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316 ETHOS

becoming that embodiment VR may also transfigu-


ration of the body boundaries, such that the person sitting at the computer
terminal can map or sense of corporeality directly onto r>"T',T""_
forms. Currently, represented virtual forms exist on a
number of different levels: a disembodied virtual hand, full body repre-
sentations, lobster, or animal and figures.
Therefore, it is necessary to understand how both sensorial and mor-
phological issues are implicated in embodiment in VR In order to achieve
this, reconceptuaHzation human experience is needed that provides
an understanding how embodiment in is constituted (and may be
grounded in culture, race, and gender) as well as an exposition of the mal-
leability of body boundaries. It is argued that phenomenological
approach is well suited to these aims.
Within this paper we present a brief historical development of VR
This includes a consideration of predominant optical nature. The
disembodied discourses of VR are presented and countered by a consid-
eration of the sensorial, gendered, and cultural embodiment that grounds
VR Following an exposition the sensorial phenomenol-
ogy of the body in physical and virtual environments is presented. This
includes a discussion of how sensory experience links into artificial repre-
sentations the (anthropomorphic representations) other artifi-
cial forms (polymorphic representations) in VR This implicates the
importance of artificial representations in engendering a sense of virtual
embodiment. What at here how is it possible relinquish a
sense of being in the physical environment and replace this with a sense
of sensorial and corporeal embodiment in artifiCial environments?
terms of corporeal embodiment in VR, this draws on research
regarding disrupted bodies (bodies whose sensations, functions, and mor-
phology have been transformed through limb loss, prosthesis use, and pa-
see Murphy 1987; Trieschmann to inform extent to
which the corporeal boundaries of the body are malleable and can extend
into virtual reality. These are also used to provide for
experiences embodiment current generic VR in of
the phantom and objectified body. Understanding how people come to
experience real reconfigurations of their bodies gives us indications of the
in our embodied experiences VR are manifested.
omLOPMENT OF VIRTUAL REALITY
Virtual reality denotes the use of three-dimensional computer graph-
ics to generate artificial environments afford real-time in-
teraction and exploration. These are intended to give the user an
impression of being present or immersed in computer-generated world.
The Corporeal Body in Virtual Reality. 317
While virtual environments can presented on desktop computer
plays, a sense of immersion is often promoted through the use of head
mounted (HMDs). can present stereo images (infre-
quently) sound, combined with haptic and vestibular displays, to create a
perceptually encompassing computer environment.
The HMD has been in use for over 40 years, initially for telepresence
to remote real environments (via cameras), later developed by Sutherland
(1965) to view computer-generated imagery. For example, it is now possi-
ble to navigate around Virtual environment such a computer-gener-
ated cityscape (see in which people can cycle on an exercise
bike wearing HMDs depicting textually based images of Amsterdam.
Tracking monitor movement of a head, so as he
or she physically turns, so does the point of view in the virtual environ-
ment. Most VR applications are dominated by which are,
primarily visual mediums. Very few systems have progressed beyond this,
although peripherals exist through which touch via datagloves,
tion via treadmills, and vestibular information via motion platforms can
be (see Biocca Delaney 1995).
Alongside increasing technological sophistication, the ways in which
a user's body is represented has evolved from lack pictorial
resentation, to arrow (as hand), to the hand, and finally to full-body
representations, normally in the form of block figures. So, the history of
VR been to eyes and then the hand, while the rest of
body's sensorium and motorium has been neglected or considered periph-
eral the immediate aims VR
OF OPTICAL TECHNOLOGIES, VIRTUAL REAliTY, AND EMBODIMENT
The reliance on visual information in the presentation of virtual
worlds is not surprising, given that vision has long been as
finest of senses (seeing believing). Indeed, it has been argued that
insights acquired by science have been built upon knowledge provided by
optical technologies, such the telescope microscope (Ihde 1990),
reinforcing the view that the acquisition of knowledge is primarily a visual
enterprise. In VR can seen as a continuation of the Western
SCientific tradition. It is these elements that contribute to the dominance
of visual sense in
It is a more recent recognition that vision by itself is incomplete. Jonas
(1970) highlights and touch as two senses that eomplement and
sight achieve its full potential. In terms of VR, the complementarity of
various senses has prompted the development of peripherals to capture
project body in its complexity into terminal reality (Bukatman
1993). Therefore, VR does not need to remain characterized by a disembodied
318 ETHOS
gaze-that projection our into optic panorama. Flexible
sensors and exoskeletal devices (re)create the body (or its parts, such as
the hand) virtual environments. fiber-optic " ... ,,.AV'U
familiar dataglove, adapted a fully instrumented
animation of a virtual body viewable via a HMD (Ellis 1995).
