What dreams and smartphones can teach VR developers about presence

A natural idea is that the feeling of presence in VR depends on coupling between a user’s movements and the images presented in the headset. When we consider other cases that involve presence, like dreams and getting lost in your smartphone, it becomes clear that this can’t be the whole story. Presence in a space, I suggest, is fundamentally a matter of being fluent at using signs (e.g., reflected light or pixels on a screen) to gain information about that space. When you want to maximize the feeling of presence in a space for a user, you want to think about how to help them gain fluency with the signs mediating their contact with that space.

How digital fluency isolates us

Just as fluent speakers hear meanings, not sounds, fluent tech users experience the digital world represented by their devices, not the devices themselves. For the person staring down at their phone, the real world likely has fallen out of their stream of consciousness.

Depicting visual experience

Appearance and reality are not the same. If I take a photo of the cup next to me, that image may capture the physical features of the cup and surrounding scene, but in many ways it fails to reflect what it’s like for me to see the cup. Vision is dynamic and temporally extended. My … Read more

Touch as (the feeling of) reality

As you look at a nearby object, that object both looks as if you could reach out and grasp it, and it looks as if it’s an objective bit of reality that’s independent of your mind. Are these the same look? Before answering, here’s some quick context. Both looks are pretty clearly independent of a … Read more

Could you be hallucinating right now?

Descartes famously claimed that “there are no definitive signs by which to distinguish being awake from being asleep” (Cress’s translation, Meditations on First Philosophy). There are a few possible interpretations of this claim, but an influential one is phenomenological. Dreams, and hallucinations of other sorts as well, do (or at least can) reproduce what it’s … Read more

Why demonstrative thought matters

My first two published papers were on demonstrative thought. At first glance, these papers are esoteric. The first argued that phenomenal consciousness guides voluntary attention in selecting targets of demonstrative thought. The second argued that an epistemically robust information link to a potential target is not necessary to select that target for demonstrative thought. That’s a lot of jargon. It may seem as if this is stuff only specialists could care about — and may be hard to see why they care.