Virtual Worlds and the Strange Loop II

I wonder if it’s possible that virtual worlds can give a platform for the recursive self? Or a more visible way of understanding what’s meant by the phrase “I am a strange loop”?

When Pais made his post it inspired me to bring a bunch of threads together – it didn’t take long to write but they were a bunch of random thoughts that Pais helped to bring to some kind of messy riff. Having had the night to think over my initial stream of consciousness, I’m not sure whether I’ve simple gone loopy, or there’s something worth exploring.

I’m not sure yet what I mean by the strange loop of virtual worlds. On the one hand, there’s the sort of obvious – real informs the virtual which informs the real. I take it as a given that there’s no separation between our real and virtual selves, it’s the expression of ourselves that differs, but no more so than the mask we might wear in a business meeting vs. the one we wear with family or with a loved one.

As well, I’m very big on Jung so virtual worlds offer a highly expressive medium for lucid dreaming, and imaginations of our selves, towards perhaps integrating them.

The idea of the recursive city will change the way we interact with the world, I think – GIS systems, information shadows on buildings, the ability to walk through a street and see both the bricks and the information on top of the bricks, and a projection of what the bricks might look like, the virtual and real city will merge into one, and if the recursive city is possible, then why not the recursive self?

The idea of recursion and the strange loop is curious, because it rests on a few concepts, one of them being nested hierarchies that loop back on themselves – the hierarchies give the illusion of heightening conceptual thinking, yet you find yourself back where you started. I’ve started to wonder whether the way people react to virtual worlds isn’t an indicator of what may be today’s version of existential anxiety – if the mind/body duality has been appended with a separation of body states (I have a physical body and one or more virtual ones) that are in duality with environments (that are themselves recursive and reflective) then perhaps when we talk about RL/SL balance, or the different quality of emotions in virtual worlds, maybe we’re struggling to find language for “loop anxiety”.

If true, then the idea of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may need new descriptors.

The other concept is that recursive patterns are mathematically constructivist or deconstructivist. They either build outwards from a single ‘mathematical point’ or they deconstruct from a filled field. Again, if we are experiencing “loop anxiety” then maybe we’re bound to find two different behaviour streams in virtual worlds – one where the self is slowly whittled away, pieces falling off until the recursive pattern and the strange loop brings us back to where we started, or the other where we build from a blank slate.

I’ve seen, felt, and experienced these patterns in virtual worlds – seen people come in who then construct their personas from a single reference point…a look, an interest, whatever. They come in to pursue one narrow path and then find that their personas take on a constructivist recursion. And I’ve seen others who come in who construct personas and identities that seem complete, but that are then whittled away, a falling off of the fixed points of identity that they thought would be so important when they first arrived. Over time, their emotions, personas, and relationships fix to that beautiful singularity, from which the strange loop can bring them back to a new “live” self that is both a product of the virtual extension and a producer of it.

But what really intrigues me, and something I don’t post about very much, is the idea of magic, creativity and spirituality. I believe the world has lost the pulse of magic – as Pais might say the sort of shamanistic thread, the deep pulse, the vibration beneath things. When I was a kid, my parents would try to understand why I was so quiet and spacey (hmm…they still ask me that, I guess things don’t change that much), and I struggled to explain that I heard a river underneath things, or what I came to call an echo – the faint vibration of a deeper music.

There’s all sorts of ways to try to bring language to this, but at its core is the idea that creativity IS what we are. I’m not sure I entirely believe in how Pais titled things – to perceive is to create…because that implies that without the viewer there is no reality. Instead, I’d propose a flip – to create is to perceive. Only through the act of creation – an avatar, a work of art, a poem, a blog entry – can we give expression to how we perceive reality, and in that expression come closer to understanding what the Buddhists mean by illusion. Through creation, we come to understand that the power is not our own, and is not only imperfect, but is never quite what we set out to create in the first place. If our imaginations exceed our capacity to realize those strange visions, then perhaps our ability to perceive reality is also flawed. Our acceptance of this is what might liberates us from ego.

Magic taught us that there is a second source of power. Shamanism teaches us to watch for the indications of that power in the world around us, and to put the ego aside while we channel the deeper rivers.

The very imperfection of virtual worlds may be one of their strengths. Synthetic worlds are immersive enough, and tap into enough magic, that they give us new tools for creation – bringing us closer to understanding how imperfect our capacity for rendering our visions truly is. But their imperfections preserve the nested hierarchies of the strange loop. This imperfection, this recursiveness, may bring us to the age of the Turing machine – virtual worlds that are recursive unto themselves…the strange loop, the Godel paradox, alive in the shuttling back and forth, the strange loopiness within worlds and across them, and finally the traces left behind…our virtual selves living beyond us, feeding a new recursive pattern the meaning of which we can’t imagine, or which instead of imagining we choose to dread.

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