this sense, development reality (VR) continues to
evolve to greater of psychological, and immer-
sion. By virtue of the fiber-optic flexion sensors of the familiar dataglove
and fully instrumented body it is possible reach beyond the
limitations VISIon. "compelling" VR experience created by
ing" sensory impressions from physical reality (Biocca and Levy 1995).
The eyes, possibly ears, and even the body, enveloped
by peripherals. Reminiscent of procedurcs associated sensory
deprivation, it is, in fact, a substitution of sensory information. From the
dataglove to body suit, technologies becoming all-embodying,
perhaps even re-embodying. They are what Balsamo (1995:215;
see also Murray 1996) calls "new technologies of corporeality."
DIS-EMBODIMENT OR EMBODIMENTii
discourses around virtual treat as a disembodying
medium. Such discourses talk of leaving the body behind at the computer
terminal, of a wandering mind cyberspace. body, the
story goes, remains docked, immobile at interface, the mind
wanders the pixelled delights of the computer programmers' creation.
(1996), for example, contends that, recognizing transpar-
ency of the virtual system feature which will be elaborated on within
this paper), the "operator too" disappears, giving way to the disembodied
traveler, the astral projectionist, cowboy" in nur,ar_
(1996:37).
Narratives of mindlbody splits abound in VR discourse. Penny (1993)
argues that "virtual reality the Cartesian duality,
experiential body with a body image [the virtual body], a creation of mind
... " (1993:20). Stone (1992) cautions us to avoid the "Cartesian trick"
because, argues, physicality is important in as in
everyday environments. "No refigured virtual body, she warns, "no mat-
ter how beautiful, will slow the death of a cyberpunk with AIDS. Even in
the of technosocial subject, is lived t h T ~ h bodies" (1992:113,
emphasis added). Indeed, the body deserves recognition for its primacy in
the VR encounter (see Hayles 1996). Our argument in this paper is in line
with Stone's, that experience of using is an experience.
However, this is not unproblematic, and the nature of embodiment needs
to be understood.
The Corporeal Body In Virtual Reality. 319
The new technologies that constitute VR create the possibility of bod-
ily immersion. As suggested earlier, there are comparisons here with stud-
ies of embodiment under sensory deprivation (Seymour Fisher 1973).
Fisher gives the example of a sensory deprivation study carried out by the
psychiatrist John C. Lilly, who submerged himself in a tank of water, the
temperature of which matched his body. As he floated in the tank, isolated
from all light and sound, Lilly began to feel "merged and indistinguishable.
from all that surrounded him," unable to "distinguish where his body left
off and the water began ... " (1973:22). With no sensory detail (including
diminished proprioceptive and kinaesthetic frames of reference), Lilly's
body boundaries became ambiguous. Even the temperature of his body no
longer "framed" his body against the surrounding environmental tempera-
ture. While we are not arguing that immersion in VR constitutes sensory
deprivation, we are arguing that the condition in VR is a (partial) substi-
tution of sensory information, and that deprivation of physical reality, as
articulated by Biocca and Levy (1995), is an integral part of a "compelling"
VR experience.
The procedures associated with sensory deprivation and virtual im-
mersion may function to destabilize the experiential boundaries of a per-
son's body (see Riva 1998), thus partially freeing the phenomenal body
from the experiential constraints of a person's physical presence in the
real world.
1
For example, Michael Heim (1995) describes his own percep-
tual nausea following his VR immersion as "an acute form of body amne-
sia" (1995:67). Heim entreats us to observe someone emerging from a VR
system: "Watch their first hand movements. Invariably, the user stands in
place a few moments ... , takes in the surroundings, and then pats torso
and buttocks with their hands-as if to secure a firm landing and return
presence in the primary body" (1995:68).2 All this is not to say that the
mind is freed from the body, but that the experience of VR brings its
bodiment with it. It does this through sensations that are linked almost
inescapably to the virtual environment.
