Until now I thought the only way to experience Alice’s size changes in Wonderland was by playing her as an avatar in a computer game, fooling around with fun house mirrors, or the traditional way — losing yourself in her book. But thanks to a tip from Tobin Anderson I’ve learned that a Swedish scientist has successfully created another way. In his lab at Karolinska Institute Henrik Ehrsson is exploring illusions, one of which causes its subjects to feel they have changed size. According to this Discovery Magazine article:
In a typical experiment, a volunteer is being stroked while wearing a virtual reality headset. She’s lying down and looking at her feet, but she doesn’t see them. Instead, the headset shows her the legs of a mannequin lying next to her.
As she watches, Bjorn van der Hoort, one of Ehrsson’s former interns, uses two rods to stroke her leg, and the leg of the mannequin, at the same time. This simple trick creates an overwhelming feeling that the mannequin’s legs are her own. If the legs belong to a Barbie, she feels like she’s the size of a doll. If the legs are huge, she feels like a 13-foot giant.
Van der Hoort performed this illusion on almost 200 people. Questionnaires revealed that they did indeed think of the mannequins as their own body parts. Familiar objects didn’t break the spell. When van der Hoort threatened the mannequins’ legs with a knife, the volunteers’ skin broke into a worried sweat, as if their real bodies were in danger. If he touched the doll’s legs with a pencil or his finger, the recruits thought they were being prodded by giant objects. Rather than feeling like dolls in a normal world, they felt like normal people in a giant world.
Sounds pretty eerie to me, but given the chance I’d try it anyway. Wouldn’t you?