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New research reveals what it's like to inhabit someone else's body
You actually score worse on memory tests.
- The idea of inhabiting someone else's body can be found in some of humanity's earliest mythologies.
- A team at Sweden's Karolinska Institutet conducted a body-switching experiment with 33 pairs of friends.
- The findings could have profound clinical implications down the road, such as in depression treatment.
Humans have long been fascinated with the possibility of inhabiting another body, as if consciousness was transferrable through an esoteric (or medical) procedure. Paramahansa Yogananda wrote about his guru dropping his body to take over a dead man by a riverbank (a likely play on a metaphorical transition in the "Bhagavad Gita"). A more humorous example is the 2003 comedy, "Freaky Friday," in which Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan wake up to find they've switched bodies—an existential crisis that ultimately results in a grand moment of empathy.
What if you could accomplish such a feat? Unlike the relatively smooth physical transition in "Freaky Friday," researchers have suggested that such an act would result in severe disassociation, akin to powerful LSD. Your motor patterns would be different; the way you move through space alone would require an entirely new education. The idea that you'd just pick up where you left off in new skin is implausible.
Humans will try any novel ideas. Though the consciousness-switching tech isn't quite ready, VR headsets are widely available. While still clunky (due to the weight and feel of the headset), a sense of embodiment is rather convincing. And so a team led by Karolinska Institutet neuroscientist Pawel Tacikowski handed 33 pairs of friends goggles and let them trade places. The results have just been published in iScience.
The most fascinating aspect of their findings concerns the concept of self. We often think of our self as an island in an ocean of islands, but reality isn't quite that simple. As neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran has written, the idea that the self is "entirely private is to a significant extent a social construct—a story you make up for others." This narrative imposes social stability and also acts as cover to shield your true feelings from others.
Decades of neuroscience research has found the self is not a fixed identity but a fluid state of being. "You" change according to the environment you're in and the people you're around. Changes are often undetectable, as least to you. You likely don't realize your "self" depends on everything around you at all times. There is no island.
It's not that you don't bring anything to the table, however. Your memories—specifically, episodic memories—play a leading role in perception. Because of this, the very concept of "reality" is often debated. Is shared reality possible? Likely not. You regularly create reality based on your past experiences.
Upon assuming their friend's body, volunteers in this study assigned their friend's personality characteristics to their new skin. This process was informed by their own memories of the other person.
"These findings demonstrate that our beliefs about [our] own personality are dynamically shaped by the perception of our body and that coherence between the bodily and conceptual self-representations is important for the normal encoding of episodic memories."
Incredibly, this meant the volunteer lost track of who they are. Their perception of their friend dominated while inhabiting a foreign body. They ended up performing worse on memory tests about their own lives due to how bound up those memories are with their bodies. A major strike against dualism.
Photo: Crystal Eye Studio / Shutterstock
While this might seem like a freaky and fun experiment, Tacikowski is looking at the real-world applications of such a phenomenon.
"People who suffer from depression often have very rigid and negative beliefs about themselves that can be devastating to their everyday functioning. If you change this illusion slightly, it could potentially make those beliefs less rigid and less negative."
Tacikowski first wants to further investigate the neural correlates of body-switching. He's interested in how we construct the self in the first place. Once that's better understood, he believes clinical applications will naturally follow.
This sort of research also helps overturn an inherent biological impulse to separate body and mind. As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes, we need to recognize both aspects of ourselves as continuous partners.
"They are not aloof entities signaling each other like chips in a cell phone. In plain talk, brains and bodies are in the same mind-enabling soup."
Still, an unshackled imagination leads to great storytelling, like Krishna on a battlefield and Yogananda on a riverbank. There's no harm in such tales provided we recognize them as metaphors. Until then, we dream forward the possibility until science fiction again becomes real.
- Scientists might have found brain's 'engine of consciousness' - Big ... ›
- New Theory Suggests That Consciousness Is a Byproduct of Entropy ›
- “Who's There?” Is The Self A Convenient Fiction? - Big Think ›
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.