Not only are bodies bounded within the sensations they receive, but
they are also located in time and space. Early human development in-
cludes a process of becoming embodied. We have a corporeai history, an
evolutionary and ontological development. Along with our evolutionary
corporeal history, the "passage of bodily time" and its concomitant expe-
riential activity molds our embodiment (Zaner 1981). Maus (1992)
nized this when he argued that the body is our first and most natural
technical object. clothes (think of how high heels shape "the gestalt
of a walking body" [Falk 1995:96]) and techniques of the body work not
only upon the body-object, but also upon the body-lived, producing our
embodied experience.
ETHOS
Moreover, our evolutionary includes the development an
upright posture. We encounter the world from the height at which our eyes
are located in our bodies. By drawing on our evolutionary history, VR has
.our embodied reality to map onto our embodied experiences
cyberspace. As Dennis Proffitt explains, the "point of projection" in VR is
standing height. perspective offered viewers their expe-
rience in the world, and viewers measure objects in the virtual environ-
ments as they in reality-that against their own bodies. "You turn
your head and see a stool in the corner, it appears below your line of vision,
making it appear shorter than you are" (Azar 1996:1, 25).
SENSORIAL, GENDERED, AND CULTURAL EMBODIMENT
IN VIRmAl REALITY
It was suggested earlier that dominant discourses surrounding virtual
reality are predicated on notion of a disembodied For example,
one guru writes having "everything amputated" within VR (Barlow
1990). Indeed, this mirrors the concerns of the social sciences, which have
sought to human as disembodied phe-
nomena. Here the body rarely informs. our understanding of cultural and
social processes. However, movement cultural theory argues
strongly that the corporeal body is an integral part of human experience
1993; Scheper-Hughes Lock We cannot understand who
what we are, or explicate lived experience, without reference to embodi-
ment (Csordas 1990, 1994). This perspective has important implications
we understand embodied experience of because that ex-
perience is founded on our bodily senses, which transport us into virtual
However, not just our bodies are transported, but also our history and
our social and cultural context. In terms of VR, there is evidence that
people their everyday, real-world understandings and social experi-
ences to new virtual encounters. For instance, a recent study (Murray,
Bowers et , in press) of how people navigate through virtual cityscape,
in which a computer allowed them to progress anywhere, found that they
remained obstacles such as ""U"-"'''I',o
and trees. This indicates that people's experiences of VR are not purely
cognitively oriented, but embodied. In real life, of one cannot
travel through bUildings and other objects. It is possible in cyberspace, but
study partiCipants took advantage of possibility. Thus, to walk
roads in cyberspace is to remain within the same embodied sociocul-
tural patterns that exist in the real world.
is that experiencing Virtual reality is an embodied and
cultural event. For instance, Csordas (1990, 1994) argues that the body is
The Corporeal Body In Virtual ReaUty 321
the existential ground of culture and explicates this in his studies of relig-
ious experiences. We interpret our experiences through our culturally
constituted body. The very fact that VR has developed in an occular-cen-
tric way might well be grounded in the fact that Western culture tends to
emphasize vision above the other senses. As Howes and Classen (1991)
have argued, other cultures do not always divide the sensorium in the
same ways as Western cultures do. They give the example of the different
sensory properties of blood. In North America the visual aspect of blood is
paramount, whereas in South India the tactile dimension is emphasized,
and in Japan it is the odor of the blood that takes precedence. Indeed,
whereas the Western world works around a conception of five senses,
themselves culturally constituted (see, for instance, Classen et a1. 1994),
other cultures have the capacity to recognize as many as 17 senses (Rivlin
and Gravelle 1984). The point we want to make here is thatifVRhad been
developed within a different cultural context, different aspects of our sen-
sorial world might have been a more prominent feature of VR experience.
Certainly, the artifacts of a culture (such as VR) embody the different
sensorial emphases of its people (Howes and Classen 1991). In this sense,
experience of VR is culturally constituted.
We can extend this argument further by considering the gendered and
ethnocentric nature of VR applications. Feminist cultural critics have writ-
ten about the ways in which the body of white, Western males are in-
scribed upon and within the technological apparatus and narratives of
virtual environments (Balsamo 1993, 1995; Franck 1995; Hayles 1994,
1996,1997; Stone 1992). We argue here that VRis a cultural andgendered
space, and because of this, the potential of the embodied sensory experi-
ence within it is prescribed by the confines of the predominantly white,
Western, male world. If VR worlds had developed outside of the white,
Western male model, which is predominantly visually based, they might
have been configured very differently. For instance, one VRdevelopment
that reflects a feminist understanding of the body is that of Char Davies.
