As I think I mentioned, I am at work [hard at work would be a bit of an exaggeration] on the eleventh edition of the textbook, ABOUT PHILOSOPHY, that I wrote in the 70s so that my first wife could spend an additional semester completing her scholarly book on Edith Wharton. For this edition, I an completely redoing the end-of-chapter Contemporary Applications, sections in which I try to make a connection between some urgent problem of today and the eternal philosophical issues discussed in the text. For the chapter on Metaphysics, I decided to use the question of the ontological status of virtual reality, as it crops up in the on-line fantasy games that are now all the rage. I am leaning heavily on the skills of a research assistant, Megan Kelly Mitchell, who in real life is a bright doctoral student in Philosophy at UNC Chapel Hill.
Yesterday, Megan and I had a meeting in the Carolina Cafe, and she gave me a set of articles on virtual reality that she had found on the web. In one of these articles, I was introduced to Ric Hoogestraat, a fiftyish former college computer graphics teacher with a long gray ponytail and a mustache who has become totally invested in something called Second Life. In 2007, when the article was written, Second Life had eight million registered users, of whom about 450,000 were serious players. Ric's character in the on-line game, or avatar, as it is referred to, is Dutch Hoorenbeck, described in the article as a "six-foot-nine, muscular, motorcycle-riding cyberself."
Ric's wife put up with his obsessive involvement in the fantasy game until she discovered that in cyberspace, Dutch had met, wooed, married, and set up housekeeping with Tanej ["Janet" backwards], the avatar of a Canadian woman named Janet Spielman.
Now look, Ric has one vote in any local, state, or national election, just as I do. When a telephone survey is conducted on the advisability of the war in Afghanistan, Ric's voice weighs as heavily as mine [assuming he can be torn away from the computer screen to take a phonecall in real time and space.] Is there something wrong with this picture?