communicate this? You know, it is an ineffable experience. Which is, by definition, difficult to communicate. You know, you really have to try it to know what it's like. There's no satisfactory elevator pitch, and it is not enough like anything else that's ever come out in the video game space to draw a real comparison. So it's a difficult game to communicate, and I was, for a long time, really, I guess, concerned about this. As the years went on and people started talking about meditation more and that became mainstream. Meditation and yoga became mainstream in the period that I've been working on this project. In the similar period that VR has become mainstream. So, I've been seeing this potential emerging of using virtual reality and gaming as a whole in order to help people get to these elevated states of consciousness, and there have been other people who've been exploring this as well, and it was only in recent years. I started working with Devolver as a publisher, and Mike Wilson, who's one of the founders of Devolver and a mentor of mine, encouraged me. He basically said, like, look, there's no publisher who can do as good a job at communicating this new genre as you can. And so I started this publishing company, Andromeda Entertainment, and Soundself is one of our first titles. It's still always been a very kind of unusual project and difficult project to describe, but with what's going on right now with coronavirus, it seems incredibly synchronistic to have, after eight years of development, finally wrapped development just at a time where I think people are really looking for, like, firstly, people are looking for something to do inside. You know, well, video games already satisfy that, but also people are really anxious. A lot of people are. I think a lot of people, certainly a lot of people in my sphere, are using this forced quarantine as an opportunity to pick up some habits or change some lifestyle things that maybe you've been meaning to for a while, but it's only a forced pattern interrupt that does it. that opens you up to actually doing that. So I think it's a moment where people are firstly really willing to try something new and secondly really hungry for something that's going to help them de-stress. And so I feel very blessed to be just ready to bring this to people right at a moment where I think people can most make use of it and most understand how to enjoy it.
[00:06:59.632] Kent Bye: Yeah, in this moment of time also with Half-Life Alyx that just came out a week ago or so. So you've got Valve putting out a triple A game to everybody who's like really huge fans of the Half-Life series. And then everybody's quarantined. It's like, oh, actually here's a great use case for virtual reality. So a time when last year people still saying, oh, maybe VR is dead. It's not going to go anywhere. And now it's like, oh, well, here's this opportunity to transport yourself into this whole other realm. And so I've seen the writing on the wall for a long, long time that this is going in this direction. And this constriction that we have in the world feels like it's potentially going to be a catalyst for with the technology that we already have out in the world. We don't need special location-based entertainment biosensors. I mean, that's going to be great when it comes. But this constriction is like, what can we use that we have available to us and what technology is out there and how can we push things forward and work out some of these different distribution aspects? You know, I know from the film festivals, even, you know, just today it was announced that Tribeca film festival is going to start to have these short runs of the immersive content and. South by Southwest festival that got canceled both the film and immersive portion. Well, at least some of their films are going to be starting to be distributed out there. So I feel like with this constriction, we have all these new opportunities for people to use the technologies that's out there. Now, in terms of the mindfulness and consciousness hacking movement, I know that we were both at this Waken's Future Summit that happened last year that was really gathering together this cross section of meditation, psychedelics, and technology. And in your case, immersive technologies and virtual reality. And so when I do sound self, I'm watching it and I'm seeing these shapes and forms that I could try to describe mathematically or, but the language just kind of fails to fully describe it. And I kind of like that. I kind of like that there's certain. aspects of it that transcend language. You're showing shapes and forms and it's reacting to me and I like that mystery of not quite knowing how to categorize it in my mind and it allows me to sort of escape. And I'm just wondering if you could kind of go into a little bit of your development process, your experiences, your inspiration of trying to sort of capture that element of this cross-section of the psychedelics and the technology and these sort of contemplative spiritual practices.
[00:09:18.752] Robin Arnott: Thank you. Well, first I want to speak to, you mentioned Half-Life Alyx, so you've been playing Half-Life Alyx, I assume?
[00:09:24.277] Kent Bye: I just started playing it last night. I've been, I was, when it came out, the IEEE VR conference was happening, so I was immersed in the first ever academic conference that went completely virtual, and so I was covering that for that entire week, and I just started to install it and play it last night.
[00:09:39.430] Robin Arnott: Yeah, I played it a little bit last week, and I'm gonna play it more this week, and I've been loving it so far. I like thinking of Half-Life Alyx and Soundself being at sort of different ends of a spectrum. It's like Half-Life Alyx takes your breath away, you know, it immerses you, and it excites you, and it stimulates you, and it totally masters that cortisol spike and release that we love about video games. And Soundself's on the other end of the spectrum. It restores your breath rather than taking your breath away. Activates a parasympathetic response, and so I think these two experiences make for a really nice pairing and for a while We were actually thinking of launching sound self day and date with half-life Alex until we realized that that was totally crazy But um, yeah, so you asked me about developing a contemplative spiritual technology and You know, okay. So there's two things I want to say to that firstly is So Rich Lamartian, I don't know if you know his work. He's a pretty do you know Rich Lamartian? No, he's a he's a pretty influential Character in independent games in particular and he he was the lead designer on I think was uncharted 2 and now he's gone full indie and he teaches at USC and is one of the most compassionate loving Sweetest guys in the industry just a good good man. He's doing a little bit of work in virtual reality Oh, I've done an interview with him.
[00:11:03.251] Kent Bye: He did a piece that was doing light shapes and stuff I forget what it's called. But yeah, but yeah, I met him and interviewed him at Indiecade. So yeah, I saw his piece and
[00:11:12.013] Robin Arnott: So he said something, and I've always seen him as kind of a shining light, and he's been such an influence to so many of us in the independent side of the scene, because he's just such a goddamn good human being. But he gave a talk at GDC once that basically said, look, it's critical to take design inspiration from places other than video games. And so for me, to understand Soundself and how it works, you have to understand that it doesn't take all that much design inspiration from other video games. It's a certain amount, you know, because I have to meet people's expectations as they're coming to the experience. But I see it taking a lot more design inspiration from meditation techniques and from ceremony. And from even indigenous ceremonies, I did a lot of research into various indigenous ceremonial forms and did a lot of experiments based on that in SoundSelf. In hypnosis and also just in our current understanding of neuroscience and how to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. So these are the places I was drawing my inspiration from and game design was like a form or a medium. I see or I've come to see meditation practices. I call them meditation technologies but I don't usually say that because people don't know what the fuck I'm talking about. But a meditation, a meditation practice like a Vipassana or like a breath meditation is a technology. It's a way of doing things and it's also a game because it's a set of rules and as you follow this set of rules it has the side effect of dropping you into a different state of consciousness. Now most video games have the side effect of dropping you into a very focused state of consciousness or like this heightened cortisol, you know, the cortisol spike and release and cortisol spike and release, you know. So it makes a lot of sense to draw inspiration for a video game design from meditation and even from ceremonies because those things are already just games when you look at them through the right light. And when you can port them to the incredibly sophisticated technology that we have with video games, you can create something that's like the equivalent of Rocket League to soccer, you know? I think we're just beginning to scratch the surface of what's possible when you use video games, when you use virtual reality to accomplish the same ends as we use meditation and ceremony and even psychedelics. But I have no doubt that what's possible when we mash those things together is incredibly potent. It already is potent, you know, like what you've seen in Soundself and the responses I've seen from people in Soundself. And there are a few other people working in this domain as well. And just, man, it's such an interesting and exciting design space.
