I know when you say “I am atheist” people think, “Ah, you don’t believe in spirituality at all.” Actually I do. I believe, with the existentialist, that things, in general, have whatever meaning you give them. From time to time, I have these incredible dreams. One such dream is one of the first things I blogged back on my crappy Yahoo360 account and can be read here.
I was in little cabin, a shed almost. The wood was weatherd a dull, lifeless gray . Sunlight was pouring the open door, and I was looking out into these green, rolling hills. My wife was out there somewhere, waiting for me, but I couldn’t make my self go. Some darkness, some inner dread, kept me from walking out the door. I turned back to the cold fireplace, the fire long gone and stared at the ashes.
There was a captain ladder behind me to the attick and I heard the squeek of someone coming down. I turned, and behind me stood three women. The first was my highschool sweetheart. The second the woman I dated in college, and very nearly married. The last, a stranger to me. They were all beautiful, but etheral somehow.
They smiled, bitter sweet, slightly hurt smiles as they walked towards me. The two I knew gave me a speech, and it went something like this.
Dearest, we are your ghosts, ghosts of relationships long dead. You have kept your ghosts well and held our memories dear. But it’s time to grow up. Please let us go. Stop keeping the memories alive. We’re not real. The women you remember are long gone, and we can’t ever be them again, not in body, not in spirit. You can’t ever be the man we loved again.
Darling, you don’t need us anymore. You’ve held our memories because you were sad and broken then. To a broken you, our love, our compliments, our attention was the greatest thing you ever had. It’s not anymore. You are loved now, respected, treasured. You don’t need us anymore. Let us go.
The one I didn’t recognize stepped forward. She touched my face, gently. As I looked I recognized her. When I got kicked out of Bible college she was the waitress who offered to take me home at the end of her shift, the girl who folded my laundry when I forgot it at the laundry mat, the CNA who rubbed my shoulders as I charted the worst shift ever, the girl who put my arm around her at a hayrack ride in youth group when I was too chicken to do it. She was evey female that ever made me like I was someone special instead of trash.
They all held me.
“Goodbye, my dears,” I said.
“No hard feelings, beloved. Goodbye.” They said
I stepped to the door, and woke up
Jet lag is still getting the best of me. I couldn’t keep my eyes open much past 2000 local and passed out. At 0315 local, I couldn’t sleep anymore. It’s 2028 now your time. Apparently, 8:30 PM is a lousy time to talk to my friends on facebook, so I’ll just blog my dream.
Laura Gene smoothed her wavy blondish hair behind her ear. Her mother had always said “Girls don’t sweat, they glow.” but apparently her mother had never tried to unpack two tons of boxes alone. She was sweating a lot, soaking the small of her back, and stinking up her second favorite ratty old t-shirt. The real problem was her glasses. Sweating made here nose slick, and her silver rimmed glasses slid right of it, which in turn meant they had to be pushed back up, which in turn, caught the little wispy hairs by her ears, which in turned tickled her flushed face. As she swung a cardboard box down from the stack and carried into the kitchen for unpacking, she looked out the window into the back yard where her kids were playing. The angle was wrong for her to see, but her oldest son was clearly talking to an adult leaning on the fence.
“Eric, you know better than to talk to strangers,” she muttered under her breath as she hurried out the back door to see who it was, violently shaking the blinds on the window as she let it slam.
Laura Gene was conflicted. She was mad at Eric for talking to stranger instead of telling her someone was there, but glad that he was so confidently talking to this man. She was also pretty pissed at the stranger for walking up to her back fence and talking her son, but maybe he was neighbor it was OK for him to just walk up? Her shirt was still clinging to her back as walked down the overgrown path that connected the back door to the gate. She pulled is straight as she walked purposefully.
“Who’s your new friend, Eric?”
Eric paused his four year-old’s prattle, his eyebrows knit together. Obviously he had been so busy talking he hadn’t asked. The man, who had been leaning over the fence to listen, raised his head very slowly.
“Jacob,” he said quietly. “Eric, could you go play over there with your sisters so your mom and I can talk?”
Laura Gene felt the world was spinning around her. It was him. Where before he had worn his hair in thick locks, it was now shaved to the skin. His shoulders, once nineteen year old narrow were now twenty-five year broad, but it was undoubtedly him. His chocolate brown eyes, hidden behind thick glasses when she knew him, were now free to be seen clearly without a lens over them. His eyes carried a century of pain in his young face.
“LG, why didn’t you tell me I had a son?”
She looked him over. There was a thousand things she wanted to tell him, a thousand times she’d thought of him over the past four years. She’d heard he joined the Army, but somehow she’d forgotten what that meant. Forgotten his hair would be gone and that he’d be lean and tall like this. She’d heard he gotten married but she hadn’t expected the ring on his finger to hurt like this, like a knife in the guts.
“I’ll pay child support, with back pay. I just want to be part of his life,” he said, still looking at Eric.
I talk to the physical manifestation of the conceptualization of my wife (and get advice about asking her for advice)
One of my favorite concepts about the human mind is the idea of the human mind as an operating system for the brain, just as Linux is the operating system of the computer that I am writing this on.
