The Basics For A True Alternate Life
In order to create a truly alternate life, totally separate from the physical, to 'begin anew' in the virtual, and live as the person you were meant to be, rather than live with the deck of cards you were dealt when you were born, what are the very basics required?
Your voice instantly transmits your age your regional location, your nationality, your gender straight to the other person. If kids are screaming in the background, this tells the other person even more about you. Text does not have that problem; a better solution is to take the voice direct from you, bypassing the vocal cords, especially if they do not actually work, and feeding it in via a virtual set of cords, directly into the world, bypassing external sounds - something impossible with a microphone
There is a necessity to virtualise every basic part of a person's body in order
to create a virtual shell that is as comfortable or more comfortable than the
original physical shell. It goes beyond the basic external senses, it goes beyond
proprioception, and into the realm of, as the Matrix films would say "residual
self image". It is necessary to create a form complete and intricate enough
that the person whose mind is inside it can walk in front of a reflective surface,
look in and feel 'that's me.'
Haptics is the study of touch. All touch is, all any sense is, is sensory stimulus in electrically coded form, relayed from the nerve endings to the brain. Recreate the proper signals; recreate the touch, perfectly. Haptics added to the virtual form allows normal, physical touch, feeling, pain and temperature from the virtual world to the virtual body. It makes it real.
Direct Optic Stimulation
Rather than worry about the status of natural eyes, with various display systems, connecting to the optic nerve directly in the same manner as fort haptics - sending the proper coded pulses same as the retina would have done post processing - allows the individual to see clearly, even if their eyes are totally blind.
Direct Hearing and balance stimulation
The ear serves two distinct purposes. It is both the sensory sound input, and the sensory balance input for the brain.
When a weak DC current is delivered to the mastoid behind your ear, your body responds by shifting your balance toward the anode. The stronger the current, the more powerful its pull. If it is strong enough, it not only throws you off balance but also alters the course of your movement. Called galvanic vestibular stimulation, or GVS, it allows the body's own balance control to be overridden and respond to the virtual.
Each hair follicle is microscopically different in length to those around it. This means that each is attuned to a slightly different frequency of vibration, and can pick up and send a signal for that frequency only. All the hairs have their own nerve channels, which all connect together as one large nerve leaving the ear, called the auditory nerve. The signals from sixteen thousand or more natural hair cells travel up this nerve at a time. As before; replicate the signal, replicate the sound.
Direct Scent stimulation
Of all our senses, smell is our most primal. Animals need the sense of smell to survive. Although a blind rat might survive, a rat without its sense of smell can't mate or find food. Our sense of smell operates at the barely conscious level, and is proven to be intimately tied to memory. A familiar smell almost instantly brings recollection of the last time you smelt it.
The olfactory nerve is actually the highest nerve, above the optic nerves. Splitting into two nerves, one runs to each nostril. It has specialised smell receptor neurons that stick out in the upper nasal cavity.
The sense of smell, which we enjoy, comes from the stimulation of these nerve
receptors by gas molecules when we breathe. These in turn send signals back
up the olfactory nerve and into the brain. As always, interrupt the signal -
jack into the olfactory nerve - and you can send any signal code, providing
you know the corresponding code for each smell.
Direct Taste Stimulation
Taste is the least important of the five standard senses, and to lose it is to have the inability to detect sweet, sour, bitter, or salty substances. All other attributes of food, from its firmness, flakiness, temperature, texture, detailed flavour are functions of other senses. The same goes for anything else we might put in our mouths. Any sensation which is not sweet, sour, bitter, or salty is not part of taste. Detailed flavours are part of smell, whilst the firmness, the feeling of presence in your mouth, the coolness , or heat, these are part of touch.
The gustatory nerves inside the tastebuds of the tongue convert tastes into electrical signals, which are sent as nerve impulses to the brain, where they are interpreted.
Any step save the last, can in theory be bypassed, and taste will still take place. So long as the nerve input to the brain is intact, even without a physical tongue, you will still be able to taste, with full acuity.
Nothing discussed above is impossible, all are very real possibilities, and most, if not all are now under active development. These are of course just the basic bare minimum necessary to allow a functional, true alternate life.
Health support and monitoring for the remaining physical parts is another issue entirely.