[00:13:56.410] Kent Bye: Hmm. Well, my experiences with psychedelics has been fairly limited. I mean, there's certain aspects of marijuana or sassafras and mushrooms, but you know, beyond that, there hasn't been ayahuasca or DMT or LSD. I've never had those visual inducing types of psychedelic experiences. And so it's hard for me to compare sound self to other psychedelic experiences, just because it's been much more embodied or visceral rather than. something that was a visual. So maybe you could talk a bit about how you start to try to translate those different psychedelic experiences or being inspired by them or, you know, certain conceits from those different visual psychedelic experiences. And maybe you could talk about your own experiences and then how you start to try to translate that into what you're calling a technodelic.
[00:14:41.028] Robin Arnott: Yeah, thank you. So psychedelics have been a really important part of my journey. They've taught me a lot and they continue to teach me a lot. I'll tell you, like, early on, when I first started doing psychedelics, it was recreational and explorative, but it didn't take long to kind of accidentally figure out, like, oh, wow, these are like a spiritual power tool, if used in the right way. And if used in the wrong way, they can be quite destructive. So, let's see, where do I want to start? I'll start with the original inspiration from Soundself, which came from my very first oneness experience at Burning Man, which was facilitated by a small dose of LSD. So I was in a dome, and this dome was filled with music that was playing, and I'd learned recently about the power of chanting and how that could make me feel grounded, and so I just began chanting. And immediately, as soon as I began chanting, the whole music filled up with voices. And for the first time, what is usually a very obvious distinction between what's me and what's not me became a lot more porous. It's like those voices were as much my voice in that moment as my voice was. And that was like, oh, that's interesting. And then it was like that was the first chip in the armor. And the whole thing just burst open and for the first time in my life I could see and feel and sense that sense of connectedness to everything. And that's what I am. And that that's what we all are. This is not data, what I'm about to say. This is not backed up by any science, but I think most people have an experience, a oneness experience. Most people, I think, have an experience like that at least once in their lives. I think usually they're not as, like, explosive as LSD can do. And I also think they can be kind of easy to shake off, like, oh, that was weird. Especially if you have some anxiety around death, because to have that oneness experience, it is necessarily a total letting go of what you think you are. Even if it's only temporary. So that experience, and it only lasted, the oneness experience only lasted about two minutes, maybe. And it was... Explosive to my life and my world, you know like it completely changed me and it left me with a lot to mull over and it left me with a lot to look at because Suddenly I was a different person and with all of these gifts that I've given myself through my life you know a certain skills and certain connections and experiences and predilections and it was on pondering this that the idea for Soundself as a game design kind of spontaneously came to me. Sometimes I describe it as like I was looking through the rubble of the memory of that moment and found the experience just there. You know, it doesn't feel like I came up with it. It feels like I found it in that place where I first exploded like that. And it was very clear, you know, from that first insight, I could see it was just like so obvious to me, like, wow, games haven't done this before. And they're the perfect medium, too, because a video game captures a person's consciousness like nothing else. And with the right rule set, You could stimulate a person's mind to let go of who they think they are in the same way that a deep meditation practice can do or that a psychedelic can do. And that was a heck of a recognition. And Soundself, especially the voice feedback loop, so I don't think we've even described Soundself in this call yet, but for your listeners, you start at the base of a tree and you begin toning. And as you begin toning, you rise up the tree and the whole world kind of blows out into this abstraction that is intimately responding to you. You're not exactly controlling it, but it's responding to you. And the music harmonizes with your voice and remembers your voice, and it lasts about 20 to 30 minutes or up to an hour, and then it just gently brings you back. So, i could see in that memory of when that insight occurred to me like it was so obvious the voice could be drawing a person's attention into the voice and then overwhelming the senses so that they can't form cogent thoughts so they have to just be with their voice and then resting them helping them relax enough like if i could bring their attention to their voice and create a feedback loop around that it just would create the space for that reckoning with stillness to arise. And that was eight years ago. So it's been a lot of work. And what we found just anecdotally from people is that it's doing exactly that for them. And we just did, I don't know, did you read our little pilot study that we did?
[00:19:23.436] Kent Bye: No, I read your manifesto that you wrote up, but what did you find in your study?
[00:19:27.580] Robin Arnott: We found, and this is a pretty small study, but we found people reporting states of unit of consciousness, experiencing a sense of unity with everything on par, this is after a 15 minute playthrough of SoundSelf, on par with a full length psychedelic session with psilocybin as they did at the John Hopkins studies. Now, they're a little different, like what psilocybin does and what the technodelic can do I think are related but different. And perhaps we'll see them converge more in the future. Soundself doesn't eviscerate your sense of what you are in the same way that a psychedelic can. It just kind of gently drops you into a really deep state of stillness and brings you back. But yeah, there's no separating psychedelics from the creation of soundself for me.
[00:20:13.297] Kent Bye: Yeah, well, I know that the first time that we talked, I had done just a brief experience of Soundself at the Art of Dying show that was in San Francisco back in like 2015. Those very early days for me in VR, and you were probably two or three years into the experience at that point. But then I saw it again at VRLA a couple of years later, and now here we are in the midst of the coronavirus. I know that we talked a couple of weeks ago, and I was like, you know, there's going to be so much that's happening in the world. I don't even know what the context is going to be. Let's wait just a few weeks. As we've waited a few weeks, we have, like, everybody's quarantined. We have the shelter in place. We're sort of watching the news and just trying to keep abreast. But, like, pretty much what people can do is to not go out and do much, but just, like, stay at home and work from home and be inside. So it feels like the types of experiences that people are wanting to have are like video games and entertainment, and those industries are still booming. And in this larger context of having all of this stress of the world, just being able to like lay down and to be able to sing and intonate and tone. and the first time that we we talked you talked about how you saw this spectrum between order and chaos and how you didn't want it to have it to be so ordered as to be like a musical instrument but you also didn't want it to be so chaotic as to make it feel like whatever you did was going to be completely out of control and it was going to like actually trigger ptsd in people so you have to find this balance between having ways in which these abstract geometric shapes that are psychedelic feeling but using all sorts of weird shaders or ways to actually get those visual effects as you're moving your head around or you're singing it's responding to you but not so much as that you're controlling it like an instrument and then there was moments when i was like okay i'm just going to be quiet for a moment and then something actually responded to that quietness and then it would do a phase transition into the next period and it felt very it was almost like reading my mind of like okay i'm done with this i'm i'm ready to move on and then it would sort of move on Maybe you could talk a bit about how to design that balance between order and chaos and make it feel like it's these moments of synchrony or things that are reacting to your voice, but not too much. And so how you find those balances of all those trade-offs.
