The limits of physical experience

I attended a wonderful talk today on natural interfaces. These are, roughly speaking, human-computer interfaces that allow their user to interact in ways that are relatively natural for people (think, for example, of the way we interact with the world around us when no computers are involved).

And it got me thinking. As advancing technology gets us ever closer to being able to simulate any physical experience at all, how far can our brains go in accepting extremely non-human experiences? Could we learn to feel perfectly natural inhabiting the body of a spider? Of a millipede?

The brain is a very protean instrument, known to be capable of astonishing feats of learning. But are there limits to the brain’s ability to remap physical existence itself? For example, could it ever make sense to a human mind to find its physical body seeminglz transformed into a billowing sheet of cloth? Or into a puff of smoke?

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