Dutch designer Frank Kolkman hopes that offering a simulation of death will help terminally ill patients to make their peace with the end.
The experience is a simple one: wearing a Virtual Reality headset, the subject will look through the eyes of a sculpted human head, which will slowly drift away from their body. The head is further equipped with “ears” that dissociate sound from the body and the ability to swivel should the patient want to look around.
As it progresses, there is a light and rhythmic tapping on the subject’s chest to simulate heartbeat. Finally, the synthetic head is shown a mirror, to give the subject perspective once more. In testing, four out of five people felt as if they were physically moving outside of their body, very similar to tales of near-death experiences.
Kolkman told magazine De Zeen that “the fear and experience of death is a neglected topic,” supposing that “if we began treating our anxieties surrounding death, it might mean the process of dying could become more comfortable.” And for the 1,500 people alone who die of cancer every day, and the 42% of Americans who have a friend or relative that has died of a terminal illness, this is a very pertinent problem.
‘In the developed world, the majority of people die in hospital or a care home, turning deaths into medical experiences,” Kolkman explained. “But doctors are trained to save and prolong lives, not tend to our demise. They simply lack the tools.”
Kolkman further provided a written statement:
Outrospectre is an experimental proposal for a medical device aimed at reconciling people with death through simulating out-of-body experiences.
In healthcare the majority of efforts and research focus on keeping people alive. Recent para-psychological research, however, suggests that the sensation of drifting outside of one’s own body using virtual reality technology could help reduce death anxiety.
Outrospectre explores the possible application of these findings in hospital surroundings where it could help terminal patients accept their own mortality with more comfort. This project investigates unanswered questions about mortality and ‘end of life.’
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