Concept of Self - Exposed?
Proprioception may not be the stumbling block to true immersion we have always considered it to be.
The non-profit science society American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS for short, is spearheading research into virtual reality based out-of-body experiences.
Until now, the feeling of disembodiment and seeing one's own body from outside itself could only be accomplished in dangerous ways, such as through drug use, epileptic seizures and other types of brain disturbances.
Now however, a group of neuroscientists and a philosopher have devised a series of novel experiments using virtual reality that could shed light on decades of clinical data pointing to cognitive and perceptual mechanisms involved in humans' concept of self.
Their results, published August 23 in Science Magazine, show that a person's sense of self can be manipulated using conflicting multisensory bodily input (sight, touch), altering proprioception's hold on personal identity.
Proprioception is one of the main sensory inputs to the body, and arguably one of the most important. Unlike sight, sound, touch, taste, smell and balance, proprioception is an unconscious sense. That is to say it is one we are feeling all the time, and rarely if ever creeps into the conscious mind unless we actually sit down and think about it. This vital sense forms much of our internal awareness. The other senses deal with the outside world only, but proprioception is intimately linked to our sense of self.
It is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body. Every joint, every muscle feeds back into proprioception, helping us know at all times, in the subconscious back of the mind, where our body is, which way it is orientated, and how it is shaped.
In patients with certain neurological conditions the sense of spatial unity in which all the major senses are in agreement can break down, causing out-of-body experiences in which the sense of self is localised outside the physical form in a process known as disembodiment.
Previous experiments have shown that people may attribute fake body parts to their own bodies. In the "Rubber Hand Illusion", a person's unseen hand is stroked synchronously with a visible fake hand, and then the person is asked to point to his own hand. Subjects invariably err in the direction of the fake hand, attributing it to their own bodies.
EPFL Professor Olaf Blanke, graduate students Bigna Lenggenhager and Tej Tadi, and philosopher Thomas Metzinger hypothesised that the same approach could be used to study the concept of global bodily self consciousness by using a single, coherent body representation instead of just a body part.
In other words, an entire, complete, fake body. The only way to do this: a full immersion VR and an avatar.
The researchers designed a series of simple VR experiments in which a victim saw either a replica of their own body, a radically different avatar, a blank space, or a box in front of them.
The victim then saw the back of the image being stroked with a paintbrush, either in or out of sync with someone stroking their own back with the same. his own back.
Immediately after, the victim was removed from the VR rig, blindfolded and stepped back, then told to return to where they were.
Those whose own backs were stroked in sync with any recognisably humanoid avatar, consistently moved too far forwards - going to where they perceived the avatar to have stood, not where they had stood.
Those who saw nothing, or the box, went back to their original positions. Those whose backs were stroked out of sync with the image actually moved further forwards than those who were stroked in sync, suggesting their sense of distance was affected as well.
It is too early to draw steadfast conclusions, but the initial results are startling: Proprioception, and the sense of self, can be overruled by the other senses.
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