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Article by Virtual Worldlets Network
You are travelling through a forest, dappled sunlight streaming through the branches above, casting shadows on the ground. Leaves crunch underfoot, and the odour floats up to you. Closing your eyes, you reach out to pluck a flower - and feel nothing. Opening your eyes, you see your hand is in the middle of the plant you tried to pluck. Carefully, focussing with your eyes, by trial and error, you grasp and break off the flower, not feeling anything between your fingers. Suddenly, you realise you cannot even feel your fingers, you have not been feeling them, and you run a hand over your body, no sensation; you have to look to see you are touching skin.
Reaching out, you grab at a tree trunk, nearly falling as you don't realise when your hand makes contact with the trunk, not feeling the bark underneath. Panicked, you drop to your knees, and feel around. Leaves go crunch, and you see small flakes of wood move, but you feel nothing, its like clutching a void, you cannot tell if there is anything solid there.
Touch: one of the holy grails of VR work. Haptics, tactile senses, heat, cold, pain. The essential senses for being able to feel a world around you. Close your eyes, gag your mouth, plug up your nostrils, and cover your ears. You can feel the world all around you, every caress of hand, rub of leg, the wind blowing your hair, a chill on your neck.
Touch is perhaps one of the most important senses, rivalling sight for the way it immerses us within the world. Without it, the world feels ghostly, not real, like a vision in the mist.
Pressure is a fundamental way we feel the world around us. Something pushes against us; whether it is a solid wall, the floor after a fall, or even the blowing wind. We know instantly which parts of our body have struck something, and how hard it is, by the pressure it exerts back upon us.
The grain of bark, the feel of a woollen top. The silky feel of running your fingers through glossy hair, or the soft and bumpy feel of skin. We are able to identify almost any object by its coarseness or smoothness. The way the grain lays and how it feels against us. Wood, stone, a leaf, a metal rod, all have a different texture, a different pattern on the surface, which we can feel and recognise.
From the wave of heat as you enter a warm room, to the burn of flame, to the heat on your lips of a coffee. All our understanding of heat comes through our touch sensation. Without it, we would have no idea of temperatures above our own body.
Cold is actually a different aspect of touch than heat - it uses different nerves, which is why it is possible to suffer 'burning cold', as both heat and cold sense is triggered together. Cold allows us to feel the temperature of ice, to shiver when a chill wind whips around us, to feel an icy drink across our lips.
Pain is the final and most memorable aspect of touch. When you stub your toe, it hurts. When you bash your funny bone, you get intense pain. If someone slices your arm, it hurts. Al pain is an indicator of damage. Without it, we would happily walk into danger again and again until we ceased to exist.
Pain comes in three forms:
Visceral pain is the pain we feel when our internal organs are damaged or injured.
A dull buzzing, not dissimilar to an itch, or becoming a throb - such as a toothache - when low-level damage is occurring
A sudden, blinding signal of pain, such as a labour pain, or the sensation you feel when your shoulder dislocates, or goes back in. The sudden flare of over-sensation that makes you cry out.
All these aspects are part of the sensation of touch. Without them, without any of them, we cannot feel the world around us, and so cannot feel it is real.