Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Five Senses in Second Life

Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that called Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.

William Blake

            Recently, I went to the Renaissance Hunt and Faire in Second Life (SL) to check out how things were going.  Things were going well.  While I was there I noticed several sides of beef on a spit over an open fire.  Maybe because I was in between snacks in Real Life (RL), I paid particular attention here. 

            The fire was realistic throwing off its heat.  The meat looked good enough to eat.  The burning wood could almost be heard and the crackling meat along with it.  The smell of smoke and cooked food would have been wafting through the air if this had been (RL). 

            This got me thinking about the five senses in SL.  The five senses (I won’t go into the purported sixth sense.)  being sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. 

            These senses are what help us experience life, RL that is.  Our frame of reference is based on inputs from all of them.  We can even form impressions when not using all of our senses at the same time. We may even have preferences for certain sensory experiences.  Although, over an extended period of time, we could be skewed by incomplete inputs.  (Cautionary note, in RL I am not even remotely close to being qualified to give opinions on these matters.  Just check with Significant Other.)  However, the remaining senses can be strengthened to offset the loss of the others. 

So in SL, we’re faced with experiences based on incomplete sensory inputs.  Sight and hearing are easy to experience inworld.  Touch, not as easily, unless you follow some of the advanced techniques in Lindal Kidd’s recent post about cyber sex!  (I’ll leave it to my readers to ponder the possibilities.)  For smell and taste, we’re left with our imaginations.  I’d submit that a sim with realistic visual and audible variables could trigger memories of smell and taste.  Fire is one of my favorite examples of this.  (I’ve already warned you that I’m not an expert in this field in RL!) 

            Can we then in SL have an experience based on incomplete sensory information?  Maybe, maybe not.  Possibly by adding RL stimulus (e.g., having scents present in the same room while having a virtual experience or tasting food or drink) residents could enhance inworld experiences while inworld. 

            Of course, technology continues to advance and someday we may be able to experience all senses inworld.  Who knows?  (Although, most residents I know would probably settle for reduced lag before we get too exotic.) 

As always, I’m grateful to all for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at

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Photo No. 1 Sides of beef  


Lindal Kidd said...

I remember a forum post from a gentleman who was preparing a special evening with his girlfriend. In addition to selecting the venues and activities in Second Life, he arranged to have appropriate foods and scents with him in RL, and gave his date information on how to provide these for herself also.

I don't know how the evening turned out, but this was one guy who really went the extra mile to create a "real" experience for himself and his Second Life partner.

Earthy Ling said...

Interesting comments, along lines I've pondered myself. (Also of note is that SL is not as yet, to my knowledge, set up for stereoscopic 3D for those whose computers are set up for that, which IMHO would make the sense of vision even more immersive.)

But the sense of smell CAN be added to SL, & ought to be I think, to make the virtual world seem even more "real" & compelling!

There's at least one device, called Scent Dome as I recall, that could provide the sense of smell to Sl! Unfortunately it costs about $300, & SL would have to be coded for "scent" ...

(It works like this, as I recall: the device plugs into a user's computer via a USB port, & responds to embedded codes in web sites, virtual reality worlds, games, e-mail messages, & etc. The codes direct the device to mix 20 different, refillable, essential oils to produce some 400 different scents, by heating & blowing the essential oils toward the user's face! That this hasn't caught on yet is reflective of the low priority we humans generally give the sense of smell, despite many studies that show smells can trigger memories quite readily. I think perhaps if humans had been descended from dog-like animals we would not have neglected the sense of smell thus far in constructing virtual worlds!)

Enjoyed your post.

webspelunker said...


Great story and thank you for sharing! Hope they had a good time!



webspelunker said...


Many thanks! I don't think I'm going to buy one of the devices but I'll pass it along to others inworld.