Tweaking Our Own Mental State: Getting Easier All the Time
This last spring, twelve minutes changed my life forever.
I got into a heck of a fistfight. I went into a dark cave, and put on an alternate identity and transformed into the baddest-a** thing around.
I had one of the most spiritual, exalted, uplifting experiences that I’ve ever had.
And I fell in love.
So here’s the story.
I was at the NVIDIA GTC (GPU Technology Conference) this last May, 2017. Monday was not too exciting; lots of papers, lots of presentations. Tuesday, more of the same – with more networking. Then, the pace picked up.
Wednesday was entirely different. Yes, Jensen Huang’s two-hour keynote presentation was riveting. It was more than that, however. I hadn’t had a chance to get inside the virtual reality (VR) booths until that afternoon. My two back-to-back VR experiences changed my life.
Batman: Arkham VR
The Batman VR experience was uncanny. I put on the gloves. The VR assistants helped me put on the headset, and turned the VR on.
All of a sudden, I was Batman. Actually, I was Bruce Wayne. I was looking out through Bruce’s eyes, and the skin on my knuckles was raw and bloody. I’d just been in a fight. (See the image on the right.)
As a point-of-reference, I’m not a gamer. The Batman: Arkham VR experience is commercially available – probably most of you have tried it. (Probably most of you own it. Or your junior-high-school kid owns it. And then you play with it when you need a study break.)
After pushing on piano keys, I entered the elevator and descended into the Batcave. Water flowed down the sides of the cavern walls nearby. I did the “suit-up” thing, and you can see that segment in the First 12 Minutes of Batman: Arkham VR. My whole experience was less than the full game, of course; maybe 5-6 minutes at the most.
The experience of being Batman was just … downright … weird.
I mean, I’m a girl. And here I was, getting a near-visceral experience of being a guy, and just having been in a fight. And even more, getting ready to go out and get in a fight. With some seriously bad-a** moves. Da**! This was exhilarating!
My Batman VR experience didn’t last nearly long enough. I left it, seriously contemplating getting the cash to go buy a home-VR setup. (And this is from a gal who gets her entertainment from the local public library.)
Bobby Halvorson’s VR performance of Lenny Cohen’s Hallelujah came next, courtesy of wearing a press badge at the conference.
You can now get the smallest little feeling-sense of what that experience is like with Lytro’s Hallelujah Trailer, released just this last month (September, 2017).
Kyle Milneck, at VR Scout, describes that experience perfectly.
Kelly McCarthy gives us the background story as she interviews Hallelujah creative visionary and director, Zach Richter.
You might particularly enjoy Zach Richter’s own descripton of the creative process, which was a huge collaborative effort.
PHOTO: Zach Richter in the directors chair on the set of Hallelujah
What It Felt Like
This story isn’t about the technology. Rather, it’s about our experience of the technology – or rather, how technology can induce personal experiences – and what this means in our lives. What it can mean. What it likely will mean, in the not-very-distant future.
The VR experience of Bobby Halvorson singing Hallelujah led me into an exalted state. I could access this state – I could resonate with it again – for days, even weeks – after my short 5-minute VR experience.
I really, really liked being in that state. So, as soon as I got home, I looked up the whole Hallelujah VR thing using our old friend, Google. There were Youtube clips on how the VR was made, but nothing that actually brought me into the experience. It was all the back-stage. Fascinating, but not the emotionally-compelling and uplifting experience.
I settled on listening to Lenny Cohen sing Hallelujah. I’d listen to that several times in a row, and let it take me back to the visceral experience of having Bobby Halvorson sing.
Now, with the release of the Hallelujah Trailer, I can alternate between Lenny and the (all-too-short) segment of Bobby singing, with the choir’s voices swirling in glorious descant. Together, these can help me re-access those amazing five minutes of the Hallelujah VR.
It’s not that Bobby is a better singer than Lenny. It’s that the entire emotional experience with Bobby is more carefully – and immersively – designed to bring us into that altered, exalted state. The carefully orchestrated progression of sensory stimulus leads to a resounding emotional climax.
Our Craving for Exalted Experiences
This is a good time to mention that humans have been using technology to induce uplifting experiences for thousands of years.
