Seeing-I | Personal Identity and Virtual Reality

Thanks to the advent of new technologies, we have more ways than ever to express our identities online. The well-publicized OCULUS virtual reality headset has the potential to allow for immersive environments. What happens, then, when one artist decides to subsume his own personal identity for a month in order to experience someone else’s life through a headset?

The Seeing-I project, conceived by artist Mark Farid, requires him to wear a virtual reality headset constantly for 28 days while he “lives” the life of the “Other,” a real person selected from an open application process. This Other will go about living his life normally for the 28 days while secretly recording everything he sees and does through specially-designed glasses; only his romantic partner will know what’s going on. On a 6-day time delay, Farid will then recreate all the actions the Other does, including when the Other showers, when he goes to the bathroom, and when (as well as what) he eats. The Other must be a heterosexual male in a relationship (as Farid himself is), but there are no other criteria. Farid will be in a room containing necessities (bed, shower, toilet) that will be available for public viewing 23 hours a day. He will be fed the same foods the Other eats. For Farid, human interaction during the entire 28-day period will be prohibited; even Farid’s psychologist will not speak to him or interact with him, but merely observe him, except for the daily hour when this psychologist will provide care of some kind which does not require typical human interaction. The type of care is not specified.

On the Seeing-I website, the following statement appears: “The reason for initiating this project stems from an interest in how much of the individual is an inherent personality and how large a portion of the individual is a cultural identity.”

There is one caveat: if Mark or member(s) of his team feel something is going wrong, and that his mental or physical health could be permanently affected, the project’s plug will be pulled early. Both an impartial psychologist and Farid’s personal psychologist will be on board as well.

The project will be run together with project curator Nimrod Vardi and documentary maker John Ingle.

Featured image: Oculus, © Clio Montrey.

There are 5 comments

    1. barbara_lueneburg

      Interesting train of thought. I personally find this experiment scary. In my opinion everybody should think very carefully about the implications of entering a virtual world with an instrument as immersive as the OCULI. What is my anchor in the physical world? Where does the game end? When does my “real” life get lost? What is real, what is virtual? And last but not least, whose life do we live?

      1. knitnkwilt

        My gut reaction was horror. To that I reacted with choice: shall I look for benefits or examine why it seems so awful. “Benefits”: it is an intriguing exploration of an intriguing question. I slipped from “benefit” to thinking of the Curee’s who harmed themselves by experimenting with X-Rays and others with other self experimenting, and wonder if anyone can note harm in time. The horror to me was the parallel with sensory deprivation as a torture method. While there are sensations, that there is no accord with physical actuality seems very parallel to deprivation. And then in a calmer line of thought a comparison to fantasy games and the fears that players would lose touch with reality. As I recall, few did. And then back to horror. The length of time of the immersion seemed different than the fantasy games, as does the level.

        Will he learn that the self is constructed? Does being constructed make it less “real”? To what extent are the glasses similar to/ different from the subconscious forces that construct us all? Do I/Does he have to lose my/his “real” self to prove it is constructed? And if lost, can it be regained?

        I can’t imagine an anchor in the physical world strong enough for 28 days of virtual “reality,” especially in the room described. I hope Mark has one.

      2. barbara_lueneburg

        Thank you for your profound comment. You have many valid questions there. There was quite some discussion happening on a website of mine referring to the experiment. Therefore I wrote another blog post on it. Best and happy holidays, Barbara

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