In 1971, Mr. Ian Waterman, age 19 at the time, had a spontaneous autoimmune reaction. 3 days later IW woke up in hospital and came to the shocking realization that he had “lost his body”. IW was diagnosed with Deafferentation – a complete loss of proprioceptive feedback (a background process constantly updating the position of our body in space). Over time he remarkably regained his body with movement heavily reliant on visualization and visual feedback. IW had lost an integral part of what is known as Body Schema.
Body Schema refers to the multi-sensory integration of information as it move in space. It typically does not enter our conscious awareness and is used by the brain for spatial organization of movement.
Body image refers to our conscious visual perception of how our body appears from the outside. A mismatch in body schema and body image provides an explanation for Anorexia Nervosa. A disturbance in sensory integration in the parietal lobe makes body schema unreliable and social expectations become a distorted reference for body image.
Self image refers to the perspective through which we see the world. This self image becomes our identity – this is why one of the most frequent questions we ask when we meet someone new is “what do you do?” This is essentially a reference point to ascertain someone’s identity.
The body Schema is our brain-body interface.
The brain is rooted in the body by the spinal cord. Without this Visuo-proprioceptive coherence, physical illusions such as body swaps can be induced. The brain-body coherence can be interfered with as long as the body is stimulated together with another object within a 100 milliseconds. Our neurons integrate information from the senses (visual and tactile) to create a cohesive representation of the body. A body we believe to be ours.
The Body schema incorporates what is known in everyday terms as comfort-zone. The comfort-zone is mapped in the brain as a boundary of about 6-8 inches. The comfort-zone is also context depended and changes depending on whether you are on public transport or sharing intimacy with a lover.
The body schema expands with object manipulation such as fire-twirling, skateboarding or rhythmic gymnastics. Your own shadow is also incorporated in this schema. In this sense, the body “accepts” any shape, even if its not your own. This gives new meaning to becoming one with an object.
65 millions years of gut instincts has developed complex hunting skills and the evolution to tool use. Human dexterity is by far the most developed of any animal. The enrichment of finger sensitivity may have been responsible for our ability to count. Could this be the origins of Math? Prior to tool use, brain size remained relatively unchanged. Could the discovery of tools be the origins of our creativity?
Simple tool use has now become a cybernetic instinct. The hunting knife has been replaced by a handheld device. How far can this schema flexibility be stretched?
In 1987 Jaron Lanier coined the term virtual reality (VR). Almost 3 decades later, VR technology such as Oculus Rift allows the brain to accept new morphologies, essentially controlling avatar bodies. Our brains can be mapped onto morphologies that contradict what is physically possible. Using kinetic cameras, Lanier and colleagues were able to superimpose a human brain onto that of a lobster avatar – a creature with 10 legs. Our brains motor cortex reorganizes to accommodate for unusual number of limbs in unfamiliar places!
Augmented Reality is an intermediate step – a continuum between the digital and the real. With this embedded reality, the brain fails to to tell the difference between the the real and the augmented world. Google glass is one example providing the brain with realtime feedback, augmented onto our innate biofeedback. Virtual feedback expands beyond our visceral awareness to hack reality in previously inaccessible ways.
Oculus Rift was purchased by Facebook in April 2014. A similar technology is being developed by the Sony Corporation called Project Morpheus. Our transhuman integration of cybernetics blurs the boundaries of our body Schema. A Sensory-motor contingency that was once physically rooted to the body, now assimilates an artificially expanded awareness. How does the motor cortex explore movements that contradict what is physically possible?
Much of our bodies abilities exist as latent potential
What aspects of our bodies intelligence remains undiscovered? How will cybernetic integrate with human intuition/instinct? How much can our body schema absorb? What is the biological edge of the body?
Are we inseparable from all else?
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