About this topic
Summary

Virtual Reality (VR) is a relatively recent topic in philosophy, with most work emerging from the 1990s onwards. Though there is no single accepted definition of VR, plausibly whatever definition we accept must include what we experience when using modern virtual reality devices -  like the HTC Vive, Meta Quest, or Playstation VR - as paradigmatic instances. 

Currently there are at least two major philosophical accounts of VR. The first, provided by David Chalmers (2017, 2019, 2022), maintains that VR is computer-generated, interactive, and immersive. The second, provided by Grant Tavinor (2021), construes virtualization as the process of instantiating an item’s structure and function in a novel or unfamiliar medium, and VR technology as a new medium that seeks to virtualize experience. 

While VR is new, it is related to a number of traditional and recent philosophical topics. Traditional topics include skepticism, envattment, illusions and hallucinations, and what we value. More recent topics includes video games, digital artifacts, computer simulations, and the simulation hypothesis. This is reflected in the wide range of philosophical debates around VR. These include issues about the nature of VR and VR technology; knowledge, ethics, and politics in VR; perception, memory, and other psychological states in VR; the aesthetics of VR; and VR’s relation to other technologies, in particular video games, augmented reality, and the Metaverse.

Key works

For a central account of virtual reality with a comprehensive look at the topic’s connection to different issues in philosophy, see Chalmers 2022 . For another central account, focusing on the connection between  VR, media, perception, and aesthetics, see Tavinor 2021

For an overview of VR from different perspectives, see The Oxford Handbook of Virtuality edited by Mark Grimshaw-Aagaard. For some of the recent issues around VR, see Disputatio 11 (55).

For the central debate on the nature and reality of VR, see Chalmers 2017 and McDonnell & Wildman 2019, which offer early statements of two core positions. 

For another central debate on the value of VR, see Cogburn & Silcox 2014 who respond to Nozick’s claims about value in the experience machine. For discussions that further develop this issue, see Brey 1999 and Ali 2023

Introductions While not articles, both these books contain excellent introductory chapters and sections:

Chalmers, David John (2022). Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy. New York: W. W. Norton. (see

Tavinor, Grant (2021). The Aesthetics of Virtual Reality. New York: Routledge.

For some helpful early papers that have been influential on current debates, see:

Brey, Philip (1999). The ethics of representation and action in virtual reality. Ethics and Information Technology 1 (1):5-14.

Chalmers, David J. (2017). The Virtual and the Real. Disputatio 9 (46):309-352.

McDonnell, Neil&Wildman, Nathan (2019). Virtual Reality: Digital or Fictional? Disputatio 11 (55):371-397.

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  1. What is Real in Virtual Reality?Paweł Grabarczyk - 2024 - Roczniki Filozoficzne 72 (1):79-98.
    The paper discusses the thesis of virtual realism presented by David Chalmers in his paper “The Virtual and the Real” (2017). Here, I suggest an even stronger version of the claim that I call “virtual physicalism”. According to this view, virtual objects are not only real but physical as they are identical to the physical states of computers that run VR software. I suggest that virtual objects should have a similar ontological status to toys—they should be treated as models or (...)
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  2. "Virtual reality" as a tool for global manipulation of socio-cultural identity.Pavel Gennadievich Bylevskiy - forthcoming - Philosophy and Culture (Russian Journal).
    The subject of the article is the philosophical and cultural methodology of digital "virtual reality", comparing the declarations of developers with the practical possibilities and social consequences of using such technologies. The developers presented projects of online digital content services for all five senses using special equipment (glasses, headphones, interactive gloves, joysticks, costumes, printers of smells and tastes, etc.). It was assumed that virtual reality would surpass the reliability of previous multimedia content and interactive computer games, and the persuasiveness and (...)
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  3. The Rendered Universe: Why Virtual Reality Unlocks the Secret of Consciousness.David Christopher Lane - 2024 - In Prem Saran Satsangi, Anna Margaretha Horatschek & Anand Srivastav (eds.), Consciousness Studies in Sciences and Humanities: Eastern and Western Perspectives. Springer Verlag. pp. 101-123.
    Today with the advent of ever-increasing scientific advances, we are on the threshold of better understanding why consciousness evolved and how it works. This became apparent when the computational semblance of the mind faltered when neuroscientists and philosophers realized that awareness was not merely digital. However, with virtual reality (VR), augmented reality, and mixed reality (MR), our models of how consciousness functions are becoming much clearer to grasp since we now have the ability to simulate in four dimensions an all-encompassing (...)
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  4. Gamification of a person’s spatial and temporal existence in the context of virtual reality.Oksana Novikova - 2021 - Sotsium I Vlast 4:128-137.
    The article considers the spatial and temporal changes manifested in the virtual form of gamification of existence. The definition of the virtual form of gamification of existence is given. On the basis of included observation, the spatial and temporal transformations of socio-cultural reality are rethought, and the philosophical-anthropological approach makes it possible to establish the dependence of the strategies of individual and group behaviour on the inclusion of game actions in the virtual existence. The analysis of the virtual form of (...)
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  5. How to Speak Silently — Rethinking Materiality, Agency, and Communicative Competence in Virtual Reality.Maria A. Erofeeva, Nils O. Klowait & Denis Zababurin - 2022 - Sociology of Power 34 (3-4):156-181.
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  6. Jay David Bolter, Maria Engberg, Blair MacIntyre, Reality media. Augmented and virtual reality Cambridge (MA)-London, The MIT Press, 2021, pp. 248.Lorenzo Manera - 2023 - Studi di Estetica 27 (3).
    Firstly, this contribution proposes to address synthographies – images generated through Text-to-image technologies – by deepening the epistemological shift related to the possibility of transposing the image-creation process from the analogue arts to the notational ones (or, by drawing on Nelson Goodman's terminology, from the “autographic” to the “allographic” forms of art). Secondly, the paper highlights how synthographies can be considered partly autographic and partly allographic, since the linguistic prompts constitute only the notational aspect of the generated images. Furthermore, this (...)
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  7. Doing Good with Virtual Reality: The Ethics of Using Virtual Simulations for Improving Human Morality.Jon Rueda (ed.) - 2023 - New York: Routledge.
    Much of the excitement and concern with virtual reality (VR) has to do with the impact of virtual experiences on our moral conduct in the “real world”. VR technologies offer vivid simulations that may impact prosocial dispositions and abilities or emotions related to morality. Whereas some experiences could facilitate particular moral behaviors, VR could also inculcate bad moral habits or lead to the surreptitious development of nefarious moral traits. In this chapter, I offer an overview of the ethical debate about (...)
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  8. Seeing Ghosts. Apperception, Accordance and the Mode of Living Presence in Perception.Poljanšek Tom - 2022 - In Thiemo Breyer, Marco Cavallaro & Rodrigo Sandoval (eds.), Phenomenology of Phantasy and Emotion. Darmstadt: WBG. pp. 145-180.
