Can humans adapt to mechanical wings and other cyber implants?

mechanical wing by Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1490

How could our bodies evolve new senses and grow nerve endings to control bio-mechanical augmentation like artificial wings?

Our brains have plasticity and can adapt to the loss of a limb, but also remarkably will adapt to “sensing” a tool as an extension of the arm, called peri-hand extension.

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Put in simple terms, while using a tool the brain believes the tool is an extension of the arm. Remove the tool and the brain has a lingering distorted perception of the body’s shape. Scientist Alessandro Farné has published his research but unfortunately I only found it behind a paywall. A google search leads to pop-science articles and summaries of the research.

The brain creates a dynamic bodymap for motor control, and this map will update to include a sword at the end of your arm, Crutches as an extension of your “legs”, and the full size of a car when you are driving (“Car Body” Phenomenon). FWIW, the location of this map in the brain is likely the cortical homunculus.

“Awareness” of the wings will be in the brain, not in the wing’s nerve endings. As when you drive a car, the actual mechanics of pulling levers and pushing on pedals becomes unconscious. You just focus on “driving” – that is, you just think about maneuvering through traffic using your spatial awareness and senses, no different (at least consciously) than running through a crowd. Learning to operate a bicycle, is mentally very different from riding a bicycle. Once you learn it you don’t think about it anymore.

Meanwhile your brain has broken down dozens of arbitrary mechanical activities into motor control (rotate a wheel counter-clockwise to turn left), and is adapting your sensory information to the specific task (safe visual distance to the next car is adjusted according to the engine sound, vibration of the tires on the road, how quickly objects enter and leave peripheral vision).

With cyber wings, the flyer’s brain has to learn to operate the wings and interpret the sensory information for the task, but creating artificial nerves may not be a problem. Nerve signals are simplistic (like a repetitive creaking noise), and there might not be much difference in the signal when feeling the tip of the wing graze against furniture or the wing vibrating from an updraft during flight, but the brain will interpret those nerve signals very differently while walking around the room or flying.

Other senses play an enormous role in confirming sensory information too. Your flyer’s brain will be interpreting the feeling of wind on the skin, the sound of the air rushing past, the pull of muscles on the wings, as well as visual cues to determine speed, height, balance, etc. The whole brain works together to coordinate the sensory information.

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