CTRL-Q: Quantum Time

First, though, that seemingly nonsensical introduction needs clarification. In what sense is it impossible to log off from SL? You select ‘quit’ and you are indeed logged off. But only partially, as a careful consideration of the way the mind works will reveal. To believe that SL is rendered by, and exists on, the computer is nothing less than a delusion. The computer does not render SL at all, it merely uses information encoded in binary language to send photons from the monitor to your eyes. These photons stream information to your brain and this enables it to construct a model of reality. Now, the way this model is put together naturally leads us to compartmentalise imagination, SL and RL. It appears as though imagination occurs in the mind, Sl exists on the screen and RL is ‘out there’ in physical space. But really, both SL and RL (in the form in which we perceive them, at least) exist where imagination does — in the mind.

Henrik Linden has pointed out that the residents of SL tend to consider the world to be an ‘immersionist’ or an ‘augmentist’ experience. That is, either SL is to be treated as a self-contained world, quite separate but no less real than RL or it is an extension of RL, no more separated from it than a phone conversation that continues gossip between friends. While it is true that SL can be thought of as either immersionist or augmentist, to insist there is a strict distinction between the two ultimately makes no sense because it is both at the same time. ‘Immersion’ has its roots in traditional concepts of VR, in which computer-generated signals allow the brain to experience another reality. Clearly, that is what is happening as your brain interprets the information carried on the photons that the computer’s screen emits. But then, the screen is not always emitting the requisite photons and in that sense, augmentation is right. The term refers to technologies that expand or enhance our natural abilities. We can naturally tune in on a particular wavelength of electromagnetism and that’s why we always perceive RL while awake. But we need additional equipment to convert the electromagnetic radiation that SL is transmitted on via the Internet into a format that our senses can tune into. Since we ultimately interact with RL purely by interpreting information transmitted by electromagnetic radiation, both could be said to be electrical signals interpreted by the brain.

It is once you appreciate that both SL and RL are electrical signals interpreted by the brain that you begin to understand why you are not necessarily logged off from SL after you quit. In order to be truly logged off from SL, all information impinging on the brain that is related to the virtual world would have to cease. Do you ever wonder what your SL friends are up to, or devise plans to make your in-world business a success, or wonder what events you might attend when you next log on? I bet you do. And whenever you do that, information related to SL is active in the brain.

Moreover, your existence in SL is part of an ever-growing network of relationships. So it’s almost inevitable that parts of this network will be affected by your offline status or actively thinking about you. If I am online, and my plans to visit you for some reason must be altered, then part of your social network is adapting its behaviour. So long as you are thinking about SL or somebody in SL is thinking about you, that means the electrical signals related to your existence in SL are active and you are not ‘logged off’.

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