    Based on Husserl’s distinction between mode of living presence (Modus der Leibhaftigkeit) and mode of certainty (Glaubensmodus der Gewißheit), which coincide in normal univocal perception, the paper argues for a distinction between two different types of accordance (Einstimmigkeit) in perceptual experience – local accordance and global accordance. While local accordance is characterized by the unfolding of appearances in agreement with lines of accordance instituted by recent perceptual apprehensions within a certain spatio-temporal domain, global accordance is characterized by the agreement between (...)
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  9. Virtuality+: The physical body in virtual reality and the path toward augmented virtuality.Philippe Bédard - 2023 - Aisthesis: Pratiche, Linguaggi E Saperi Dell’Estetico 16 (1):61-72.
    While many scholars have decried the erasure of the body in virtual reality (VR), this paper focuses on the body – and the physical reality for which it stands – as a critical component of any experience of virtual reality. Specifically, studying VR from the perspective of the physical body allows for a more nuanced appreciation of the unique reality of this «virtual» reality. Moreover, this paper argues that the body should not be seen as a distraction from the immersive (...)
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  10. Lost in communication: The relationship between hikikomori and virtual reality in Japanese anime.Mariapaola Della Chiara - 2023 - Aisthesis: Pratiche, Linguaggi E Saperi Dell’Estetico 16 (1):85-93.
    Nowadays virtual reality has gained extreme popularity among adolescents around the world, thanks to the possibility they offer to create a new life for their users. Especially for teenagers affected by the hikikomori syndrome, who experience struggles in establishing communication with others, virtual reality has become a tool to forsake their “adverse” reality, shaping fictitious safe environments and creating relationships with similar-minded users. This issue of virtual reality has been depicted in recent Japanese animation, whose country is mostly affected by (...)
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  11. Virtual Domes. Utopian architecture at the dawn of Virtual Reality.Margherita Fontana - 2023 - Aisthesis: Pratiche, Linguaggi E Saperi Dell’Estetico 16 (1):95-103.
    This paper examines the theoretical and practical aspects of geodesic dome architecture in North America as part of an aesthetic of virtualization. Geodesic domes can be conceived of as virtual environments designed as alternatives to the contemporary world and its internal crises. They were originally a tool of the American counterculture of the 1960s to search for futuristic housing solutions which responded to ecological concerns. The contribution traces some of the most important phases of dome architecture, which crossed paths with (...)
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  12. Philosophy of the Internet. A Discourse on the Nature of the Internet.Laszlo Ropolyi - 2013 - Budapest: Eötvös University.
  13. Introduction – Phenomenology and virtuality.Jean du Toit - 2020 - Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology 20 (1):e1896236.
    ABSTRACT The technological virtual converges with our contemporary existence in a multitude of ways, which suggests a need to interrogate the question of the virtual existentially. Merleau-Ponty’s existential phenomenological account of embodiment is invaluable in this regard because the virtual is encountered from the basis of the facticity of the embodied individual – a facticity that is closely related to perception and motor intentionality. The current article argues that these characteristics of the body-subject should be taken into consideration in order (...)
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  14. Nihilismus der Transparenz. Grenzen der Medienphilosophie Jean Baudrillards.Gregor Schiemann - 2013 - In Jan-Hendrik Möller (ed.), Paradoxalität des Medialen. Fink Verlag. pp. 237-254.
    Jean Baudrillards Kulturphilosophie läßt sich durch die Behauptung charakterisieren, daß die Medien in der modernen Kultur vorherrschend geworden sind. Seine These, die Medien hätten jeden Bezug zu einer von ihnen unabhängigen Realität verloren, haben zahlreiche Autorinnen und Autoren nihilistisch genannt. Das Zutreffende dieser Kennzeichnung verdankt sich im Wesentlichen einem eingeschränkten, auf das 19. Jahrhundert zurückweisenden Begriff des Nihilismus. Allerdings nimmt Baudrillard auf Phänomene Bezug, die er historisch später verortet und die sich ihrer Struktur nach kategorial von den Funktionen der Medien (...)
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  15. Ethische aspecten van virtual reality - Ontwerpers van virtual reality kunnen zeer intensieve ervaringen teweegbrengen. Ze hebben hiervoor een verantwoordelijkheid, vooral als de virtual reality is bedoeld voor opleiding en training.Philip Brey - 1999 - Filosofie En Praktijk 20:31-44.
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  16. Virtual Seminar on the Bioapparatus.Banff Centre for the Arts - 1991 - [Banff, Alta.] : Banff Centre for the Arts.
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  17. The Virtual Reality of Homo Economicus.Philip Pettit - 1995 - The Monist 78 (3):308-329.
