Using Virtual Reality (VR) to Manipulate time

A diverse and mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary team of experts in Euro­pean research project Vir­tu­al­times is devel­op­ing Metachron. It is the vir­tu­al real­i­ty (VR) plat­form that aims to study, manip­u­late and treat dis­tor­tions relat­ed to the sense of time. Launch of this project indi­cates that research­es on the earth are already being con­duct­ed in using Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty (VR) in order to manip­u­late time.

Maybe a cer­tain extent of time manip­u­la­tion could be pos­si­ble using Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty. But this is not to say that time trav­el would be pos­si­ble, only that a user could manip­u­late the pas­sage of time with­in an experience.

Imag­ine enter­ing the VR world at 1 AM and com­ing out of it after an hour, after liv­ing 51 days. If the expe­ri­ence includ­ed a past life, a user could come to think that 51 days had passed in the real world.

You could use this for fic­tion­al nar­ra­tives of the kind “you go back in time and learn about your parents”.

One exam­ple would be a self-con­tained VR world that you enter at 10 AM on the beach, and leave at 10 PM after spend­ing 6 weeks on the island. You could believe that you have lived a whole life and back, even though it was only one day in reality.

The issue of manip­u­lat­ing time using VR sounds cool — but what if it was not fun? It would turn out to be a hor­ror game and you have no option but to suffer.

Fur­ther­more, the word “time” means dif­fer­ent for dif­fer­ent peo­ple on the Earth, and dif­fer­ent objects in the Uni­verse. Manip­u­lat­ing time may not be pos­si­ble using just our human ideas of time.

Can we Manipulate time using VR?

Your brain’s per­cep­tion of time is a psy­cho­log­i­cal process rather than a per­cep­tion of how fast time is actu­al­ly mov­ing. If a user is in a VR com­plete­ly out of sync with the real world, the user will per­ceive time dif­fer­ent­ly from what actu­al­ly happens.

Almost every per­son has expe­ri­enced that time pass­es faster or slow­er at cer­tain times than others.

Experts have also said that hor­mones affect our per­cep­tion of time, and brain chem­istry changes as you enter into deep sleep. The same hor­mone that affects time per­cep­tion can cause your sense of space to change as well.

The effect to make your lose track of real­i­ty could be achieved in two ways:

1) by induc­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal drug states, and 2) by using Vir­tu­al Reality.

Using drugs could pro­duce hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry expe­ri­ences, but it’s cer­tain­ly not rec­om­mend­ed. But los­ing track of real­i­ty with VR seems to be fun, and if it’s pos­si­ble, it’s the future!

Is it possible to manipulate time using Virtual Reality?

It is pos­si­ble to manip­u­late time using Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty up to an extent, but the poten­tial down­side of this kind of tech­nol­o­gy can have a neg­a­tive impact on the use of VR as a tool.

The user could become addict­ed to their own expe­ri­ence, trans­port­ed into a world where time is not nec­es­sar­i­ly pro­gress­ing and pass­ing as they would expect it to.

When they exit the vir­tu­al world, they will be “in” dif­fer­ent time zones with dif­fer­ent per­cep­tion of time, caus­ing severe psy­cho­log­i­cal discomfort.

Albert Einstein’s pop­u­lar the­o­ry of rel­a­tiv­i­ty is that time can slow down as objects reach the speed of light, and this may allow for time trav­el. How­ev­er, things would slow down dif­fer­ent­ly in dif­fer­ent ref­er­ence frames, result­ing in the expe­ri­ence of time pass­ing nor­mal­ly while the pas­sage of time is altered in anoth­er ref­er­ence frame.

The Lorentz fac­tor, named after the Dutch physi­cist Hen­drik Lorentz, γ (gam­ma) is giv­en by the equa­tion γ ≡ Lorentz Fac­tor, so that the effect increas­es expo­nen­tial­ly as the object’s veloc­i­ty v approach­es the speed of light c. 

Hence, the cal­cu­la­tions make it clear that at 25% of the speed of light, the effect is just 1.03 (a mere 3% slow­ing of time or con­trac­tion of length). Like­wise, at 50%, it is just 1.15, at 99%, time is slowed by a fac­tor of about 7 and at 99.999% of the speed of light, the fac­tor is 224. 

There­fore, if it were pos­si­ble to trav­el in a space­ship at 99.5% of the speed of light, a hypo­thet­i­cal observ­er look­ing in would see the clock mov­ing about 10 times slow­er than nor­mal and the astro­naut inside mov­ing in slow-motion, as though through treacle.

