One Step Closer to True VR

By | December 3, 2008

One of the questions associated with developing true virtual reality technology is whether a human brain would ever accept a virtual body as its own. Can we experience things happening to a body substitute as though they were actually happening to us? Apparently, yes:

Shaking hands with yourself is an amusing out-of-body experience. The illusion of having your stomach slashed with a kitchen knife, not so much.

Both sensations, however, felt real to most participants in a Swedish science project exploring how people can be tricked into the false perception of owning another body.

In a study presented Tuesday, neuroscientists at Stockholm’s renowned Karolinska Institute show how they got volunteers wearing virtual reality goggles to experience the illusion of swapping bodies with a mannequin and a real person.


We observed a while back that the human brain seems to be highly adept at claiming as its own what ought to be its own, so it’s no surprise that a test subject can “sense” something happening to his or her body when there is, in fact, no nerve infrastructure in place to allow the sensation to happen. It would appear that virtually reality, when we have it, will be something that it is more or less “all in your head.” You just have to persuade your brain that there’s a body there, and that it is attached to that body, and the brain begins to take care of the rest.

Surely having the brain so eager and willing to help create the illusion can only help virtual reality arrive sooner. We might not need elaborately realistic worlds — maybe they just need to be real enough to kickstart the brain. In that case, our coming virtual worlds will be exactly where the old ones always were: right between our ears.