What makes a great breakfast?
How about this: Coffee, yogurt with fresh forest berries, the company of brilliant positive-minded people having a conversation that connects brain waves, psychology and the possibilities of virtual reality and the future of fashion technology.
They say you should start your day on a strong footing. Check!
This morning, I went out to Antwerp to get together with a few friends that I wanted to introduce to each other. I thought there would be a special connection because they all have a shared interest in the application of brainwaves and virtual reality for their innovations. It turned out to be magic!
So who are these people?
Let me start with Jasna Rok. She is on a mission to revolutionise the fashion industry.
She makes a compelling case that our clothing should become more ‘intelligent’. Think about it, all our devices have become ‘smart’: our phones, our household appliances, our vehicles, and so on. Her question: why not clothing?
And it’s not just talk, Jasna already designs garments that play an active role in our day-to-day lives. Her work ranges from biohacking clothing to make it more resistant, temperature-regulating, liquid repellent, self-cleaning and shape-shifting to interact with our environment.
Her outfits even respond to how we feel by connecting them to our brainwaves. And if that wasn’t groundbreaking enough, she created a virtual reality-based design studio to craft these outfits so they can be 3D printed.
I met Jasna a couple of years ago when these were still mostly outlandish ideas. Since then, she has made it all happen and has taken the FashTech world by storm. I like to think of her as the ‘Elona Musk’ of fashion 😃
I wanted Jasna to meet Hannelore Nys and Iseult Beets of Lilid, a brain research and treatment centre in Belgium.
Their work is at the crossroads of neuroscience, psychology, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. They treat people and their relationships with the latest knowledge and brain technology available. They also help companies determine their psychosocial health with Lilid's own validated instrument. They distinguish between objective and subjective factors of employee satisfaction. This allows them to exactly pinpoint real organisational problems and remediate them.
Please know that I’m still trying to process what I learned this morning, it feels very much like trying to make sense of what exactly happened in a dream, hours after waking up.
I think I have been able to gather an intuitive understanding of it all, so here’s an attempt to let it flow through my fingers and onto this page. Please also know that I have no medical training whatsoever and I am feeling a strong dose of imposter syndrome as I am trying to formulate these words.
What I do have going for me is my fanatical drive to make things simpler to understand, even if only I do it as a service to myself. I admit that, while writing this, I repeatedly jumped onto their website, hoping it would serve as a compass to avoid getting lost in my own narrative, and that is when stumbled upon this quote:
“The brain is heading our mind. If we control our brain, changing the mind is a no-brainer.”
Read that again…
Powerful words Hannelore!
What I took away from our conversation this morning is that beyond their practice as psychotherapists, they also use technology to modulate the functionality of the brain to improve its performance, well-being, and induce positive attitudes while treating a wide array of mental ailments.
Recently I’ve been spending time and effort on better understanding the concept of ‘flow' - a state in which we can feel one with the world around us and achieve the most amazing things.
I think that Lilid, in its own way, is also on the path to harnessing flow. I have an endless fascination with the brain, and even though my understanding of it it is much akin to the awe a monkey may experience with a smartphone, there are a few things that especially blew me away:
Hannelore explained to us how virtual reality can help patients externalise and visualise their ailments so they can process them in a way to overcome them. I guess what impressed me the most is how it can even be used to treat chronic pain. So what I think this means is that if you can give an observable shape to an abstract problem, it creates a better dimension for patients to deal with that problem.
When it comes to brainwaves, I learned more about how these can also be retro-fitted to re-program the way our brain works. I’m sure I am missing out on a number of peculiarly important details here, but all in all, I found it utterly fascinating.
I think I am going to need a few more mind-bending breakfast meetings like this one before I can take the training wheels of this narrative, but I hope you get the picture.
Can you imagine the conversation between these people? It was quite the experience. I may have been nothing more than a fly on the wall but I felt more like a happy pig rolling in the mud!
The thoughts I came away with from this discussion are still percolating in my mind. I guess it gave me an even bolder perspective on the transformative power of virtual reality. What is on my mind right now are two major impacts:
Instead of all the complex international logistics that make up the process between design and getting garments into shops and the limited possibilities it offers for true personalisation, Jasna uses VR to make anyone their own designer and print their clothing on demand. This is yet another example of how VR is dematerialising our world.
If we can render our hardware virtually, will we still need phones, screens, or keyboards and all the other things that need charging and cables to work? Will we still go to offices when we can be together without being present in the same place? Will we still travel for business? When you start thinking about what VR can replace, it just goes on and on like that.
I like to think of VR as a sort of ‘minimalist virus’ that will spread across the world. How will that affect your business? What is your strategy?
The power to edit anything and everything
We treat VR as if it is this new amazing innovation, but the thing is that it has been with us for as long as we can remember. Think about your dreams, especially your daydreams or the imagination and abstract thinking we take for granted. Even a good movie or TV show temporarily bring us into another reality.
We have embraced the idea of VR since a very long time ago and that is why we will adopt whatever comes at us without much resistance. It goes way beyond the goggles and the quality of rendering.
I’m starting to internalise the idea that VR is an extension of our conscience. It not only allows us to ‘edit' our external perception but more importantly, it allows us to tweak our inner dimension and even toggle experiences that are increasingly indistinguishable from reality. In the end, since the brain can’t really distinguish between what is ‘real’ and what isn’t, this makes ‘reality’ something that is increasingly subjective. Actually, I think I there might be a better way to say this: our brains will process anything, regardless of what the exact nature of the input is.
And even though many of us may feel uncomfortable with this line of thought, there are even more amongst us who are already editing their ‘reality’ all day long!
Don’t believe me? Just log onto Facebook or Instagram and tell me what you see… Do you really believe that all those people are that happy all the time?
So there you go, I felt the need to document this amazing encounter. I could just take notes about it and keep it all to myself, but doing it in public forces me to really think it all through, after all, that is what writing is all about, it is the ultimate way to internalise knowledge. And while I am at it, I hope it also gives you something to think about.
On the way back from the meeting, I wished I had taken a few pictures or maybe even recorded an interview. But I’m sure we will all get together again sometime soon to continue this conversation and take all the pictures we want.
Here are some more resources so you can get to know more about Jasna Rok and Lilid