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Source: Arthur C Clarke, Profiles of the Future, Page: 183

"We should never forget that all our knowledge of the world around us comes through a very limited number of senses, of which sight and hearing are the most important. When these sense channels are bypassed, or their normal inputs interfered with, we experience illusions which have no external reality. One of the simplest ways of proving this is to sit for some time in a completely darkened room, and then to gently pinch your eyelids with your fingers. You will 'see' the most fascinating shapes and colours, yet there is no light acting on your retina. The optic nerves have been fooled by pressure; if we knew the electrochemical coding whereby images are converted into sensations, we could give sight to men who have no eyes."

Our Thoughts on this Quote

Much of this statement by Arthur C Clarke should come as no surprise to those of you reading this. It is a central tenet of the advancement of VR, that our only perception of the world around us, is by our senses. Indeed the brain itself has no sensory capacity. It is the only place in the body with no data collecting nerve endings of any type.

Replace the inputs, and you replace the perceived reality. A very powerful, very true statement. Also true is that over 25% of the human brain is dedicated to visual processing. This sense is more important to us than any other. Only if it is lost do the other senses increase proportionately. The others, for the most part, serve as auxiliary backup to sight, confirming and correlating its data, whilst giving us access to other aspects of reality which sight cannot inform us of. Smell, hearing, proprioception, touch, balance, taste. Each has its own, lesser role to play, but if one of these produces different sense data to that which our sight gives us, simulation sickness is the inevitable result.

These senses can be activated in a multitude of different ways. Touch can indeed generate visual images, as the force of rubbing against the eye causes the nerves to fire in random patterns. Thus, we gain light without illumination, at least as far as our brains are concerned. This approach has been examined with interest since before the book this quote is from, was published. A prosthetic chip, connected to the retina or the optic nerve itself, could pulse signals back along the optic nerve, that matched the natural ones, creating instead of a natural image, one that was wholly artificial.

All that would ultimately be necessary for success, would be the study and full understanding of the electrical codes and patterns naturally sent. That ?all? is a Herculean task yes, but it is a single task, and one which has met with increasing success. In March 2008, the first such prosthesis, John Pezaris? electrode implant, was first proposed as a serious implant. This was because the technology, the ability to decode the signals along the optic nerve, had advanced sufficiently that basic light patterns could be imprinted. In short, a camera?s output signal could be recoded by a prosthetic and fed into the optic nerve as if it was natural vision.

It's difficult to say exactly what a person wearing the prosthesis would see, but most likely it would be bits and pieces, a grid of different light intensities, or some shapes present, others missing. Still, as the ability to deliver higher resolution images to the brain improves, so would the effectiveness of the prosthesis.


Diagram of the proposed prosthetic


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About the Book 'Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible'
By Arthur C Clarke
Produced By Phoenix

This book was originally produced in 1962, heralding Arthur?s predictions of the future of mankind, from a technological standpoint, across all sectors of industry and life. It was based on his own essays, written during the period 1959 - 1961.

Since it was concerned with ultimate possibilities, and not with achievements to be expected in the near future, even the post 2000 technological acceleration has dented many of the predictions within it. However, the author went over the book in the early 2000s, editing most of the chapters, and explaining where his predictions went wron...
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