Aria has interviewed old residents of Second Life® who have given up on the virtual world. She asked them about their engagement — what they mostly did, why they remained for so long, and, naturally, why they left.
The two first interviews show an interesting trend. Both are from former content creators, who had a “vision” about what to do and how to do it, and the desire to meet others with the same ideas. This didn’t work out precisely as they intended.
Why? Both give the same reason: drama. Or, to be more precise, sex. It’s also interesting how for those two people, drama means emotional frustration from power-struggles and manipulation in relationships of a sexual nature.
If you begin reading those interviews, they both make the same assumption: “Second Life is a GAME“. But, at the same time, they explain that neither of them was into role-playing; instead, they “used their ‘real me’ avatars”. They didn’t “pretend” to be anybody else. They weren’t into escapism, nor even fantasy. They took everything seriously. Well… seriously… but not by considering SL “serious” — after all, it’s “just a game”.
As they describe their experiences over the years, two or three things pop up in their stories. First, they had to struggle with addiction. But it’s not quite clear what they found so addictive about SL, just that — after the fact — they looked back at their experience as an addiction, and they left SL with the sense of breaking up their addiction, like an alcoholic looking back at their drunken times with disgust, from a distance.
Addictions have many causes, most being psychological, although many naturally have physical causes (i.e. drug addiction). Pleasure is also addictive — and so is lust, passion, and a lot of strong emotions. Adrenaline is addictive. And so is power, wealth, and the ability to control and manipulate others. So we’re not sure what exactly made SL so addictive for them, but one thing is clear: whatever they found in SL that is so addictive, they don’t experience “in the real world”. And they warn future users not to join SL, “because it’s so addictive” — but they don’t say why.
Now we could wildly conjecture about reasons for SL being addictive. For instance, since both interviews mention sex, one might think that sex, and the complex inter-relationships (pleasure, power, control) that come from sex, are addictive. But the interviewers are quite adamant on all that: they were not after extra-marital relationships, even though they admit that “their families were neglected” (one has to assume that merely staying in-world for hours and hours caused this “neglection”). More interestingly, it’s clear that they don’t see other avatars as real.
Here is the interesting ambiguity. Both seem to repeat the same mantra, “it’s not real it’s not real SL is a game SL is a game” in order to protect themselves and their own feelings of getting involved with other human beings. By doing so, they objectify other people. They don’t “see” a real, breathing, warm-blooded human being behind someone’s avatar. Instead, they have a very solipsistic attitude towards the virtual world: “everything (and everyone) is fake, SL is just a game, everybody is playing a game, except me, I‘m real, I’m not pretending, I’m not role-playing”.
Consider that thought carefully. Probably as a form of defense — “I don’t want to deal with what I feel about other people [in SL], because I will get hurt” — they created this vision that there are no “real humans” in SL, except for themselves. By doing that, they see SL as merely a fantasy role-playing environment, and, escaping from that, what do they do?
They go to chat on Facebook with utter strangers. Because, well, these strangers are real and are not pretending.
Now, please understand that I’m not criticizing the amount of suffering that these two people have gone through. It’s clear that their emotions were utterly wrecked by their experience with SL. They hint, more then affirm, that power-struggles among sexual relationships between business associates, partners, and friends, have led them to experience the suffering from jealousy, bad temper, deception, manipulation, and power struggles. This suffering went for a long time, and crushed them emotionally, and made their lives a mess while they were active SL residents. All that suffering was certainly real, and quite worthy of deep compassion.
But maybe none of them had ever experienced these kinds of feelings in the real world, and, because of that, they were utterly unprepared to deal with them once they were triggered by situations experienced while logged in to SL. It depends so much on what kind of business you work for, what neighbourhood you live, and so forth; you might have been shielded from all that. Giving my personal example: while going through most of my professional life, I was mostly unaware of the sexual innuendos in the background, and while once or twice it was clear to everybody else that I was being manipulated, I was way to naïve to be aware of that. It was just years afterwards that I agreed that possibly there was a bit more to the nice smiles and apparently innocuous invitations…
So if I had that kind of naïve experience, and got landed in the middle of the complex sexual struggles in SL, I might have developed the same attitude that these two. I might have gotten scared about how sex completely dominates the minds and actions of everybody around me; and I might have given up on SL, shocked that nobody there is interested in anything else besides sex. And — reluctantly I agree that this could be a possibility — I might even believe that Facebook users are not interested in dating but in having meaningful conversations about high-brow subjects…
Well, think again. We all know that Zuckerberg’s original idea was to create a dating site, and as a dating site, that’s what Facebook is really good at — specially because people are so stupid to tell everybody what they’re doing, so, if you have a manipulative mind, you can even spy upon your sexual partners to see if they’re being faithful and honest or not.
I might look around most of my friends who are also on Facebook and say, “nooo, they’re not all here because of sex!” But then I would have to remind myself that my cousin just registered to Facebook to get a husband; once she married, she never used Facebook again. And a good friend of mine collects sexual partners through Facebook, and discards them as soon as she figures out that they’re not worth spending time with them. Ok, so, these are exceptions — that’s what I tell myself. So, in a sense, I’m using the same barriers to protect myself as these two guys did with SL: I tell myself lies, because the truth is too scary to accept. I cannot accept that most of my friends are on Facebook just to get a date. There is nothing wrong with that — but life is so much more than the next hot date 🙂 — but it simply scratches the nice, naïve bubble which I have built for myself. I like to think, “nooo, my friends and I are special, we think differently” when this is clearly not the case. And, of course, that doesn’t turn my friends and family into monsters, just because they enjoy online flirting and arranging for dates. They’re doing just what most humans do. Why do you think that Facebook is such a huge success? 🙂
By “falling back to real life”, these two people have shut off a bad experience that they had, when they finally saw people as they are — and not as they pretend to be. This is precisely the reverse of what they claim that happens in SL!
Let me try to explain again. A large proportion of the sentient beings in this planet are, indeed, manipulative, control-freaks, jealous, fond of gossip, and love power struggles, of a sexual nature or not. But due to societal constraints, they “pretend” not to be anything like that, and “behave” for “fear” of displaying inappropriate behaviour [I’m quoting Kohlberg, btw]. This “fear” is not necessarily visceral fear; it can be pragmatic, like “I won’t make a fool out of myself at work, or else I might lose my job”. So one refrains from engaging in certain behaviours, because they have consequences that might not be pleasant. This is rather reasonable. Not everybody keeps themselves that much in check, however, and that’s why we point fingers at them and shake our heads — they’re a “bad example” that we don’t want anyone to follow, much less ourselves. Think Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky!
But in SL — unlike what those two have claimed — many residents feel that those constrains are looser. They can, for a while at least, display their real motivations and intentions, because there is little fear of discovery, and few or no incentives for maintaining a certain amount of respectability. After all, “everybody is doing the same” — which means that in the society of SL, those displays of emotion are tolerated, even if they’re not that actively promoted. But contrast that to “real life” where they are suppressed. It’s a world of difference!
So the irony is that, on one hand, we might be wearing nice avatars as masks. But on the behavioural side of things, we drop all masks and pretenses, and display our inner feelings — feelings of desire, of lust, of power, of greed, of jealousy, of control and manipulation. Because we know that if all goes wrong we can always start with a new avatar. Nobody will know. There is no responsibility — and the lack of accounting means a rather more liberal attitude towards displaying strong emotions. You can always turn SL off if you have gone too far.
What shocked these two persons in the interviews was not that “everybody is pretending, everybody is fake, everybody is not real, this is just a game”. No, what shocked them was that they got a glimpse on how people really are beneath their mask of smiles and pleasantries — what happens when all social norms are discarded, just because there is no point in keeping them around. SL is much more than merely “a fantasy” — it’s a way to unclench our deepest feelings, which have to be kept at bay in “real life”, but we can be exactly what we wish to be — and behave, act, and say exactly what we wish to say — inside the virtual world.
This creates a reality fracture in those who believed naïvely in a nice world where all people are perfect, loving, compassionate humans. Because it’s too horrible to contemplate the idea that people are not like that, they turn the table and pervert the whole classifications. People displaying their true selves are labeled as “role-players”. Situations which these people create, to give vent to their desires of pleasure, control and manipulation, are turned into “fantasies”, “gossip”, and, of course, “drama”. And, seen from that perspective, it looks like “in SL, everything is about sex”. No: it’s in the real world that everything is about sex. Only that in SL we are not constrained to pretend otherwise!
Of course this is a very dark view of Second Life and its inhabitants, and of the whole world in general. In fact, I’m quite sure that it’s not all about sex and relationships for all people. A few among us are a bit above animal lust and evolution’s drive to procreate — there is more to life than that. And those kinds of people are also in Second Life. They might be overwhelmed by a vast majority who does not think beyond the next relationship, the next hot date, or the next manipulative power struggle, but that doesn’t mean these people don’t exist at all. Thankfully for Humankind, there are plenty of those around.
Aria commented on my own comments:
If you think about it in RL when we are “dating” it tends to be more activity related. We can actually spend a great deal of time with people without ever really communicating effectively. In RL you have all kinds of situations where people get together and it does not work out because it turns out one or both partners were not at all who they seemed to be. We don’t focus so much on that because it is RL … but when it happens in here, and happens much quicker than RL because we are pretty much dependent on communication, we suddenly are talking about SL as being the “cause.”