[00:22:28.127] Robin Arnott: I think it's a lot like designing an artificial intelligence. And in fact, I began to regard SoundSolve as an artificial intelligence in probably my fourth or fifth year of designing it. Around the time I started talking to... Oh my gosh, I wish I could remember her name right now. She wrote Transcendent Mind. She's at Ions. Oh, Julia Mossbridge. That's right, that's right. And she wrote this book, Transcendent Mind, which is, I mean, it's so cool. But she's also working on this Loving AI project, which is, her question is, how do we get artificial intelligence to love, or can we get artificial intelligence to love? And in my conversations with her, and she's done some really compelling work with AI, like to talk with some of the artificial intelligence that she's made. I think Sophia is the name of it, which is coincidentally the name of the meditation guide at the beginning of Soundself. But to talk to Sophia is like, you really feel listened to and heard. And I asked Julia once, I was asking about SoundSelf because I was in talking to her that I began to really regard SoundSelf as an artificial intelligence because that's what, you know, like here's what an instrument does is it responds exactly to what you want it to do. And a computer and computer programs tend towards that kind of extreme level of order because of the binary decision-making process that is a computer. Life, on the other hand, is so much more intricate and complex, and the idea behind Soundself has always been to make something really intricate and complex that feels alive, because it has to feel alive, otherwise it's not going to give you that sense of being able to really surrender into it and trust it. So, how to make something that's alive, and that feels alive? In designing an artificial intelligence, okay, so I've got a bunch of threads, shoelaces I haven't untied here yet, so I'm just gonna tie them up for you one at a time. I once asked Julia, how do I help sound self, how do I make it loving? And she said, you just have to love it. And it was just so wise. And so it's like, oh, I already do love it. But hearing that helped me understand how my love for this program that I was making was exactly what was giving it life to be able to listen to and love the people that it's singing with. So, back to just seeing it as an artificial intelligence, and seeing it as something organic, it's like, organic things don't just do what you tell them to or what you expect them to, and they don't just surprise you in just the right way either, you know? Organic things, they have a life of their own, and I think we're all reflecting each other, and so, thinking of sound self as an artificial intelligence, not an artificial, like, logical intelligence, but an artificial, like, living, intelligent, loving entity, what came to me to be a process of recognizing how it would reflect the intelligence and sense of love and presence of a person who is meeting it. And so that's why I think the voices, you know, with soft inputs like voice, and in future experiences like heartbeat and breath, are critical to these kind of experiences because buttons are binary. They're ones and zeros. There's just not a lot of room for love in that. But once you really bring something really analog and intimate like your voice and your breath and your body into an experience, the depth of intimacy that that experience can cultivate between you and the experience is so much higher.
[00:25:58.100] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I noticed that there was a lot of use of like mandala shapes and symmetries. And as I was going through this experience, it just made me think about time and the nature of time. But also as I'm singing and chanting, you're taking clips of what I've sung previously, and then you're remixing them later. And so there's this experience of my past self with my present self. And that was also interesting. And so maybe you could. Talk a bit about how you see time, how you see the mandala and these different cycles that you have of like revisiting previous moments, but recontextualizing it in the present.
[00:26:31.470] Robin Arnott: Oh my God. You're so full of good questions. The first thing that comes up to me is another thing Julia said to me once, and I love that we're talking about Julia because she's such an inspiration. She studies time and she's studying precognition right now. She just wrote another book. It's about precognition and about the science of precognition and the science of time, because time does not work in the way that we imagine it does. You know, in our Copernican clockwork universe with a linear arrow of time, that idea is at least a century outdated. You know, so here's an interesting study. I wish I could remember more of the details, but this is one of them from Transcendent Mind. But I'll give you the gist of it. If you measure a person's success at a task, you'd imagine they would probably succeed if they've had some practice at the task, wouldn't you? So, like, let's say you have some little mathematical task you're doing and maybe you have three practice rounds. Are you going to do better at the test if you've had three practice rounds or if you've not had any practice rounds?
[00:27:35.379] Kent Bye: I don't know. It depends. I don't know. I feel like it's a trick question. I'm not sure.
[00:27:38.981] Robin Arnott: There's not a trick question here. But with most tasks, with most things, practice helps you get better at them. But it also works in reverse. So if you measure a person's performance at a task and then have them practice it, they will do better at the task than they would if they were not just about to practice it. So it's like practice improves the test, the performance, whether the practice comes before or after. It has a more marked effect if the practice comes before, but there is still a measurable effect if the practice comes after. So time does not work the way that we think of it as working. I've not thought of time in relationship to sound self, so there aren't a lot of formulated ideas here, but I really love the question because it brings up something that it's just not a linear experience, you know? It's like, like you mentioned, you'll tone into it, or you'll say something into it, and it'll remember that maybe a minute later, maybe 10 minutes later, maybe 20 minutes later, and that'll come back to you. And not only that, but it's like, you know, tonalities that you've sung before, and the way it moves between things, it's just not a linear progression. And this goes back to the order versus chaos thing, you know, there's a lot of structure to it and a lot of responsiveness to it, but it's just not as simple as, if you do this, then this will happen, then this will happen, then this will happen. which you look at something like Half-Life Alyx and that's how it's designed. But it's the genius of an experience like that is that you can kind of fall into it anyway and it feels alive anyway. Making a more emergent system that feels spontaneously alive is, I think, getting a little less linear really gives it that intelligence. I have a little story here which I think you might find entertaining, which is where that particular mechanic of soundstuffs where it records your voice and then plays it back to you later at certain harmonic times. That idea originally came to me because I'd been watching people play it for a while and I'd been bringing it to parties and so on and always loved seeing the way people responded to it and had these emotional responses to it and this one woman got into it and she She started telling it what to do. She was like, go back to the green, go back to... And I felt really protective of it, you know? I really didn't like that. I felt a little violated and I felt for my creation and like I wanted to protect it. And so I created that memory system with her in mind because it was like, if you're going to bring that kind of assertive, attacking, demanding energy to it, then it should bring that back to you. But conversely, I've also had people who are, normally you don't talk to sound self, normally you just tone, but sometimes people like to do mantras or talk. And I saw a friend of mine play it, and you know, she was saying, I love you, I love you. And then sure enough, later on in the experience, pitched down by an octave, it went, I love you, I love you. So it's just thinking about all these different ways that the experience can be reflective. Rather than prescriptive, here's what you have to do and here's the order that you have to do it. Making it reflect you and reflect you in an ever more graceful way so that you can dive more deeply inwards and have an intimate experience with yourself through the technology.
