You know what your personal space is. Uninvited strangers invading it invoke an immediate sense of unease. A bird flying over but too close to your head may cause you to reflexively duck. It’s like we don’t just end where our bodies end, but a little bit beyond.
Now researchers have figured out a way to make you “feel” the invisible bubble that wraps around you. In a new study published in the journal Cognition on June 24, neuroscientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm describe how they did this using an altered version of the so-called rubber hand illusion.
In the classic version of the rubber hand illusion, a person is shown a fake rubber hand placed in front of them while their own hand is hidden behind a screen. If both real and fake hands are simultaneously stroked by a brush for a few minutes, the person’s brain starts to accept the fake hand as part of the body. To test this, just bring a knife or hammer close to the fake hand and watch how someone reacts.
In the new experiments, the researchers repeated this procedure but never actually touched the rubber hand. Instead, they applied brushstrokes in mid-air above it. Simultaneously, they stroked the participant’s hidden real hand with real touch. A few minutes later, the participants started to feel the rubber hand was their own. What’s more, they started to sense what felt like a “magnetic force” or a “force field” between the brush and the rubber hand, according to the study.
“We can elicit this bizarre sensation of there actually being something in mid-air between the brush and the rubber hand,” Arvid Guterstam of the Karolinska Institute, a co-author of the study, told New Scientist.
The finding plugs into research stretching to the 1990s that has suggested the brain has a mechanism to recognize the immediate space around the body, said neuroscientist Michael Graziano of Princeton University, who wasn’t involved with the new study but has researched the topic. (1)
Perhaps – in an analogy with the rubber hand experiment – the greatest proof that the world is immaterial is our faith in the material. Only a force field as strong as consciousness could actually believe that lifeless matter is so important. Only something as special as our immaterial nature can project importance to such unimportant things. It takes a stroke to the real hand, in order to invoke something to the other. It takes a soul in order to believe the world is soulless…
I feel a feather falling.
On my hand.
But it is not mine.
And yet I feel it.
Feel the cosmos.
I don’t feel it is mine.
And yet it is…