She hits on a quite interesting point, one that wouldn’t ever be obvious for me, because I cannot envision a relationship without constant communication 🙂 and where the only “activity” which matters is, well, communicating 🙂 But I realise this is my own very narrow view of the world; and, seen through my pink glasses, my partners and best friends have always been the kind of people who couldn’t stop talking for a single instant; any “activity” we would engage in would merely be a pretext for more talking.
But Aria might be right — for the vast majority of people out there, it’s all about “activity” and “feeling” (in the sense of tasting feelings and emotions about doing things with their partners). There is no communication — except in the sense that enticing feelings is a form of communication. But, as Aria points out so correctly, this gives you the completely wrong idea about who the other person in the relationship is.
In Second Life, there is a lot more communication. Oh, sure, people can spend endless hours clicking on pose balls, but, even in spite of that, there is far more communication going around. In fact, as many sexual workers in SL have reported, it’s not about the way you look (because everybody can look sexy in SL), but the way you talk — or write. Not surprisingly, sex workers in SL are prolific writers, tend to have awesomely well-written blogs, and, when they do “serious” discussion events in SL, they’re among the most interesting and well attended. This is a very unique characteristic of virtual worlds, as well as of online communities who use mostly text (and perhaps a few images) to communicate: “sexy” people are the ones who know how to best write erotically. And that’s hard to do. Specially because in the real world we don’t tend to have much “training” in that — but, of course, dating sites like Facebook (or IRC in the 1990s) are changing all that: we pick partners for the interesting things they say.
Still, if you’re not used to that — and if, for you, a “relationship” is merely “doing things together” — then coming into SL can be a huge shock. For some, the complete inversion in values is too drastic to grasp, and they might leave in shock; for others it might become “addictive”, in the sense that if you’re not gorgeous-looking in RL, and have few interests in “going out and do things”, but are a good writer, you’re suddenly a SL sex symbol. That can be very addictive for sure.
It’s a strange world. But perhaps not so strange. However, this “excuse” of labeling “SL is a game” in order to protect oneself and objectify everybody else, thus detaching completely from the strong and intense emotional mess one has gone through — well, that’s simply denial. But a very persuasive form of denial. Everybody — specially our friends, relatives, acquaintances — will silently nod agreement, if we tell them that “SL is a game, everybody is pretending, so it’s stupid to establish meaningful relationships there” — because that’s what people’s expectations are: virtual worlds are fantasy, escapism, and places where morons or mentally disturbed people go to have some fun.
On the other hand, it’s ridiculous to claim “Facebook is real, nobody is pretending there, so I’m going to establish meaningful relationships there”. Open your eyes, learn your lesson from SL: these are the very same people, with exactly the same motivations, hidden behind a picture (which might be fake anyway) and just idly chatting in other to persuade you to have sex with them. The only difference is that they don’t have pose balls in Facebook.
It’s not merely a question; it has been turned into a meme. Even though I’m usually against memes, who would I be if I didn’t question my own dogmas? 🙂
So, as suggested by Strawberry Singh, and inspired by Inara Pey who took Strawberry’s challenge, here are my own answers. Be sure to get back to Strawberry’s post to check on the comments on her original post to read plenty of other people’s answers 🙂
Unlike Strawberry or Inara, I don’t blog only on/about Second Life®, and this is not my only blog. So my answers were often a bit harder to give!
How long have you been blogging? About Second Life, since July 2004. About other things, well, half a decade before the word “blog” was coined.
Why did you start blogging? There was just a handful of blogs about Second Life back then. I thought it would be a nice idea to organise a blog with tutorials and tips for newcomers — everything looked so incredibly hard for me on the few days in Second Life, that once I figured out something, I thought it would be a great idea to share it with others! To this day, people still visit my old “Beginner’s Guide to Second Life”, written in 2004, and utterly outdated, but apparently some people still find it useful. On the other hand, the explosion of the SLogosphere meant that far better people started to write about the same things, so I focused on my pseudo-intellectual essays instead 🙂
How many times a week do you post an entry? I wish it were “many times a week”. These days, it’s about “a few times a month” 😛 On the good old days when nobody was constantly pestering me to, well, work (yuck!), I used to post 3-4 times a week.
How many different blogs do you read on a regular basis? I actually read very, very, very few on a regular basis. To be honest (sorry, guys!), I just read Inara Pey regularly. If she links to someone else, I know it’s worth reading, so I will read it too. When Inara doesn’t post anything (which is rare) I might feel tempted to read the New World Notes, Tateru Nino’s Dwell on It, or Prokofy Neva’s Second Thoughts. And that’s it, really.
Do you comment on other people’s blogs? Oh yes! These days, I do comment more than write new blog posts. Why? I have no idea!
Do you keep track of how many visitors you have? Yes, mostly via Google Analytics and WordPress Stats (even though SiteMeter and others also keep track of my visitors — different systems give different results). My readership is like Second Life’s landmass: always shrinking 🙂
Did you ever regret a post that you wrote? Sure, many times. Except for one (which was blatantly incorrect), I still keep them around, to remember me to smile about my stupidity 🙂
Do you think your readers have a true sense of who you are based on your blog? A difficult question. I don’t have a true sense of who I am! All that my readers are able to get is a perception of who they think I am, but that perception is clouded by their own ideas and thoughts, just like my own perception of myself. Confused? You should read my series on the self 🙂 (you’ll become even more confused, don’t worry!)
Do you blog under your real name? I only blog about Second Life (and OpenSimulator) under my Second Life name, which is also a registered pseudonym and a trademark 😉 Actually, that’s not true, I think I wrote two articles about SL under my real name… that was a long time ago, to be honest.
Are there topics that you would never blog about? A good question. I would certainly never write anything inciting illegal activities, violence, hate speech, terrorism, illicit or immoral practices, and so forth. And I tend to write about things in a positive way; even when being strongly against something, I refrain from crossing the line and actually be rude. Of course, I’m fond of sarcasm and irony, which sometimes can hurt even more… On the other hand, I sometimes write on opinions contrary to my own, or allow people on my blog to present opinions which I do not share. Extropia DaSilva, for instance, before she had her own blog, used to publish her essays here. This made many people think that I actually supported transhumanism or the extropian views; I don’t (I’m a Buddhist, we don’t need artificial technology to transcend our selves 😉 ), I just happen to like Extropia, who is a good friend, but that doesn’t mean I agree with her views. Nevertheless, I have no problems in publishing any ideas that are contrary to mine (so long as they remain ethical…). To be honest, I contradict myself often, and I have no absolutely fixed opinions — over time, I’m fond of defending the opposite of what I said in the past 🙂
What is the theme/topic of your blog? While this particular blog started mostly as an assortment of tutorials and guides to Second Life, over time it evolved into a collection of socio-economic essays about this virtual world. While I’m not a sociologist, nor a psychologist, and much less an anthropologist, I find that all these areas are immensely fascinating in the context of what a virtual world means, and they’re little explored (that doesn’t mean they’re not explored — see Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life). I just wish I had a good background to do the same kind of writing about fashion and art, two subjects that also fascinate me in SL…
Do you have more than one blog? If so, why? Yes, I have more than one blog. The “why” requires a bit of an explanation. Fernando Pessoa, the most prolific and renown 20th-century Portuguese poet, used to publish under several heteronyms — distinct persona, with their own biographies and writing styles (even languages — Pessoa was fluent in English and French as well). Why did he write under different personas? A good question, but the best explanation seems to me that he just liked the idea to explore things from completely different viewpoints — so different, in fact, that writing under just “one person” wasn’t good enough for him. Well, of course I’m not so arrogant as to claim the same, but I feel there is a good reason for keeping completely different styles, topics, and themes under different pseudonyms. My real self is the one who writes least (but has written for a longer time!) 🙂 As Gwyn, I also used to keep a (much neglected) business blog about Second Life, and sometimes I contribute, in Portuguese, to a collaborative blog with a tiny reader base.
What have you found to be the benefits of blogging? To be honest, none whatsoever 🙂 At the beginning, I had this illusion of being helpful to others, and that certainly encouraged me to continue. These days I’m not so arrogant 🙂 With millions of excellent writers out there, I’m just a boring pseudo-intellectual with high-brow opinions (specially about myself). Perhaps the only good thing about blogging was to learn a lot about myself: for instance, about how high I held myself in my own regard, but that was just a paper tiger.
So, why do you continue to blog? I’m a rebel 🙂 The more work I have to do, and the more people pester me to focus on my work, the more likely I’m going to waste some precious time in blogging, just because I can 🙂 Then I know I will have to handle all the complaining that I’m not focusing, not setting my priorities right, and so forth. Dealing with that is my way of saying: “You still don’t control me fully.” Sadly, as the rate of new blog articles has declined over years, I’m losing the battle, but I haven’t given up the fight yet…
In my country, there is still bullfighting. Unlike our neighbours in Spain, bulls are not chased to death; even though there are some similarities, and obviously some things were clearly inspired, there is one thing that is quite different: at some point during the fight, a group of a few forcados will tackle the bull, head on, without any weapons except for their arms and hands — and the skill.