[00:31:00.932] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's beautiful. I know we've had this discussion for a number of years now where I'll ask you whether or not you think this is a peak experience or a contemplative experience where you come back to it. And my impression was at the beginning, earlier stages, that you were thinking of this as like a peak experience that people maybe have once and then they kind of move on, but they maybe has a transformative effect of them. Like you try to condense all of this experience into a transformative moment, but the way that it's architected now is almost like, here is your daily meditation that you could go do your sound self meditation that could range from 20 to 30 minutes or up to an hour. And so it's really this potential practice that you could do going back to each and every day. And I'm just curious if you've,
[00:31:43.398] Robin Arnott: evolved over time in terms of thinking of as a peak experience or if it's sort of like a Repetitive contemplative experience I've evolved so much over time with my relationship with this thing, you know And like I said earlier on I really don't feel like I'm making like I'm making it, you know It's like I came up with this idea and here it is. There you go It's really more like it revealed itself to me in a way that invited me into the engineering challenges of bringing it into life and so I really feel like I'm discovering it all the time and I had an experience about a year ago, I think, where I was describing it, as you said, like, oh, this is kind of, you know, it's peak experience, you know. I think somebody was asking me, like, to compare it to with a psychedelic, and I was kind of hedging my words a little bit. I was just saying, yeah, it's like a psychedelic in some ways, but it's not as powerful, it's not as strong as a psychedelic. But later on in the day when I was watching someone play it and I was thinking about the experience and I realized like, I'm not sure that's true. I think I'm in the habit of thinking of it like that. But I've seen it, I've really seen it give people just incredible, incredible experiences. And I've personally had my only out-of-body experience from meditating with somebody while they were playing Soundself. And so when thinking about those things, I was like, why am I diminishing this? And I think it's the discomfort and the ego and not wanting to push it too much because I'm obviously quite attached to the experience. But it will have a different impact on everybody who plays it. And the scope of what it can do for you really depends on what you bring to it. If you're like that woman, you come into it, you know, expecting it to do a certain thing for you and you have kind of a demanding energy, it's not going to Well now, it'll bring that energy straight back at you. But that's always been part of the design. It's always responding to the tone of your voice, and the tonality of your voice, and the rhythm of your voice, and the length of your breaths, and everything about your voice that it can is impacting the experience, and everything about the rhythms that you bring to it is impacting the experience. If you bring something really high energy to it, it'll be playful and high energy. If you have this really slow, deep, contemplative energy, it'll bring that back to you. And I think because it's so reflective, it really is what you bring to the experience. This is why we really encourage people to, hey, you know, treat this like a little ceremony, like a little ritual. Light a candle, have a cup of tea or something to bring that part of yourself into the experience that you most want reflected. If you treat it like something sacred, it can be something sacred for you. And if you treat it like something, you know, just kind of playful, light, it can be that for you too. And that's fine. But I'm really humbled by the learning experience of bringing this thing into being, and I'm grateful that it's ready to come out and see the world, and I'm also so excited and grateful to be able to see, like, okay, what's the next generation of this look like? When people who are inspired by this, what does an even more nuanced and subtle version of this experience look like? Terrence McKenna, and this is a quote we use in our teaser, 20 years ago he said the computers of the future, no, no, 30 years ago he said the computers of the future will be drugs and the drugs of the future will be computers. And we're just beginning to see how that's true. And I think we're just beginning to really grapple with the responsibilities of that because there's plenty of people who are making computer opioids.
[00:35:06.696] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm really happy to see that it ended up in that direction. If we go back and listen to some of the earlier interviews we did, I think you might hear I was really pushing for that more contemplative practice because there was an interview that I did at the Institute of Noetic Sciences conference back, I think in 2009, Cassandra Vieten and Marilyn Schlitz had written a book called Living Deeply, where they had done a 10-year study looking at all these variety of different spiritual contemplative practices. And they were trying to get down to the essence of like, what are the core components that are unique between all of these variety of different practices that people do? And they found four different things. One was sending an intention. So you're, you're having an intention to do something and you're being intentional about it. You're paying attention. So either focusing on your breath or paying attention to something. There's an element of practice, so you're doing a repetition and doing it each and every day. And then there is a Sangha or community of other people to be able to have guidance or direction. So people who are maybe walked that path before to help give you some tips based upon what you're experiencing, but also to give you this sense of that this is a group experience that people are going through it together. And I feel like that of all the different experiences that I've seen within virtual reality, there's like first it was AudioShield for me, then Soundboxing, and then Beat Saber were those experiences that were these rhythm games that would get me into VR each and every day. But I haven't necessarily found like a meditation app that had that same type of draw. It was almost like the VR was, you know, a guided meditation or the scene was very static. I think Trip does a great job of doing that actually, that a lot of variety, but there's something about the novelty, I think, of SoundSelf where you can play with it and there is enough variance to have a sense of your expectations and then your expectations being perverted based upon what the logic of the system is going to do. And that you feel like you're potentially going to be trying to figure out what that logic is, but It could be enough of a draw to get people into the scaffolding of the essence of those four major things of setting an intention to do this potentially every day, to paying attention to your breath or your chanting and to be practicing it each and every day. And so you get better or something changes and Beat Saber, you actually see that you're actually physically able to get better and you see that real time feedback. And then eventually if there ends up being like, this is a whole movement of people. you know, sharing their experiences or having existing traditions that they're already doing that has lineages and practices and people who are many decades onto a path. I mean, technedelics are still relatively new. And so it's hard to say what's novel about technedelics versus what is just like any other previous contemplative practice and tradition. So. When I think about SoundSelf, I see it in that context, like this is one of the first experiences that I get really excited about, that this is a real potential to create those sanghas and those communities and for people to really treat it as a daily practice.
[00:37:55.406] Robin Arnott: What were those four things? There was intention, attention, sangha, and what was the other one?
[00:38:00.028] Kent Bye: Practice. You do it every day. It's like building a muscle memory. Practice.
