Dreaming as a virtual reality delusion simulator: Gaining empathy whilst we sleep
The conscious experiences we have during sleep have the potential to improve our empathetic response to those who experience delusions and psychosis by supplying a virtual reality simulation of mental illness. Empathy for those with mental illness is lacking and there has been little improvement in the last decades despite efforts made to increase awareness. Our lack of empathy, in this case, may be due to an inability to accurately mentally simulate what it’s like to have a particular cognitive disorder. Dreaming can help mitigate these deficits by placing the dreamer directly into a realistic virtual simulation and thus increase their capacity for empathy. Increasing empathy would go some way towards reducing the stigma and discrimination faced by people in this group. Recent work suggests that virtual reality can increase empathy towards a variety of marginalised groups, however, this technology is limited in its ability to simulate mental illnesses such as delusions. Dreams, however, are at times virtual reality delusion simulators. They can replicate, to a reasonable degree, delusions and psychosis, and through these experiences, we can learn ‘what it’s like’ to have these conditions. It is essential that we recognise these experiences for what they are, attempt to remember and reflect on them. Instead of disregarding dreams due to their unusualness and bizarreness, we can learn from these experiences and expand our understanding of the human condition and its many forms.