Sussex Centre for Consciousness Science

Virtual Realities

Sunday 13th October

How do we perceive something as being ‘real’, when our perception of reality perceive is not a direct reflection of the external objective world? This question has been central to the research agenda at the Sackler Centre over the last 10 years. Led by Drs. David Schwartzman and Keisuke Suzuki, with assistance from Sackler Centre researchers, we created a daylong event that examined how we construct our sense of reality. The event was run in collaboration with Wired Sussex and The Fusebox Brighton and was part of the Brighton Digital Festival.

For this event, we created a number of interactive demonstrations and novel virtual reality experiences to explore challenge people’s perception of reality.

This event showcased two brand new new VR exhibits. The first exhibit used our Substitutional Reality (SR) system. Participants wore a head mounted display (HMD) with a binocular camera attached to the front of it. We then alternated the 360-degree video feed that the participant viewed between a live feed from the HMD camera and a pre-recorded scene that was filmed earlier from the same point of view. This was done in such a way that it will be very difficult for participants to tell which is the live and which is the recorded video. Within the pre-recorded videos, we used a number of techniques that incrementally presented evidence that the viewed scene was not in fact reality. For example, in a graded manner, throughout the experience we changed the location of, and type of objects, located within the cubicle (an experimental technique known as change blindness). The idea was that throughout the experience we will move from subtle to more extreme evidence that the scene being viewed cannot be reality and is in fact a pre-recorded scene. This experience combined many of the techniques that we use in the lab to test the feeling of agency, reality and engagement with SR environments.


The second exhibit will invited participants to take part in a ‘virtual vacation’. This experience used multisensory cues to increase the sense of reality within an idyllic virtual holiday location. We used an ultra-high definition panoramic video of a tropical beach, 360 panoramic sound, heat lamp, fan and olfactory diffusor to ‘trick’ all the senses into believing that this virtual experience is real. One issue that the SR system faces when attempting to closely mimic reality is the lack of the participants body within the virtual environment. This is due to the need to pre-record some scenes in which of course the participant was not present. This installation provided a new level of immersion through the combination of SR with green screen technology, allowing us to project the participant’s body, and any real object within the cubicle into the panoramic video in real-time.  Imagine, hearing the sea lapping against the shore, as the image comes into focus you look around and see your body lying on a sun lounger on a tropical beach, you feel the heat of the sun on your face and the gentle breeze coming from the ocean. Welcome to your own virtual vacation!

Blue room

To find out more about our research that was the inspiration for these exhibits, see below for some of the Sackler Centres recent papers:

Incooporating the body into VR reserach:

SR/360 panoramic VR:

Virtual Realities