Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Earth Primbee gets Metaphysical: An analogy of worlds, real and virtual

One of the most interesting Twitter exchanges in recent memory began when Aussie virtual artist Nonnatus Korhonen (aka Andrew Burrell) responded to one of my blatherings with "the ultimate divide between the virtual and the real surely remains one of semantics?" I responded: "The virtual/real divide seems less so for those of us who inhabit virtual worlds. How to make the concept less abstract for non VW users?" to which Austin artist Earth Primbee then responded, "to make VWs less abstract, I use the soul or mind to body analogy. Since all physical input is electric signals anyway." How could I resist? I persuaded Earth to tell us more. - Bettina Tizzy

by Earth Primbee

We've all grappled with creating a "It's like this" reference to explain what Second Life® is like. How do you explicate a concept so abstract to someone who has never experienced a virtual world? To many, the 2D representation of “real world” fiction and non-fiction called Television is all the virtual world they will ever need; their ability to understand what a 3D persistent virtual world looks and feels like is on par with that of another dimension.

In my own journey in life I have sought to understand our existence. I have asked myself questions like “Why are we here? What is all this stuff about souls and how does it relate to me? Why are we so creative? Why do we care about anything? What’s the point to all this?”

There are many answers to these questions. More than we know even today. On the way, I feel I’ve stumbled upon a perspective that might help all of us in different ways.

The analogy is “Logging into a virtual world using your computer to connect to your avatar, is like your soul logging into your mind to connect to your body.”

Earth Primbee, real and virtual (Photos by Earth Primbee)


First Life
Our body is our physical avatar in first life. It is the outward version of us that everyone sees. We dress it up, we change it, and we derive a great deal of our well being from the condition it is in.

Second Life
Our avatar is our physical body in Second Life. It is also the outward version of ourselves that everyone sees. We have much more control over our appearance, and judging by the importance we place on our bodies in first life, it is no surprise that one of the most commonly enjoyed activities in Second Life is customizing our avatar. Just as in first life, there is an entire industry devoted to changing our appearance.


First Life
Our mind is our living personal computer. It records and caches our memories, manages our body's sensory information, and even takes care of a lot of tasks concerning our body that we are often unaware of such as breathing and processing food. As far as the mind is concerned, everything we sense is just an electric signal with meaning.

Second Life
Our mechanical technology: a personal computer, network, and server space provide, record, and process sensory information, and then transmit this information to and from our existence inside the grid. It provides us with our view of a virtual "reality" in all its color and detail and sounds. Without it, we'd be unable to control our avatars or understand what’s going on around them. We'd be cut off from ourselves. Just like the automated processes of our first life minds, our computers and scripts handle a lot of tasks we'd find way too tedious to manage manually. Apart from our emotional experiences, everything we sense is processed by our computer.

Soul/First life "you"

First Life
Our soul is the pure us. I believe is our true nature and that it is connected to our mind and body through a means we have yet to discover. What form our soul actually takes is scientifically unknown but as I ponder the nature of first life and Second Life, I believe that I have formed a reasonable illustration of how the three parts of us relate to each other.

Second Life
When I sit down at my computer and log into Second Life, I am my soul connecting to my mind to my body. My avatar is my physical body. My computer is my sensory and information storage center relating to my life in my body (avatar). I exist both inside and outside of Second Life at the same time.

This is the reason I believe we take so well to these worlds. It makes sense to us in a way we don’t fully comprehend. Imagine if you were an avatar with no memory of being connected to the physical you. In the future, our immersion in virtual worlds will likely reach a point of realism that matches the capability of our physical senses. Will we sometimes forget that we were logged into anything? Why would we believe that there is anything more to our lives than our avatar’s existence?

One of the most difficult parts of discovering “the big picture” is our inability to see our world from outside the box. Each of us is wrapped in a cocoon of comfort and discomfort assembled over the years of a life. What we have seen often dictates what we will see. Many people find it difficult, for example, to imagine a creator setting all things into motion. To think that the world in which we live, in all its vastness and complexity, is without purpose is very similar - in my mind - to thinking that Second Life was developed by no one.

As I walk around and experience things in Second Life, the emotions and memories flow from the grid, to my computer, and as I observe all of this sitting at my desk I grow and change based on my experiences. I form close bonds with people, I create things in the world, and I even amass wealth and business connections.

Just about everything from first life save the experiences of touch, taste and our bodily functions, are present in the Second Life experience. Just like first life, it is up to you to chart the course of a life that evolves and gets better. And believe me, we are much more newbies in real life when we start than we'll ever be in Second Life.

If God is the creator of first life, at some point he coded the base logic that allows the fabric of space to exist. He created physics. He coded the most amazingly dynamic environment ever: the universe. On day one, he turned on the server and through the “big bang” brought up the "grid" of existence. Our universe resolved and expanded into the form we see today, a seemingly infinite expanse of diversity in texture, shape, and size.

Much as Linden Lab, the company that develops Second Life, make changes to the fundamental structures and how we perceive and understand them, perhaps God also alters the fabric of reality upon request. People sure do talk a lot about prayer and we certainly cry to the Lindens to change this or that. This is perhaps one of the best ways to understand why some become so passionate about their second lives that they attack the Lindens with insults, ridicule, or sing their praises. I'm quite certain however, that God has been taken to task many million times more than the Lindens.

Virtual Maritime Pine and Wild Mountain Pine. Copyright (c) Dolly and Lilith Heart 2008

Trees in real life, as photographed by Earth Primbee

Take a look at a tree in Second Life, and look at a tree in first life to begin to grasp the awesome creative power that could be behind it all. A look at the scripts associated with our avatars in Second Life and those of our real life genetic code reveals a similar understanding that we are creating in the same way we may have been created. Our computers are models of ourselves and our virtual worlds are models of the creation.

Drifting further into thought, one can even imagine hell as being stuck in Second Life as an avatar with no governing body to turn to for changes; a grid that is an autonomous self replicating chaotic evolution machine. I can even imagine avatars denying the existence of their true "user" selves claiming that since Second Life is the only life, they might as well live it up till they log out for the final time and are banned from ever logging in again.

When we do log out of first life for the last time and physically die, I believe we will carry our experiences onward to our new state of being just as if we quit one virtual world for another. We likely won't have the same kind of relationships or exist in the same social and physical boundaries we've known all our first lives. We'll have a new existence flavored with the color of our experiences on earth. Ultimately our love for others is not dependent on the physical world and transcends it no matter the structure. The person is not the body or the avatar.

These realizations and understandings of our reality would not have been possible without virtual worlds. Second Life, in particular, has helped me in this quest for wisdom due to the "anything you can imagine" nature of the environment. It has also helped me to realize that most of the problems on planet earth are created by mankind. The majority of our stresses and burdens are man made. You can take human out of reality, but you can't take the reality out of human. Wherever humans go, they carry the best and worst of themselves along for the ride no matter what world they live in.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the read and are better equipped for future discussions on virtual worlds like Second Life and maybe even First Life.

Earth Primbee is, among many other things, an active member of the NPIRL working group, a talented machinimator, and a co-creator of the much loved Second Life classic: Inspire Space Park (teleport directly from here).