[00:38:04.670] Robin Arnott: Yeah. I think that where the technology has a lot to offer is in the attention space. Because game design, especially with virtual reality, can so envelop your senses and guide your attention. I mean, that's all game design is, in a way, is the skillful guiding of attention. So I think that's where the technology can really, really take off. And also the Sangha part, because you have, like, so many games are now baking in the community. And that's what I would love to If we ever do a sequel to Soundself, I would love to have it so that you can have multiple people tuning together. Actually, it's possible. We've designed Soundself to support two people together at once, and that's probably not going to be supported at launch, but maybe a few months after launch. But to imagine, like, okay, so... We have these play spaces in VR, like Rec Room and The Wave and things like that, and what happens when we, you know, how do we bring the... It's just so rich, you know? And I love the way you bring up these four points and these four pillars of spiritual practice and community, because those four things can be almost an instruction manual for how we create the next generation of virtual reality so that to combat the inevitable collapsing into overstimulation and addiction, which is just an inevitable part of a technology like this. I think there's no avoiding that, except by creating alternatives that are even more rich and compelling. Yeah, I do think we're right at the beginning, though. I mean, obviously we're still right at the beginning of virtual reality as a technology, and certainly designers are right at the beginning of their sophistication as designers of virtual reality, because we've only been playing as designers in this space for a decade, what is a generation of young people who are used to virtual reality? Because when I grew up, at least in my family, spirituality and religion was kind of taboo. We were rational atheists. And I read some statistics that showed organized religion is on the decline, but also people who identify as being spiritually and mystically inclined is equally on the climb up. And I've certainly noticed this amongst my generation as people are not tuning out of the benefits of rationalism and the benefits of reductionism. You know, seeing the world basically mechanistically and ourselves as kind of separate from that, which is I think the metaphor that is baked into a spiritual reality. I see people not rejecting that, but integrating it in an integral psychology sense, integrating that into more mystical values and more spiritual values. And so what happens when the people who are like 18 right now, growing up with the technology of virtual reality and growing up with a new relationship to the mysteries of being alive, what do they make? This is just the stuff I think about. And it's why I'm so, like when I wrote this Technodialic Manifesto, the people I had in mind were were those people, the people who are 18, 19, 20, going through school right now, maybe a game school right now, who are interested in these things and really want to use technology not to help people exert ever more power in the external world, but actually come ever more deeply into an intimacy with themselves. And if we can do that with our gaming technology, with our entertainment technology, then we can really offer people, then we can really help people out of some of the ruts of our current materialist culture and into a more expansive and inclusive way of being that could, you know, I really see, we all have our part to play. Every one of us has our part to play and video games and virtual reality and technology are not like some thing over here that is like, anti-spiritual growth or anti-presence, although they're certainly used in that way, it's actually a tremendous tool that can be used to bring us all back into a deeper presence.
[00:42:03.340] Kent Bye: Yeah, I've been diving more and more into the philosophical foundations of all this. And Hegel, I think, is somebody who is impossible to read, but I love his ideas as interpreted through like lots of secondary literature and interpretation. But the essence of the dialectics of the polarity points between these two things, you're talking about materialism versus idealism. So like, what is real? Is it the only thing that you can actually physically experience and touch and taste and smell? Or the other idealistic aspects of the final causation or formal causation, or the deeper patterns of reality, or you see different structures that you can't necessarily see or describe, but you can mathematically describe, or it's the more numinous, luminous, ineffable, spiritual, mystical aspects that can't be falsified and can't be repeated. And I think that's a part of the human experience. And the human experience includes aspects that can't be repeated and can't be falsified. And so there's certain ways of trying to make sense of human consciousness that as we use virtual reality, we're able to have this dialectic between our embodied experiences that we have throughout in our entire lives. And then you're creating a synthetic platonic representation of those experiences and then trying to stimulate it, but in a way that is somewhat disembodied. It's giving you the form and impression of that, but you're still able to tap into something deeper or something that's beyond yourself. And so whether that's the dialectic between the individualized self and the yang elements of expressing your individual will and your agency, or the more yin elements of dissolving your will, dissolving your ego, surrendering, and seeing how you're just one part of a larger whole and how that yin archetypal journey plays out. And I feel like there's a certain amount of that ego disillusionment that the psychedelic experience is trying to achieve, which is to turn off that default mode network, to allow you to see the larger patterns and maybe give you a sensory experience that is trying to go beyond what your mind of creating those categories and be able to name things and to give you immersive experience that, that gets you outside of that, that can allow you to surrender into this larger connected oneness type of experience. And I think that's this dialectic that we're all trying to get out of. I mean, with the coronavirus, it's literally shutting down the entire world, the whole global economy, and it's creating this constriction. But in that constriction, we're turning towards these communication tools to be able to potentially be more connected even though these tools have been around for years and years and years but it has taken a disruption of our normal physical habits and our routines and to be able to connect to each other in ways that are using these immersive technologies or teleconferences or even just talking to people on the phone you know just a groundedness of what's really important in life when you start to strip away all the other things that we don't actually need. When you really strip it down to it, then what are the essentials? And so I feel like that's another dialectic that we're all going through right now with the coronavirus, but yet with experiences like Soundself, you're able to get away from those habits and patterns that you see in the world and open up your mind into experiencing something that allows your brain something to focus on so that you can have the direct experience of something that is beyond yourself.
[00:45:07.448] Robin Arnott: Yeah, that's exactly it. And with this coronavirus situation happening right now, we're all in a pattern of interrupt, and we're all in a pattern of interrupt together. You know, we are all in this together, we are all going through something together here that's forcing us to look at our values and look at our habits because we just can't do the stuff that we're used to doing. I live in a cabin in the woods and I don't go into the city that much, you know, so superficially this hasn't changed my lifestyle very much, but because it's changed everything, I'm feeling a huge difference, you know? It's not like I'm spending particularly more time in my cabin than I would otherwise be doing, but the world is different right now, and it's just everything is different, which is forcing me, and I don't know why, I don't know why this thing happening has led to what I'm about to describe but it's like I'm running every day and I'm back into a meditation routine. I haven't been in a solid meditation routine for years and I'm calling my family more, you know, and I'm getting the work done that I really need to get done. I'm not distracting myself as much and it's the same with my girlfriend, you know, like we've had our ups and downs quite a bit this year and it's like Okay, gonna really look at this with all of my attention right now. You know, there's something about a pattern interrupt and all of us being in it together that I think is forcing us to to look at our lives and be intentional. I really hope that we can through that come to a more mindful relationship with our technologies as well. And I think so. I think that's already happening.
[00:46:44.050] Kent Bye: Hmm. Well, maybe you could give me a bit more context as to this manifesto, because I... Can I read it? Yeah. Can I read it aloud? Well, I don't know. If you want to do a whole intonation of reading the whole thing, you can. I don't know how long it would take, but... It's not super long.
[00:46:59.100] Robin Arnott: I'd love to, and I haven't done that yet, and I would really love to share it with... Let me pull it up.
[00:47:05.142] Kent Bye: So, why don't you read me your manifesto then? Thank you.
[00:47:09.965] Robin Arnott: Everybody who's been advising me has been telling me, Robin, don't make a manifesto. Don't do that.
[00:47:17.207] Kent Bye: I think it's great. I created an XR ethics manifesto last year. It felt really good. It was very cathartic. It's good to be polemic sometimes. It's trying to set a vision of what you want to see in the world. And it's taking a stand to say, okay, let's start something here. So maybe you could just read what you're trying to start.
