Presence and Consciousness in Virtual Environments Mel Slater and Maria Sanchez-Vives

The objective of this workshop is to introduce 'presence research' to those interested and involved in the study of consciousness. Presence research originated with the attempt to understand and exploit the feeling of being and acting at a remote location in the context of teleoperator systems, and has been extended to the understanding of the processes involved in being in the place represented in a virtual reality. Presence has become a multidisciplinary area of research including computer science, psychology, neuroscience, and others. What characteristics of a virtual environment are crucial to generate a sense of being and acting within these virtual places? Which are the important elements in a particular stimulus (a book, a movie, etc) that make us feel immersed in a reality that is distinct from the one where we are physically present? How are computer produced virtual sensory stimuli integrated within the human perceptual system to generate an artificial sense of reality? We want to introduce here the idea that the study of presence gives us a useful tool for the study of consciousness. Technically, it provides us with a (virtual) reality that can be manipulated to explore situations in a way that is impossible in the real world. Conceptually, it restricts the study of consciousness to a limited setting, giving us a more constrained frame of reference. This approach also provides an adequate scope within which to explore the neurological basis of consciousness. A multidisciplinary approach in presence research may consequently open another window for the study of consciousness. This tutorial will provide an overview of the field, and also go in depth into specific topics. Some of these ideas have been presented in Sanchez-Vives and Slater (2005) Nature Reviews Neuroscience 6:332.