Identity and Expression, Second Life

The Ultimate Emptiness of Dusan: Identity and Virtuality

Somehow I missed the post earlier, but BotGirl has continued a conversation that has flipped back and forth across the blogs since, well, since I’ve been paying attention: what constitutes an avatar identity. In this case, Botgirl parses the different impressions we might have when we think of someone using their real or avatar names:

“As I was thinking earlier today about a post in Phasing Grace on Second Life culture, it occurred to me that the same sort of semiotic questions I had in the quest to identify and name a distinct virtual Second Life culture also applied to personal identity.

In the mundane view of reality, a name is merely a word we use to label the particular entity that is specified. But the deeper truth is that a name plays a role in defining and maintaining our perception of the named object. At an even more profound level, a name actually brings the named into perceptual existence by separating a particular set of attributes from the universe into a discrete object or being.

One of the things I value the most about virtual life, is its power to shed light on otherwise obscure or invisible aspects of physical life. In this case, avatar “brand names” that also have a publicly disclosed human identity bring to light the almost mystical connection between the name (signifier) and our mental concept (signified).”

OK, but here’s where it gets weird. Because she chooses to, um, parse me, which is followed by Gwyn taking me apart, pixel by atom, mind by body:

After all, if you take Dusan Writer apart… where is the intrinsic Dusan? In the head? In the arms? The torso? Well, perhaps in the head. But where in the head? Well, certainly not inside the nose, so we’d go into the brain, which is where Dusan’s mind resides. But where exactly in the brain is Dusan? Well, we might conveniently split and splice Dusan’s brain in individual neurons… but when we get to that point, we haven’t found Dusan at all. And a brain without the rest of the body is, well, useless. We just have an epiphenomenal impression that Dusan’s being, or rather, the perception of Dusan, spontaneously emerges from the aggregate that we call Dusan.

Hello! It’s like being a kid in a room with your parents who are debating whether to punish you or not for forgetting your homework.

Botgirl agrees with Gwyn’s basic point, and while being uber-Buddhist about it, finds me ultimately empty:

Gwyneth: As someone who has quoted the Heart Sutra in multiple blog posts, I’m in wholehearted agreement with you on the ultimate emptiness of Dusan. That said, philosophically I’m pretty much a Gelug School Tibetan Buddhist. So in addition to the ultimate view, I also appreciate the value of the relative view which uses the idea of personhood as a useful tool on the path.

Many traditions appreciate the power of a name. For instance, when one take Buddhist refuge in some Tibetan traditions, he or she receives an additional name. Another example of the power of name/sound is in the practice of mantra.

In Vajrayana practice, the sound of mantra is sometimes combined with the visualization of oneself as a deity. I think that both the name and image one chooses for an avatar may have deeper psychological ramifications than is normally appreciated.

I agree with you that our conception of Dusan is a projection of our own minds. I guess the difference in my perspective is that I think that both the visual representation and the associations we have with the name influence our mental model.

Now, I’ve written about Strange Loops before. But I never thought I’d find myself in QUITE such a convoluted loop as this.

See, when I write my blog, I’m Dusan. So, in reading a post in which Doug is mentioned, and needing to parse the Dusan-ness of Doug and the emptiness of Dusan, I can’t help feeling slightly out of sorts. (Not to mention the fact that the people doing all this splitting and tearing apart of my identity are themselves avatarian. Or is that Sutravatars?)

I mean – guys, what about how Dusan feels about it?

We are each made up, of course, of our self-perception which is influenced by the perception and action of others. And while I’m the first to admit that the linking of avatar to real name was a wistful almost mournful day, I still FEEL a lot like Dusan….or at least I did, until you decided that I (by which I mean me, Dusan) was ultimately empty.

Not being Buddhist enough, Doug is neither empty nor half-full. Dusan on the other hand is so meta he has no meaning whatsoever which must mean, according to Botgirl, that I’ve hit spiritual perfection.

I feel woozy. It’s hard to be a projection in other people’s minds. Think I’m going to lay down. Let me know what they decide.


speak up

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site.

Subscribe to these comments.

*Required Fields

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.