    The economic explanation of individual behaviour, even behaviour outside the traditional province of the market, projects a distinctively economic image on the minds of the agents involved. It suggests that, in regard to motivation and rationality, they conform to the profile of homo economicus. But this suggestion, by many lights, flies in the face of common sense; it conflicts with our ordinary assumptions about how we each feel and think in most situations, certainly most non-market situations, and about how that (...)
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  18. Virtual life and perpetualogy (self-preservation of virtual entities in computational technology).L. Andrasik - 1998 - Filozofia 53 (1):15-26.
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  19. The Triumph of Virtual Reality.Glenn McLaren - 2012 - Cosmos and History 8 (1):383-411.
    Where will the philosophers of the future come from and can we have civilization without them? In this paper I argue that there is a co-dependent relationship between philosophy and civilization, one that has emerged and developed in relation to the emergence of information technologies, particularly writing and print and conditions for deep and prolonged concentration. The internet, however, today’s powerful information technology which is increasingly mediating humanities relationships, is proving to be a technology which threatens this relationship. The internet (...)
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  20. From virtual reality to the unimaginable body of the image: Teresa of Avila's interior castle.Juan Duchesne - 1997 - The European Legacy 2 (4):742-748.
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  21. La desmaterialización parcial de la realidad.Sebastián González Montero - 2006 - Logos. Anales Del Seminario de Metafísica [Universidad Complutense de Madrid, España] 10:38-48.
    The last technological developments have introduced in life of human beans a enormous amount of hardware’s, communication systems, informatic systems. But it has brought too a multiplicity of images, objects and sensitive experiences that has a direct effect in social life. It can be said that this amount of present elements deserve to be subject of analysis, to tray to clarify the nature of informatic technology and its political impact. That means that far over history of scientific developments, its is (...)
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  22. Real confusions on virtual phenomena.Renato Rodrigues Kinouchi - 2006 - Scientiae Studia 4 (1):139-143.
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  23. The artificial intelligensia and virtual worlds.Stacey Edgar - 1997 - Acm Sigcas Computers and Society 27 (2):27-31.
  24. Uma proposta para o tratamento de fobias de direção através da criação de rotas automotivas virtuais.José Gustavo de Souza Paiva, Alexandre Cardoso & Edgard Lamounier Jr - 2007 - Aletheia: An International Journal of Philosophy 25:97-108.
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  25. introduction to singularity edition of JCS.Uziel Awret - 2012 - Journal of Consciousness Studies 19 (1-2):7-15.
    This special interactive interdisciplinary issue of JCS on the singularity and the future relationship of humanity and AI is the first of two issues centered on David Chalmers’ 2010 JCS article ‘The Singularity, a Philosophical Analysis’. These issues include more than 20 solicited commentaries to which Chalmers responds. To quote Chalmers: -/- "One might think that the singularity would be of great interest to Academic philosophers, cognitive scientists, and artificial intelligence researchers. In practice, this has not been the case. Good (...)
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  26. Estetyka wirtualności.Michał Ostrowicki (ed.) - 2005 - Kraków: Tow. Autorów i Wydawców Prac Naukowych "Universitas".
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  27. A impossível experiência final da modernidade: prolegómenos a uma teoria do virtual.Jorge Leandro Rosa - 2005 - Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.
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  28. Filosofía y realidad virtual.César Moreno, Rafael Lorenzo & Alicia Ma de Mingo (eds.) - 2007 - Zaragoza: Prensas Universitarias de Zaragoza.
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  29. Uwagi na temat ontologii wirtualnej rzeczywistości.Izabela Bondecka-Krzykowska - 2012 - Filozofia Nauki 20 (4).
    The article is an attempt at collecting some views on ontology of virtual reality (VR). Two types of definitions of virtual reality are discussed and compared: technological (concentrated on technical features of VR) and psychological (concentrated on people’s experiences with VR). In the paper features of virtual reality such as: interaction, artificiality, simulation, full body immersion, networked communications, telepresence and immersion are presented as forming differentia specifica of virtual reality. The main studied issues are ontological problems connected with virtual reality (...)
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  30. Los nuevos entornos educativos. Desafíos cognitivos para una inteligencia colectiva.María G. Navarro - 2009 - Comunicar 33 (XVII):141-148.
    Comprender las tecnologías de la comunicación a la luz de las redes con que se comunican y entran en cooperación las personas ha sido una constante en autores que no han disociado su visión acerca del significado de las tecnologías respecto a los nuevos movimientos sociales. Este artículo sostiene que las TIC no son sólo una red a la que se suman los individuos, sino que actúan como tecnologías sociales cuyo perfeccionamiento depende tanto de la diversidad de sus funciones (socio-políticas, (...)
