KINDLING A SENSE OF PRESENCE: LESSONS FROM VIRTUAL REALITY

Friday, November 18

4:30 PM – 4:45 PM

Hilton, Room: Salon B

Presenting Author: Cordelia Erickson-Davis  Stanford University

 Presence, or the sense of “being there,” is frequently invoked in descriptions of religious experience (e.g., the “presence of God”), unseen others (e.g., Third Man Syndrome) or one’s self (e.g., to feel fully present in the moment). Rather than a mere sensation, presence can be considered an existential feeling, or a way of finding oneself in the world (Ratcliffe, 2005). Furthermore, feelings of presence can be seen within the framework of “kindling” – the manifestation of interaction between bodily constraint and cultural invitation (Cassiniti & Luhrmann, 2014). For example, Luhrmann (2010) found that in contemporary Christian prayer practice, those with a proclivity toward absorption were more likely to report a stronger sense of the presence of God. Presence is also readily invoked in the world of virtual reality, where it is used to measure the immersiveness of a virtual environment. Virtual reality allows for the creation of complex, controlled environments in which one can manipulate specific sensory content and observe their effects on perception, including the sense of presence. It is thus a valuable tool for exploring kindling and existential feelings. I will discuss an ongoing study in which we use virtual reality to explore the interaction between sensory experience and absorption in creating a sense of presence. It will be considered as an example of what it means to enact an experimental approach in social science research.

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