Now picture this: a bull driven to frenzy by an audience of humans shouting and yelling, inside an unfamiliar environment. He’s not happy. He doesn’t know what is going to happen later. All he sees is a group of puny, weak humans taunting him. So he charges — hundreds of kilos of pure primordial force stampeding over the arena, straight into the group of forcados. The rule of the game is simple: they just have to make the bull stop, by whatever means they can, so long as they only use their bodies. The bull, of course, is not bound to any rules — he’ll try to kill a few forcados or at least seriously maim them.
You might be shocked either by the barbarism, the crazyness of the forcados, or, well, about the way animals are still mistreated in this corner of the world. I’ll leave that discussion for the comments, if you wish; I’m pretty neutral to the whole spectacle. The tradition of stopping a bull in their charge is ancient; there have been some written recordings dating it to at least the Romans, but some historians believe it’s a much older, coming-of-age tradition, where men had to prove their worth and courage by doing an insane act of bravery (these days, there are women forcados, too). In Portugal, young bulls are released in the middle of towns for special occasions, and everybody can have their fun playing at being a forcado too (the young bulls will be nowhere as dangerous as a fully adult one, which is only tackled by experts, of course). So there is a tradition behind this which may go back 2,000 or even 10,000 years, depending on what you choose to believe; it’s still harming animals, but at least the animals have a good chance to fight back and get some revenge 🙂 (In reality, the number of accidents is suprisingly low — most likely because only the people who have some experience will actually tackle the bull, while others will just watch.)
The analogy is mostly what comes to mind when dealing with what we conventionally call the “self”. When we start analysing very deeply what this “self” is, or where it is, it seems to elude us, like a bull avoiding the forcados. But if you start being more aggressive, and insist on looking at the “self” and figuring out what it is, then the “self” fights back. It becomes aggressive in return. It will kick and scream and attempt to defeat any attempts at being so closely scrutinised. And the closer you get, the more it will kick and scream, so our natural reaction is to get scared and give up the attempt.
But like the forcados can train and learn to defeat their own fear of a charging bull, and tackle it, calm it down and finally stop it, we can do the same with our selves. There is just a slight difference: when the bull is subdued, there is still a bull — albeit a very calm one — in the arena. When you examine the self as closely as you can get, you will eventually find something quite surprising: there is nothing there that you can actually call a “self”.
Let’s put some perspective on this, and switch over to Second Life®.
Common stereotyping picture SL residents as being “escapists”. It’s not infrequent that we meet some person in SL which will tell us that SL “allows them to be more themselves”; what this usually means is that these persons will feel somehow that the daily grind of meatspace will somehow constrict them into a specific behaviour which they dislike, and, by logging in, “become” someone different. Others just role-play deliberately, and thus automatically assume they’re completely “different persons” while logged in, but assume it’s merely a game they’re playing and nothing else. Others, of course, are just interested in dating. Most of us might not fall in either classification but are somehow in-between: we might tease a bit, we might not fully reveal our personalities, we might even act a bit, but, in general, we claim to be who we are in real life.
But are we really?
In fact, whatever we tell our friends — whatever we tell ourselves — what we’re actually experiencing is the plasticity of our “self”. Instead of something fixed, immutable, and indefinitely tied to our bodies, we swiftly rearrange facets of our personality while logged in — where we just have a body of pixels — and interact with others differently. Perhaps not too differently, but that’s not the point; the point is that we can, in fact, change something. And for many of us it’s the first direct experience where we realise that what we call the “self”, the “ego”, or even (for the religious and spiritual ones) the “soul” — something immutable and permanent which is always bound to us — is nothing like that. It can, and does, change a lot, and it changes far more easier than we expect, or even admit to ourselves.
However, we don’t think that there is really a change. We think that even though we might present a different image in-world (or even when commuting back from work to home, where we finally relax and put a different “mask”), there is something deep at the “core” of our self — whatever that might be — that does not change. The interesting point here is that we cannot really point out what it is that makes us feel “the same person” when in-world and when off-world, but we still believe that this “same person” exists, intrinsically bound to our neuronal pathways in our brain. Just because we don’t exactly know what it is, we don’t discard it. For instance, I might never been to Australia — or the Moon — but I know that it exists. The same, somehow, we attribute to our selves: possibly it’s just a collection of “masks”, but there is something (or someone) who switches the masks, turns them on and off. This “something” is what ultimately we think as “ourselves”, or, rather, “our self”.
What is so strange about it? Well, it’s the kind of thing that we don’t know where it is, yet we claim it exists. We cannot truly describe how it feels to have a self, yet we still believe it’s something that can be felt. It has no colour, shape, or taste — it defies description, we cannot communicate to others how we experience this “self” — but nevertheless we still believe very strongly that it’s “in there”. Just because we aren’t neurosurgeons or cognitive scientists, and thus unable to describe the brain processes that makes us feel that we have something below all those masks which we call a self, we are nevertheless allowed to have a self, even a self that we cannot describe or communicate the experience to others.
As a matter of fact, honest scientists will also be baffled and say that they have no clue what exactly a “self” is or how it is encoded in our brains; they just know it has to be somewhere in there. Somehow. Well, perhaps it’s just an emergent property of our brain, and thus the difficulty in explaining exactly what it is, but the truth is… brain surgeons or cognitive scientists or even psychologists don’t know what it is. Like all of us, they just know that we have one self, and that it’s connected to the brain: when the brain dies, the self disappears. That’s verifiable 🙂
So, some of my philosophical friends, as well as the transhumanists among them, they postulate the following: “we cannot have selves without brains. All human brains have a self [unless seriously damaged]. Thus, the information about that ‘self’ has to be encoded in the brain. If it’s information, we will be able to read it, and, hopefully, reproduce it in a future time. Once we do that, we will be able to recreate ‘selves’ using something different than an organic brain — a computer, either a silicon-based one as we have now, or perhaps a quantum computer of the future, or some kind of artificial brain made of synthetic neurons, depending on what technology we can come up with to ‘encode’ the structure of the brain. It’s just a question of time”.
Now, don’t take me wrong — I don’t believe that the “self” is something magical that is somehow “outside” the brain. It’s just very easy to observe that when you kill the brain, you kill the self. That simple experiment, although perhaps uncomfortable to think about, should give us reasonable proof that the brain is tied to the self, and that the self is tied to the brain. So, using Occam’s Razor, we have to exclude all alternative explanations of “brainless selves” — call it a mystical soul or something similar — just because the simplest explanation which can be proven with the simplest experiment is that the brain and the self are tied to each other. A good hint that the “self” has to be tied to the brain is that you can change the brain, and the self will change too. No, I’m not talking about lobotomy or some similar surgery: I’m just talking about getting drunk 🙂
This should give us another clue — and we’ll come back to Second Life to a minute — how the interaction between the “self” and the brain occur. Change the brain, change the self. Now this starts to become a bit uneasy. How much can we change the brain so that the “feeling of self” disappears? As we all have experienced — that is, all of us who are adults and live in a society where drinking alcohol is legal — the answer is, not much. A very simply chemical is enough to make us think differently — we might become bolder, more happy, or, in my case, way more sleepy 🙂 and useless as a conversation partner — and to anyone experiencing our sudden “personality change”, we will seem to be “out of character”, or, well, “out of our minds” if we truly go too far with our alcoholic consumption.
We traditionally shrug this off and say that there is a “base self” which operates deep inside the consciousness of our brain, even though externally we might behave very differently when drunk. But that’s just lying to ourselves. In fact, when we are drunk, we truly experience a difference. Sure, after the hangover, we “return to our normal selves”, but — if we have memories of when we were drunk; many don’t — we have a very distinct experience of what it feels to be “us” during drunkenness. And of course this is why so many drugs are popular, for those hating to be like they are, and so addictive: they allow us to experience a different self, even if just for a few hours at a stretch. In fact, many drug addicts do that because they truly wish to be different persons while under the influence of the drug; many would even make that change permanent, if there were a drug that allows that.
Well, there is… sort of. At least one third of the Western world suffers from depression of some sort — two thirds in some extreme countries — and what do they do? They get drug prescriptions to change their selves, more or less permanently, in order to be able to deal with depression — which often is linked to an inability of dealing with either one’s own self or the circumstances around us that affect the way we react. Whatever the reason — and I’m no psychiatrist! — the simple fact is that people deliberately take drugs to change their selves, in order to cope with “reality” as they perceive it. The drugs not only change our perception of reality, but they change the very core perception of our own self, and thus we can experience a different self — one that is able to cope with reality better, or one that has a different perception of reality and is thus able to cope better with it.
So all of a sudden this “fixed” self which is encoded in our brains can be artificially changed, and sometimes even permanently so. Huh. So how can it be at the same time hard-coded in our brain, and at the same time, we’re able to “reprogramme” it — and sometimes even with simple chemicals?
If we persist in using the computer analogy to describe how the brain works, then we have to consider that the “self” is not hardware, not even firmware… it’s just software, e.g. like an operating system that can allow us to cope with our perceptions (through our I/O devices, that is, the five senses). But like any operating system, it can be changed.
At this point one might argue… well, the brain is an electrochemical computer. So if we change its chemistry — using drugs — it’s obvious that the “operating system” Self changes. It’s only logical.
