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|This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (December 2008)|
A body swap is a storytelling device seen in a variety of fiction, most often in television shows and movies, in which two people (or beings) exchange minds and end up in each other's bodies. Alternatively, their minds may stay where they are as their bodies adjust. The two people usually keep their voices in cartoons, for purposes of knowing who is who.
There are three distinct types of body swapping. Switches can be caused by magic items such as amulets, heartfelt wishes, or just strange quirks of the universe. The switches typically reverse after the subjects have expanded their world views, gained a new appreciation for each other's troubles by literally "walking in another's shoes" and/or caused sufficient amounts of farce. Notable examples include the books Vice Versa (1882) and Freaky Friday (1972), as well as the film versions of both.
Switches accomplished by technology, exempting gadgets advanced sufficiently to appear as magic, are the fare of mad scientists. Body-swapping devices are characterized by highly experimental status, straps, helmets with complicated cables that run to a central system and a tendency to direly malfunction before their effects can be reversed. Those without such means may resort to brain transplants. Such experiments can have overtones of horror; evil mad scientists seldom use willing test subjects.
In 1973 a group of scientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland Ohio, led by Dr. Robert White, a neurosurgeon inspired by the work of Vladimir Demikhov, transplanted the head of one monkey onto another monkey's body. The animal was still able to smell, taste, hear, and see. The animal survived for eight days after the operation, even at times attempting to bite some of the staff. Dr. White successfully repeated the operation on a monkey in 2001.
In 2002, other head transplants were also conducted in Japan involving rats. Unlike the head transplants performed by Dr. White, however, these head transplants involved grafting one rat's head onto the body of another rat that kept its head. Thus the rat ended up with two heads.
Since the Vice Versa novel was published in 1882, body swaps have been a popular theme in various media: