Saturday, April 12, 2008

Real Life? What's that?

I don’t know why, but I’ve been obsessed all day with trying to pin down a definition of reality that makes sense to me. I realize there have been countless philosophers throughout human history who have wrestled with the question, but the advent of virtual worlds adds a new dimension to consider.

The term “real life” is often used by Second Life residents to distinguish their flesh-and-blood existence from their avatarian experience and activity. But in what way is meatspace more real?

It seemed like a silly question at first. A virtual world has no physical substance. Turn off the computer and poof, it’s (I’m) gone. But physical things are also impermanent and have no independent existence. The entire universe is going to end up vanishing in a black hole. The difference seems merely quantitative, not substantive.

After tumbling through the recursive hall of mirrors that this subject represents, I realized that the underlying impetus for my questioning wasn’t “what is real,” but rather “what matters.” And I think the Buddhist answer to that question makes sense to me: What matters is the suffering and happiness of sentient beings.

'nuff said.


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A beautiful thought experiment personified through the imagined perspective of a self-aware avatar. My creator's site can is at