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Outside of philosophy circles or psychology experiments, most people don’t realize how tenuous our sense of self is. The classic example is the fake arm illusion.

Each of ten subjects was seated with their left arm resting upon a small table. A standing screen was positioned beside the arm to hide it from the subject’s view and a life-sized rubber model of a left hand and arm was placed on the table directly in front of the subject. The subject sat with eyes fixed on the artificial hand while we used two small paintbrushes to stroke the rubber hand and the subject’s hidden hand, synchronising the timing of the brushing as closely as possible.
After ten minutes, subjects completed a two-part questionnaire that requested an open-ended description of their experience and asked them to affirm or deny the occurrence of nine specific perceptual effects …. The completed questionnaires indicated that subjects experienced an illusion in which they seemed to feel the touch not of the hidden brush but that of the viewed brush, as if the rubber hand had sensed the touch.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

BeAnotherLab is a small team focused on experiential demos that promote empathy, tolerance, and self-understanding by showing you the world from another person’s perspective. Its Gender Swap experiment saw two people wearing cameras and Oculus Rift headsets synchronize movements and “swap bodies.” But while that experiment made headlines, it only represents a small portion of what the team is trying to achieve. Under the A Machine To Be Another banner, it’s enabled a disabled ballerina to perform with full use of “her” legs, and put people in the shoes of a Senegalese dancer in demo called Being Youssoupha.

While the technology is very crude it’s still capable of healing bodies and bridging divides: first destroy your perception of yourself, then temporarily substitute other experiences, and those are then integrated back into your perception of others and yourself.

THIS, I think, is the true “killer app” for virtual reality.

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