Maybe, along with the drive to to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before, we also want to explore our minds and consciousness. And maybe inevitably that sometimes comes out to be inventing new ways to mess with our own heads. And so, the eggheads at Riken Research have developed the “Substitutional Reality System“. It is based on virtual reality technology, with the user wearing a head-mounted display. You know, that now antiquated-feeling, neck muscle-straining helmet thing many of us probably remember. So what’s new and different with this new thing?

In this new system, the “reality” that you see and hear is like the actual room you’re in currently, all pre-recorded. The catch is, the researchers don’t tell the subjects when the “reality” they’re in switches over from the current one. The user basically carries on as though they were in the original place they were brought into. But since the “reality” they’re experiencing switches at some point to invented, they might have conversations with people who aren’t really there, see objects not quite obeying the laws of physics, experience artificial deja-vu, etc. The point of this new system seems to be that the subjects are unable to distinguish between the reality they’re shown from actual reality. Test subjects only figured it out when a recording of themselves appeared. The developers hope that this system will be of use in experiments and treatments related to cognition and psychology. Then again, remember Total Recall? This could be one step closer to really messing up someone’s mind.

For you egghead readers, here’s the project as presented by the original researchers.

And a Youtube demo: