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« Defne Demar AKA Burcu S. Bakioglu Discredits Her "Academic" Work All on Her Own | Main | How Google is Strangling the Second Life Economy »

June 04, 2010


Dusan Writer

Some really valid points in here Prok, although I'll argue that you might have taken my broader points about SL a little far, but let me get back to that.

First, you're entirely right about being overly rooted in secularism. This is one of the fundamental challenges in my life: on the one hand, a sense that intentionality and presence is important, and on the other the idea that progress and action are doors to a better world.

I find myself believing that progress can change the world, and then I lapse into absolute despair that the progress that I champion might also hold the seeds for the loss of our humanity. I think you know that I believe in the power of things like virtual worlds and the Web, but that I also have a lot of fear about how they could turn out if we don't resist the triumph of technology over human values.

So I'll call that a secular belief in progress, but believe me when I say it's tempered by both a fear that I'm betting on something which could actually do more harm than good, and by a counter-notion personally that none of it really matters, it's better to just wake up, live a day with intention, and try to be "spiritual".

But any pretense of spirituality is solely in the vague belief in a higher power, or let's call it our connectedness. It's not rooted in anything formal or particularly well thought-out.

My spirituality is one of those "Hoaxes of Authenticity" (get the book, it rocks) that doesn't really have a firm grounding because it's not placed in a structure of any sort - even a philosophical one, other than bumper stickers - "be good to your neighbor", "don't be evil" kind of things.

Now, I don't blog about change, about making a difference, (and the dangers of making the wrong kind of difference) outside of the prism of technology typically. I do other stuff outside of virtual worlds and the 'tech sphere' that enrich my understanding of how to make a difference without relying on the concept of "progress", but that's not what my blog is about typically.

So I think you're calling it for what it is. There's a particular line of my thinking, as expressed through my blog, which has the danger of being hollow or, even, a dead-end, because it presents one particular strand in which progress is presented as a substitute for a wider, richer and well-grounded meaning.

Having said all that, I'm in agreement with you on the following:

"It's actually more in fact a soothing and validating experience, as people use it to recreate their real lives, not make new ones."

As I said in my post:

"If you’re not understanding the future, if you’re not personally inspired, if you don’t know WHY you get up in the morning – then you have two options: put up the barricades and pray for the best, or begin an act of (re)-creation."

It's the act of recreating our understanding of the world that I think Second Life offers promise.

While the larger tone of the post was more muscular, I suppose, my main point wasn't that you run around selling why's and never mention what's or how's, but rather that there ARE a lot of compelling "whys" for virtual worlds....and I put them forth because Linden Lab doesn't seem to, and I've found that talking about my own "whys" sometimes helps people understand.

I had a conversation yesterday with some folks, and we were talking about virtual currency and I was trying to explain that it's REAL. I told them about SL weddings, commerce, and people who work and live in SL running businesses. There was that moment when someone made a sort of scoffing noise, someone else rolled their eyes and I asked the question:

"Why do you think they do that? Why do you think people invest their time in virtual worlds? How do you think it's possible for a maker of virtual shoes to make more money than YOU do? Think about that, and think about what that will mean 2 years or 10 years from now. And then figure out whether you think the question is worth finding an answer to."

Talking about "why's" doesn't negate the need to talk about all the rest of it - the benefits, the reasons, the logic, the feature sheet.

But I won't quibble about it. Your broader point is a really important one, and thank you for making it.

Darien Caldwell

Yep. Everyone has their religion, even if that may be having the religion of non-religion. In the end it's about having a shared core of beliefs that people can build community around. It helps define the 'us' versus 'them', the unholy outsiders who are to be shunned and despised. Because nothing brings people together like a common enemy.

Gwyneth Llewelyn

@Prok, I loved the first part of your article. :) I thought, however, that you had long since figured out that this trend of "transcendence through science" (which is directly assumed by transhumanism, for instance, although people that don't identify themselves with the Kurzweillian or Vernonian dogmas might reject their basic tenets, avoid the transhumanist label, and postulate new ones) is not much like, well, a new form of spiritual belief. "New" in the way it's formulated, of course — even established scientists from Newton to Einstein "believed" that through the marvels of science they could appreciate God's work so much better.

Obviously this is not shared by all scientists, science-fans, technologists, and so forth. A few, for instance, perhaps a bit like Linden Lab that have as their mission "to improve the human condition through virtual worlds", insist that the ultimate goal of science is to enhance humanist ideals and fundamental human rights. But I would say that most are not even interested in "ultimate goals" and just think about science for science's sake, or to advance their academic careers, or as a rational tool to develop technology to make a fast buck. Personally, I'm fine with all of those :)

But I definitely love the idea that after rejecting the supernatural, consistently at least from Darwin onwards ("we can explain the universe without postulating the supernatural"), people now go back to science and technology to provide spiritual experiences — just outside, well, "traditional religion" if I'm allowed to use that expression. Again, there is nothing inherently terrible about it. I have realised that the more we get involved in SL, the more we get used to asking questions about the self, about others, about the nature of mind (and emotions), about the nature of so-called "reality", and so forth. Anybody who has at least found an avatar interesting enough to go with them on a date will have given thought to at least some of those things. At a more crude level, one might just shrug it off and say, "I'm just pretending. This is not real". But even if that's the attitude with which one logs in to SL, a slightly more elaborate thinkers will have to struggle with the notion that in the so-call "real" world we're always "pretending" as well — and, reversely, if we insist on separating SL from RL, we'll have to constantly convince ourselves that our emotions of love, hate, boredom, happiness, and so forth that we experience while logged in to SL are completely fake and "pretending". So, then, why do we send hateful IMs to others if we're just pretending to feel hate?

