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Can Virtual Reality Be Used To Change The Past?

Mel Slater and his colleagues at the University of Barcelona recently published a study that used immersive virtual reality to induce the illusion of realistic time travel in experimental participants, who traveled back in time to try to prevent a mass murder. The researchers also explored the moral dilemmas the subjects faced when given the opportunity to change the past. Before the experiment started, the scientists asked all subjects to secretly rate three past decisions that they regretted, on a scale of one to a hundred, with one hundred representing their greatest regret. The researchers kept the information in sealed envelopes, which they returned each subject for reevaluation at the end of his or her virtual reality performance. The virtual reality scenario consisted of an art gallery with two levels: ground and upper. The participant played the role of an elevator operator that allowed visitors (computer-generated avatars) to access the two levels. The operator sat in a booth with the elevator’s controls on a panel, and could not only see the entire gallery from his or her station—including the elevator, which was an open platform that ascended or descended with a push-button command—but the operator could also see himself or herself in a mirror throughout the action. Besides the up and down button, the operator could set off an alarm that made a loud sound and froze the elevator in place—this becomes important as the story unfolds. The operator’s job started off as tedious. Six visitors ramble into the gallery, poking around and looking at art, with five of them eventually deciding to browse the upper floor (the participant used the elevator controls to give them access). One visitor stays on the ground level. After the seventh guest arrives, all hell breaks loose. It turns out he’s a cold-blooded murderer (though the participant could not know this until the shooting begins). When the soon-to-be-bad guy asks to go to the upper level, the unwary participant grants him access as usual. But when he arrives at the upper floor the he whips out a gun and proceeds to execute the five people on the upper floor from the elevator platform. Chaos ensues. The visitors scream in fear and pain—Oh! The Humanity!—and they collapse in bloody heaps. Some visitors crouch on the floor hoping to remain unnoticed, but to no avail. A woman in a pink t-shirt stumbles over the bannister after being shot, and lands broken-bodied on the ground floor. It’s gruesome and horrifying! More via Scientific American Blog Network.

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