[00:47:35.687] Robin Arnott: Thank you. Okay, I'm pulling it up right now. Thanks for humoring me to let me read this. The Technodelic Manifesto. Quoting Terrence McKenna, the drugs of the future will be computers. The computers of the future will be drugs. While for many in the Western world material quality of life has been skyrocketing, rates of loneliness and depression are reaching epidemic levels. These times call for mindfulness and connection. They demand we ask ourselves difficult questions about our practices and technologies and the values they embody. While technological means grow exponentially, the same cannot be said for our civilization's core wisdom and values. Like every medium, games cannot help but express and respond to those values, and they do so with incredible technological sophistication. Game developers, with ever-deepening knowledge of player psychology, must choose to build ever more efficient slot machines or ever more polished mirrors. We are what we play. Weaving the disciplines of hypnosis, ceremony, meditation, and neuroscience into the fabric of a video game's feedback loop, technodelics are an emerging genre that is as new and sophisticated as any modern video game, but rooted in something as ancient and universal as prayer. Games invite us to embody the needs and behaviors of a role, and to play a game is to practice the mode of being invoked by that role. Practice builds habit, and with repetition, habit becomes identity. The practice of play forges new neural pathways and articulates existing ones. It is always a gauntlet of self-authorship and transformation. Of critical importance, what the game is and why we are playing will define the parts of ourselves that we bring to that gauntlet. If our fundamental reason for play is to distract ourselves, then we only bring those parts of ourselves that wish not to exist to that gauntlet. In doing so, we lay the seeds of nihilism in the soil of our play. To fully support the transformation of the player into deeper and more self-realized modes of consciousness, game developers must learn to gently invite ever more vulnerable and forgotten aspects of the player's being into the light of play. Without collapsing into seriousness, players, in turn, must learn to approach their play with reverence and surrender. The Eight Principles of Technodelics Technodelics make use of all the same technologies as other video games. Like other video games, they are immersive, closed feedback loops that are centered around the player's intrinsic enjoyment of play. But where they differ from other video games is in the purpose of their core mechanics. Rather than engaging the mind with competition and problem-solving, the Technodelic actively disengages their player's unconscious habits of self-centeredness and sinks them into a humble state of presence. A technodelic does not achieve this by simulating another world. Instead, it acts like a digital spirit guide, unraveling the player's mind into a state of prostration, surrender, and wonder. The principles of a technodelic are 1. Technodelics are abstract, so as to negate the player's critical thoughts. Words and stories are avoided wherever possible in favor of geometry and music. 2. Technodelics keep a player's attention focused on the now. They will usually eschew the use of goals entirely, as goals tend to focus players' attention away from the present moment. Where goals are used, they are tied to ongoing, in-the-moment performance, and engineered to produce a flow state. 3. Technodelics use the audiovisual field to invoke mystery and the sublime. Light and sound are used, not to describe objects, but to directly stimulate desired activity in the brain. 4. Technodelics engage the player's body in feedback loops. This creates a synesthetic relationship between sound, vision, and the player's own biorhythms. 5. Technodelics are unbiased feedback loops, meaning instead of rewarding certain behaviors and punishing others, they reflect all player expressions in myriad ways. Their systems are reflective rather than prescriptive. This both inspires a player's sense of wonder and turns that wonder inwards. 6. Technodelics expand beyond the couch and screen into real life set and setting. They make use of ritual and ceremony to amplify the depth of the experience. 7. Technodelics are fully immersive experiences that require 100% of the player's attention. 8. Technodelics cannot be reductively designed. Instead, they must be intuitively channeled. Technodelic experiences are doorways to the ineffable, and the reasoning mind by definition cannot comprehend the ineffable. Two emerging technologies will have major impact on the scope and power of Technodelics. Firstly, virtual reality. By cutting away distractions and fully enveloping the player's sensorium, VR makes it possible to design ever more subtle experiences, inviting ever more intimate expressions of the player's sense of self into the realm of play. Number two, inexpensive biosensors. The integration of biosensors into gaming peripherals will allow games to slip away from the binary shackles of keyboards and gamepads, into the mysterious and organic domain of our human-animal biorhythms. When a player can see their heartbeat, and hear their breath, synesthetically woven into the fabric of an immersive experience, it will make a categorical shift in the potency not only of technodelics, but of gaming as a whole. Encountering these experiences, either as a designer or a player, requires letting go of many of our concept of what a game is. Ironically, though, the more the game industry is able to let go of the concepts that traditionally define gaming, the more gracefully those very concepts can integrate into the structures of something new, not as invisible dogma, but as hard-earned wisdom.
[00:53:18.950] Kent Bye: And then you list some early examples of Technodelics, or do you want to just list those that you have here at the bottom? Yeah, sure.
[00:53:24.393] Robin Arnott: So there's early examples of Technodelics. I have a sound self, a Technodelic, which is coming out in April, April 22nd. Breathscape by Auralab, that's coming out I think in just a couple weeks. Microdose VR by Vision Agency, that's Android Jones company. That's not out yet, but really worth looking into. Strata by The Mill, which is an installation biosensor VR experience I think in New York City. Cosmic Sugar by David Loebser. David's also just a really brilliant designer in this field, and he's working on a project also in New York called Luxury Escapism, which is all about virtual reality experiences that drop you into these deeper states. And the last one, or the first one, I think, is Panoramical, which is Fernando Romao and David Kanega. And that was back in 2015, which it's not VR. It uses your keyboard as kind of a MIDI controller to just explore a world.
[00:54:17.197] Kent Bye: Well, thank you for reading through that. I'm really glad that you were able to speak it out into the world like that, just because I think it's really clear and concise and really defines some principles and really setting a deeper intention. You know, we were talking earlier, but the four basic principles of a practice of the intention, attention, the practice and the Sangha. And I think that that intention part, because you could look at something like Beat Saber. you know, as an example, like, would you consider Beat Saber to be a technodelic? Because people can set their own intention to use it as a technodelic, but Beat Saber within itself, not necessarily sure it was intended to be kind of like a technical psychedelic. So it's a little bit of that intention that I think there's certain parts of it that, you know, if you go through all these other aspects, you could say, okay, well, obviously every rhythm game that is out there is a technodelic, but I think it's that intentional part that is trying to bring in the deeper intention of transformation or it creates a final causation and there's a kind of aristotle's terms which is like a deeper purpose for why this exists it's like it creates this strange attractor that is pointing you towards a certain intention and i think it's that intentionality that is a part of these different practices that i would argue that needs to be embedded into the design of the experience itself however i could also see an argument be made saying that like you could take the existing things that are already there, like talking to Torkham G who did Resident Evil 7 and use that as a technodelic. It's a horror experience in the PSVR and he was using it to sort of overcome his own fears. Wow. Wow. So people can use, use existing experiences and transmute them into their own intention. And so I guess that's, that's a bit of an open question in terms of when you think about this manifesto as to, well, how much is it up to the designer of the game? And is it more up to the practitioner and the user of this experience to transmute something that wasn't intended to be a technodelic, but to be used in the vein of a technodelic?