Here is where we should start looking at other aspects of our lives. When we’re deeply in love, all our perceptions change. Suddenly, rushing out in the middle of the night, when we’re incredibly tired, just to answer a call from our beloved one who is waiting for us, makes perfect sense. Tiredness evaporates just by the thought of being with our significant other; but even more than that, it might be cold and raining, but if we’re burning with passion, we don’t even notice it. From an outside perspective — a friend who knows us well — this behaviour might be described as “insane”. Clearly we’re “out of our minds” if we rush out at 4 AM in the middle of a blizzard just to get a chance to be together with our beloved one. But the experience we have is completely different. We don’t even realise how utterly different our behaviour is when we’re under the influence of strong passion.
Again, there might be a good argument for that. Under the effect of certain strong emotions — passion, fear, hate, and so forth — chemicals are secreted by our body which enter the brain and change the way it works. Most of these reactions — like the adrenalin rush when experiencing fear — have long been established by scientists and we know exactly what parts of our body secrete those chemicals, and what they do to our brain structure, so there is really nothing “magic” about being in love or trembling in fear from something unexpected. Well, yes and no. What this actually means is that we can even change the way we feel, react, and perceive our environment without external drugs — our body can supply us with its own assortment of internal drugs. Put into other words: it’s not just special drugs we take that can change our self, even our own body can do that. More than that: we can do it consciously. One thing is reacting to passion, fear, hate, etc. But the other thing is when we potentiate those emotions just to feel our own self changing. A typical example is playing computer games or watching horror movies to get an adrenaline rush, even if there is no real “threat”. Another, of course, is just masturbation. If we’re paying close attention, we’ll see how our self reacts very differently under the influence of chemicals produced by our own organism, at our own request (but most people don’t pay attention at all).
So, well, we might shrug these “changes of self” as not being very important, since, well, they’re linked to deeply studied reactions — we know exactly (or almost!) what chemicals are produced under the influence of certain conditions, some of which we can do on our own, and anyway, these “self changes” don’t last long, after the influence of the chemical goes away, we return to our own selves. And for the many possible situations, we can even list how long it takes until the “normal self” re-asserts itself after the body is empty of those chemicals.
Well, this still requires a more deeper analysis. So on one hand, we can shrug off things like the masks we wear at home, work, among friends, in a funeral, etc., because these are conscious (or at least “trained”) reactions that we exhibit under certain circumstances, and there is a “hidden self” behind the many masks that manipulates them. On the other hand, a lot of chemicals can really and truly make our self completely different — either for good or for bad — but the effects are more or the less temporary. We might even allow for permanent changes to the self due to surgery or very strong chemicals, used to treat chronic conditions — or behaviours — but we shrug these off too: since the brain is an electrochemical computer, if you change the chemicals, you change how the computer works.
We also shrug off what we call personality disorders, where someone clearly “becomes a different self”, either gradually over a long period of time, or abruptly, when a certain condition is triggered (like, say, a cerebrovascular accident), or due to some anomaly in either the brain itself or in the way it works, like it is so common with patients suffering from some sort of multiple personality disorder. We will also shrug off escapism — a more subtle form of changing one’s self because one wishes to avoid the day-to-day reality and adopt a different personality (even if this is done deliberately and consciously). We also shrug off the “self” we exhibit during dreaming — “it’s just a dream” after all, some phantom memories triggered by the brain in its sleeping state, and not real anyway (and we wake up and know perfectly well that the way we behaved in the dream was not real). And, well, even if we daydream of being someone different, and just recreate that experience in our minds, we don’t even attribute it to a “change of self”, but just a daydream…
We’re shrugging off a lot!
Now let’s get back to Second Life. While we might shrug off all the above as being “extreme conditions” and thus “exceptions”, when we log in to Second Life, there is a different experience altogether. Because we interact through voice, text chat, and an avatar, people will experience us differently: for them, we’re a “different self” even if we work hard to try to “behave as ourselves”. But it’s obvious that people will experience us differently, just because the pixel-based world of Second Life is different than the atom-based world of so-called “Real” Life.
But for many something different happens: we don’t merely get perceived by others as “a different person” — we feel we’re different, too. I’m not discussing extreme escapist cases out of touch of reality altogether — those are far fewer than the mainstream media likes us to believe. No, in a sense, we could compare the sensation of “being a different self” inside Second Life to, say, the experience of being deeply in passion about someone, or getting an adrenaline rush while watching a horror movie. The difference can be subtle, but we can perceive it. And for most of us, it lasts a long time — as long as we’re in-world, in fact. More interesting than that, we “revert” to our own selves when logged out, but, when we’re logged in with the same avatar, we “get back” to our “SL self”. In fact, for long-time SL veterans, this experience is “natural” and nothing special. For some, yes, it can be a mild form of escapism. For others, as said, it can just be role-playing. For most of us, it’s like the experience of doing something under the strong influence of an emotion — passion, fear — or mild drunkenness, even though it is experienced quite differently: we still feel “we’re in control”, in the sense that we can “feel to be someone else” but aren’t really “someone else”, just the “same person expressed differently”.
But like we “know” that we’re not the same person as we were 10, 20, 50 years ago — we have more experience, so we think and behave differently — we still think there is a continuity between ourselves when we were 5 or 15 or 25 years old and who we are today; similarly, when we log off SL and log back in, we feel there is a continuity of the same “virtual persona”. More than that, it’s not just us who feel that way: others, even though they have no proof, will also usually accept that we’re the same person that has logged in a few days ago. Or even a few months. So there is a certain persistence among personality — it might change a bit, now and then, but in general, others will recognise us, and even we feel to be the same person online.
Nevertheless, when we log off, and reflect a bit over that “experience”, what we actually tell to ourselves is that all this “experience” is merely an illusion. We might “believe” it to be more than that; in fact, veteran residents will tell everybody and even themselves that the “experience” is as real as, well, meatspace. There is no difference between the two. Others might claim that something subtle is going on in our minds, and that we somehow engage in suspension of disbelief while logged in: we truly convince ourselves, thoroughly, that while we’re logged in, we’re experienced a “self” — perhaps a “new” self or a variant of our “usual” self — for the duration of the experience. And many will claim that this experience is different than, say, the “personality switch” we all do when coming home to our family back from work.
Let’s pause a bit for reflection here.
For me, it was when I reached this point — a few years ago — that I truly started to think a bit about what all this means. On one hand, I invented a lot of pseudo-explanations to convince myself that we could somehow “shuffle” around bits of our self and present whatever image we wished when logged in to SL, but I assumed that most people would project a “similar” self — it would be mostly the way the environment transmits this image to others, which will then give us feedback about the way they react to our avatar’s interaction with them, that would give us this feeling that the experience of a “SL self” is somehow distinct from the one we have in meatspace. But at the same time, there was a lot of “shrugging off” to deal with the different “masks” we present in society. And, of course, when we dream, we also have to shrug off the notion that our “dream self” exists at all — it’s just imagination. Finally, when in SL, we might not always present the same image: we might use one avatar for our “real work”; another for “leisure & fun”; another for role-playing — which one is the “real” one, and which one is “fake” (in the sense of merely an invented creation)? Also, when logged in to SL with just one avatar, depending on the people you’re with, you will react differently. When I’m doing a formal conference on some topic or other, I write differently in chat than when talking about the latest shopping spree. So I present different “masks” on top of my “virtual self”, which, in turn, is merely a projection of my “true self”, which just gets perceived differently and thus seems to be a different self but…
… you see how this becomes hopelessly confusing! And I have not even given much thought to the issue of time. My good friend Extropia DaSilva, not so much time ago, was defending a certain point of view during a friendly discussion. At some point a few people — including myself — commented that she used to defend a quite different point of view in the past (and thanks to SL’s logging abilities, we can “prove” that). Extropia shrugged it off and said something: “so what? I was a different person then, with less experience, and in the mean time, I have learned a lot more and thought a lot more about that subject, so naturally I have a different opinion now“. She made me realise that “digital personas” or whatever we wish to call “our self immersed in SL” evolve over time, too. But so does our “real” self, whatever that is.
So thanks to Second Life, where we can play the role of “distant observer” and surgically analyse how we interact and behave, there is quite a lot to be extracted about ourselves. What becomes harder to define is what is this thing we call “self” that remains persistent and constant over time and gives us a perception of continuity. Merely logging in and out of SL and seeing how strangers react in a completely different way to our avatars than they react to our flesh-and-blood physical bodies shakes our profound conviction that the self is somehow something immutable — if it were, people’s perceptions of our self would be exactly the same, either in real world or inside the virtual world, under any circumstances. This clearly doesn’t happen. If we have the experience of switching avatars frequently, we will also quickly learn that people’s perception will dramatically change as well — so even if we claim to be the same person to ourselves, others will simply react differently and believe you’re a different person, even if you act and write in exactly the same way. Of course, once we reveal ourselves as being the same person in a different avatar, well, then we might get similar reactions (and people will just accept we’re the same person and disregard the avatar we’re using to interact with them). But we shrug off it too easily as being something strictly tied to Second Life. We believe it’s not the case in meatspace.
