Body-Swapping: Self-Attribution and Body Transfer Illusions (BTIs)

  • Liam JarvisEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Performance and Technology book series (PSPT)


The unattainable immersive desire to feel with the body of another presents problems that are narratological, philosophical and physical in origin. The leitmotif of ‘body-swapping’ is correspondent with this desire. In science fiction, the plot event of the body-swap has haunted the literary imagination throughout history. I will briefly examine how body-swapping has functioned narratologically as something that print media has only been able to imagine as a conceptual, and not a physical act on the part of the reader. To examine the philosophical problem of ‘knowing’ other bodies, I revisit key epistemological thought experiments—from George Edward Moore’s ‘here is one hand…’ argument to Thomas Nagel’s interrogation of the ‘subjective character’ of non-human experience (Nagel 1974). While the direct subjective experience of other bodies is unknowable, in various fields of cultural practice it has been the attempt to know that has been crucial. Neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran emphasized in Phantoms in the Brain (1998), within health care ‘it is the physician’s duty always to ask himself [or herself], “What does it feel like to be in the patient’s shoes?”. I will explore how scientific knowledge might provide proposed aesthetic reconciliations to the paradox of the immersant’s becoming [with] other bodies by examining Botvinick and Cohen’s scientific studies in the rubber hand illusion (RHI) paradigm, H. Henrik Ehrsson et al.’s experimental induction of out-of-body experiences (OBE), body substitution illusions (BSI) using VR and other body transfer illusions in the fields of neuroscientific embodiment and experimental psychology.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Literature, Film and Theatre StudiesUniversity of EssexColchesterUK

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