Her Osmose system is a virtual reality organized around a breathing
mechanism rather than hand-held peripherals. Moving within this envi-
ronment (an oceanscape) involves using a variety of breathing techniques,
and, as such, brings into playa different sensory experience (Davies 1995).
Clearly, this VR application has very different implications for experiences
of embodiment, which are instantiated through the tactile-kinesthetic
body (see Sheets-Johnstone 1988), rather than the purely visual one.
Similarly, Bailey (1996) has written about the way in which racial
issues are also embodied issues. In his article "Virtual Skin: Articulating
Race in Cyberspace" he suggests that race matters in virtual experiences:
The discourse of race is, by history and by deSign, rooted in the body. Cyber-subjec-
tivity promises the fantasy of disembodied communication, but it remains firmly
The Corporeal Body In Virtual Reality. 325
In Heidegger's (1962) analysis of tool use, he uses the example of a
hammer to propose the idea that a tool can become the means rather than
the object of experience. The tool itself is also surpassed as it withdraws
into the architecture of the body, forming what Ihde (1990) terms "an
embodiment relation." The tool is not separate, but part of body experi-
ence.
Similarly, Merleau-Ponty (1970) argues that the cane for the blind
person is no longer an object, but an extension of the realm of the senses.
Indeed, Merleau-Ponty speaks of it as "an instrument with which he per-
ceives. It is a bodily auxiliary, an extension of the bodily synthesis"
(1970:152). With the cane as a "familiar instrument," touch is experi-
enced at its end point ("its point has become an area of sensitivity" [Mer-
leau-Ponty 1970:143], rather than at the hand. This incorporation of the
tool into the body gestalt is what Leder (1990:34; see also Grosz 1994)
refers to as a "phenomenological osmosis," Whereby "the body allows in-
struments to melt into it" (Kujundzic and Buschert 1994:207-208). In so
far as we take technologies into our experiencing by perceiving through
them, the technology becomes embodied.
6
The above phenomenal examples of how the body incorporates tools
into its structure have implications for how we experience peripheral de-
vices ofVR technology. The separation between biological and cyber-bod-
ies that Penny discusses appears invalid, providing that the virtual
environments and virtual body incorporate these devices. If there is a pur-
pose for having peripherals, such as the dataglove, within the narrative of
the virtual environment itself, then it may be possible that the dataglove
becomes transparent in the same way that Heidegger's hammer and Mer-
leau-Ponty's cane do.
Alongside an understanding of the phenomenology of the peripheral
devices in VR, an understanding of the phenomenological experience of
virtual embodiment requires the consideration of the perceptual effect
that VR has on the experience of the body. It has been argued that for a
sense of "presence" in virtual environments, the virtual body must closely
resemble (both Visually and sensorially) the body of the user (the anthro-
pomorphic argument). Sheridan (1992) asks how the "geometric map-
pings" of the body within the virtual and physical environments, relative
to each other, contribute to a sense of presence. For identification, and
therefore telepresence to take place, it would seem that a Similarity in the
visual appearance of the person and the virtual body is required (Held and
Durlach 1992). However, other discourses have discussed the polymor-
phous potentiality of VR (the polymorphic argument). This refers to the
notion that the represented body in VR does not have to closely map the
person's body in real life. In effect, it is envisaged that people could expe-
rience a radically reconfigured body, say from their usual anthropoid
The Corporeal Body In Virtual Reality. 331
I t is important to recognize that culture and gender may influence the
experience of embodiment for prosthesis users. For instance, many
women in Murray and Sixsmith's (1996) study indicated that their pros-
theses were central to maintaining their feminine identity, such as being
able to continue wearing high heels, to go dancing and so forth. However,
other women remarked on the "ugliness" of their prostheses, and how they
interfered with the establishment of sexual relationships. In contrast,
males in this study appeared more concerned with purely utilitarian func-
tions provided by their prostheses, such as being able to continue driving
a car. Interestingly, prosthetic company advertisements often depict male
prosthesis users in cars, emphasizing the culturally valued link between
men and driving (Kurzman 1997). Thus, the cultural context of feminine
attractiveness contrasts with masculine functionality, both of which play
a part in a cultural and gendered embodiment of prostheses.