Lorentz had been explor­ing such trans­for­ma­tion equa­tions since as ear­ly as 1895, long before Ein­stein began his work.

Here 11 ways you can manipulate time in Virtual Reality

1) Travel at the near-light speed — 

Imag­ine trav­el­ing at the speed of light (or almost) in Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty. Time will go slow­er for you, and peo­ple will per­ceive that you have trav­eled in time. As men­tioned above, we can nev­er trav­el at the speed of light phys­i­cal­ly, Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty might help us trav­el at the speed of light and hence slow down time.

2) Enter a Virtual Reality where time is stretched — 

Think about trav­el­ing at near the speed of light in a world where time is mov­ing abnor­mal­ly slow. Peo­ple will per­ceive that time has moved faster than nor­mal, and you have been “trav­el­ing” for longer than you think.

3) Multiple lives inside VR — 

Imag­ine being able to manip­u­late your per­cep­tion of time while inside the Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty expe­ri­ence, result­ing in an effect sim­i­lar to liv­ing mul­ti­ple lives or expe­ri­enc­ing an extend­ed lifes­pan with­in a short peri­od of time.

4) Creating new experiences — 

VR feels more like a real life new expe­ri­ence, so your brain records more infor­ma­tion mak­ing it feel like time was slower/longer. As most of us are aware of, time moves faster as we age because we cre­ate less unique expe­ri­ences as we grow up. VR can help cre­ate more expe­ri­ences that are unique to us. This direct­ly means an influ­ence on our per­cep­tion of time.

5) Adding negative effects to time — 

If you are con­trol­ling or manip­u­lat­ing a user’s time in some way using VR, it is pos­si­ble to add neg­a­tive aspects to time. If a user enters a VR world and sees that their hair is falling out or some­thing else is wrong, time will move slow­er for the user caus­ing them to feel old and grey. And, if a user looks into their clos­et, this could be per­ceived as their life flash­ing before them when they look towards the mir­ror, which could make them feel depressed about look­ing old­er than they real­ly are.

6) Manipulating time in a positive way -

Sim­i­lar to the exam­ple of an extend­ed lifes­pan, it is pos­si­ble to manip­u­late time to cre­ate an expe­ri­ence that makes peo­ple hap­py and excit­ed. Enjoy­able expe­ri­ences can ensure that the Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty world will attract a user even if they are enjoy­ing the expe­ri­ence. This would great­ly con­tribute to the long-term suc­cess of vir­tu­al real­i­ty devices.

7) Increase time in real life — 

Imag­ine enter­ing a VR world and stay­ing there for as long as you want with­out going back into real life. Then sud­den­ly you find your­self in your house with every­thing going on nor­mal­ly as if noth­ing ever changed. But how? Well, you could have eas­i­ly been in the VR world for a long time.

8) Your body feels like it aged — 

If you use vir­tu­al real­i­ty for a long peri­od of time your body may feel like it aged years inside the VR world only hours after leav­ing it. Maybe through a game — maybe through a simulation.

If we can under­stand time, any­thing is possible.

Imag­ine being able to slow your per­cep­tion of time down to a rate of near­ly stop­ping time while get­ting old­er and feel­ing like you are work­ing faster than ever. This would change the way we expe­ri­ence dai­ly life.

If we could con­trol time inside a vir­tu­al real­i­ty, it would become more impor­tant than ever before. It would make Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty an ulti­mate tool! It’d be like being in a Matrix world where peo­ple can­not tell the dif­fer­ence between real and vir­tu­al because both feel very real.

9) Make your brain think it’s the future — 

If you enter a VR world and find your­self in a place where all of your sens­es are telling you that it is “the future”, time could move slow­er for you than it would have in real­i­ty. This per­cep­tion could be manip­u­lat­ed using VR, but no real tech­nol­o­gy is avail­able right now. read more

10) Reverse time — 

If you enter a VR world where time is run­ning back­wards, you will per­ceive time as mov­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion, but you may not real­ize it! If you return to the real world, you would have expe­ri­enced a much longer time than you think.

11) Break the laws of physics in VR — 

If you man­age to break the laws of physics in Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty and live there, you have just man­aged to defeat the laws of nature. It would make sense that you could manip­u­late time as well, using this type of technology.

What will it take to manipulate time in VR?