Once again, we’re mistaking ourselves. We all remember how adults behaved towards us when we were young, reckless, and innocent; and how they react to us today. Again, we’re too easily moved to brush this off as being just “part of the process”. But if my self is somehow immutable and encoded deep within the structure of our neural pathworks, and we have good memories of our past (it’s not my case, although most people I know claim to have eidetic memories of their youth…), so why should our teen body and our adult, mature, or senior body affect the way people interact with us? Those who claim to be exactly the same person — the same self — as they were in their teens are rarely surprised that people react differently to them nowadays, when people had such different reactions when they were young. But if the self doesn’t change at all, why should it make a difference if our body is young and healthy or old and decrepit? Why do we get different reactions when our body changes? After all, in Second Life, we have the benefit of both experiences: if we change avatars without saying we’re the same person, we get totally different reactions. When we tell them we’re the same person, the reactions will be the same. We find that “natural”, as we find it natural that people react differently to us when we’re young and when we grow old. In fact, old schoolmates — or couples living together for decades — might still behave similarly towards us even though our bodies have changed a lot in all those decades. Others, however, will react in completely different ways.
Because SL lacks a certain degree of body language — “we are our AOs” — many get frustrated because often they cannot convey their feelings and emotions more naturally, reinforcing them with body language. So some things we say get interpreted in a completely different way. I got very frustrated in the past when some people completely misinterpreted my words — in one case, this lead someone to report my profile to Facebook and have it shut down. They portrayed me as some kind of senseless monster — but when I read what I had written, all my words were perfectly neutral and lacking any of the evil connotations that they attributed to them. I was a bit baffled — and also somehow angry. “If only they could have looked me in the eyes they would have understood what I meant”, I thought. But in truth I would not have used different words — I would say exactly the same thing, because, well, that’s what my “self” felt to be correct. However, due to the way things are carried digitally without the benefit of body language, these words were completely misunderstood. Why? If I’m actually the person I claim to be, it should be obvious to anyone who reads what I write what I actually meant. But that didn’t happen — people interpreted my words according to their own perceptions, and thus I was powerless to influence what they thought about me. SL made me realise this — but then I had to ask myself, what about meatspace? How can I really know what people think about myself and what I say? If my self is intrinsically tied to my body, and influences what I say, how can people get a completely different idea of what I mean? While I might agree that body language will help the meaning to become clearer, can I put the blame only on the lack in body language in SL? If I’m honest to myself, I have to admit that in many cases, even with the benefit of body language, people will still misunderstand me, and build up a completely different image of myself than the one I’ve got!
At this stage it should become clear that the interplay between people also influences what we call “self”, and this makes things way harder, when we have to consider that this thing we call “self” is perceived differently by different people, and that we can do very little to influence the way others think about us. Of course that consistent ethical behaviour will give others a certain image of ourselves — but what is ethical for some, might sound like “Puritanism” or “political correctness” or even “hypocrisy” to others and thus might give them a completely different image of what we actually meant.
Extropia DaSilva, in her seminal series of essays about the nature of the “self” (and incidentally on the nature of reality as well), proposes a model which could be summarised, in an oversimplified way, and using her own expression, “I am the multiple alt of others”. Put it in very simple terms, her reasoning is that “self” is mostly a convention we use for practical and functional purposes, but that we actually can only talk about “thought patterns” — which our brains, as very advanced pattern-matching engines, recognise (even partially) to great accuracy. But to be able to find a match, this means we have to store those patterns somehow, to be able to match them against a specific person and identify them. Extropia thus suggests that, as we meet new people, our brain stores a simplified representation of their thought patterns, to be used later to be matched against that person again, so we can say “it’s the same person” to a high degree of accuracy. So two things can be derived from this model: firstly, that the more we interact with someone, the higher the number of thought patterns we archive for them, and the more complex they become. “Knowing someone very well” (as opposed to “merely an acquaintance”) just means archiving more and more thought patterns for that person. Secondly, while on one hand a single person’s thought patterns are stored on multiple brains, we call the “person” (by convention) the one with the highest and most complex number of thought patterns archived for that particular individual.
As Extropia is a good transhumanist, of course, this mostly means a method for achieving immortality: by surviving in the minds of others, who are able to recall those thought patterns of a deceased friend or familiar, and, assembling those from scratch, and interacting with others using those thought patterns — say, using SL! — we can make people “live” again. Of course, this will only work for those who have stored fewer and simpler thought patterns of that particular individual, meaning that they would still get a match for someone who is pretending to role-play Extropia. It wouldn’t “fool” her closest lovers — who would have a much richer archive of Extropia’s thought patterns, and thus fail to produce a match (“How dare you impersonate my lover, you fraud?”). But this would be a low-tech — or almost no-tech — way of achieving immortality: so long as there are enough people around to mentally reconstruct someone’s thought patterns, and interact with others using these thought patterns, the audience will “believe” that this particular individual is still “alive”.
(Convincing others to role-play a certain set of thought patterns is, obviously, another problem).
This also would eventually facilitate the future transfer of those thought patterns, even in an incomplete form, to some sort of mechanical device, and thus produce a way of artificial immortality, which is all that matters to a certain kind of transhumanist groups 🙂
For me, this model has just one flaw. It assumes that somehow “one brain” produces “one set [even if incredibly complex] of thought patterns”, related to a individual, and that these can be correlated statistically with a high degree of confidence. In reality, what we experience every day is that our set of thought patterns depend mostly on the “mask” we wear in society, and that it changes over time — we use different masks when we’re young — and under the influence of a lot of external and internal circumstances (like, well, drinking). So this would not only mean that different people would store different thought patterns depending on circumstances and time, but they would also change those thought patterns based on their own perceptions at the time. Worse than that: over time, we will also change, and so those thought patterns “archived” for someone we met in the past would also change over time. How exactly the brain can deal with so much change to an allegedly “unique” set of thought patterns, and eventually how this complexity can be reproduced mechanically, is beyond human knowledge.
My point in mentioning this is that all attempts to describe exactly and precisely what in our brain encodes a somehow “persistent” state of the self — so that it can somehow be reproduced, either organically (through other people’s minds) or mechanically — will fail. This is easiest to see for oneself (pun intended!) because when we try to describe what our own self is — something we “feel” to be persistent all the time — we utterly fail to describe completely, and, worse than that, nobody else will agree with us: everybody will have a different experience. If we cannot see that for ourselves in meatspace, we can, in the limited and controlled “lab” which is the environment that Second Life provides, see that in action — and even review, at leisure, chatlogs and see how different people experience our own self in totally different ways than the ones we perceive.
So not only we fail to capture the essence of that “persistent self”, but even if we come close to capturing it (say, using a systematic RMI scan or some yet-to-be-invented technology which might record snapshots of our brain’s quantum activity at the neural level), nobody else will agree with that “description”: each will mingle the image of our self with their own perceptions and come to different results. And these results will not even be fixed: over time, and depending on circumstances, we will experience the same person through our own changed mind, and thus experience the same person differently — e. g. suddenly the person we have loved for decades “turns to be someone completely different than we thought” and we get angry at them. But it’s not only our beloved one that changed; we changed as well! Again, SL — thanks once more to chatlogs! — is very good to help us to prove that, because we can follow past conversations at leisure. As Extropia so well put it, with new information we change our opinions, so some of our alleged thought patterns will not remain fixed over time, and will thus be impossible to “record”, even using the “perfect” recording device which SL allows us to do. Worse than that, even in the “perfect recording world” of SL it’s impossible to predict how someone’s thought patterns will react in the future — because circumstances will change, and this is one of those kinds of scenarios where past performance is no guarantee of future performance, as they say in the stock market’s prospectus for a company’s potential investors.
Perhaps the stock market is a good model for that! If we take a snapshot of the curve showing highs and lows for a specific company, and see it out of context — without knowing the time it was taken, nor the company’s name — then it’s impossible to say to which company it comes from or when it was taken. Nevertheless, analysts can often make reasonable predictions about a company’s behaviour looking at those curves. Put in other words: while it’s impossible to say “this company is this specific pattern”, we can infer behaviour from those patterns, and we can even predict certain reactions based on past behaviour, but not identify a company with a certain pattern. Why? Because we deal with incomplete information, and we’re applying statistical/stochastic methods to something which is essentially chaotic behaviour — chaotic processes are common in nature and impossible to predict unless you are aware of all variables and know the starting point. This is hardly the case.
Nevertheless, we cannot “shrug off” the pattern of a company and say that it has no relevance to the company whatsoever. Not at all: conventionally, we can look at those patterns and have a reasonable idea if the company is worth investing in, for example. Similarly, using Extropia’s analogy, assuming we could somehow record thought patterns, and tag them to individuals, we might find out recurrent reactions to certain phenomena: like, say, understanding that this person has an aversion to the colour blue or is allergic to certain environments or foods. We cannot say, “this thought pattern has nothing to do with the person”. But we can also not say, “a person’s unchanging self is encoded in this particular thought pattern”, because we can very easily falsify that hypothesis — just be patient and do a lot of statistical analysis on chatlogs taken from Second Life.
So what else can we learn about the self when immersed in Second Life?
We can actually conclude a lot of things. First and foremost that we cannot describe a self. This simply won’t work, and even if we come close to a description, people’s own perceptions will undoubtedly interpret this description according to their own selves. Secondly, and as important, that it’s silly to say that “we don’t have a self” since we all clearly have the experience of having one — and we can all agree that we have this experience, even if we cannot describe it or mathematically express it. This is basically giving a good old kick on “I think, therefore I am” — we are not what we think, because others will have different perceptions of what we are, and so clearly our own thought processes around what we are cannot be a valid assumption and working base for what we call a “self”. Those two extremes — “we have a self” and “we don’t have a self” have both to be rejected.