Now I obviously argue that only the most base-level thinkers will manage to make such a clear separation between "fake hate/fake love" and "real hate/real love". Anyone just a notch higher will immediately realise that what we feel and think when logged in to SL is precisely the same (or rather, it has the same nature) of what we feel and think in RL. The labels "fake" and "real" are just convenient "excuses" that we imagine to tag to our reactions, and thus "excuse" ourselves from our behaviour when immersed in SL.

At this level, we go from the domain of technology (SL as a technological platform that allows people to interact in a synthetic 3D world) and enter the domain of philosophy. We start creating arguments and theories of why we experience pretty much the same things — why we're subject to the same emotions and thoughts — when we're logged in to SL, even if we know it's all fake and we're just pretending. If I'm just pretending I'm angry, why should I feel anger towards others? This will definitely make people wonder a bit about SL.

The next level, however, is when we suddenly realise that the same reasons that we discard emotions/feelings in SL actually apply to RL as well. If I hurt in SL because someone stole my land, but can shrug it off rationally (even if not emotionally!) by telling myself that this land is just virtual and has no intrinsic existence, why should I hurt in RL when my RL is stolen? What difference is in the two types of "hurting"? Why we hurt more about atoms than pixels (and pixels are nothing more than atoms too)? What fundamental differences truly exist between SL and RL?

If we answer "none" to that, it becomes a spiritual answer :) If we answer "quite a lot!" we are at a philosophical level where we will have to deal with a lot of paradoxes, namely, why our mind tricks us to feel hurt in SL with the same depth that we feel hurt in RL, or how people can actually make friends in SL. This will often fall into complex, circular arguments where we carefully tag and label each feeling, where we postulate different levels of immersion (and suggest, for instance, that "reality" is the level where there is no immersion, but then have to explain things like dreams or intoxicated states that distort our perception of reality), and so forth. Philosophy, at that level, is very complex, and most people are just happy to tag things as "real" and "fake" but offer no justifications at all for the distinction. It just "is". Existentialism does not require many justifications, it's just a comfortable assumption (dogma...). But sadly we still can't fully tackle the nature of mind with a merely existentialist formulation: the most honest neurologists (and your quote under "Simon Says" sound very familiar to what I've been reading recently) just say, "I think that 'mind' and what happens inside it is an epiphenomenum, an emergent property of a sufficiently complex system, and that science, in the future, will probably explain why it happens and how". This is an honest answer which can be resumed as "I don't know and haven't got a clue".

I blame the relativists and quantum mechanicists. When they postulated a fundamental "reality" of the universe that relied on the observer, they opened the Pandora Box to all kind of insanities :) Nevertheless, we got CD players and circuit boards on computers thanks to those two areas of scientific knowledge; it's not that they aren't useful! But they just shattered the purely existentialist perception of the universe, and the past century has shown an effort by philosophers, neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists to try to make it fit back into an existentialist/materialist framework again. It is expected that "sooner or later we'll figure it out". Perhaps. Or perhaps it's all the wrong approach.

A final note: I use the word "spiritual" *not* in the sense of meaning "transcendent" or "paranormal" or anything "outside the ordinary" — but just related to the *mind*. Nothing could be more "normal" or "natural" than the mind! Although a lot of people see "spirit" as just being something "outside" the scope of the physical world, I prefer to employ the term to designate the non-corporeal aspect of the mind (in the sense that we cannot dissect it and extract it from our bodies using tools), which, however, doesn't mean it's "outside reality" (whatever that means) but pretty much inside it (or we wouldn't be able to experience the material world).

Beyond that, it's really just a matter of belief.

@Dusan, I prefer to say that "SL it's as real as RL", which (deliberately) implies that reality is just a common convention to describe what we all (humans and animals) experience as reality. I love SL because it allows people to question what they see, feel, and experience, and ultimately have to pick an arbitrary definition to separate both — a typical one is "it's made of pixels, so it's not real, unlike the real world, which is made of atoms/particles/quarks", as if pixels weren't made of atoms as well...


What do you think you are? A pair of Queens?

Belle Reve is Lost!

Net Antwerp

Seems like a few bloggers out there are trying to cover Linden mess with discarded newsprint.

Leaky Linden Syndrome and the cover-ups, anyone?

Darien Caldwell

what linden mess would that be? (not counting the usual, of course) Don't make me read Gwyn's Wall-O-Text. She puts Prokfy to shame sometimes lol.

Net Antwerp

Concurrency levels are almost back to where they were in December 2009, which indicates the 2010 Q1 boom is/was fruitless, overall.

In-world businesses, sim owners etc continue to either downsize their business or cash out completely.

Friendly/Social places of 2006-2008 are slowly dying. Oldbies moving out, Zealous, bored-to-death newcomers with absolutely no knowledge of history moving in. Friendly individuals looking out for each other to a bored-to-death 'hivemind' setting.

Who/Where does the fault lie? Linden Lab? Oldbie customers? Bloggers? New customers? Real Life Economy?

History is Taboo to some individuals - especially hardcore Linden supporters. So what? The answers all lie in history - Lab's history and Customer's vast histories.

Hence, clean sheets of newsprint covering up the (Linden) mess.

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