I’m leaning towards multiple.
Many years ago, about 21 in fact, I took a 2-week-long course called, The Nature Of Reality. That was its catchy name. The official, for-public-consumption name was, Leadership, Creativity, & Accomplishment. Both names were accurate and the course outcomes live with me to this day.
Circumstances have conspired to have me reflect further on The Nature Of Virtual Reality.
In the community of people who use the 3D Web platform, Second Life, it’s become common to talk about one’s “virtual life” versus one’s “real life”. I imagine it’s the same for other 3D Web platforms such as IMVU and Blue Mars. But I now wonder just how separate “virtual” and “real” really are.
Circumstance: At a book club meeting, during a break, I described my work in 3D Web virtual environments including business, music, tourism, arts. A participant argued that “spending time in a computer world distracts people from REAL life,” and that “it would be better, for example, to read a good book or watch a good movie.” After some discussion, it dawned on us that “reading a good book” and “watching a good movie” were, in fact, forms of virtual realities.
Circumstance: For years, about 5 in fact, following my beginning to learn about and participate in online communities, I wanted to articulate something I’d come to feel strongly about, regarding the opportunity to choose meaningful online names. “Sitearm,” for example, is very much a created online identity – it is an anagram for “Artemis.” This distinction of “online identity” became confounded with other uses for the phrase to mean, instead, one’s social security number, credit card number, and the protection thereof. I finally distinguished what I wanted to say with the invented phrase, le nom en ligne, one’s Online Name.
Circumstance: In a recent discussion with family, we talked about how one reverted in some ways to being a child again, automatically, when visiting one’s parents, no matter how old and adult you are and no matter if you have children of your own. And how, when you visit children who are fully grown, you still revert in some ways to being a parent with them again. Further, one often has a different persona or “face” when at work versus when at home versus when with family versus when with confidants / close friends.
Aren’t all of these variations in identity still rooted in the same person at the core? Aren’t people capable of many faces in different circumstances of interacting with other people, and does it matter if those environments for interaction are physical versus digital? Don’t we, for example, use a different “telephone voice” for strangers versus friends versus colleagues. Aren’t social media tools just an extension of ways for us to present ourselves in multiple, chosen, different personas suited to the circumstances?
I’m not saying each person’s different personas are “fake,” I’m saying they are authentic. People are multi-faceted, and the additional digital environments now available to us, whether email, blog, or other, enable us to more fully express the different quirky corners of our temperaments than ever. And somehow, in a meaningful way, reality is broader than we might normally imagine.
Circumstance: For years, sports trainers have advocated that professional athletes “visualize” their body moves mentally before performing them physically, citing evidence of increased success. Lately, sleep researchers have identified a late phase in sleep cycles where physical practice moves completed earlier in the day are neurologically locked in, in the body while it’s resting, at night.
Circumstance: For thousands of years, poets, philosophers, and researchers have remarked on the inability, at times, to distinguish dreams at night from real experiences in the day. For just as long, scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians have debated on whether the Mathematics world is a separate reality from the Physical world and the Mental world.
So: Is there one reality and it’s physical? Is there one physical reality and one mental? Are there multiple realities and, if so, are they real, as in substantive and life-impacting? I’m leaning towards multiple. And I’m saying, that’s a good thing.