[00:56:14.427] Robin Arnott: That's a really, really interesting inquiry. Because what this touches into, ultimately, is our own personal experience of reality. And our own personal experiences of ourselves as beings of reality. And that is so personal. I think that most games are not necessarily, nor should they necessarily be designed like Resident Evil 7. That's amazing that he was playing, I'm not putting Resident Evil 7 VR over my head, no thank you. But that's amazing, that's really interesting that he's using it for this sort of deeper personal spiritual purpose. I guess yeah because it is so you know our experience of consciousness and things as superficial as what we like and what we don't like but or as deep as who we see ourselves to be like the ontology of our being I'm sure that if you and I spent like really went into the ontology of being, we would find that we have pretty radically different expressions of like, like, what is it? What are you? And what am I? And I'm not asking you to answer that question right now, because that would be a hell of a rabbit hole. But for any of us who have really done any investigation, and even just doing the investigation now, just by hearing the question, I think you can't help but do a little bit of investigation. And it is just so personal and what I see this as being. And I'm really glad you brought up that question because my intention with this manifesto is to invite conversation and more conversation about technology and about technology's role in our lives and about how technology does or doesn't or can or can't serve a deeper and more spiritual function in our lives. I think it's quite cogent to point out that we can do that with anything, you know? Like Resident Evil 7 can absolutely... it sounds like it wouldn't necessarily be for me, I'm not going to do that, but Torkham could take Resident Evil 7 and turn that into a shadow work experience.
[00:58:08.863] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. So I do think that there is an element of it is going to be up to each individual that they can transform any experience into a technodelic if they want to. But I think the differentiation here between like what you're setting forth in this manifesto is that you're trying to create like a larger movement of people embedded within the game design to facilitate this type of experience. And I think when that alignment happens between people that are deliberately putting forth the technedelic, and then it's just going to make it easier for people to experience it in that way without having the different design components get in the way of having a deeper experience.
[00:58:43.439] Robin Arnott: Yeah, yeah. And without having to be a particularly, say, warrior-minded person like Torquemus in order to do that. yeah for me it's so much this you know it's just seeing the potential use of the technology and deciding what am i going to create here and how am i going to use this and game designers have known for decades and decades how to give a project a little bit of stickiness you know give that stickiness give it that feeling of pleasure to ride the cortisol spike into the rest and the cortisol spike and the rest you know they've got this down to like Really, I was about to say, got it down to science, which is true, but it's also like a really established art and craft. But what I'm calling for here is, look, we can use games to directly stimulate existential and spiritual experiences for their players. And not by some happenstance or some lucky combination of the design with the person, like Resident Evil and Torkham. But by the intentional, you know, designing a video game like you design a temple. A temple is a place, it's a piece of architecture that is designed to humble you and to give you those four things, you know, intention, attention, practice, and sangha. And also just to humble you before creation. We can use the form of video games to humble you towards creation. And there are certain technologies and techniques that I think really lend themselves to that. And lucky for us, Those technologies and techniques have largely been very well documented over thousands of years of spiritual practice. But when we combine those things with contemporary technology, you just get magic.
[01:00:29.917] Kent Bye: Hmm. Yeah. Well, with that, as we start to wrap up, I'm just curious to hear from you, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality might be and what it might be able to enable?
[01:00:43.045] Robin Arnott: I love that question. I love that question. Alright, I'm going to really sit with this and not let myself regurgitate something I may have thought of before. I think one of the real potentials of virtual reality is to teach us something about reality. So, your mind allows you to simulate things. and to try things on. You get to run a simulation in your mind. What happens if I just, I don't know, I'm at the post office and I'm pissed off. What happens if I just hit the postal worker? If I just hit them? Well, I could run that through in my mind as a simulation, and I could decide not to do that, because I could run better simulations than that. So we have this incredible capacity, and I think it's unique to humans. Maybe dolphins and whales can do this too, I don't know. But as far as I know, it's unique to humans. We have this incredible capacity to run simulations. That's kind of what the mind is for. So much so that we tend to lose touch with baseline reality because we just live in those simulations in so many ways. I think that virtual reality can not only give us another layer of simulation to run, to run on and run in and share with each other, but it can also, because you can't really easily slip your mind off and on again, We do that when we go to sleep, and we can do that with meditation, but for the most part... Another way to do this, this is a great thing to do. I'm going to give this as homework to everyone listening right now. A colleague of mine talks about having temporary belief systems, which means to go out in the world and find something that you don't believe, and rather than rejecting it, Take it in and allow yourself to actually really believe it. And you can always let go of it later. But that's the kind of virtual reality right there. And I've done that with lots and lots of different things and it's taught me so much and sometimes it's really genuinely changed my mind and other times it's just given me a more sophisticated understanding of my reality. So this is a long-winded way to go about once we're in VR and we're used to taking on and putting on headsets and taking on and putting on different realities and co-creating different realities. I think it might not only be another layer of simulation we can run, but also add complexity and richness to our own relationships with our own personal simulations that we're running all the time. And with that flexibility, give us more practice of compassion for the simulations that other people are running when they might not happen to be running the simulations that are the same as us or conveniently, let's say, non-abrasive to our own simulations.
[01:03:28.533] Kent Bye: Hmm. Nice. And is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the Immersive community?
[01:03:37.938] Robin Arnott: I think I'd just love to share the launch information about SoundSelf, which is it's coming out April 22nd. That may be in the future or the past, depending on where you are in space time. From this locale, it's in the future by about two and a half, three weeks. and you can learn more at soundself.com or you can go to Steam or the Oculus Store and pick it up there. It runs in VR great, but if you don't have a VR headset, it also works really well just on a flat screen, turning off the lights and making yourself a cup of tea and lighting a candle or something.
[01:04:13.947] Kent Bye: Great. And one other sort of experiential design part I just, uh, that I didn't mention is that I love how you're really forcing people to stay in VR laying down. Like when you, you start to try to lift up their headset, you know, you kind of stop the experience and you really rigid about like having your full complete attention and you're like ruthless about that. Like, and so with VR, you are laying down. And so if you have an ability to sort of like hang up the computer monitor up on the wall, so you can lay down and to be able to still lay down and look at it. Cause I think that's a big part of it.
[01:04:43.444] Robin Arnott: Getting into a reclined position really tells your body like hey, it's time to rest here and relax and we're gonna I think that's that's funny I think that's probably a lot of surprise for a lot of people who put on the VR headset and they're like first thing It says it's like lie down what?
