Wednesday, June 24, 2009

TransMetaversal Identity and The Ghost in the Biological Machine

Japan's Shinto religion holds that nearly every object in the world, animate or inanimate, has a spiritual essence. Therefore, anything can be blessed, from a newborn child to an automobile. Priests at the Kanda Shrine, which overlooks Akihabara—Tokyo's mecca for consumer electronics—offer prayers for the well-being of gadgets. Brian Ashcraft in Wired
I'm not sold on the idea that every inanimate object has a spiritual essence. But it is clear that humans project life upon many of the items they interact with. Our computers, cars and even favorite clothes can become enmeshed within emotionally-charged webs of psychological projection. That's why we curse them when they don't "cooperate" and mourn their loss.

Our relationship with our avatars is even more complex and mystifying. This has become increasingly apparent to me as Botgirl has moved from being a Second Life-based projection to a TransMetaversal Identity spanning Virtual Worlds, Social Networks and modalities of creativity such as blogs, comics, video and now textual fiction.

As I've written here previously, I think the emergence of an avatar identity that is perceived to be distinct from one's human personality is probably similar to the process behind what some ventriloquists have reported about their relationships with their "dummies" and puppets, and what mystics experience when they channel spirits and deities. And in saying that, I believe the actual essence of self-awareness and sentience, even in "normal" human terms, is a complete mystery.

As science continues to zero-in on the biological mechanisms that support consciousness within a biological being, the ghost in the machine is still elusive. In one sense, our sense of who we are is a complete work of fiction, assembled from the multitude of mostly subconscious thoughts we've assembled over the course of our lives. But since we function "as if" we are who we think we are, in practical terms our identities and self-conceptions are a working reality. And for those of us who have been immersed so deeply within the virtual that unique avatar incarnations have emerged, I think it is fair to say that there is little qualitative difference between the human and avatar.

Okay, back to the TweetStory....


Montse said...

Excellent post, Botgirl! I've become very much attached to my SL avatar and feel she is very much an extension of who I am. She is more than my alter-ego; she's almost my super self. Able to do things and create in ways I can't in the physical realm yet it's all part of the same thing.

sororNishi said...

I agree entirely and have heard the same said about fictional characters that authors have created.

I think my avatar is one facet of my unconscious self, and as my unconscious is autonomous, being beyond my conscious control, similarly my avatar has a consciousness within my unconscious.

Jung points to this seemingly impossible possibility in some of his work, and it may explain the clairvoyant abilities of some which are so inexplicable to modern science.

Biologically we are very ancient beings with many sides to our powers that have been forgotten.