Episodes of Dexter’s Lab and films like Freaky Friday make it seem quite incredible to swap bodies with someone, despite there always being one of those ‘morals’ at the conclusion of the story. If only we had the technology here and now to swap bodies with people, we could disprove these films and demonstrate the true power of mind swaps. And I guess everyone could discover what it’s like to have the opposite wobbly bits too, whilst we’re at it. All in the name of science, like.
Turns out that technology has been here all the long though, right in front of our faces. Or on our faces, since it’s Oculus Rift. A group of scientists have been using it to swap peoples bodies and genders, and explore the effects.
Okay, okay, so it’s not real, 100% legitimate body swapping, but it’s a decent variant on it. Two people strap on Oculus Rifts, and their vision is recorded and beamed across to their opposite partner. They both agree to perform identical movements, so their actions in real life are performed by their body double, and thus appear in their own vision.
The experiment is being carried out by a team of artists and scientists by the name of Be Another Lab, and ‘The Machine to Be Another’ is designed to explore empathy and the nature of the self. If you studied anything that overlapped sociology at university, memories of these subjects are no doubt flowing back now.
“More than individuals, we are part of a social collective called humanity,” explains Be Another Lab on the official site. “As members of this collective, the perception of our own identity is based on our relation with other people and our social environment: how people see us, how we do act and interact with them, and what self image we project to this society and to ourselves.”
“As part of this collective society, it is clear the importance of understanding the ‘Other’ and ‘Each Other’ to better understand ourselves. This artistic investigation plans to use the recent neuroscience approach of ’embodiment’ and apply it to investigate the perception and comprehension about the Self based on the comprehension of the ‘Other.'”
So whilst we can’t yet jump into another body and give it a good feel, we can perceive life from another body through simulation, and begin to discover our feelings when ‘encased’ in that body. Does it make us feel different, change our behaviour? A quite fascinating question, that can begin to be answered thanks to a device we all just expected to make space sims feel more incredible. Thanks, science!