Race may also be an integral issue in prosthetiC embodiment. For
example, prosthetic cosmetic covers, which surround the working mecha-
nisms of a prostheSiS, need to be visually redolent of the color of the user's
skin. While issues surrounding race do not currently appear in existing
research material, there are commercial companies that speCialize in pro-
viding these cosmetic covers, which therefore indicates that race is an
important consideration. Until issues of race have been explored with re-
spect to prosthesis use, it is problematic to attempt to explicate its role
further here, aside from highlighting race as an important area of future
research.
When considering issues of embodiment involving people with con-
genital limb absence, the phenomenon of phantom limb is less pertinent
than the reconfiguration of the body through the wearing of a prosthesis.
For people with congenital limb absence, prostheses are a redesign of the
body. Previous research involving people with congenital limb absence has
concentrated on the rejection of the artificial limbs, noting that many of
these participants felt their bodies felt complete without prosthetics
(Frank 1984, 1986, 1988).
In Murray and Sixsmith's (1996) research however, the embodiment
of people with congenital limb absence who had continued to use prosthet-
ics was of interest. Here it was found that many of these participants re-
ported similar phenomenological embodiments of prosthetics as
amputees. For example, a female interviewee with congenital absence of
her right forearm stated: " ... it's [the prosthesis] a part of me now, that's
the only way I can describe it. To me it's as if, though I've not got my lower
arm, it's as though I've got it and it's a part of me now. It's as though I've
got two hands, two arms" (Murray and Sixsmith 1996).
As well as this direct assertion, amputees and people with congenital
limb absence provide rich descriptions of prosthesis use reminiscent of the
The Corporeal Body In Virtual Reality. 333
the importance of "authorship of action" (Harre 1991), to be able to con-
trol body, contributing an ownership identification of the
with the body.
Instances of disrupted embodiment, and the body images they pro-
Vide, of the importance of function, and
upon the selfs corporeal moorings to the body. They tell us about a process
of re-embodiment-a radical metamorphosis in the architecture of the
body. and people congenital absence use
theses experience "the extended body," while paralytics experience "the
receding body."
direct relation VR, can be argued the changes sensory
information that come with amputation, the embodiment of prosthetics,
and paralysis take time to crystallize into a concise body psyche, where-
upon sense completeness allows reliable body image once more.
Similarly, it might be that the dizzying sensory changes that accompany
VR likewise disorient our sense of body before, with explora-
tion time, coherent body experienced.
In the following section of this paper we will see how the key phenom-
ena of limb experienced by the amputee) objectification
of the body experienced by paralytic) manifested in
applications. In addition, we will also readdress arguments for polymor-
phic within VR
A ROURN TO PHENOMENOLOGICAL EMBODIMENTS IN VB: THE
PHANTOM, OBJECTIFIED, POLYMORPHIC BODY
word ka referred to "ethereal and dense"
copy the human This but material analogue" of
soul "inhabited and animated" the physical body (Grosz 1994:62-63).
Such cultural myth echoes the in current systems.
We consider that body inhabits an ethereal
one. For instance, Romanyshyn (1994) argues that it is close to the phe-
nomenology cyberspace see virtual or cyberbody
"haunting" virtual world. cyberbody a
its interactions with its virtual environment leave no tangible marks upon
its flesh" (1994:97). Similarly, Hayles (1992) the act of
closing the in VR grasp an objeet. While the person sees
object, often there is no kinesthetic feedback of touch. "Proprioceptive
sense flows out of the body to meet artifact, but since there is no
terial object, returns a feedback that acts to de-materialize
body" (Hayles 1992:168).
it be the physical body becomes more ethereal
tangible) in virtual experience perceptually and ""V'''"'''O''""n
334. THOS
the virtual body becomes more dense. Heim (1995) implies much the
same when he says that immersion results from the primary
body giving away priority to the cyberbody .... The user undergoes a high-
powered interiorization of a virtual environment, but in the process loses
self-awareness" A fictional example this is provided by the
British television science-fiction comedy Red Dwarf. In one episode, Cat,
one of the main characters, attempts to leave an "artificial reality console"
taking the devices. After taking the glove boot,
Cat's (virtual) body is rendered paralyzed along his left side, and this is his
dominant bodily perception.
