It’s a New Phil, Week 36

By | September 13, 2006


Back up three pounds this week to 238, re-setting my total weight loss to 59 pounds. That’s okay — I’m used to these off weeks by now.

An interesting e-mail from Stephen the other day:

Reading passages from “The Singularity is Near” this afternoon I came across the passage where Kurzweil explained the impact of becoming Ramona in VR:

“The experience was a profound and moving one for me. When I looked in the “cybermirror” I saw myself as Ramona ratehr than the person I usually see in the mirror. I experienced the emotional force – and not just the intellectual idea – of transforming myself into someone else.

People’s identities are frequently closely tied to their bodies… I found the opportunity to become a different person liberating.”

You’ve now lost 62 pounds. [True at the time he wrote it! -- Ed.] Do you now think of yourself differently? Does this give you any insight into how the public will experience future changes (restored youth, super-strength, super-agility, super-endurance)?

Interesting questions. As a matter of fact, I do think of myself differently, but I’m not completely sure about the chain of causation. Did I see myself in a new light because I’ve lost some weight, or was I able to lose some weight because I started seeing myself in a new light? I think the two go together.

After all, I had already dubbed this series “It’s a New Phil” before I had lost much weight at all. At that time, (as far as poundage is concerned) I was still pretty much the old Phil. Appropos of the Kurzweil quote, somewhere along the way I changed my Second Life avatar from looking like this…

to looking like this…


…which change, btw, my wife strongly approves of, primarily because of the wardrobe and hair modifications. I’m just glad that I don’t look cross-eyed anymore.

Of course, weight loss is quite a bit easier to pull off in Second Life than it is here in the first one. Any transformation is. I could just as easily have made myself a beautiful woman or a menacing robot or a werewolf in a flannel shirt. People do all of that and more in Second Life. I met a vampire there a while back who gave me a lengthy explanation of vampire culture and its intertwined relationship with the werewolves, or lycans, as they call themselves. It’s a big no-no for a werewolf (at least within the community the vampire told me about) to allow him/herself to be the “pet” or “slave” of any other being….apparently this would allow dangerous crossovers into plushie- and/or furry- centric lifestyles that are simply not deemed appropriate by the werewolf guild.

Now if this all begins to seem like a huge digression from the issue at hand, it’s not. My point is that people are trying out all kinds of amazing tranformations even now. And they’re taking them to their logical conclusions, building whole cultures to suit the kinds of beings they have become. Second life even has its own version of the Green Lantern Corps, superheroes to step in to protect the weak and fight off bad guys when needed. They’re like Second Life’s answer to the Guardian Angels.

Do all these folks experience what Kurzweil did when he first donned the persona of his female alter-ego? To some extent, I think they do — at least to the extent that moving a mouse and staring at a screen will allow them to. Kurzweil had an advantage in that he was experiencing being Ramona with his whole body. I think that makes a huge difference.

My own transformations have been much more modest. A thinner New Phil in the real world still feels pretty much like the old Phil most of the time. And my Second Life avatar is really just an electronic version of me. I gave myself a last name that means a type of Dutch Christmas cookie simply because it sounds like “Speculist.” (Also, I’m half Dutch, but that didn’t enter into the decision.)

I think these modest transformations (even the extreme ones that take place in virtual worlds are relatively modest simply because of the limited way we are able to experience them) do, indeed, help to prepare us for a coming world in which we will be able to realize such changes in a much more immediate and profound way. Personally, I look forward to the day — whether it occurs in the real world or an indistinguishable electronic alternative — when I can step outside my door and, as I do in Second Life, leap up into the air and fly under my own power to wherever I want to go. However, by the time I am able to do that, it might not seem like that big a deal. I will have been doing it in increasingly realistic facsimiles for years (probably decades) by then.

It’s like hitting the 75- or 80- or 100-pound weight loss mark. Sure, any of those will feel like a tremendous accomplishment and I’ll be pleased when I get there. (And there will be celebrations.) But you don’t hit the 100-pound mark all at once. By the time I get there, I will have already hit the 95-pound mark. So it isn’t really this enormous ontological change to get to 100.

For a time, we will experince the big changes that Stephen is talking about the way I’m currently experiencing weight loss. Gradually, over time. With time to prepare. But then there will come a time when we can change the fundamental way we look and feel and act as rapidly as we can currently update a Second Life avatar. I don’t know that anything can really prepare us for life in such a world. And it’s kind of a scary thought, but I’m looking forward to it, anyhow.

So you see? It wasn’t a digression at all. For a real digression, please continue with this entry after the following public service announcement.

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