[01:04:54.509] Kent Bye: Okay So yeah, I'm really excited I know this has been a long long journey for you and it feels like actually does feel like the exact right time for it to be coming out right now and I think people are ready for it and if they don't know they're ready for it, there's at least going to be people that do find it and hopefully it'll get out there and spread because I think it's this type of topic, this consciousness hacking, this whole field, using this as a transformative practice, that's a big part of what got me into VR in the first place. And so it's a big part of my own drive of trying to find the ultimate potentials. There's many potentials of VR, but I think this is one of the ones that get me really excited just because of what the implications are for how this could ripple out and help shift culture and change the world. So thanks for sticking with it and having the idea before the rest of the world is ready. And I think, you know, maybe there's a concrescence here of the world being ready and you coming to a completion and those being in alignment. So what a great, great timing.
[01:05:53.457] Robin Arnott: So thank you for being a touchstone for me at various, various points along the path. It's always been a real pleasure to talk to you and, and hear your ideas and, and just bounce back and forth.
[01:06:04.248] Kent Bye: Awesome. Great. Well, congratulations. And, uh, hopefully people will check it out and, uh, and see you in the sound self cyberspace. Thanks. So that was Robin or not talking about the sound self and the technedelic manifesto, which was just published here on Tuesday, April 14th, 2020. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, well, this is the first interview that I've recorded for the Voices of AR podcast after the whole global pandemic. The last interviews I really recorded was back in January of 2020. And I've just been kind of watching what's been happening and processing a lot of the interviews that I did at Sundance, and then just trying to see, okay, how do I restart and contextualize what's happening in the world? And I think this is a really great conversation for me to do that, just because Robin's talking about this forced pattern interrupt. And now that we've stopped and people's lives have either been completely upended and disrupted and They have lost their jobs or you're somebody who is fortunate enough to have a career where you still are able to work from home. And I think a lot of my audience here in virtual reality, there's likely lots of different things that are still happening, lots of demand for VR. So I think people from the VR community will still moving forward, but we're in this new normal. And so how do we navigate all of this? And I feel like. There's gonna be experiences like this that are gonna help people to release their nerves a little bit I know that right before I did this interview I had a chance to do more the final version of sound self my initial experiences were from back in 2015 at the art of dying show that was in San Francisco and I did it again a couple years later at VRLA but this is the final version and I was really happy to be able to actually go through the experience and I just felt this relief and calm and and had a chance to do it in the morning. I really like starting my day by doing it. There's different versions and different lengths. I think probably around 15 or 20 minutes is probably a good one. I was doing the 30 minute and the longer 40 minutes, but to do it as a consistent practice, I think it's probably good to start it as a little bit shorter length, but just try to commit to doing it each and every day. So I did notice that it does react to you in the different rhythms and tonality and there is this feedback loop cycle that happens where it's recording your voice and then it's playing your voice back and then whatever your voice that happened in the past that playback can actually impact what's happening in dynamically live of what you're seeing. And so if you think about mashing up time in that way, then it does give you this very novel experience. Each time I was, what I noticed is that my brain was trying to predict exactly what was going to happen each time. And it's something that feels more organic. It feels harder to really crack what the exact logic is. And I think in an experience like this, that's actually really good because you want to have a little bit more of that reflection or I've been over and over again was talking about how this is more of a mirror rather than something that is a one-to-one translation of an instrument or a tool, something that where you put your agency in, you know exactly what you're going to get out. But there's a bit of mystery there of that spectrum between the order and chaos. It's not exactly order, it's not exactly chaos, but it's somewhere in between where it perverts your expectations enough to keep you interested in trying to have your brain not know exactly what to expect. He's trying to really create that feedback loop cycle of the video games, but to do it in a way that is trying to cultivate this sense of stillness and this presence of mind. And I I feel like, you know, after working on it over eight years, he's really figured out something that's really quite interesting. One of the things that I was really struck by is him saying that, you know, most games have analog input of a button that's very binary, but your voice is not a binary input. And so you have the intensity of your voice, the sound of your voice, the rhythm of the voice, the tonality, and all these different variables that he's playing with. I feel like this is an experience that is really trying to explore your voice as an input in a way that is trying to make it interesting. So it's not a linear experience. And because it is taking recordings of yourself from the past, then you are dealing with what you've already done. And so that makes it even more difficult to try to control because you're, you're dealing with your past self. One thing that I did notice is that sometimes I would cough and sometimes my coughs would come up later. And so I, Reminded of when Robin was talking about how he was trying to penalize this woman who was trying to be too controlling in that if you put too much controlling energy into it, then that's what you're going to be reflected back. So seeing this as both a mirror, but also this artificial intelligence that is more of an organic response rather than something that is completely predictable. And I think he's been able to really pull that off. And there's this broader context and broader movement of consciousness hacking. And right now he's starting with voice, but eventually having other inputs, like other biometric data. And so how can you start to take these subtle inputs and put it into an experience that's really responding to what you're doing in the moment, but still have different elements of agency. Like you can control your voice and your rhythm and whatever you put into the experience, it's going to reflect back to you, whether that's like more playful experiences or having something that's a little bit more contemplative and reflective. And I was also really just struck by, Robin said a number of times how this isn't something that he was necessarily inventing, but more of something that he was discovering that he had this psychedelic experience at Burning Man while he was on LSD, and that there was the scaffolding and the structure of that experience that he was able to have a direct embodied experience of, and that he was really just listening to that over many years and really following that. And that was one of the things that he said in his manifesto was that it's not something that is coming from your rational mind, but it's something that's more channeled through this intuitive process of really listening to it and seeing how the experience makes you feel, but also showing it to other people as well. And so this is the fourth interview that I've done with Robin talking generally about technodelics, but also specifically around soundself. And so I have seen quite an evolution since the first time that I saw it back in 2015 and in talking to him in 2016, 2018 and 2019. And so, I highly recommend you check out the Technodelic Manifesto. There'll be a link of it into the post here. And just reflecting upon this greater mission of trying to use games to stimulate existential and spiritual experiences, and whether or not there's different experiences that are already out there that you can transmute it and treat it as your own Technodelic, like Torquem G did. with Resident Evil 7, but to see that there could be a larger movement within creators within the immersive space who are deliberately trying to create these different types of contemplative experiences. And I think it's so important, especially because it's such a nascent industry and there's pretty much no other games that I've seen that's anywhere like this. You know, just with the different aspects of your voice, the breath, and the ability to be able to bring a little bit more depth and intimacy when it comes to the inputs and the experiences and the gameplay and the feedback loops that you're able to achieve within an immersive experience. So I highly recommend checking out Soundself and to experiment with trying to use it as a daily practice. and just to see how it starts to alter your consciousness. I think this is a bright field and if you have trouble meditating in other contexts, I highly recommend checking this out because I think this is a nice interactive way that uses different principles of gameplay and it's worth checking out all the different nuances and subtleties that Robin's been able to achieve here in a game and experience like Soundself. 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 listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.