I’ve been exploring Second Life recently, and continue to be amazed at how compelling and real the emotional experience is. I know that these avatars, including myself, are slightly cartoony 3D-ish figures, but the quality of interaction seems just as real as in, uh, Real Life (which is what SLers call the life you who are reading are in (but what if you’re reading this in Second Life?)). This is a real tribute to brain neuroplasticity (example: an amputee’s phantom limb pain can be reduced by watching a therapist’s arm in the location where their arm would be, which seems to restore missing feedback loops): mirror neurons at work.
Second Life also has a dreamlike quality, partly due to the fact that you can fly in SL, and flying is often associated with flying while lucid dreaming. And in dreams the bodies and forms are as illusory as in Second Life, but also as emotionally real as in waking life. But the brain neuroplasticity example shows that my sense of the reality of my arm in “Real Life” is also illusory! And then Second Life has further twists, such as the default viewpoint, which is slightly above and behind my avatar – slightly out-of-body.
Add to this Analog Sundays – this is something my wife and I have started doing: no computers on Sundays. That’s also a really interesting, different experience: Third Life? My “Real Life” is actually a mixture of analog and on-line life, so going analog-only for a whole day is a sensory experience in itself.
This is fertile ground for awareness practices such as that of Illusory Body (one of the Six Yogas of Naropa). And reminiscent of the butterfly dream of Chuang-Tzu, where he couldn’t tell if he was Chuang-Tzu dreaming of a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming of Chuang-Tzu. My first, inadvertent experience of lucid dreaming took this form, with the terrifying experience of really not knowing whether I was actually awake or had woken into yet another dream.
The consolation, of course, is the Buckaroo Banzai saying, wherever you go, there you are (although Thomas à Kempis said it in 1440, as have many Buddhists in just so many words over the last 2500 years). Identity: as Bucky Fuller said, I seem to be a verb.