Thirdly, most people who honestly think about their own selves will at least be forced to admit that they wear different masks depending on occasions and circumstances. But at the same time they will be adamant in claiming “the mask is not the self”. It might be part of the self (at least one can reason that way) but there is something “beneath” it. Nevertheless, from the perspective of others, who will only perceive the mask and not “the person behind the mask”, the mask is the self, because that’s all they can perceive. While this might be hard to believe in real life, we can see that happen in Second Life all the time, and we can validate the assumption by looking at chat logs. A Linden, knowing which avatars are alts of the same physical person, could analyse other’s perceptions to each different alt and statistically conclude that all people interacting with each alt, without knowing the person behind it, will have different perceptions of the “self” and will equate the “self” with the “mask”. But we have just the experience that the mask is something we wear, not something we are. So we come to a second paradox: “I am the mask I wear (as seen by others)” and “I am not the masks I wear (as seen by myself”. We have to reject both extremes again, since they cannot be simultaneously valid.
Next comes how our own self changes all the time. We’re not talking about “masks” any more: we’re talking merely about how people perceive us when we’re young and unexperienced, and when we’re old and allegedly wiser. Again, we might still believe to be the same person we were when we were in our teens, but if we turn to Second Life, and see how we reacted to others when we were newbies, and after 3 or 5 years of being in SL, we will immediately see that we behave differently, and most importantly, people will react to us differently. SL allows us to compress a life’s experience in few months and, even better, it allows us to track it down and log everything. Many will be forced to admit that our “newbie self”, with its ugly avatar, has nothing to do with the current “veteran self” and a sophisticated avatar. We might shrug it off with “it’s just because I’ve learned a lot about SL that I’m different”, but this should make us question if the same isn’t happening in RL as well — we just lack a good logging facility!
And perhaps we might also see how just logging chats from each other — and from ourselves — will not be enough to “define” what our “true self” actually is. We might believe there is a “true self” somewhere encoded in all those logs, but we will be baffled when we see the reactions of others to this very same “true self”: they are not only different among themselves, but they’re different from our own experience of this “true self”. At this point it should become clear that, if there is something as an immutable, deep-down, “core self”, then everybody would experience the same thing about us than we do. This is clearly not the case.
At this stage, modern scientists studying how the mind works tend to shrug off the whole entertaining exercise as simply saying, “we know we have a ‘core self’ encoded in the brain, because there is no place else where it can be stored, but we just lack the mechanisms to track it down. In the future, with more advanced technology, we will be able to find where it is hidden”. Well, Karl Popper would probably get a bit revolted with that kind of attitude, because it tends to introduce the non-falsifiability of studying where the “self” is. It’s just saying, “just because we don’t have the technology now, we will have it in the future”. As more and more sophisticated technology is introduced to scan the brain at more and more detail, we will still use the same argument to shrug off the inability to find anything “encoded” in the brain that works as this “core self”. It simply fails to be “discovered” — and the answer is that our technology is simply not sufficiently advanced.
By contrast, I suggest that we do simple experiments with the tools we actually have. Second Life might not be an advanced brain scanning mechanism, but it nevertheless provides a behaviourist tool to discover facts about our “selves”, because we can track everything down and log everything — unlike what happens with meat brains, where we have not yet invented the tools to do a “brain dump” of its content. While we can argue that SL is very limited in its ability to actually record what people are thinking, we can at least start from a working base: if we assume that our behaviour and our speech is a direct consequence of how our self operates and how it perceives the environment and circumstances under which it operates, then Second Life is a great tool to record that behaviour and speech, and, through that, establish a strong correlation towards tracking down how ultimately the self is “encoded”. If the model is flawed somehow due to SL’s limitations, we have scientific mechanisms to compensate for it. At the very least, we should be able to list those limitations and argue from those why they are not valid tools to “discover” the self.
Under these assumptions, we can go out and try to validate a “model of the self”. Let’s assume, for example, that Extropia’s assumption is correct — i.e. that the “self” is just a series of thought patterns, and that to “recognise” a person, we need to store in our own brains a part of those thought patterns. In that case, we should easily be able to feed our statistical analysis tool several Petabytes of chat logs from different people and figure out what those thought patterns look like, and see how well they’re matched by other people. And then we can run a simulation: feed our simulator the essence of those thought patterns and see if people react to them predictably (i.e. by recognising that they come from the person identified by those patterns).
But at this stage we will come to the same result: we currently have no technology to consistently reproduce those patterns, so we cannot run the experiment.
Why? We can certainly analyse Petabytes of data — Google does it all the time to get profiling data. We have very strong statistical methods these days! And thanks to Web spamming and advertising, these tools were refined and perfected to identify things like buying habits and interests which can be assigned to specific profiles. Facebook, for example, is rather good at finding people who have common interests with us, even if we have absolutely no clue how they have figured that out (when looking at people’s profiles, we might find they have little in common with us — nevertheless, the kind of links they share, the pictures they tag, and the way they write and discuss with other people will match our own thought processes, and thus Facebook finds likely candidates to our own tastes).
But this only works one way. We can somehow profile that data — like, say, doing Fast Fourier transformations to identify similar pictures or voices belonging to a person — but we cannot, based on that data, recreate how a person behaves, because we don’t have sufficiently advanced chatbot technology for that…
So what we’re saying in this case is that, even though Second Life is a very simplified model of reality (and thus might not be able to correlate with the atom-based reality), we have no tools to make predictions based on the data we can gather. This is precisely what happens with trying to scan the brain and understand where the self is. We’re using the same arguments. And using the same tools, too: using statistics to predict models of what essentially is chaotic behaviour, and utterly fail to make any predictions using that model. And using the same excuses, too: if we had better tools, we would be able to perfectly reproduce an avatar’s behaviour based on the data we have gathered and analysed. But we don’t have them, so we can only present thought experiments based on the hypothesis that we will have those tools in the future.
We seem to be stuck.
Well, of course this is the kind of thing that isn’t exactly new; people have been “stuck” with this problem for several millennia. The difference to past thinkers is that these days we have at least some tools to help us out. However, in all those millennia, we have remained stuck with “thought experiments” about the model of the intrinsic, permanent, core self, but always failed to validate those models. It’s just recently that we are so encouraged by the technological advances we made in so many areas that we started to believe that we would eventually reach a result. But the more advanced our technology becomes, the more complex the problem seems to be. Nowadays we start to see that behaviour is not so obviously linked to brain activity; in fact, brain activity seems to predate conscious thought, or be “merely” a reflection of conscious thought — in either case, the assumption of the cause/effect relationship (brain thinks, body behaves) starts to be questioned at well. There were suspicions that this would be the case but the conclusions are just way too weird to be yet fully understood; they also imply that we behave before we’re aware of acting at all, or so the EEGs seem to show. In that case, under some conditions, the only thing we can measure is that our thoughts and reactions influence EEG patterns, but we might not be so sure if they’re caused by those patterns. The big issue in this case is to really understand if we can actually measure “thought patterns” directly, or if we’re just measuring the reflection of those thought patterns in the brain activity. I have to say that I had read those reports a long while ago and failed to google again for them to see if some more thorough explanations have been found for that apparently anomaly of how we perceived the brain to work, and how it actually seems to be working. Or perhaps the tests are not measuring what they should be.
Of course, there is a way out of the dilemma: we have simply to postulate that there is no such thing as an intrinsically-existing “core” self at all, and that’s just something we imagine that exists. In a sense, we just think that we are, and not we think, therefore we are. There is a profound consequence for that, and one that most people would be very, very uncomfortable with. Nevertheless, that’s what we experience every day in Second Life: we imagine that there is this “self” which people attribute to the avatar, which interacts with others freely, acquires some consistence, and persists across login sessions. Nevertheless we know that this “avatar self” doesn’t really exist on its own: it depends on the human behind the keyboard. It just looks like it exists on its own. Others will also believe it exists, since when they interact with it, they have the same experience as if they interacted with a real flesh-and-blood human. If we have just this very slight idea that our “avatar self” is only a bit different from our own “true inner self”, then we have made a huge leap: we have assumed, at least to ourselves, that we are able to imagine a self (even if it’s 99.9999999% equal to our “true inner self”) that somehow is not “real” but everyone will experience it as being real. From that, jumping to the conclusion that our own flesh-and-blood (or should I say “grey matter”-based?) self cannot be more than that: something we just made up for the convenience of interacting with others. But we cannot say it doesn’t exist, either, because we clearly have the experience that it does exist, and this experience is verified and validated by all people we come in contact with. And, finally, we know it has to be encoded in the brain, because if we change or destroy the brain, the self gets changed or gets destroyed as well. And yet we cannot seem to be able to describe where exactly and how it is inside the brain or how it manifests in the brain. All we can say is that brain and self are interlinked; and we can even go further and say that the “idea of the self”, even if we cannot describe it, is fully perceivable by others as well. However, in this case, the strangest thing is that the “idea of the self” as seen by others is different from our own idea. So at the same time we all agree about each other’s selves, but we fail to describe it, and when we start comparing notes, we come to the conclusion that each of us experiences the same self in different ways. We can attribute that to both the “mask” we wear — so that people actually never perceive the “inner self”, but just the mask — and to people’s perceptions, which will react differently to the mask. But when we do that, what we’re actually saying is that the notion of self is completely relative. Interrelated, yes; interlinked with the brain, yes; but not more than that. We can even claim that others see our masks and extrapolate from that the existence of our own selves and try to get a mental image of what our “inner self” is supposed to look like. Since we all do that all the time for all people, we cannot simply say that this “inner self” doesn’t exist — because we all will agree that we think it exists.
