Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Physical and the NonPhysical in Second Life

The other day, I had a supermodel/photgrapher come by my lab and ask me what I was building. I told her I was experimenting with physical objects in SL, and that my interest was to build cells, tissues and organs and drug screening. She was very perplexed. The reason was because she was confusing the avatar and the avatar's world -which is nonphysical in nature- with the physical objects in SL, which exist both in a Physical and Nonphysical realm. How can testing a drug on an avatar help you develop a drug in RL? But, I was not talking about testing a drug on an avatar -rather, on a physical cell, tissue, organ or human, within the virtual world. Yes, it is confusing...Avatars can walk both on physical and non-physical platforms. But, physical platforms are subject to gravity, while non-physical platforms are not. In fact, I realize that most of what is constructed already in SL appears to be largely Nonphysical in nature. That is why visitors who come to my lab --even those that have been around in SL for two years-- are amazed when they get to see-saw with me on a plank. Interestingly, buildings -including my lab- are Nonphysical in nature. This may lead to problems in manufacturing later on. I am not sure. I have found that sometimes the Nonphysical and the Physical do not like to interact. I know that Non-physical objects can support a physical object, but in one case, when I tried to hang one of the physical pulley holders from a non-physical peg, the peg did not seem to support the pulley holder. I am not sure why that was. Maybe it had to do with the fact that the pulley holder was a linked object made of two physical objects? Maybe it is linking that is the is possible that even linking should be done physically, say with chain links or rivets, and not with the link command. At a larger scale it may be important to construct a physical-virtual world in SL, as opposed to the nonphysical world that the avatars now inhabit....I think this is maybe an issue that deserves attention right now that we are starting on this enterprise, as it may affect what we are able to do and how we do it later on. I am hoping mathematicians will consider this question and advice on it.

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About Me

I am Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences