Is it biologically possible to build a "perfect" virtual reality, in which the person in that world cannot distinguish it from the real world? (e.g. as in the movie The Matrix)

From my knowledge (which is very limited), we perceive everything as a result of electrical activity within nerves. If we were able to encode/decode the patterns of the electrical activity and understand how the brain communicates with and intercepts all the nerves between the brain and the other parts of the body, would this mean that a perfect virtual reality is possible?


closed as not constructive by Jeff, Chuck Sherrington, Artem Kaznatcheev, Steven Jeuris Dec 10 '12 at 12:46

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  • $\begingroup$ I think this is a bit too "science fiction"y (for the next few hundred years, maybe). $\endgroup$ – Chuck Sherrington Dec 4 '12 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ The generic thought experiment pertaining to this is brain in vat. It's not falsifiable. A lot of signal processing does go straight from mechanoreception to electrical signal. However, is the electrical signal where subjective experience occurs? We have no way of knowing, currently. $\endgroup$ – Keegan Keplinger Dec 4 '12 at 5:43
  • $\begingroup$ @ChuckSherrington I don't intend to discuss about the possibility of the current technology. But I suspect that there may be an inherent property of our perception which make us always be able to distinguish the virtual reality and reality. $\endgroup$ – eig Dec 4 '12 at 10:32
  • $\begingroup$ @eig Well, I think if you revised your question to ask that instead, it would get a better answer. $\endgroup$ – Chuck Sherrington Dec 4 '12 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ Since hallucinations are already a form of "virtual" reality that is undistinguishable from actual reality to the subject, maybe studies on what causes them and on their mechanisms can help shed light on the feasibility of the proposed idea? Still, I don't think we'll get to a "yes/no" answer. $\endgroup$ – Alpha Dec 7 '12 at 18:19

If you look at the phenomenon of lucid dreaming, where people consciously explore their dreams, you will recognize that perfect virtual reality is possible with the biology that is already in place.

The lucid dreaming related phenomenon called "false awakening" is another piece of evidence for perfect virtual reality. When a lucid dreamer experiences a false awakening, it is indistinguishable from reality. A person wakes up in the same bed. walks through replica rooms. Such person may use restroom, brush teeth, start making breakfast, then wake up in reality. The only two consistent differences between a false awakening and reality would be inability to see consistent time on a digital display and inability to adjust light levels with light switches. The defining characteristic of false awakenings is that they trick the dreamer into thinking the dreamer is interacting with reality.

I should probably mention that expert dreamers, those who keep a dream journal and train to remember dreams, experience their dreams more intensely. As such, it is not uncommon to hear of "hyper-real" dreams, which are more visually and cognitively clear than baseline reality.

  • $\begingroup$ Yet some lucid dreams are more real than reality. This difference in quality opens a whole range of questions about why people's cognition is not the same all the time $\endgroup$ – Alex Stone Dec 11 '12 at 4:49

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