Many years ago I had the pleasure of taking a short vacation of three days in Orlando, Florida. Of course I had to check out Disney World as I had never been as a child, and since I don’t plan on having children of my own I thought it might be my only time to see what the fuss is all about. I must admit that I had a great time until I encountered a ride called Mission Space. This torturous “ride” is five minutes of pure terror. First of all, the mechanics of this death laden amusement chamber is exactly the same, so the rumor goes, as the G Machine that astronauts use to get accustomed to the feelings of strong gravitational forces encountered at take-off and re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. You know, that thing that spins around…the human centrifuge.
I wish someone had told me this before I strapped myself in to my seat and placed my face against the apparatus that provided a virtual realistic view of space travel. Approximately two seconds into the ride I knew that I was doomed and that this could only result in my losing my lunch, breakfast, and things that I ate at my Bar Mitzvah. Fortunately, I was able to hold on to the contents of my stomach, but at a cost. This five minutes of pure hell, no matter how realistic the graphics appeared, left me almost paralyzed with horrendous nausea and dizziness for 45 minutes. Strategically, Disney placed a bench three feet from the exit of the ride. I could barely walk the three feet without falling over from the vestibular vertigo that I was feeling.
I honestly thought that I was going to die. I later learned that a few people had actually died from riding Mission Space. Mission Death is a more appropriate name for this five minutes of the Devil’s “amusement.” I believe this event cured any ambition I may have had to try space travel. Consequently, I will gladly remain in the Earth’s natural gravitational pull for the rest of my days.
As frightening as Mission Space proved to be it left me thinking, “Why was I so affected by this Mickey Mouse endorsed ride?” Putting the vomit inducing motion of the thing aside, I came to the conclusion that it was because it was an all encompassing sensory experience, it was a virtual reality from which there was no escape. It reminded me that actual reality, which ultimately ends for each person, also has no escape. And perhaps, this is the whole reason for Disney World in the first place, to briefly escape from the missions of our actual lives.
VR, or Virtual Reality, is and will be a big business. For those of you who know what a Viewfinder is, this is that toy from the 70’s on steroids. A virtual reality face mask has the ability to transport the viewer into new surroundings and environments, even space travel. Of course, I had to try it as they are selling VR headsets on Amazon for cheap. The result? Virtually the same as Mission Space, I can’t be in a virtual reality without getting incredibly nauseated. Consequently, I will remain firmly planted in actual reality for the rest of my days.
For those of you who share my inclination to be imbalanced in VR you may be pleased to know that there is something called Augmented Reality. AR is an overlay of sound, video, or other digital content that is used in an actual physical environment. Augmented Reality is used in many fields such as our GPS tracking systems, physical fitness trackers, or in entertainment as in the game Pokemon GO. The navigation we use with our phones is an augmented video and sound that provides assistance in the actual world, in real time, while Pokemon is an app that shows virtual Pokemon characters and objects that appear on the screen as if they were actually in the physical environment of the player. This overlay of information can provide amusement as well as guidance in the real world. For many, augmented reality is now a necessary part of their daily lives.
The idea of augmented reality is fascinating and can be incredibly practical and helpful. AR brings convenience and comfort to the world as well as fun and enjoyment. It also narrows our focus giving us the ability to be present in whatever task we are performing. This, of course, reminds me of the spiritual system of Judaism. If we imagine that the weekly Torah portion, ancient words and wisdom, provides insight into our own lives, in the modern day, than we are using our scripture as an augmentation of life. Seeing life through the lens of Torah is an example of AR. Likewise, the system of blessings that we find in our prayerbook is an overlay of gratitude and wonder for everything from the various foods we eat, the people that we meet to the miracles of nature. Jewish AR provides for us a vehicle to have a relationship with the Creator, and to grow and evolve as humans as well as cultivating compassion and radical amazement.
Mission Space is nauseous, but Mission Life is exciting and full of beauty because the augmentation of reality, that a spiritual tradition provides, supports the challenges and changes of living while providing understanding and the possibility of encountering the Creator in our every day lives. Cultivating this awareness of the Divine in this actual world gives us perspective and hope. Surely we don’t need to play Pokemon or other AR games, and we could survive without our GPS, and we don’t need to engage in prayer in order to live our lives. But these AR applications give us purpose, add a dimension of meaning to life, and give us the ability to interpret and navigate this dangerous and dark world in which we currently live. Yes, we don’t need the augmentation of reality but it certainly makes things more interesting and provides both an escape from, and a way of enjoying the world, our lives and the lives of those we love.