VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

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Fifteen years ago, David Glowacki was walking in the mountains when he took a sharp fall. When he hit the ground, blood began leaking into his lungs. As he lay there suffocating, Glowacki’s field of perception swelled. He peered down at his own body—and, instead of his typical form, saw that he was made up of balled-up light.

“I knew that the intensity of the light was related to the extent to which I inhabited my body,” he recalls. Yet watching it dim didn’t frighten him. From his new vantage point, Glowacki could see that the light wasn’t disappearing. It was transforming—leaking out of his body into the environment around him.

This realization—which he took to signify that his awareness could outlast and transcend his physical form—brought Glowacki a sublime sense of peace. So he approached what he thought was death with curiosity: What might come next?

Since his accident, Glowacki—an artist and computational molecular physicist—has worked to recapture that transcendence.

A VR experience called Isness-D is his latest effort. And on four key indicators used in studies of psychedelics, the program showed the same effect as a medium dose of LSD or psilocybin (the main psychoactive component of “magic” mushrooms), according to a recent study in Nature Scientific Reports.

Isness-D is designed for groups of four to five people based anywhere in the world. Each participant is represented as a diffuse cloud of smoke with a ball of light right about where a person’s heart would be.

Isness-D and energetic coalescence from a user's perspective. Courtesy of David Glowacki.

Participants can partake in an experience called energetic coalescence: they gather in the same spot in the virtual-reality landscape to overlap their diffuse bodies, making it impossible to tell where each person begins and ends. The resulting sense of deep connectedness and ego attenuation mirrors feelings commonly brought about by a psychedelic experience.

Turning down ego

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