Technology seems able to teach people in more and more immersive ways. Here’s an article about a project by Dr. James Cook of UC Davis or Nash Baldwin – depending on whether or not you’re referring to his Second Life avatar.

Apparently, after interviewing two people who suffer with schizophrenia, most likely paranoid-type, he has constructed a virtual simulation of the acute psychotic experience. He warns those with psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia to not venture within as he does not know how it would affect a person with the same affliction.

I went through the simulation and was fascinated. There is a certain psychiatric-literature understanding of the symptoms of psychosis. A psychiatrist learns to ask about these symptoms and treat accordingly. However, the full empathic experience is much more difficult to realize.

When all the symptoms come together, there is a much more vivid experience of the pains that a person can go through.

Several very important aspects that likely cannot be replicated is that the real experience cannot be turned off, unless you count medications. However, the medications are things a person with paranoia and hallucinations might have a difficult time considering. Not to mention, the have to consider the real side effects that medications do carry.

Also, while the experience continues – it lasts through days and weeks and sometimes longer altering the ways one relates to others and therefore the relationships and real surrounding world.

I don’t know how accurate this virtual experience represents the real. As I have come to understand it, there are no two illnesses perfectly alike though commonalities are shared. Regardless, the exercise and attempt of psychotic representation is impressive. For some, it is decidely disturbing.

If studying an illness entails attempts at developing stronger empathic understanding of the difficulties a patient suffers, then I believe Dr. Cook succeeds.

Edit: I did a google search on Dr. James Cook and couldn’t find him. I also checked through the UC Davis website. Still couldn’t find him. I’m not sure what conclusion to make. The virtual tour remains fascinating.

Edit 2: Dr. James Cook does indeed exist.