We can’t say for sure. But here are some possibilities:

i) Simulation of the brain — 

It’s pos­si­ble that the brain is capa­ble of sim­u­lat­ing itself, and acts as if it were in anoth­er world. If the brain is capa­ble of doing this, maybe it can be sim­u­lat­ed in a com­put­er.

ii) Artificial Intelligence — 

Maybe some peo­ple will under­stand sci­ence and fig­ure out how to sim­u­late their brains inside a com­put­er or some­thing sim­i­lar — or even train an AI (Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence) to mim­ic their brain activ­i­ty. read more

iii) Holographic technology -

If we ever do fig­ure out a way to make life­like holo­grams, we could cre­ate a vir­tu­al real­i­ty world in 2D and 3D and manip­u­late time for the vir­tu­al real­i­ty user.

iv) Brain stimulation — 

Men­tal dis­or­ders such as schiz­o­phre­nia can some­times cause “visions” of things that are not real. It may be pos­si­ble to stim­u­late the brain in order to give a user an expe­ri­ence of time in reverse or slow­ing down, etc.

v) Memory manipulation — 

If a soft­ware can be writ­ten to manip­u­late an individual’s mem­o­ry, it would be pos­si­ble to con­trol time as well. We could use Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty to induce feel­ings of fear, sad­ness or any­thing that could be used as a “weapon” against someone.

vi) Simply creating a VR game that makes you age slower — 

As we dis­cussed ear­li­er too, it might be pos­si­ble to cre­ate a VR game that makes you age slow­er and feel like time has slowed down or reversed. Would this real­ly work though? Yes, but only as long as you are in the VR world. Just live 10 years in 10 hours and come back for din­ner. Cool, isn’t it. It could be made pos­si­ble by con­nect­ing VR to the brain’s mem­o­ry and neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty maybe. 

vii) A new way of thinking time — 

It is com­plete­ly pos­si­ble that there is a new way of think­ing that has nev­er been dis­cov­ered! Let’s say you could enter a VR world that makes you feel like your brain could be hav­ing an “out of body” expe­ri­ence. If this were pos­si­ble, it would alter the per­cep­tion of your brain and change your per­cep­tion of time forever.

viii) Making someone think they are in a different dimension — 

If you could con­vince some­one that they are some­where else, per­haps far from the real world, time might appear to go faster for that indi­vid­ual because the per­son would be more aware of events hap­pen­ing around him or her. It is pos­si­ble in the­o­ry but is very dif­fi­cult to do — so we will dis­cuss more about this lat­er on in anoth­er article.

ix) Brainwave manipulation — 

If you stim­u­late your brain with elec­tri­cal impuls­es or oth­er chem­i­cals, it could be pos­si­ble to make a user feel like time is slow­ing down or going in reverse. 

x) Creating dreams in VR — 

Imag­ine lit­er­al­ly dream­ing in VR. When you are in VR, you feel relaxed and your brain is in a state of low-fre­quen­cy waves that are clos­er to the “alpha state”. This alpha brain­wave state allows for cre­ativ­i­ty and vision­ary thought, along with relax­ation. When you dream, your brain waves will be very sim­i­lar to what they get when you are in a low-fre­quen­cy alpha state.

I won­der if we can arti­fi­cial­ly cre­ate the same low fre­quen­cy brain­wave states inside VR, could we induce dreams? Could we sim­u­late the same brain activ­i­ty expe­ri­enced dur­ing nor­mal dreams?

xi) Other —

It’s pos­si­ble that we are all able to manip­u­late our per­cep­tion of time already, but we may be unaware of it. Maybe it’s just a feel­ing of bore­dom, hav­ing free time on your hands. Maybe it’s a chance to do some­thing new and unique every day.

In addi­tion, maybe it’s a change in diet or dif­fer­ent hob­bies that could change the way we per­ceive time. Maybe you could use VR in order to train someone’s brain in order to extend their lifes­pan or slow down their per­cep­tion of time with­out feel­ing old.

xii) Creating a VR world with time manipulation — 

If our Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty sys­tem is able to stim­u­late all 5 sens­es through advanced tech­nol­o­gy, you could pro­gram it to make the user believe that there is no time anymore!

It would be pos­si­ble to cre­ate a vir­tu­al real­i­ty world where time does not exist for the user. The brain would believe that this type of expe­ri­ence actu­al­ly hap­pened and would record it in mem­o­ry, which would make it seem like it took place over a long peri­od of time even if only sec­onds or min­utes passed.

