Your virtual body

As long as we will have apparent bodies in our virtual reality meetings and interactions with each other, there may not be any inherent reason that those bodies need to be anything like the ones we have now.

The issue here is not so much about any limitations on the body or the senses, but about potential limitations on the brain. We evolved to be the way we are as a set of functional responses to survival challenges in the physical world. We needed to eat, to procreate, to cooperate with each other, and in response our brains and bodies evolved together successfully (in the sense that our species is still around).

But what happens if you keep the brain pretty much the way it is, but rewrite the body? Surely at some point you will hit limitations on what the brain can handle. Our minds are pretty protean things, capable of learning all sorts of systems, but they still have limitations.

For example, we don’t do very well with a very high number of spatial dimensions (maybe we can handle four, but things start to get seriously wonky starting at about five). We can work out complex logical problems only with effort and training. We suck at probability.

But there are things we do spectacularly well. We can walk and dance and play the guitar. We pick up on incredibly subtle changes in facial expression and body language. We use language.

So how creative can we get before the mind is overwhelmed? How well would our minds accommodate having four arms? A lack of bilateral symmetry? Temporary limbs that appear only where and when we need them?

And what about vision? How well could our brains accommodate the ability to see equally well in all directions? At all locations in the world? At all scales? At different rates of time?

Once you take on the project of reconstructing the body and senses around the question of what the human mind could adapt to, you end up with a vast and fascinating space. It will be, to be sure, a space with some limitations, because the human brain, for all its protean qualities, has limits.

But it will be fun to understand what those limits are, and perhaps even to figure out ways to turn them into strengths, as we evolve our future cyber-bodies. After all, one of the qualities of the human mind is boundless curiosity.

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