By DJ Concannon
trolley on a city street.

Virtual reality is still a new resource. It has limitless potential that we haven’t even scratched the surface of. People can be exposed to experiences that they never would have had in their ordinary lives. It will have the ability to change people’s perspectives on issues, explore new worlds, and learn more about our world. The range of possibilities will cause people to question both the physical and virtual world. Virtual Reality has the ability for us to discover things about ourselves that otherwise we wouldn’t have. 

Virtual reality allows people to be transported into a computer generated world. They enter an entirely different space to be lost in. Currently we are limited by the technology of virtual reality which is still in its early stages. The headsets are bulky and the graphics are subpar. It is easy to remember that you aren’t really somewhere else. Even with those limitations virtual reality is still a space that is easy to get lost in. For example, recently I tried using VR and took part in the trolley problem.

The experience started out slow with me receiving instructions from a computer on how to operate the trolley tracks. Throughout the experience was immersive with signals going off and the train getting louder as it became closer to me. It felt like I was really in a control tower going about what would have been my normal job. The experience showed me the different ways to stop the trolley before giving me a moral dilemma. I was presented with the option of pushing a man off the side of a building in order to stop a trolley from running over a group of men working on the track. In your head the decision to push the man off feels obvious because then less people will die. But in the virtual world the decision was harder. Even though I knew it was a fake person I’d be pushing off the building it was hard for me to bring myself to do it. It made me actually think about if I would kill one person in order to save a bunch more people. On top of the fact that I had to kill him it felt different because I was physically closer to the person on the building compared to the ones on the track. I felt closer to this person compared to the workers that were on the track. In the end I didn’t push the man off the building. 

This is an example of virtual reality immersing us in a different world and the possibilities it opens up. The moral dilemma would not have been the same for me if I was just asked the question of what to do, or if I was even just playing a video game version of it on a TV. In the moment I felt like I was really there and the choice I made would have actual weight. Philosophical questions like the trolley problem are able to be explored deeper in the virtual world. You can put people in the actual position where they need to make an important decision in a position of moral quandary. This will allow people to experience uncertainty in a way that is impossible in the real world.

Another example of ways we can experience uncertainty in the virtual world is given the book Reality+  by David Chalmers. He talks about how in the future we will be able to use AI and virtual reality to run and experience simulations of the past. We can see what would’ve happened if someone different had won an election, if the Nazis won World War II, or if some technology was discovered sooner. The possibilities are endless.  We could use these simulations to help us make better decisions in the future. By figuring out the mistakes we made in the past we could use that information to help make decisions for the future. We can also use VR to run simulations of different possibilities for the present. We could use it to get firsthand experience of the effects major decisions we make would have.

Virtual reality is currently a vast place full of infinite opportunities. What we do with these opportunities are up to us. It allows us to experience things we never could in the real world. We can put ourselves in places and learn how we would react in different situations. It can be used to simulate different possibilities of what could have happened in the past. It also can be used to look at how the decisions we make could effect the future. Virtual reality gives us the ability to live new experiences. 

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