Response to: Virtual Body Experience
Diane - great posting.
Those are very good examples of just how slim our hold on reality really is. ;-)
Consciousness and all it entails is just a bag of tricks - and by conducting experiments like these we can show what's really going on behind the scenes.
The same mechanism that makes these out-of-body-experiences possible is responsible for our capacity to use tools so well - they are integrated into our body schema - they are well and truly part of us.
It also shows just how important skin - and input received via skin is in updating the body schema. Think about what you are for example doing to the skin of your lower back during a normal workday: is there any "real" input? Or do you put on clothes in the morning and sit all day? There is not much feedback coming from that area if you do this - a problem other primates have solved quite well by the practice of social grooming.
Some say that humans have taken social grooming to the next level by adopting speech as a tool to keep track with larger peer groups - but I think touch is still the most important and basic sense there is. Language is a poor substitute.
As for a way how to use this in the treatment process:
take a cheap digital camcorder - hook it up to a screen and have the patient watch his back live in front of him. Now you can touch his real back and show him how you want him to move it. That way the patient has visual feedback with which to correct the movement appropriately.
My guess is that - even in chronic pain conditions - the time you'd need to treat someone successfully wouldn't be more than a couple of weeks with 20 minutes of training daily.
If you look at the studies done with phantom limb pain and CRPS - using mirror box treatment - this kind of therapy works incredibly fast. And: you feel the effect within the first treatment session.
I think that this is one of the most promising techniques ever invented.