Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Perchance to Day Dream

"Yoga is Union.
Yoga is first of all the union of the subject and the object of consciousness: of the seer with the thing seen.
Now, there is nothing strange or wonderful about all this.
The study of the principles of Yoga is very useful to the average man, if only to make him think about the nature of the world as he supposes that he knows it.
Let us consider a piece of cheese. We say that this has certain qualities, shape, structure, colour, solidity, weight, taste, smell, consistency and the rest; but investigation has shown that this is all illusory. Where are these qualities? Not in the cheese, for different observers give quite different accounts of it. Not in ourselves, for we do not perceive them in the absence of the cheese. All 'material things,' all impressions, are phantoms.
In reality the cheese is nothing but a series of electric charges. Even the most fundamental quality of all, mass, has been found not to exist. The same is true of the matter in our brains which is partly responsible for these perceptions. What then are these qualities of which we are all so sure? They would not exist without our brains; they would not exist without the cheese. They are the results of the union, that is of the Yoga, of the seer and the seen, of subject and object in consciousness as the philosophical phrase goes. They have no material existence; they are only names given to the ecstatic results of this particular form of Yoga."
from 'Eight Lectures on Yoga' by Mahatma Guru-Sri Pramahansa (orig. pub. 1939)
.:: DoL ::.
There is a subject that I have wanted to discuss for a while but exactly how to contextualise it didn't become clear to me until I visited the 'Daytime Dreams' region created by Dolphin Aeghin (.:: DoL ::.).
(click images to enlarge)
It concerns the relationship(s) between virtual art, education in virtual worlds, human relations expressed through an avatar and why some Second Life sims are clearly more "popular" and "successful" than others.
.:: DoL ::.'s work at Daytime Dreams manages to capture something which I think is important to the success of a sim and, by extension, important also to Second Life itself.
But before we address that issue, let us first take a detour and look at examples which empathetically are *not* what I am thinking of.
I remember being invited to one particular educational sim to listen to a lecture.
They had built a decent-enough auditorium in a semi-circle; seating was individual chairs.
Expect that the chairs hadn't got a "sit" in them. That is, it wasn't possible to actually *sit* in the chairs (except in a most deformed and ugly manner).
My point is, the educationalists who owned and built the auditorium didn't consider for a moment that avatars might actually want to *sit* in the chairs! To them, the chairs were architectural features necessary for a visual authenticity but, within a virtual world, totally redundant for actual usage.
So we all stood behind the chairs looking like vertically-stacked pilchards, watching and listening to the lecturer.
But the story doesn't stop there.
Because as the lecturer looked down upon us and pontificated about "the purpose of Second Life" and "how Second Life should be used" and "the future of Second Life and virtual worlds", I was thoroughly distracted by the fact that the guy looked like a complete fucking noob!
Worse in fact, because he had obviously attempted to do *something* with his avatar but had clearly decided "this just isn't worth the effort".

As I observed this lecturer's avatar and listened to his words, I realised that he had a massive "disconnect" between himself and his avatar; between the virtual world he purported to be an expert in and his actual existence within that world.

In short, it was clear to me that, although he was *in* Second Life, he wasn't actually *part* of Second Life - he knew nothing about its culture (or sub-cultures) or how people use it on a daily basis.
For me, he lost all credibility at the moment of that realisation.
Please understand, I am not talking here about some lofty point of philosophy like the "Augmentation vs Immersion" argument.
Rather, I am talking about much more down-to-earth things; I am talking about things that people do every day in SL, as normal activities.
I am pointing out that this educationalist lecturer was completely unaware that avatars *do* actually sit down in virtual worlds and that people *do* make judgements based on the appearance of avatars.
I am also suggesting that he had probably never danced in Second Life or hugged or had a blowjob or fucked.
Or felt the hurt and upset of one human being to another through the medium of an avatar.
Or comforted another human in distress simply by the act of two avatars cuddling.
Or broken another's heart.
Or had his heart broken.
He studies a tree but knows not the beauty of a forest; he knows the chemical composition of sugar but has never experienced its taste; he measures the distance to remote star-systems without ever being awed by its wonder.
Similarly, I was once in a club when a very rare bird indeed flew in - The Lesser Spotted Linden Employee.
A number of us said "Hi" or otherwise greeted her - no response whatsoever. I totally get that - she was at work and possibly studying region performance stats or whatever. Who knows what she was doing. But not a big deal regardless.
However, what was remarkable was she had absolutely no control over her avatar! She was walking into walls, bumping into people and even walked straight over a couch. One year in SL and she had no more ability controlling her avatar than a day old noob.
I kid you not.
It was stunning to see.
And as I watched her, I suddenly understood the attitude that must be so prevalent within The Lab that it resulted in the decision to remove surnames when registering for an SL account.
To them, Second Life is just a "technical" or "engineering" matter, a case of "instances of software and servers" or whatever.
They apparently have little or no understanding of the social implications of their decisions within Second Life.
The removal of avatar surnames has created a "class" or "caste" system in Second Life. This was predictable to anyone with any depth of experience of human relations. It is not nice or desirable nor indeed have any positive aspects at all - but it *was* predictable!
Expect, it seems, to The Lab. 
And worse, they show no signs at this time of either understanding or even caring about the negativity that that ill-fated decision has caused in-world.
How can this be?
I submit that the same malady that affects the aforementioned lecturer also affects some Linden Lab employees - they may well be *in* Second Life but they are certainly not *part* of Second Life.
There is nothing especially wrong with any of this, of course.
It just seems to me to be a very emotionally barren approach to virtuality in general and Second Life in particular.
Concretely, I am saying that these so-called "experts" are misunderstanding and missing out on experiencing the single most important aspect of Virtual Worlds - the capacity to conduct sincere and warm human relationships through the expression of an avatar.  
And that brings us roundly back to DoL's Daytime Dreams installation.
Because in most every aspect of this installation, we, as avatars, are able to express ourselves socially and emotionally.
This is not a "dry-as-dust" intellectual exercise  - it is sensual, moving and poignant excursion into avatar emotional expression.
In amongst the various individual artwork and installations on the region are discretely placed couples seating, couples poses and couples dance balls.
The overriding message is not so much "Please admire *my* work" as it is "Please admire *each other* while at my sim".
It is clear from spending quite a lot of time at Daytime Dreams (once before it was open to the public, twice since opening - a number of hours on each occasion) that .:: DoL ::. not only understands SL technically (building/scripting), and understands it artistically (as evidenced by this wonderful "newspaper rose", for example)...
 ...but she also understands it emotionally, socially and sexually.
And these things together - technical, artistic and socio-sexual - represent the runway to the zenith of experience in virtual worlds.
Frankly, I trust the opinions of an artist like .:: DoL ::. regarding SL far more than I do a lecturer or employee who can't be arsed to fully engage in the subject matter that they claim to be an expert in but nevertheless use to pay their mortgage.
You see, in my opinion, .:: DoL ::. has proven her credentials as an "expert" within virtual worlds by creating Daytime Dreams - I challenge the educationalists and Lab employees to prove theirs!
"Yoga is Union."
.:: DoL ::. has create a virtual space which successfully unites technicality, artistry and simple human connections and engagement.
She is to be applauded and thanked.
We sincerely hope that she will also be emulated.

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