Transcendence through Second Life

While I’m burning eyelashes on my other computer, swallowed by much-delayed work, I came up with the idea of writing about a topic which you will find, well, unusual. If it makes you smile and laugh, I’ll be happy 🙂 If it makes you think a bit, because in my usually light tone, I touched something quite profound, well, I’ll be even more happier, of course. 🙂

Around mid-2004, when I first started thinking about Second Life® and what it meant (those were the days when I thought this was actually a sociology experiment, disguised as a video game), I came to the surprising realisation that something that I always found to be rock-solid was actually malleable, even plastic. I was observing my own self.

You have to take into account that in my teens — the last time I gave a serious look at my own self — neuroscience was not so advanced as it is today. We were still taught the prevalent opinion of the 1980s, stating that the neural connections in the brain sort of “solidify” around your puberty. Science recognised that the brain of a foetus has to have “raw” connections — after all, we are all born with some innate, instinctive behaviours, like sucking at our mother’s breasts — but that most of them were still “plastic” enough to be shaped by the first years of being subject to external stimuli, playing, and, later, more formal training and education. However, it was believed that after your teens, this ability of “rewiring” existing neural connections would not go much further on; about the time you were at the “peak of adulthood” (roughly around 25 years), the brain was fully formed, and the slow decline and deterioration would begin.

Nowadays, we all know this isn’t true (brain cells can continue to grow and be replaced, and neural connections can continue until the end of your physical life). But with my 15 years I didn’t know that. So, I looked at myself, and wasn’t happy about the way I was. I hated being shy, introverted, and socially inapt. So, well, I thought this was my last opportunity to make a change, until it was too late. And change I did; if for the better or for the worse, I don’t know, but at that time I was particularly surprised at how easy it was.

Then, well, after my 20th birthday or so, I simply never worried about this again. I was still aware of having been that odd, ugly kid at high school which was scorned, ignored, and laughed at; those memories were still present. But I was quite self-confident at that time and thought that I had “grown out” of it. Certainly through some serious effort of mine, sure, but I wasn’t too much worried. Adulthood had far more complex challenges (or so I thought!) than worrying about my own self — I just got absorbed in my studies, and later in my work, and there was really no much time to think about my self again. The occasion never rose, and I didn’t deem it to be “important” anyway: I was who I was, and, in any case, science would tell me that my brain was now “frozen in place”, so any opportunity to change it was lost anyway.

I never thought about this again until I started logging in to SL regularly.

The “sharded” self

My experience in SL was weird at the start. Since there was a certain level of detachment — in the sense that I could observe what was happening in front of me, in the virt