I got a little pushback from someone whose opinion I respect, about yesterday’s post. The specific objection was to my implication that it could be possible to separate one’s physical body from one’s individual identity.
I had an experience recently that suggests my friend might very well be right. At the ACM/SIGGRAPH conference the other week I tried out the “Real Virtuality” demo, which was great fun, extremely well done, and highly thought provoking.
It’s a shared virtual reality experience for two people. You each put on a VR rig consisting of a backpack, a headset, and markers for your wrists and ankles. Then you walk around together in a virtual room, where you each “see” the other as a computer graphic character.
One of the characters is male, the other female. I went into the experience with another guy, and when asked, I immediately volunteered to be the female. After all, if you’re going to be virtual, why not be as virtual as possible?
After donning the rig, I looked down to discover that I had very impressive breasts — a personal first for me. And to my surprise, the female hips and thighs on my avatar were significantly more narrow than my own male thighs. Perhaps, for a female user, this avatar was meant to be aspirational.
But here’s the thing: At no time did it feel as though I was anything other than myself. I always felt like I was just me, a man wearing a woman costume.
So maybe my friend is right. We continue to carry our true bodies around with us in our minds, even when we happen to find ourselves in somebody else’s body.