If we could see through each other's eyes, would it help us to better understand ourselves? Would it change how we treated each other?
Be Another Lab, a technology-infused art collective, believes that it will. To test the theory, the collective's research team designed a series of immersive experiments that allowed participants to briefly inhabit each other's bodies with the help of virtual reality headsets and synchronized interactions. The effect was surreal.
In the "Gender Swap" experiment, men and women wearing the headsets watched a live feed of their opposite sex partner's perspective as they perfectly mirrored their movements. When she reached out to remove her shoe, she saw his hand removing his shoe, making it seem as if she was inside his body, and vice versa.
Another iteration reportedly allowed a ballerina in a wheelchair to "dance" again by pairing her arm movements with the perspective of a fellow performer pirouetting to her side.
The experiments with the headsets — described by the team as "The Machine To Be Another" — aren't just symbolic. They feel real to the participants. Very real.
"With the constant sensory bombardment, I had no time to think through which body was precisely doing what. Her voice, which was recounting her thoughts on feminism and self-image, became my stream of consciousness... To call 'The Machine' immersive is underselling it. For brief moments, I truly forgot who I was, where I was, and what was happening," wrote journalist Aaron Souppouris of his time at the lab for The Verge.
The team hopes to use the headset as a tool to help promote "empathy among individuals of different social, cultural and ideological contexts," making men and women a poignant beta.
With the experiments, understanding between individuals may no longer be about walking in someone else's shoes. It's about recognizing their foot as your own — and caring for it accordingly.