Create a Fake Phantom Limb

To experience this fascinating tactile illusion, try the methods below (excerpted from Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran, M.D., Ph.D., and Sandra Blakeslee)...

You'll need two helpers ( them Julie and Mina). Sit in a chair, blindfolded, and ask Julie to sit on another chair in front of you, facing the same direction as you are. Have Mina stand on your right side and give her the following instructions: "Take my right hand and guide my index finger to Julia's nose. Move my hand in a rhythmic manner so that my index finger repeatedly strokes and taps her nose in a random sequence like a Morse code. At the same time, use your left hand to stroke my nose with the same rhythm and timing. The stroking and tapping of my nose and Julia's nose should be in perfect synchrony."

After thirty or forty seconds, if you're lucky, you will develop the uncanny illusion that you are touching your nose out there or that your nose has been dislocated and stretched out about three feet in front of your face. The more random and unpredictable the stroking sequence, the more striking the illusion will be. This is an extraordinary illusion; why does it happen? [It is suggested that] your brain "notices" that the tapping and stroking sensations from your right index finger are perfectly synchronized with the strokes and taps felt on your nose. It then says, "The tapping on my nose is identical to the sensations on my right index finger; why are the two sequences identical? The likelihood that this is a coincidence is zero, and therefore the most probable explanation is that my finger must be tapping my nose. But I also know that my hand is two feet away from my face. So it follows that my nose must also be out there, two feet away."

[This experiment works on about fifty percent of people.] The astonishing thing is that it works at all -- that your certain knowledge that you have a normal nose, your image of your body and face constructed over a lifetime should be negated by just a few seconds of the right kind of sensory stimulation. This simple experiment shows [how malleable your body image is.]

The second illusion requires one helper and is even spookier. You'll need to go to a novelty or Halloween store to buy a dummy rubber hand. Then construct a two-foot by two-foot cardboard "wall" and place it on a table in front of you. Put your right hand behind the cardboard so that you cannot see it clearly. Next have your friend stroke identical locations on both your hand and the dummy hand synchronously while you look at the dummy. Within seconds you will experience the stroking sensation as arising from the dummy hand. The experience is uncanny, for you know perfectly well that you're looking at a disembodied rubber hand, but this doesn't prevent your brain from assigning sensation to it. The illusion illustrates, once again, how ephemeral your body image is and how easily it can be manipulated.

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