Saturday, February 19, 2011

Solving Avatar - The mystery of 'I'

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Who haven't watch James Cameron's Avatar....? A brilliant movie with never before seen sci-fi technologies... Well, the Swiss Researchers are quite hopeful to make some of those flashy technologies, a reality...!

In the movie, the scientists use Na'vi(aliens)-human hybrid bodies called avatars that are operated via mental link by genetically matched humans. There the humans are linked to those bodies in such way that they feel that body as their own. i.e, self-consciousness. You know, that feeling of being in or owning our body is the fundamental human experience. Have you ever wondered where does it originate..? or how or why we feel that way...? That's what researchers are trying to figure out.

By combining techniques from cognitive science with those of Virtual Reality (VR) and brain imaging, Professor Olaf Blanke, a neurologist with the Brain Mind Institute at EPFL and the Department of Neurology at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and his team are zeroing on the first experimental, data-driven approach to understanding self-consciousness.

Now let me make a little bit clear for you about what is its connection to 'Avatar' and what exactly did they do in their experiment.....

The people who volunteered for the experiment, were fitted with an electrode-studded skullcap to monitor brain activity and exposed to different digital, 3D environments through a head-mounted stereoscopic visor or projections on a large screen. They immersed these people into the body of an 'avatar' or virtual human via virtual reality settings.

Then the team, tried to dig out the most fundamental questions with those people such as, "Where am I localized in space" and "What is my body?" by physically touching their real-life volunteers either in or out of sync with the avatar.They even swapped perspectives from first to third person and put their male subjects inside female avatars, at the same time measuring each of their brain activities.

Why they are doing it...?? You may not be aware but there are cases in neurological patients reporting out-of-body experiences. And the data show marked changes in the response of the brain's temporo-parietal and frontal regions -- the parts of the brain responsible for integrating touch and vision into a coherent perception.The researchers are are trying to compare the experimental results with those case studies.

But finding the basic brain response to VR is just beginning.In the next step, the researchers are going to induce stronger illusions of the self by altering signals of balance and limb position -- two very powerful bodily cues.Once subjects can no longer distinguish between the real and the virtual self, cognitive science and brain imaging may be able to answer all the questions about self-consciousness and there by solving the mystery of 'I'.

Cracking this mystery, could.....
  • lead to advances in the fields of touch and balance perception
  • great advancements in the fields of robotics and virtual reality.
  • neuro-rehabilitation and pain treatments.
  • contribute to the understanding of neurological and psychiatric disease.
Lets hope the future it make the future better.

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