Time Travel in VR: How Far Can You Go?

A lot has been said about VR taking people to different places, however, a new dimension has been taken up by a recent study: time. Putting together a convincing enough VR can let people experience time travel or at least the illusion of it. But they can’t experience time travel if they haven’t first taken ownership of their virtual body and presence.

Researchers at Event Lab have put forward their pioneering work where key components of virtual presence are defined and how people explore their sense of self in virtual environments. It’s been found out that presence in a virtual world is basically branched into two components: place illusion (PI) and plausibility illusion (Psi). Combined together, these let the user believe as if they’re actually present in that world that lays the groundwork for taking ownership of their virtual bodies.

This presence can be broken by breaks in either place or plausibility illusion. While PI is a perceptual system and more resilient to disruptions and glitches, it is not permanent and users can return back to their feeling of presence in virtual world. On the other hand, since Psi is a cognitive function it is more difficult to recover from it once it breaks because of incoherence of environment rules – violating users’ expectations of real-world dynamics.

It becomes easier to accept the bodies in immersive environment as your own as you get more and more immersive in VR. Even if your body in immersive world is different than your real one, your brain would still accept it as your own because of the illusion created through presence and body ownership. It’s because our brains respond to stimulations the same way as they would in real life and are really fast in adapting to changes such as seeing the virtual body and accepting it as our own.

With VR presence and body ownership, VR becomes immersive enough that the person experiencing it believes that it’s real. This is essentially the reason behind it being an idea vehicle that is being used to induce time travel illusion. A famous experiment in this regard puts subjects in a position where they travel back in time and witness how their avatar acted in a certain situation.

This time travel illusion takes you outside your sense of self, challenges all preconceptions about yourself and lets you view your actions from a different perspective. Imagine having interactions with people in VR and then going back to relive those experiences even after they’ve faded from your memory.

A lot of fascinating implications can be seen with VR presence, body ownership and time travel illusion for future of VR and social interactions in that environment. Virtual Reality is not only capable of putting you into another body, but it can also change your sense of self by giving you another perspective. Although the ultimate potential of VR is still unknown, it still holds a huge advantage over other technologies since no other medium can put you in another body and make you believe it as your own.