This a question phenomenal embodiment in systems: our
technological embodiment may vacillate between the two, but two there
are. This is what Simon Penny calls the "split body condition" or the "dou-
body" (1994:242). VR, part of the sensorial architecture of body
remains in the physical world, while another is projected into the virtual
The corporeal body the physical ever present
mind, while an body image weakly competes with
it. When only parts of the body are absorbed by VR technology, phantom
occur. The to which visual corporeality nnTn,n
embodied experience influences the tangibility of our body
outside the VR experience.
As example of informative of atypical embodiment when
applied VR, is to return to findings of Slater Usoh
(1994). The range of movement offered by the virtual body in the studies
was limited. Following a (in which only one arm and torso
movements were represented), some participants commented their
virtual body was "a dead weight," "a useless thing," and "nothing to do
me" (Slater Usoh 1994: authors provide their anal-
ogy of this phenomenon. They use an example of atypical embodiment,
namely the loss of proprioception, to inform us about the participants'
The example drawn a by enti-
tled "The Disembodied Lady." The subject of the essay is a woman named
Christina, who has lost all sense of her muscle, tendon, and joint positions.
her Christina couldn't "feel" body. felt
bodied." Only by careful (Visual) observation of her movements could
Christina accomplish motor tasks. Without this close scrutiny her body
was to would "lose" arms, for instance, com-
ments, "I think they're one place, and I find they're another" (Sacks
1985:46).
However, responses the in Slater's Usoh's
studies are remarkably similar to the comments made by people with
paralysis of various parts of their bodies. In both cases an objectification
the (or is articulated. The that Murphy
336. ETHOS
CONCLUSION
Throughout this paper, we have attempted to explore the notion of
embodiment of body in virtual reality. have argued that
a sense of embodiment in VR is predicated upon two phenomena: the
sorial architecture of the body, and the malleability of body boundaries.
The more is possible to enter whole sensorium in VR, the more is
possible to feel embodied within it. But equally important is the extent to
which people can blur their body boundaries and extend eor-
poreality into the virtual environment. This has implications for the future
configurations virtual reality systems. may be to design
systems to facilitate experiences of embodiment. This is particularly the
case when considering peripheral For example, virtual
environments can be created and perceived using specialized input/output
devices, a or instrumented clothing, such a dataglove.
Such devices can be used to transform the phenomenal (e.g., visuo-tactile,
kinesthetic) properties of body. Proprioception and phenomenal
plasticity of body boundaries can thus be accommodated synthetic
dia when the body topology becomes accessible. However, the extent to
which devices and/or (such as body-suit) may al-
ter the sensorium of the body to redefine experiential human morphology
is an open
Another enigmatic aspect of embodimentin VR is whether a repre-
sentation the body necessary virtual environments, and so,
form it should take. Judging from the limited amount of research we have
reviewed it appears that visual representation of person's
is not always required to create a feeling of embodied presence. However,
when visual representations are both anthropomorphic and po-
lymorphic virtual bodies engender feelings of embodiment. This may
largely due to malleability of experiential body boundaries. Indeed,
within this paper we have proposed that instances of atypical embodiment
(what we refer to as "disrupted bodies") provide us with rich examples of
the malleable image indieate reeonfigured hodies are expe-
rienced in VR systems.
in has been explored, this paper, a
matrix. The body has been understood as a cultural product, a gendered
and ethnie entity. We argue that understanding of embodiment must
take into account this sociocultural context of embodiment. It is apparent
that the development of VR emerged white, male, Western,
and scientific context. If this ethnocentric developmental context contin-
ues be then women and people other ethnic backgrounds
may feel alienated because their culturally constituted bodily experienees
are not reeognized in VR environments.
The Corporeal Body In Virtual Reality. 337
The phenomenological approach taken in this paper promotes a
deeper understanding these issues enables a critical examination of
the way in which the body may be instantiated within virtual reality. We
are thus allowed to challenge disembodied Cartesian accounts of the body
at the while the is cyberspace. We have
ducted an exploration of embodiment in VR from this phenomenological
perspective. This appears to be a promising route to understanding peo-
ple's own experiences embodiment VR systems, Phenomenological
analysis of experience is critical to an understanding of embodiment per
se, and of embodiment in virtual reality in particular, It is through such a
perspective considerations of sensorium,
sentation, ethnicity, and gender have implications for future development
of VR Therefore, we advocate phenomenological approach in future ex-
aminations elaboration embodiment in virtual reality.
