Article on the research ethics of VR that looks at the power of VR to induce embodiment hallucinations and the importance of social interaction to enhance the “realness” of a VR experience.

As investigations into VR have interestingly shown, a phenomenal reality as such becomes more real – in terms of the subjective experience of presence – as more agents recognizing one and interacting with one are contained in this reality. Phenomenologically, ongoing social cognition enhances both this reality and the self in their degree of “realness.” This principle will also hold if the subjective experience of ongoing social cognition is of a hallucinatory nature.

Illusions of embodiment are possible because the mind is plastic to such a degree that it can misrepresent its own embodiment. To be clear, illusions of embodiment can arise from normal brain activity alone, and need not imply changes in underlying neural structure. Such illusions occur naturally in dreams, phantom limb experiences, out-of-body experiences, and Body Integrity Identity Disorder (Brugger et al., 2000; Metzinger, 2009b; Hilti et al., 2013; Ananthaswamy, 2015; Windt, 2015), and they sometimes include a shift in what has been termed the phenomenal “unit of identification” in consciousness research (UI; Metzinger, 2013a,b), the conscious content that we currently experience as “ourselves” (please note that in the current paper “UI” does not refer to “user interface,” but always to the specific experiential content of “selfhood,” as explained below). This may be the deepest theoretical reason why we should be cautious about the psychological effects of applied VR: this technology is unique in beginning to target and manipulate the UI in our brain itself.

Data regarding the kinematics of users will be useful for researchers from a range of disciplines, especially those interested in embodied cognition (Shapiro, 2014). On the plausible assumption that one’s kinematics is very closely related to one’s personality and the deep functional structure of bodily self-consciousness – only your body moves in precisely this manner – there will a highly individual “kinematic fingerprint.” This kind of data collection presents a special threat to privacy.

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