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  31. Langan, Thomas. Surviving the Age of Virtual Reality. [REVIEW]Robert Burch - 2001 - Review of Metaphysics 55 (1):147-148.
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  32. Immersive ideals / critical distances : study of the affinity between artistic ideologies in virtual Reality and previous immersive idioms.Joseph Nechvatal (ed.) - 2010 - Berlin: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing AG & Co KG.
    My research into Virtual Reality technology and its central property of immersion has indicated that immersion in Virtual Reality (VR) electronic systems is a significant key to the understanding of contemporary culture as well as considerable aspects of previous culture as detected in the histories of philosophy and the visual arts. The fundamental change in aesthetic perception engendered by immersion, a perception which is connected to the ideal of total-immersion in virtual space, identifies certain shifts in ontology which are relevant (...)
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  33. The Virtual Reality of Fact vs. Value.William C. Frederick - 1994 - Business Ethics Quarterly 4 (2):171-173.
  34. Virtual Reality: Consciousness Really Explained! (Third Edition).Jerome Iglowitz - 2010 - JERRYSPLACE Publishing.
    Employing the ideas of modern mathematics and biology, seen in the context of Ernst Cassirer's "Symbolic Forms, the author presents an entirely new and novel solution to the classical mind-brain problem. This is a "hard" book, I'm sorry, but it is the problem itself, and not me which has made it so. I say that Dennett, and, indeed, the whole of academia is wrong.
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  35. [Book Chapter].Dr C. Coelho, Prof J. G. Tichon, Dr T. J. Hine, Dr G. M. Wallis & Prof G. Riva - 2006
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  36. War games and operations research.Walter E. Cushen - 1955 - Philosophy of Science 22 (4):309-320.
    SummaryThe problems of operations research, optimized at the tactical and strategic level, have a domain of interest much broader than many of its earlier suboptimization problems. Its appeal to scientific method requires the construction of a model from which predictions can be made. This model must have the comprehensive character of those proposed by philosophy and the sciences. Such a model is available in the form of war gaming, a traditional military training vehicle transformed in such a way as to (...)
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  37. Virtual gravity and the duality of reality.Efthimios Harokopos - unknown
    It is shown that a hypothesis about gravity having a virtual cause implies there are two primary reference frames, a reality and a functional virtual reality and an equivalence principle relating the two is postulated. A mathematical expression relating the primary reference frames to the state of reality provides an explanation of particle-wave duality and resolves the controversy about the speed of gravity. A model for motion, time and particle formation is briefly discussed, in which the hypothesis about the virtual (...)
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  38. A virtual solution to the frame problem.Jonathan A. Waskan - forthcoming - Proceedings of the First IEEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robots.
    We humans often respond effectively when faced with novel circumstances. This is because we are able to predict how particular alterations to the world will play out. Philosophers, psychologists, and computational modelers have long favored an account of this process that takes its inspiration from the truth-preserving powers of formal deduction techniques. There is, however, an alternative hypothesis that is better able to account for the human capacity to predict the consequences worldly alterations. This alternative takes its inspiration from the (...)
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  39. Virtual worlds: a journey in hype and hyperreality.Benjamin Woolley - 1992 - Cambridge, USA: Blackwell.
    In Virtual Worlds, Benjamin Woolley examines the reality of virtual reality.
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Ethics of Virtual Reality
  1. La regulación de los drones y la protección de los derechos fundamentales: especial atención a la tutela del menor (The regulation of drones and the protection of fundamental rights: special attention to the protection of minors).Joaquin Sarrión - 2018 - In Desafíos de la protección de menores en la sociedad digital: Internet, redes sociales y comunicación, Francisco Javier Durán Ruiz (dir.), Tirant lo blanch, 2018, ISBN 978-84-9169-753-4,. Valencia: Tirant lo Blanch. pp. 385-411.
    This paper is an approach to the regulation of drones and the protection of fundamental rights, particularly in relation to the use of drones equipped with image and data capture technologies, with special attention to the position and protection of minors.
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  2. Virtual terrors.Emmanuel Ordóñez Angulo - 2022 - Noûs 57 (4):877-904.
    A long‐standing aim of cinema – in particular of ‘extreme’, ‘unwatchable’ or ‘feel‐ bad’ cinema – has been to acquaint viewers with extreme suffering. In this article I first offer an explication of that aim in terms of recent work in philosophy of mind, then exploit the resulting framework to examine claims to the effect that a new technological development, Virtual Reality, provides cinema's best shot at achieving that aim.
