Virtual Embodiment or:
When I Enter Cyberspace, What Body Will I Inhabit?
Keywords:merleau-ponty, phenomenology, virtual reality, body schema, science fiction
The following paper attempts to look at virtual reality technologies—and the (dis)embodiment affected by them—through a phenomenological lens. Specifically, augmenting traditional discussions of virtual reality as a purely technical problem, this paper seeks to bring Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s embodied phenomenology into the discussion to try to make sense of both what body we leave behind and what body we gain as we enter virtual worlds. To do this, I look both at historical examples of virtual reality technologies and their methods of (dis)integrating the body and speculative future examples of virtual reality where the corporeal body is fully sidelined through the lens of Merleau-Ponty’s account of the body schema, noting that habituation is an ever present factor that must be considered in virtual environments. Ultimately, I conclude that even in a scenario of one-to-one mind-computer transference, the virtual world will, like the physical world we currently inhabit, solicit a ‘phantom body’ thus forcing us to act and live in accordance with a mutual interplay between self and virtual world.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Peter Heft
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