Body-Borne Reality: Risky Disembodiment in VR

Adam Haar


Headworn Virtual Reality technologies which engage the eyes and ears to transport the user to a new reality are, by definition, disembodied: They take the mind somewhere the body cannot follow. This creates two schisms simultaneously: first, the head is separated from the body; second, the senses of sight and hearing are incongruent with touch, interoception, thermoception, smell, taste, and more. A cohesive sense of self relies on cohesive sensory signals, our learning and memory rely on the body, and disembodiment is dangerous. This paper argues that the contradictory sensory modalities and disembodiment which are inherent to today’s VR tech create active risk of desensitization, dissociation and withdrawal. We look to recent research in the neuroscience of embodied cognition, and research from the VR community, to make the case for a research agenda which addresses the cognitive impacts of disembodiment and prioritizes VR which builds with the body in mind . Link here.

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