Decoding Addiction

MindCotine is a program that combines virtual reality, cue exposure therapy, and mindfulness techniques with a biofeedback monitoring system in a community platform, to help smokers quit.

The Meaning of Quitting

We tell ourselves all sorts of stories to make sense of the world around us, because we are really just nodes of information living in absolute symbiosis with our environments.

For centuries, humans have been telling ourselves how special we are, and how distant we are from nature, because we have reason and language, but now, digital technologies are telling us another story. Think about it. DNA is the very first code ever written, and it was written by nature roughly two and a half billion years ago.

Much happened since then, from the advent of the first unicellular organism to the variety of life we see in the world today. About ten thousand years ago, human beings began recording language in written form. Language categorizes in general, but literacy perfected the technique of data classification. Now, digital technologies are bringing us into the era of pattern recognition, and the patterns that tell our stories are the patterns of our behavior.

Smoking is one of those patterns, and those who have successfully changed it can tell you how it changed their lives (and, in some cases, perhaps even saved it).

What does this have to do with VR?

Well, virtual reality, unlike physical space, only contains the stimuli it is programed to contain, which makes it the perfect training room. Practice is the key to changing any behavior, and VR gives us the opportunity to face the same stimulus over and over again, in a safe environment, until we find the appropriate response, and then practice it until it becomes a habit. VR and Cue Exposure Therapy didn’t only allow people to overcome their phobias, but even patients who were paralyzed regained sensibility and mobility in their limbs by training to use move skeletons through VR. Talk about a flow of information between the body and the mind!

Now, MindCotine is applying the same therapies used to treat phobias in virtual environments, to treat addiction for the first time, while empowering users to engage their own consciousness of their own bodies through the practice of mindfulness. To take it even further, the program incorporates a biofeedback monitoring system that personalizes the experience for each user, and aims at building a community of users who share insights of their processes, and support each other throughout their common journey. To validate the program, MindCotine has set up trial groups at several universities in Argentina and Mexico.

At first sight, one might think that MindCotine promises just another solution to nicotine addiction. If we consider it closely, however, digital technologies in general, and VR in particular, are reinventing the makeup and character of human experience, and MindCotine’s features, such as biofeedback, are already using pattern recognition to help us redefine our addictive behavior, and training us to do it, in the unexplored space of VR, where our stories are still waiting to be written.

This new digital layer is where the code of our upcoming evolution will be written.

MY KICKSTARTER CONFESSION

If anyone would have asked me on December 24th where MindCotine would be on May 26th, only 5 months after its creation, I would never, in a million years, have guessed it right. The MindCotine team is in F-R-E-A-K-I-N-G San Francisco!!!

We are as happy as a clam, and we stay positive despite the emotional roller coaster we’re immersed in – Every day is a challenge, there is no day like the other, and there is little time to dwell either on mistakes or accomplishments.

Right now, there is one particular date that reverbs in our heads and guides our actions: May 30th, World No Tobacco Eve and the day MindCotine launches its Kickstarter campaign.

The campaign, I would say, is the most meaningful milestone until now in terms of validation: we will bring Mindotine to the people and ask them to show us their interest on the cause and/or product by backing us…. That is scary.

It has nothing to do with the quality of our program. We know how good it is because the technology is groundbreaking, meditation have been helping people for thousand of years and its combination will only boost the results on people. The challenge is much deeper. Is about succeeding in incentivizing people to take responsibility and change long-standing
patterns of behaviors.

Our product is worth nothing if we can’t motivate people to adopt it, and that is the main reason why we decided to first create a community of users through Kickstarter. This product is for them. But… are people ready to take on the challenge and lead a healthier life yet? Are they willing to introduce new technology to their life? Are they really prepared to consciously work on the solution? Do they want to be free of their addiction?

Only 1 day remains to the campaign and I truly hope that by then people heard about MindCotine and dare to try it.

Reaching our goal of 3,000 backers might not be easy, but I can’t help but smile when thinking about the enormous positive impact we will bring to people’s lives, the main reason we have started this journey.

Good vibes to us all.

The Beginning

There comes a time in life when we notice that things begin to change, but if we pay close attention, we are merely beginning to notice that things change, when in fact, most current events have been cooking up for long before we even thought them possible. It is not that a current event changes our lives, but rather, our lives consist in giving direction to this constant change. Whether or not we can make this a personal decision, attending to change and taking responsibility for its direction, depends greatly on our level of awareness. It is said that we have no control over our surroundings, that we are merely capable of disturbing those around us in a way that causes them, according to who they are, to react. We will need to discuss the issues of control and reaction at length, and the opportunity will come. But before we begin, and since this is the first entry on our blog, we’d like to start you off with the story of how Mindcotine came to be, and let you decide when it all began, and who started it, or whether it was all just a series of coincidences and reactions well beyond our control.

A series of disturbances occurred during the last trimester of 2016. At first, they seemed random – Cristian visited Cordoba for his best friend’s wedding (who also happens to be my brother). I had my first immersive VR experience, after a long time waiting for the opportunity to try something special, and Nico, a common childhood friend, met with Cristian that same week. He wanted to try for himself all the tools and contents that Cristian was developing in Mexico, and that was it. Quickly enough, however, more disruptions occurred until they loomed over us like a growing tide… After Cristian returned to Mexico, something resonated within Nico and within me. Unknowingly, it was the same thing – we were both considering potential applications for emerging technologies to our respective fields, biomedical engineering, and psychology.

In mid-November, we met unexpectedly at a conference organized by the Singularity University, featuring the latest technological advances. Coincidentally enough, one of the subjects discussed was that of virtual reality. Nico and I finally discussed the ideas that we had been cooking up, and came up with a joint project to offer a platform for the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, and began our research.

We discovered many applications of VR to treat phobias and other wonderful advancements with other emerging technologies and decided that our platform needed to work as a community. Then, a few days before Christmas, Cristian returned to Cordoba. And we got together on Christmas Eve. It was then, when we were pitching him the idea that we had come up with, that Cristian lit a cigarette to accompany his thoughts. We looked at each other and that looming wave finally broke and washed over us: without so much as a word we knew that we needed to focus our efforts on tobacco.

Since then, we have been riding the wave. It took us 5 meetings in 15 days to set up our initial project, and we embarked on an incredible adventure, but when exactly did it begin? Are we really in control? Are we taking the current when it serves? Or are we responding to a demand the world has, and being sucked into a vacuum created by the needs of others… A vacuum that we can fill because of who we have become, by choice?