National Geographic : 2017 Jun
PHOTO: SUSANA BATES, DREW ALTIZER PHOTOGRAPHY A doll with cameras instead of a head offered visitors a virtual new view of the world at Pace Art + Technology in Menlo Park, California. ‘OUR PERCEPTION OF THE WORLD IS NOT REALLY BASED ON REALITY. IT ’S BASED ON SOMETHING WE CONSTRUCT IN OUR HEADS.’ Experiences in VR actually form memories, as opposed to watching a film or reading a book. Can you walk us through the Barbie experiment? We duplicated an experiment from the Ehrsson lab in Stockholm. They didn’t actually use a Barbie doll—Barbies are a little too small—and we didn’t either. We have a semicircle of chairs, and ev- erybody sits on them. They put their feet up. A curtain parts in the middle of the room, and they see a little doll in a chair facing them. They’re told to imitate her body language—to put their arms and legs in the same positions that she’s in. Then they put on some VR goggles, and they’re seeing from the doll’s point of view. You look down at where your body would be, and instead you see the doll’s arms and legs and little dress. Then you see the doll’s knee touched with a little foam ball. The odd thing is that at the same time, you feel your own knee being physically touched. What you’re seeing is the doll’s knee being touched, but what you’re feeling is your own knee being touched. When you feel what you’re seeing even though it doesn’t make any logical sense, that’s when you really feel like your body is a doll’s body. How do these experiments challenge our perceptions? One of the reasons that the doll thing works is because you have different senses reinforcing one another, telling you the same thing, even though you know it can’t be real or true. But as more senses start to reinforce that, you can’t mentally dispute the evidence. And you start to go with it. What you’re seeing is coupled with what you’re feeling. The touch aspect really helps cement it. You can add smell or something else in there too. It’s amazing. To me it works every time, no matter how many times I’ve done it. It’s like a magic trick. You know how it’s done, and it still fools you.