What Lies Beneath: A Meditation on the Digisoul

by Alphaville Herald on 30/03/05 at 12:13 pm

by Budka Groshomme

When I was a kid I wondered, as most of my era did, whether the light in the icebox really went out when the door closed. Several attempts at divining this led only to a pinched nose. Although I have grown more careful about where I stick my nose since then, my curious nature remains.

It was that same driving curiosity that made me wonder where the “me” was while I was being teleported. Checking clocks at both ends, both in SL and in RL, indicated that a measurable period of time elapses between the time you de-rez at one end and appear at the other. Where, exactly, was my me during that period? Since teleporting is independent of distance (three trials proved this to me), I knew I wasn’t exactly zipping along above the landscape like some digital wraith in the interim.

But, did I move? As with the classic transporters of 1960s Star Trek vintage, teleporters of science fiction, etc., each avatar is apparently erased at the transmitting end and built anew at the receiving station. In truth, what appears on the teleport hub is a brand new avatar, built up from the pattern of the departed (and erased) original. As you move about after rezzing up, the avatar feels, acts, and moves as before. You remain the dreaded demon, fickle witch, hirsute hulking brute, or the diminutive, sexy blonde you were. The avatar is merely a set of patterns culled from your inventory that is wrapped around your me, and that me in SL is something else, something more basic.

Let’s go back a bit. When you teleport you seem, to any nearby observer, to disappear like a burst soap bubble. For a few seconds, you are neither here nor there. Yet, as we already discussed, you are clearly somewhere! Similarly, when you leave the game to sample RL, the real SL me remains. This me, this digital creation – this digisoul – is the core of one’s SL existence and it persists whether you are present or not.

I’m reminded of a short SF story I read years ago in which aliens would occupy (“ride”) humans for a brief time and have the humans perform all types of aberrant behaviors. The occupied individuals were condemned to merely watch as the riders made their bodies commit often obscene and unspeakable acts. Of course, those being ridden were left with the memories of what “they” had done. Don’t we treat our own SL digisouls in the same way?

Did you ever consider what happens to all those digisouls abandoned by their owners? Not only the temps who abandon their rudimentary avatars within a few days, but those who made a longer term investment. What happens when the rider dies? Doesn’t the digital digisoul definition remain?

Somewhere in the darkness of Linden Lab’s machines these abandoned creations lie where they were left, tied to a location, a pattern, a password. They are in purgatory, electronically alive, but not animated; nor are they truly dead. Do they, I wonder, have electronic dreams of open data sets, of bits and bytes, of endless memory? Does the activation of another digisoul at their location make them aware of their abandonment?

The question of our ethical responsibility toward these unfortunate creations comes into play once we think of them as beings. How can we, in good conscience, continue to ignore the plight of these digisouls? How can we continue to evade our social responsibility to care for these avatar-less beings?

Perhaps there’s some way we could bring these abandoned creatures forth. All they need is a password. With that knowledge we could summon them from their digital graves, reanimate them, and once again give them the gift of life. But how would they react? Would they be mere zombies or could we somehow grant them free will? Once freed, would they then set out to build a native SL, unfettered by the perceptions of our warped RL worldview? What would they build, what wonders would they create?

Is it in our power to grant them resurrection and renewal? Is it our responsibility?

Free the digisouls!

9 Responses to “What Lies Beneath: A Meditation on the Digisoul”

  1. Urizenus

    Mar 30th, 2005

    Bud, it’s unusual that you think of the avatar as being soul-like, when most would think of it as being virtual flesh; its not the virtual soul being abandoned but the virtual body. I don’t have a problem with flipping this, but it does seem to entail that the properties of our soul can be morphed by sliders, that our souls can be skinned and reskinned, and that the soul itself (not just the body) can be clothed and decked out in bling. Well, why not.

    The teleporting issue is similar. I’ve had bad teleporting experiences in which my avi morphed into that short woman avi. Attachments and scripted objects have also been known to break in teleportation. But the ususal thought would be that while you are waiting to re-rez you are just waiting for your virtual body to rez. If you are waiting for the soul to rez, well then you might ask who is doing the waiting. not the body. The mind? Well then you have a kind of split between mind and soul, but that suggests that when you teleport you are not only disembodied but de-souled. I dunno. maybe.

  2. Budka Groshomme

    Mar 30th, 2005

    Maybe this should have run on Friday

  3. Walker Spaight

    Mar 30th, 2005

    I think what Bud’s talking about is the _avatar’s_ soul as distinct from the avatar itself. I think. While I am waiting for my av to re-rez, it’s the RL me and my RL soul that are doing the waiting. But what’s happening to my avatar’s SL soul, its digisoul, as my avatar is caught in the server-space between telehubs? At least I think this is what he’s talking about. Bud?

  4. Walker Spaight

    Mar 30th, 2005

    Why Friday, Bud? We can always link back to it from your Friday piece, btw.

  5. Clark Ambassador

    Mar 30th, 2005

    That’s deep. Interesting perspective.

    By the way– the light does go off.

  6. Erik Mondrian

    Mar 30th, 2005

    Because Friday is April Fool’s Day, of course, a perfect day for this excellent and somewhat subtly tongue-in-cheek article! :)

    At least, that’s what I *think* he meant…

  7. Neal Stewart

    Mar 31st, 2005

    Heh heh. That was great, Bud. I’ll have to have a bit of a think about what DOES happen to those souls :) It reminds me of a paper I’ve been meaning to read by Paul Almond aka ‘Diaspar Medici’ in SL:
    “Did ‘I’ Write This?”
    “Most people believe in some sort of continuity of existence, or ‘continuity of self’. This is the idea that the same ‘you’ existed yesterday, exists now and will hopefully exist tomorrow…”

    13 days ago Paul also published a large piece on SL which I didn’t link to at the Herald because I’m hoping to read it properly and come up with some good questions for him:
    “Taking the Virtual out of Virtual Reality”

  8. budka groshomme

    Mar 31st, 2005

    1. Yes, it was intended to be humor.
    2. Friday IS April Fool’s Day
    3. I do know that the light goes off.
    4. The digisoul is the archived user file that contains your account numbers, real name, personal data, 2L name, all of your preferences, and your entire inventory. It is awakened whenever you log on.
    5. The Paul Almond article is superb! I didn’t know someone could spend so many words on the subject.

  9. Walker Spaight

    Mar 31st, 2005

    Yes, Bud, but surely what you’re saying is that #4 above is greater than the sum of its bytes.

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