In Hallelujah, the VR experience starts off with Bobby singing a capella. Then, his voice becomes more enriched; there’s more vibrational toning. What is happening is that they use a medieval English singing technique called hocket. “That process uses multiple voice parts to sing rapidly alternating notes and short phrases, creating a “hiccuping effect,” as described by ABC.
If the hocket method for inducing more resonance and emotional quality into the voice is a medieval technique, the beautiful cathedral for the VR shoot used an even older technique – Roman arches. The arches’ ability to give us soaring, vaulted ceilings helps to uplift our spiritual senses.
In short, ever since humans have walked this planet, we’ve evolved means to trigger altered states. Some methods have used drugs. Some have used art, music, and architecture, combined with ritual and drama.
All of these methods have helped us attain states not normally accessed during our day-to-day, mundane working hours.
And here is, perhaps, the point of this whole editorial.
We humans crave both emotional and sensory experiences.
It’s our craving for union with God; for mystical experience.
It’s also our craving for a unique chemical syrup in our brains; a combination of adrenaline, serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. To get this, we’ll have impassioned love affairs, or jump out of planes. (I’ve done both.)
We are also lazy.
This isn’t a moral judgment. It’s just us, being human.
Thus, we’ll go for cheap, substitute experiences. Some of us mess up our lives with drugs. Some of us overindulge in video games, TV, and anything else that can temporarily give us a sense of a life that is more intense, more colorful, more physically and emotionally vibrant and rich.
VR can satisfy our cravings, in a way that we have never experienced before.
What the World Is Coming To. Really.
One of the biggest differences that we have now with VR is that the whole experience is not just more immersive; it is potentially much more emotionally compelling.
When exceptionally well-done, as with Hallelujah, it takes us through a sensory and emotional progression that engages our minds in an extraordinary way.
Further, once we’ve had that experience once (or a few times), we can learn to trigger our access to that induced-state again.
Even now, I’ll trigger my own access to that emotionally-exalted state when I want to get to a bit more of an uplifted spirit; when I’m going to do some writing and want to be as clear-minded as possible. I’ll do this with that combination of Lenny Cohen singing Hallelujah, together with the Hallelujah Trailer.
The take-away: VR gives us an opportunity to do more than collaborative design, or have interesting (even gripping) entertainment. VR is a means by which we can alter our mental and emotional states. Not only that, but the experiences are so compelling that we can use various triggers to access and mentally / emotionally “replay” those experiences again and again.
This is the different thing.
It’s not the one-time exposure. It’s how the experience creates a vortex within our minds, to which we can return at will – and possibly, return on command.
Something to consider.
Leave your comments.
I’ll be real interested in hearing form you on this.
P.S. That falling in love bit?
There I was, alone in the room.
And Bobby Halvorson was singing. Just for me.
Live free or die, my friend –
Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.
Attr. to Gen. John Stark, American Revolutionary War
The Best Related YouTube Vids – Batman
Not Nearly as Good as the Real Thing.
- The First 12 Minutes of Batman: Arkham VR. The VR experience as video. Eh. Seems awful plasticky compared with the VR.
The Best Related YouTube Vids – Hallelujah
A Shallow, Pale Imitation of the Real Thing. (Sigh.)
- Lenny Cohen, singing Hallelujah. Beautiful, emotional. Not nearly in the same realm as the VR experience, but I use this to trigger my total-experience revisit of the VR.
- The teaser-trailer. 39 seconds only. (Sigh.) Just enough to tantalize.
- The Making of Hallelujah with Lytro Immerge. Just fabulous. Gotta watch. You’ll love it.
- More on Making Hallelujah (by Lytro).
How The VRs Were Created
Best Related Corporate-Technology Websites
Good Citable References
- S. Parkin. (May 15, 2016). The coming horror of virtual reality. The New Yorker. online (accessed Oct. 10, 2017).
- M. Kim (Feb. 18, 2015). The good and the bad of escaping to virtual reality, The Atlantic. online (accessed Oct. 10, 2017). A bit of a historical summary, future projections, and links to then-current technology sites.
- D. Freeman and J. Freeman (Feb. 18, 2015). Why virtual reality could be a mental health gamechanger, The Guardian. online (accessed Oct. 10, 2017). How VR can be used to help people with mental health/psychological challenges, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).