Mark Changizi is an evolutionary neurobiologist and director of human cognition at 2AI Labs. He is the author of The Brain from 25000 Feet, The Vision Revolution, and his newest book, Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man.”
Also check out his related commentary on a promotional video for Project Glass, Google’s augmented-reality project.
Experience happens here—from my point of view. It could happen over there, or from a viewpoint of an objective nowhere. But instead it happens from the confines of my own body. In fact, it happens from my eyes (or from a viewpoint right between the eyes). That’s where I am. That’s consciousness central—my “soul.” In fact, a recent study by Christina Starmans at Yale showed that children and adults presume that this “soul” lies in the eyes (even when the eyes are positioned, in cartoon characters, in unusual spots like the chest).
The question I wish to raise here is whether we can teleport our soul, and, specifically, how best we might do it. I’ll suggest that we may be able to get near-complete soul teleportation into the movie (or video game) experience, and we can do so with some fairly simple upgrades to the 3D glasses we already wear in movies.
Consider for starters a simple sort of teleportation, the “rubber arm illusion.” If you place your arm under a table out of your view, and have a fake, rubber, arm on the table where your arm usually would be, an experimenter who strokes the rubber arm while simultaneously stroking your real arm on the same spot will trick your brain into believing that the rubber arm is your arm. Your arm—or your arm’s “soul”—has “teleported” from under the table and within your real body into a rubber arm sitting well outside of your body.
It’s the same basic trick to get the rest of the body to transport. If you were to wear a virtual reality suit able to touch you in a variety of spots with actuators, then you can be presented with a virtual experience – a movie-like experience – wherein you can see your virtual body being touched and the bodysuit you’re wearing simultaneously touches your real body in those same spots. Pretty soon your entire body has teleported itself into the virtual body.
And… Yawn, we all know this. We saw James Cameron’s Avatar, after all, which uses this as the premise.
My question here is not whether such self-teleportation is possible, but whether it may be possible to actually do this in theaters and video games. Soon.