This concept is a whole mental toolkit, with fascinating rabbit trails relating to almost any issue of the mind and brain. Mental problems, for instance, could be caused by single component hardware failure (traumatic brain injury), system wide hardware failure (biochemical imbalance), operating system failure (neurosis), or application failure (disorders that have limited “system wide” problems, but effect certain tasks deeply, such as phobias.)
Within the framework of popular computing, avatar has different meanings depending on context. The word is borrowed from Hindu, where it means the physical incarnation of a deity. In online forums, an avatar can be something as simple as a picture. This picture represents the user in someway. In 3D online games the avatar is the player’s body in the game’s universe (metaverse). Both of these qualities represent the avatar as a representation of user within the system.
However, unique to advertising, an avatar is a program which interacts with people. Often, avatars in the context of advertising are called bots. If you would like to talk to one, Ikea has famous avatar named Anna. In the first 2 cases, the avatar was a user of the system. Anna, however, is the system, or at least a part of it. So an avatar becomes any human faced set of code, regardless of whether the input and output functions of said code are controlled by a human mind, or a mechanical one.
Today, I was lying in bed after my wife had gotten up. I was not quite asleep, but neither was I fully awake, which, often as not, results in a unique dream state. (I should mention before I explain all this, that I am an extremely lucid dreamer. I often interact with people in my dreams with both me and the person I am dreaming about understanding that I am dreaming. This one was a little weird even for me, though.) I was simultaneously dreaming of speaking with Becky and hearing her real, non-dream voice from downstairs. I found this disconcerting and asked my dream wife what was going on.
“Oh,” replied dream Becky, “I’m an avatar of Becky. The real Becky is downstairs. I represent every thing that you know about Becky, accessible through a normal conversational interface.”
“So,” I asked “Technically you are me, in the sense that you are my memories of Becky?”
She frowned. “Yes, technically, I am you, or at least of you, but it’s best if you think of me as Becky, because if you think of me as you, then I cease to be an incarnation of everything you know about Becky and just become the form of Becky. I can’t provide you with her unique perspectives. I become a projection of yourself into Becky’s form, rather than Becky’s form projected onto your understanding of her identity.”
“I get it,” I said “By having you as an avatar of Becky, it gives me a second way to access Becky’s mind when I need her perspective and she’s not available.”
“Right,” said dream Becky “Of course, I can’t give you her real perspective. It’s not telepathy or anything. If she’s available, by all means ask her, but if you are deployed to forward base or something, you can ask me.”
I thought about this for bit. “But if you are the sum of everything I know about Becky, then I already have access to all the information that makes you. To access you, I need to be in a dream state, whereas to access your constituent data I only need to concentrate for a moment when fully awake.”
“Well, first of all, I can provide you the information in a much more intuitive, conversational manner, “ she said. “Further, since a dream state is more relaxed, I can often give you more accurate information. If you deeply desire to do something that you need to ask Becky about, that desire will cause distress. When you access her/my data intellectually, your mind will color how you conceptualize Becky to bias the resulting conclusions to cause less distress. By taking the time to be relaxed enough to be in a dream state you get marginally less data mined information. Thirdly, I offer a unique service if you are mourning.”
“What’s that?” I asked surprised.
She explained, “If something happens to real world Becky that makes her totally unaccessible, ie death or coma, I can provide a way for you to interact with her. In the coma example, I can provide you with the parenting advice you need to raise your daughter without Becky. When you hear of a deceased spouse visiting someone in a dream thats an avatar like me.”
“So what you are saying,” I began, “is that anyone I know well, exists in two states. The real world state and the pretend state?”
She responded, “Pretend isn’t quite right. When you play Star Wars Battlefront you aren’t really a Storm Trooper. There is no reality in which you are a Storm Trooper, but the ones and zeros of the Star Wars Battlefront game are as real as you are. While I am not strictly speaking, real, the biochemical interactions that create and define me are real and objectively verifiable.”
And continued, “More correctly, all human beings react both with real people and with their avatars in their respective minds. When you and real Becky fight about something it is often because one of you does not meet the other’s expectations. I said one thing, Becky said another. You are angry because the real me outside your mind did not respond the same way as the real me in your mind.”
I was dumb founded. “So this explains why humans believe in an immortal soul even though there has never been any evidence of it? If something happened to real world Becky, I would still run into you from time to time. To the non-skeptical this would imply a visit from the afterlife.”
“Exactly, “ she smiled. “It actually explains a whole a whole slew of paranormal phenomenon: ghosts, doppelgängers, messages from the afterlife, etc. And might even offer insight into mental illness. What do you think would happen if your own avatar was based off of a false concept of self?”
I thought about it. I really had no idea, though I agreed it was a fascinating question and worthy of further thought. “I don’t have any idea, Becky.”
Avatar Becky smiled coyly. “Then, I can’t either, silly. Time to get up.”
I woke up, and went downstairs to tell Becky how smart she/I is/am.