Whatever that “inner self” is supposed to be, it’s quite clear that however we look at it, it becomes more and more clear that it cannot be something “hard-coded” in the brain, in the sense of being immutable, unchanging, and acting independently from circumstances. All we can say is that it’s “an emerging property” of the brain, changes all the time, manifests in different ways (“masks”), and is affected not only by chemicals interacting with the brain, but also by the experiences we accumulate over the years and the people we interact with. But, ultimately, that so-called “immutable, hard-coded self” that somehow is at the root of our experience cannot be much more than a myth — an assumption we made but which fails to be validated, and even refuses validation, no matter what kind of test we try to apply to it, even if we come up with the excuse that current technology isn’t sufficiently advanced to figure out the validity of that assumption. If that’s the case, I prefer to accept the alternative: that it’s just a myth like many others, just another concept that we create to facilitate conversation, but that the so-called “true inner self” is nothing more than a sequence of thoughts and imaginations that our mind creates, which changes all the time — often chaotically, in reaction to circumstances beyond our control — and interacts with other “selves”, even though these will have different perceptions. That model of interdependence between brain, self, others, and external conditions and circumstances is at least very simple to validate. But of course it raises a lot of interesting questions. 😉
Sometimes, discussions after the Thinkers meetings prove to be even more interesting than the meeting itself (sorry, Extie! 🙂 ) — mostly because the group tends to become very small and we can throw around a few wild ideas to see if they stick 🙂
One of those is something that has bothered me for several years. You might remember that one of the major strategies for M Linden was how to deal with the first hour experience. From SL Viewer 2.X to Avatars United (and strangely getting rid of the Mentors because it was impossible for LL to support them…), or even planning Facebook integration, pretty much every approach was attempted to make sure that the 10,000 users that register every day don’t immediately leave. The ideas around the first hour experience have sometimes been wild, sometimes ingenious; some ideas seem to be solid and make good sense (and a few might even be implemented!); others, by contrast, seem to be utterly insane (and some of those might get implemented too!). Ideas about how that experience should actually be abound; there is really no limit to our imagination.
Nevertheless, after two years, none of the strategies implemented by Linden Lab has worked. New registrations are still at 10,000 per day and SL has crossed the mythical line of having 20 million registered avatars (and no, they’re not all alts and bots — they’re almost all real human beings, who just registered, logged in once, and gave up just a few minutes after being in-world). But they don’t stay. No matter what we do and say… they simply go away. Some last minutes, some hours, some days, a few sometimes are bold enough to stay for a whole year… but ultimately they go away.
I wrote a short article on meta-culture and the multi-cultural environment in SL for a new blog/magazine for Portuguese speakers called “Convergences Magazine”. It’s an intriguing project by Gper Aeon and Gabriela Pinelli, mixing art, culture, and philosophy about and around Second Life.
If you’re fine in reading Portuguese, or don’t mind the awkward translations provided by Google Translate, you’re welcome to take a peek at it 🙂 If there is enough interest, I might provide an English translation, provided I get the proper permission from the editors.
Remember that moment in ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’, when the bears are heading for home while Goldilocks is sleeping in baby bear’s bed? Small children find her behaviour rather strange, and an experiment involving a tube of sweets can help explain why. In this experiment, a child is offered a tube of sweets, only to find it actually contains something else. Plastic counters, perhaps. Next, the child is told that someone (who has not seen the tube before) is about to enter the room. The child is asked: What will the person expect to find in the tube of sweets? Small children say ‘plastic’, because they have not yet learned that other people’s knowledge of the world may be different to their own. This is also the reason why small children playing hide-and-seek sometimes stand in full view with their eyes closed. In their minds, they cannot see anything, so nobody else can see anything either! As for Goldilocks, the child knows that the three bears will soon enter the house, and they assume the little girl in the story must know this as well. So, why does she remain sound asleep, instead of running for her 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. Read More
Try this exercise. Stop reading for a minute and take a look at the objects around you. Think about how they influence your life and your thinking. In the previous essay, we concentrated mostly on how other people play a part in shaping one’s developing personality. But humans are not just social animals, they are also prolific toolmakers. The cultural artefacts we have created enter into our thoughts, providing ways of approaching certain questions. As the psychologist Sherry Turkle put it, “we think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with”.
Think of the influence one object had on my opening paragraph: The clock. A historian of technology called Lewis Manford wrote about how the notion of time as divided into hours, minutes and seconds did not exist prior to the invention of accurate timepieces. Instead, people marked the passage of time by the cycles of dawn, morning, day, afternoon, evening and night. Once clocks became readily available, actions could be more precisely measured, and different activities could be coordinated more effectively to achieve a future goal. We learned to divide our time into precise units, thereby becoming the sort of regimented subjects industrial nations require. The image of the clock extends out all the way to the Newtonian universe, an image of celestial mechanics that is still used today to determine the time and place for solar eclipses, and to park robotic explorers on or around alien worlds.
The psychologist Jean Piaget studied the way we use everyday objects in order to think about abstract concepts like time, number, and life. When it comes to determining what is (and what is not) alive, Piaget’s studies during the 1920s showed that children use increasingly fine distinctions of movement. For infants, anything that moves is seen as ‘alive’. As they grow older, small children learn not to attribute aliveness to things which move only because an external force pushes or pulls them. Only that which moves of its own accord is alive. Later still, children acquire a sense of inner movement characterized by growth, breathing and metabolism, and these became the criteria for distinguishing life from mere matter.
The so-called ‘movement theory’ of life remained standard until the late 70s and early 80s. From then on, the focus moved away from physical and mechanical explanations and concentrated more on the psychological. The chief reason for this was the rise in popularity of the computer. Unlike a clockwork toy, which could be understood by being broken down into individual parts whose function could be determined by observing each one’s mechanical operation, the computer permitted no such understanding. You just cannot take the cover off and observe the actual functions of its circuitry. Furthermore, the home PC gradually transformed from kit-built devices that granted the user/builder an intimate theoretical knowledge of its principles of operation to the laptops of today, where you void your warrenty if you so much as remove the cover. Nowadays, it is quite possible to use a computer without having any knowledge of how it works on a fundamental level.
In that sense, the computer offers a range of metaphors for thinking about postmodernism. In his classic article, ‘Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic Of Late Capitalism’, Frederic Jameson noted how we lacked objects that could represent postmodern thought. On the other hand, ‘Modernism’ had no shortage of objects that could serve as useful metaphors. Basically, modernist thinking involves reducing complex things to simpler elements and then determining the rules that govern these fundamental parts.
For the first few decades, computers were decidedly ‘modernist’. After all, they were rigid calculating machines following precise logical rules. It may seem strange to use the past tense, given that computers remain calculating machines. But the important point is that, for most people, this is no longer a useful way to think about computers. Because they have the ability to create complex patterns from the building blocks of information, computers can effectively morph from one functionality to another. Machines used to have a single purpose, but a computer can become a word processor, a video editing suite or even a rally car driving along a mountainous terrain. So long as you can run the software that tells it how simulate something, the computer will take perform that task.
Lev Vygotsky wrote about how, from an early age, we learn to separate meaning from one object and apply it to another. He gave the example of a child pretending a stick is a horse:
“For a child, the word ‘horse’ applied to the stick means ‘there is a horse’ because mentally he sees the object standing behind the word”.
This ability to transfer meaning is emphasised in the culture of simulation brought about by computers. The user no longer sees a rigid machine designed for a singular purpose. Although it remains a calculating machine, that fundamental layer is hidden beneath a surface layer of icons. Click on this icon, and you have a little planet earth that you can rotate or zoom in to see your street or some other location. Click on that icon, and you have something else to interact with. Whatever you use, you are far more likely to operate it using simulations of buttons and sliders, rather than messing around with the mathematical operations that really make it work.
In postmodernism, the search for ultimate origins and structure is seen as futile. If there is ultimate meaning, we are not privileged to know it. That being the case, knowing can only come through the exploration of surfaces. Jameson characterized postmodern thought as the precedence of surface over depth; of the simulation over the “real”. The windows-based pc and the web therefore offer fitting metaphors because, as Sherry Turkle noted, “[computers] should not longer be thought of as rigid machines, but rather as fluid simulation spaces… [People] want, in other words, environments to explore, rather than rules to learn”.
A TALE OF TWO TREKS.
Computers are interactive machines whose underlying mechanics have grown increasingly opaque. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that the computer would become the metaphor for that other interactive but opaque object: the brain. Moreover, windows-based PCs and the Web, along with advances in certain scientific fields, are eroding the boundaries between what is real and what is virtual; between the unitary and the multiple self.
It took several decades for it to become acceptable that the boundaries between people and machines had been eroded, and it is fair to say the idea still meets with some resistance. The original Star Trek portrayed advanced computers in a manner that reflected most people’s attitudes up until the early 80s. While there was an acceptance that such machines had some claim to intelligence and people accorded them psychological attributes hitherto applicable only to humans, there was still an insistence on a boundary between people and anything a computer could be. Typically, this boundary centred around emotion. Captain Kirk routinely gained the upper hand over those cold, logical machines by relying on his gut instinct.