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  3. A philosophical discussion of the implications and limitations of using Virtual Reality Technology (VR) as an “Empathy Machine”.Sarra Bouabdeli - unknown
    This thesis engages in a philosophical discussion on “empathy”, “virtuality”, and the use of virtual reality (VR) technology as an “empathy machine”. Here, I define empathy as the intentional activity (or skill) of recreating aspects of another subject’s emotional experience in one’s imagination to reflectively and “experientially” understand what another is feeling. As opposed to isomorphically appropriating another’s feelings to oneself, I identify empathy as third-personally “feeling with” others. After exploring the narrow and pluralistic approaches to understanding empathy, I argue (...)
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  4. Can E-Sport Gamers Permissibly Engage with Off-Limits Virtual Wrongdoings?Thomas Montefiore & Paul Formosa - 2023 - Philosophy and Technology 36 (4):1-3.
  5. I, avatar: Towards an extended theory of selfhood in immersive VR (4th edition).Anda Zahiu - 2019 - Információs Társadalom: Társadalomtudományi Folyóirat 19 (4):7-28.
    In this paper, I argue that virtual manifestations of selfhood in VR environments have a transformative effect on the users, which in turn has spillover effects in the physical world. I will argue in favor of extending our notion of personal identity as to include VR avatars as negotiable bodies that constitute a genuine part of who we are. Recent research in VR shows that users can experience the Proteus Effect and other lasting psychological changes after being immersed in VR. (...)
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  6. Emerging Technologies & Higher Education.Jake Burley & Alec Stubbs - 2023 - Ieet White Papers.
    Extended Reality (XR) and Large Language Model (LLM) technologies have the potential to significantly influence higher education practices and pedagogy in the coming years. As these emerging technologies reshape the educational landscape, it is crucial for educators and higher education professionals to understand their implications and make informed policy decisions for both individual courses and universities as a whole. -/- This paper has two parts. In the first half, we give an overview of XR technologies and their potential future role (...)
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  7. Virtual reality and computer simulation.Philip Brey - 2008 - In K. E. Himma & H. T. Tavani (eds.), The handbook of information and computer ethics. Wiley. pp. 361–384.
  8. Reconstructing Past Experience Using Virtual Reality.Graham Goodwin & Nicola Lercari - 2023 - In Patrick Londen, Jeffrey Yoshimi & Philip Walsh (eds.), Horizons of Phenomenology: Essays on the State of the Field and Its Applications. Springer Verlag. pp. 325-336.
    In this paper we review digital technologies that can be used to study what the experiences of past peoples might have been. We focus on the use of immersive virtual reality (VR) systems to frame hypotheses about the visual and auditory experiences of past individuals, based on available archeological evidence. These reconstructions of past places and landscapes are often focused on visual data. We argue that we should move beyond this ocularcentric focus by integrating sound and other modalities into VR. (...)
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  9. Olfactory Virtual Reality (OVR) for Wellbeing and Reduction of Stress, Anxiety and Pain.David Tomasi - 2021 - Journal of Medical Research and Health Sciences 4 (3).
    Olfactory Virtual Reality (OVR) for Wellbeing and Reduction of Stress, Anxiety and Pain - Journal of Medical Research and Health Sciences.
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  10. The Values of the Virtual.Rami Ali - 2023 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 40 (2):231-245.
    How do we assign values to virtual items, which include virtual objects, properties, events, subjects, worlds, environments, and experiences? In this article, I offer a framework for answering this question. After considering different value theses in the literature, I argue that whether we think these theses mutually exclusive or not turns on our view about the number of value-salient kinds virtual items belong to. Virtual monism is the view that virtual Xs belong to only one value-salient kind in relation to (...)
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  11. XR Embodiment and the Changing Nature of Sexual Harassment.Erick José Ramirez, Shelby Jennett, Jocelyn Tan, Sydney Campbell & Raghav Gupta - 2023 - Societies 13 (36).
    In this paper, we assess the impact of extended reality technologies as they relate to sexual forms of harassment. We begin with a brief history of the nature of sexual harassment itself. We then offer an account of extended reality technologies focusing specifically on psychological and hardware elements most likely to comprise what has been referred to as “the metaverse”. Although different forms of virtual spaces exist (i.e., private, semi-private, and public), we focus on public social metaverse spaces. We do (...)
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