Transcendence through Second Life

Clearly, however, this wasn’t the whole explanation. The notion of “limited senses” is just a convenient excuse. After all, on my daily routine, I chat on other media too; I write emails; I get phone calls (fortunately, less and less of those!). All these are also “limited” in several ways. Nevertheless, most people I communicate with react to my physical self in pretty much the same way when they are in my physical presence. Thus, physical presence, by itself, is not the conditioning factor. And why? Because the amazing pattern-matching and processing abilities wired in our brains is most excellent at dealing with limited information. In fact, this goes to extreme cases, when you consider the simple issue that the brain sees things that are not there: we all have a rather large blind spot in our eyes (the place where the optical nerves enter the eye), but we’re never aware of it. The brain just compensates. Or, more correctly, the awareness bit of the brain just gets processed information which does not contain the big, black spot where there is no visual information. We don’t “see” (in the sense of data processing of visual input) the blind spot and just conveniently ignore it; no, our awareness does not include the lack of visual data at all. We see contiguous visual information all the time.

Similarly, although we all know that we just see about 22 frames per second, we’re not aware of individual frames.We can’t tell ourselves, “I’m seeing just snapshots of the external world, continuous movement is just an illusion of my brain”. We simply don’t think like that. We can’t “freeze” a frame and analyse it, or discard frames, or anything like that. Even if we know, at an intellectual level, that we just get snapshots and there is no real “movement” out there, that’s not what we’re aware of. The brain just compensates and translates and interprets everything as “fluid movement”, even if no such thing exists in reality.

So, well, when we’re on a phone call, we also compensate for the lack of visual input. We don’t behave so differently on a phone call with a good friend — we can imagine their face when they laugh, for instance. The lack of information is not a crucial factor for our so well adapted brain. The narrower bandwidth of a communication medium is usually not a problem. So we can “feel” we’re in the “presence” of a friend when we call them up, even if that’s really just our brain tricking us to believe that, because it’s so good at tricking us all the time. And, of course, we all know that this is an evolutionary trait: the skill we have to look at tell-tale signs in the surroundings and start running well before we see the tiger jumping at us. Being able to deal with incomplete data, getting it right most of the time (the ones that didn’t manage that have quickly dropped out of our gene pool and made some happy tigers in the past), and being able to react in a fully functional is a consequence of the way our mind works.

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