Star Trek: Next Generation had a somewhat different portrayal of machines. Commander Data was treated like a valued member of the crew. It is worth considering some scientific and technological developments that might account for this change in attitudes. For audiences of the original Star Trek, computers were an unfamiliar and startling new technology, but by the late 80s the home PC revolution was well under way. Furthermore, there had been a move away from top-down, rule-based approaches to AI, replaced with bottom-up emergent models with obvious parallels to biology. As Sherry Turkle commented, “it seems less threatening to imagine the human mind as akin to a biological styled machine than to think of the mind as a rule-based information processor”. Finally, as we have seen in previous essays, the human brain is primed to respond to social actions. Roboticists like Cynthia Brezeal have shown how even a minimal amount of interactivity is enough to make us project our own complexity onto an object, and accord it more intelligence than it is perhaps capable of. This tendency has a name, and it is called the ‘Eliza Effect’. Whereas the Julia Effect is primarily about the limitations of language and how it is more convenient to talk about smoke-and-mirrors AI like it is the real deal, the ‘Eliza Effect’ refers to the more general tendency to attribute intelligence to responsive computer programs.
Eliza was a kind of chatbot that specialized in psychotherapy, and it was invented by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966. Actually, his intention was not to create an AI that could pass a Turing test or even a Feigenbaum test (in which an AI succeeds in being accepted as a specialist in a particular field, in this case psychology). No, what he wanted was to demonstrate that computers were limited in their capacity for social communication. Like ‘Julia’, Eliza is programmed to respond appropriately with questions and comments, but does not understand what is said to it, nor what it says in response. Since Eliza’s limitations were easily identifiable, Weizenbaum felt sure that people would soon tire of conversing with it. However, some people would spend hours in conversation with his chatbot. Weizenbaum saw this as a worrying outcome, a sign that people were investing too much authority in machines. “When a computer says ‘I understand’”, he wrote, “that’s a lie and an impossibility and it shouldn’t be the basis for psychotherapy”.
In the previous essay, we saw how philosophy embarked on a failed quest to find the core self. Something else that has occupied philosophers’ minds through the ages is the nature of reality. What is it, in and of itself? Are we in a position to know? In concepts and thought experiments like ‘the veil of Maya’, ‘Plato’s Cave’, ‘Descartes’ evil deceiver’ and ‘Nozik’s Experience Machine’, we are invited to consider the possibility that reality as perceived by the mind is an illusion, or if not an illusion then a mere shadow of a far larger reality.
KANT SEE REAL LIFE?
Immanuel Kant gave much credence to the latter possibility. He was convinced that there had to be something ‘out there’ which ultimately caused conscious experiences and sense impressions, but he argued that we knew little of what this ultimate reality was like. This was because we did not perceive a pre-given world; the structures of the mind brought forth phenomena created as much by the mind as by whatever it is that is ‘out there’.
Scientific investigations into the human body and brain seem to validate Kant’s conclusion. Consider the structure of the retina. Neurons that are sensitive to colour are found only in the middle of the retina. Beyond the middle there are neurons that can only detect light and shade. What we see, then, is a world where everything on the periphery of vision is blurry and devoid of colour, with only those objects in the centre of vision showing full colour and sharp detail. But if you study your surroundings, you will notice that this is not how you perceive the world. So, the brain must perform ‘post-processing’ in order for you to see the world as it aught to look, rather than how it does look when captured by the retina.
Another fascinating discovery is just how little information from our sense organs actually reaches the brain’s internal processing areas. Something like ten billion bits of information is picked up by the retina every second. But, there are only about a million output connections in the optic nerve, which restricts the number of bits that can leave the retina to six million. Furthermore, by the time the information is fed into the visual cortex, various bottlenecks will have reduced the number to 1000 bits, and there is still more processing to be done before the visual information gets fed into the brain regions responsible for conscious perception. How much information from the outside world constitutes conscious perception? Less than 100 bits per second.
That is far too thin a stream of data to account for the richness of conscious perception. Early brain imaging technology like PET and fMRI gave us a picture of the brain in which most neurons lay quiet until needed for some activity. Recent advances in neuroimaging, however, show that the brain is always highly active. Some 60 to 80% of all energy used by the brain occurs in circuits unrelated to any external event. This discovery, plus the fact that in the visual cortex only 10% of synapses present are devoted to incoming visual information, leads to the conclusion that there is more than a grain of truth to what Kant believed: The mind creates the world as much as it simply perceives a pre-given reality.
The view from cognitive sciences suggests that what we perceive is a fantasy that coincides with reality — at least most of the time. However, the mind can be tricked into generating perceptions of ‘impossible’ realities, and some of these illusions seem to be useful to the world of avatars and alts. Read More
No, this is truly not about how to take your avatar out to a gym and work it out 🙂 Fortunately, in Second Life, getting a trim and fit shape is just… one click away.
It is also not a resource to help you out among the millions of shapes out there to find the one that looks the nicest.
However, it’s related to both — and to three other things which are apparently unrelated. Firstly, it’s about one thing that both my good friend Extropia DaSilva and myself have been thinking for quite a long while (and writing about it), which could, in a sense, be resumed to a single concept: finding the true nature of our selves, and how, strangely, Second Life®, helps us with some hints (we have reached different conclusions after travelling different paths). Secondly, it springs forth from a conversation with another dear female friend who received a strange gift from a male friend: he generously bought her a new shape, vaguely alluding to the fact that she would look “much nicer” with her new shape. And thirdly, it arises from this strange relationship (or even a bond!) that we create with our Second Life avatars, which is so strange to explain to anyone that hasn’t been around for long enough, and the way that is ties ino the nature of self — and no, it’s not about augmentism vs. immersionism again, although it might show us some clues on one of the reasons for the different approaches to something quite subtle – the way we ultimately view ourselves and what a “self” is.
I’m not going to promise to be very rational, or even organised in my thoughts. I hope that by providing a few examples I might encourage you to think and reflect about the very same issues, and reach your own conclusions. Read More
TWO: THE BIRTH OF THE SOUL AND THE DEATH OF THE SELF.
In philosophy, investigations into the nature of self-consciousness can be divided into two main theories. ‘Theories of self’ attempt to determine what kind of thing the self is, or attempt to show that it is not a ‘thing’ at all. ‘Theories of personal identity’ are primarily concerned with personal identity over time. In other words, they set out to explain why a person at one time is (or is not) the same self as someone at different times. Both theories are thought to be expressions of the concern that the self will endure. This suggests that, where there is evidence of a belief in an afterlife, one will find people who thought about the nature of the self.
That being the case, theories of self are very old indeed, with origins going back further than human history. Paleontologists have discovered Neanderthal graves in which the dead are buried along with carefully arranged stones. Anthropologists interpret such activity as signifying a belief in an afterlife. They look to traditional cultures in order to try and understand what kind of rituals and behaviours early hominids might have exhibited. In traditional cultures, deceased ancestors are considered to part of society, and people routinely communicate with them. One major way in which afterlife beliefs in these cultures differs from, say, Christianity, lies in the notion that becoming an ancestor is neither a reward for worthy living in this life, nor a punishment one must work to avoid. It is, instead, simply a part of life, like the transition from child to adult.
In ‘Virals And Definitives In SL’ and other essays, I discussed the concept of the ‘Pairson’: A character in an online world that is controlled by two or more people in RL. This lead to various questions, not least of which was ‘to what extent does the character remain the same, if the person behind it has changed’?
A more common challenge to personal identity is to do things that other way around. That is, two or more avatars that are controlled by one RL individual. ‘Alts’, as they are commonly known. Broadly speaking, alts fall into two categories which I shall label ‘Actives’ and ‘Dolls’. Those who have watched Joss Whedon’s TV series ‘Dollhouse’ will recall that an ‘active’ is a person imprinted with a personality that is not their own. An ‘active’ alt, then, is one used for identity exploration. The type of roleplay that gets discussed the most seems to be gender-based: swapping between male and female avatars. But one can also explore alternate political outlooks, social classes, religious beliefs…anything society uses to categories a person as ‘this’ rather than ‘that’.
When they were not actives, the characters in ‘Dollhouse’ were kept in a ‘doll’ state. In this state they had virtually no personality or sense of individuality to speak of. In SL there are many reasons to use alts that do not necessarily involve identity exploration. With more than one avatar at your disposal, you can attend several events going on simultaneously across the grid. Another reason to have a doll alt is privacy. Some residents are very well-known and can be overloaded with IMs from friends, associates, clients etc. Such people sometimes create an alternate identity, tell nobody else who is behind it, and enjoy the peace and quiet anonymity can bring. Scarp Godenot pointed out yet another reason to use a doll alt:
“An alt is a good way to go to a live review of your art and hear the truth”.
In ‘A Tale Of Two Avatars’, Wagner James Au reports on the discovery that there are two ‘Hamlet Aus’ on the social networking site ‘Avatars United’. Like many things to do with life on the screen, a superficial consideration of this discovery leads to a clear-cut and simple conclusion: There is the real Hamlet Au, and then there is a fake Hamlet Au. However, again like so many things to do with life on the screen, this clear-cut and simple conclusion may not hold true in all cases.