CRAIG D. MURRAY is a Lecturer in Psychology in the Department of Psychology, Liverpool Hope University
United Kingdom.
JUDITH SIXSMITH Senior Lecturer in of Psychology and Manchester
Metropolitan University, United Kingdnm.
NOTES
Ackrwwledgments. The authors like thank Frank her constructive
tique of an earlier draft of this paper. Craig Murray would also like to thank Joanne Wynne
for her continual support, and to acknowledge the support of the European Communities'
ESPRIT (European Strategic Programme for Research Development Information
Technologies) eSCAPE: Electronic Landscapes.
1. A case can be made for envisaging a dissolution between social and bodily space, or at
least for seeing that this distinction is ambiguous or problematic. Straus (1966) argues that
social space is expansion of the "body scheme." It belongs to body, but not
pletely: "it is not an indisputable property, but a variable possession." This "intervening
space is a medium between me and the world," and that is its social significance (Straus
Ihde (1990) notes that we as our "real" or "naked space" is
transformed optical such the microscope eyeglasses. VR a
predominantly optical technology has the same and additional properties as those of tradi-
tionallens technologies; Along with the ability to move forever forward (magnify) and back-
ward in relation to image, VR naked space transformed,
particularly when we do not have a virtual body (re)presentation.
2. The reassuring pats on the buttocks and torso that Heim observes in emerging VR
users reminiscent of behavior observed in schIzophrenics and psychotics who
press reason for caressing, or banging various parts the as a wish to
"regain a clear picture of the dimensionality of their bodies, which had become vague or
'deadened'" (Fisher 1973:23-24).
3. all the sense organs," argues Anzieu, "[the is the most vital: one can live
without sight, hearing, taste or smell, but it to survIve if the greater part of
338. ETHOS
one's skin is not intact. The skin ... occupies a greater surface ( ... 18,000 [square centime-
ters] in the adult) than any other sense organ" (1989:14). .
4. Merleau-Ponty tells us that "my body for me is not an assemblage of organs juxtaposed
in space. I am in undivided possession of it and know where each of my limbs is through a
body image in which all are included" (1970:98). To illustrate the immediacy of the body
image extended in space ("a spatiality of situation"), he continues, "If I stand in front of my
desk and lean on it with both hands, only my hands are stressed and the whole of my body
trails behind them like the tail of a comet. It is not that I am unaware of my shoulders or
back, but these are simply swallowed up in the position of my hands, and my whole posture
can be read, so to speak, in the pressure they exert on the table" (Merleau-Ponty 1970:100).
5. However, there Is also a sense whereby donning HMDs, gloves, and body suits becomes
a ritual. In order to enter the virtual world, these devices must be worn, both literally and
symbolically. For example, consider a study by Slater et al. (1994) where a more intense
sense of presence was induced by having participants simulate the process of entering the
virtual environment while already immersed in a virtual environment. This simulation in-
cluded repetition of donning a virtual HMD to enter different virtual environments.
6. This is not to say that we can't become aware of them. Perception takes place through
the peripherals, but as a fringe phenoinenon we can become aware of. For instance, we feel
the light pressure of eyeglasses on the bridge of the nose, but the focal phenomenon is
achieved by the perceptual transparency of the peripherals. This is what Ihde (1990) refers
to as a "ratio" between the objectness of the technology and its transparency in use. At the
extreme height of embodiment, background presence of the technology may be detected.
However, this does not imply that a "dislocation" will inevitably be experienced between the
corporeal and the virtual body.
7. The supporting role of the whole body in any perceptual activity is elaborated on by
Leder (1990): "When I gaze at a landscape I dwell most fully in the eyes. Yet this is only
possible because my back muscles hold my spine erect, my neck muscles adjust my head
into the proper position for viewing .... My whole body proVides the background that sup-
ports and enables the point of corporeal focus. As such, the body itseli is not a point but an
organized field In which certain organs and abilities come to prominence while others re-
cede."
8. This can be compared with the experiences of prosthetic breast implants for some
women. The contribution a phantom can make to the acceptance of prosthetic breast im-
plants is evidenced by one women who, a year and a half alter her mastectomy, was still
experiencing phantom breast sensations and immediately experienced the implants as being
her own breasts (Goin and Goin 1981:185).
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