Harms of using VR for manipulating time

a) Causing Psychological Distress — 

A user can poten­tial­ly dis­tort the per­cep­tion of how much time has passed in the real world while they are in VR. This is harm­ful because it can cause psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress in peo­ple who have a strong belief in time as a pro­gres­sion or movement.

b) Individualized Intervention — 

One of the things that scares me is that peo­ple may enter into Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty expect­ing some emo­tion­al input but find out that they are not get­ting what they expected.

Instead of hav­ing expe­ri­enced some­thing good, they could expe­ri­ence some­thing hor­rid and trau­ma­tiz­ing, which would make them long to exit the VR because they have no way to escape it!

c) Psychological Effects — 

A pro­longed use of Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty can have a strong impact on the per­son psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly. Espe­cial­ly if the design of a VR world is to be pleas­ant and not scary, then it’s pos­si­ble to make Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty scary enough that it becomes sim­i­lar to drugs.

d) Delay in Progress — 

If you are watch­ing a movie about peo­ple in an old time; the last 20 min­utes of the movie would be in slow motion because you felt bored with what was happening.

Using Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty, peo­ple could expe­ri­ence this effect where they would find that time goes faster at cer­tain points in an expe­ri­ence, which would delay their progress as they would want to stay longer inside the world.

e) Unfavorable perception of time passing -

If you were to use VR as a form of trans­porta­tion, you may find that time pass­es dif­fer­ent­ly while you are in the VR world. That would cause prob­lems if anoth­er per­son expects or expects you to be some­where at a cer­tain time.

f) Manipulation of perceptions — 

The per­cep­tion that it is pos­si­ble to manip­u­late the speed of the pas­sage of time using Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty will cause changes in the mind of a user often­times lead­ing to psy­cho­log­i­cal effects.

Get­ting over the wrong expec­ta­tions can be harm­ful to some peo­ple who will tin­ker with their state until they would feel like they are los­ing their mind.

g) No way out — 

This is def­i­nite­ly the most ter­ri­fy­ing one of all. If you man­age to enjoy the vir­tu­al world for­ev­er, it’s still fine. But what if it was not fun? You could lit­er­al­ly get stuck inside it with a real sense of time. What could be more terrifying ?

Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty is a still fair­ly new tech­nol­o­gy, and we are just start­ing to learn how we can use it.

Although new research pub­lished in JMIR Men­tal Health has found that vir­tu­al real­i­ty (VR) can be use­ful in the treat­ment of anx­i­ety and depres­sion, peo­ple with such health prob­lems may encounter more dif­fi­cul­ty than oth­ers when it comes to con­trol­ling the per­cep­tion of time in Vir­tu­al Reality.

I think tech­nol­o­gy is get­ting there. But I don’t think that we can con­trol this kind of tech­nol­o­gy. And there will always be cir­cum­stances where time manip­u­la­tion could have neg­a­tive effects on a person’s psychology.

We will see how this tech­nol­o­gy devel­ops over time. But for now, I rec­om­mend that peo­ple who suf­fer from severe anx­i­ety dis­or­ders or depres­sion should avoid using VR for enter­tain­ment purposes.

Is this related to time travel?

There are some peo­ple who believe that time trav­el is pos­si­ble using the tech­nol­o­gy of Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty. Time trav­el itself can’t exist unless time exists, so time doesn’t exist in the first place. Also, the future is dif­fer­ent from what sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers have imagined.

So how could a user “trav­el” to the past or future? Using Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty to manip­u­late time could cre­ate an expe­ri­ence where it feels like they are in a dif­fer­ent point in time and space that they would expect to be expe­ri­enc­ing if they were stand­ing and watch­ing it hap­pen right now.

This would give a user the sense that they were actu­al­ly trav­el­ing through space and through time, but their body remained sta­tion­ary. It is pos­si­ble that this is what time trav­el­ers will expe­ri­ence when trav­el­ing in the future, but it does not mean that time has passed at the same speed for them and their friends, fam­i­ly, and pets.

Vir­tu­al real­i­ty can be a way to exper­i­ment with all sorts of things, from trav­el­ing to the past, or cre­at­ing a new life for our­selves where we won’t have any bad memories.

But we are not talk­ing about the cur­rent-day VR gog­gles, of course. The future VR tech­nol­o­gy is going to be dif­fer­ent. read more

As I men­tioned before, what we are talk­ing about here is not actu­al­ly time trav­el, but rather a sense of time manip­u­la­tion where it feels like time has passed dif­fer­ent­ly in our minds.

The future of vir­tu­al real­i­ty is cer­tain — ‘the future is vir­tu­al reality’.

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