In the future, you may not need to find psychedelic drugs to trip out — you may only need a VR headset.
Researchers from the University of Sussex’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science have developed what they call a ‘Hallucination Machine’ that pairs a VR headset with Google’s open-source DeepDream computer vision program.
You may have seen DeepDream at work in images like these, which may seem plausible at first, but quickly become breathtaking works of nonsense the longer you look at them.
DeepDream uses a special kind of neural network made for analyzing visual imagery. It achieves its trippy effects by finding and enhancing patterns in images — which can result in, for instance, dogs where there shouldn’t be dogs.
The Sussex scientists used this effect on VR videos of natural scenes in order to test whether their machine could “induce visual phenomenology” that was similar in quality to classic psychedelic drugs, and also whether it could evoke temporal distortion — a common side-effect of psychedelic trips in which one’s sense of time ‘warps.’
The result of the first test? Testers found that experiencing the Hallucination Machine was incredibly similar to the hallucinations one might see when tripping on mushrooms. The second test, however, showed that the machine wasn’t able to evoke the same sense of time-warping as psychedelic drugs.
Even without temporal distortion, however, the researchers were able to conclude that their machine provides a valuable new technique for simulating the visual experience of mind-altering drugs without the actual ingestion of those drugs.