Virtual Worlds: Portals to Our Self-Discovery?

I came across this story recently, and it got me thinking about how little we understand about the power of our minds and our imaginations. And it reminded me of why I love virtual worlds: because they provide opportunities for us to glimpse the power of our minds to shape reality–both virtual and physical reality.

Here’s the story:

From New World Notes: Woman with Parkinson’s Reports Significant Physical Recovery After Using Second Life

This is Fran, an 85 year old woman who plays Second Life as an avatar named Fran Seranade, and while that’s interesting in itself, many other senior citizens like her are known to be active in SL. Here is the truly extraordinary thing: For over 7 years, Fran has been afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system afflicting millions around the world, including actor Michael J. Fox and sports legend Muhammed Ali. In Fran’s case, Parkinson’s has made it difficult for her to stand from a sitting position, and maintain her balance while upright. But now Fran reports she’s gained significant recovery of physical movement — as a direct consequence of her activity in Second Life.

How did this happen? According to her, she originally used Second Life just as a fun way to socialize, but “[a]fter awhile I began to identify with my avatar and feel like I was actually doing what she was doing.” On one occasion, she played with some tai chi meditation animations for her avatar (that’s her below), and this was a turning point:

“As I watched her,” as she tells me through e-mail, “I could actually feel the movements within my body as if I were actually doing tai chi in my physical life (which is not possible for me).” She made this avatar-based tai chi a daily routine while meditating, and then sensed it was having an impact on herself:

“For a year I have sat and slept in a motorized lounge chair that brings me to a standing position when I push a button.” After weeks of watching her avatar practice tai chi, however, “I could feel that my body had become stronger.” Until a day came where she was able to stand without motorized assistance. “Now,” she says, “I can go from a sitting to standing position without even using my arms to push against the arm rests. This has been absolutely thrilling for me.”

via New World Notes: Woman with Parkinson’s Reports Significant Physical Recovery After Using Second Life – Academics Researching (Read more at that link).

The next time someone tells me that the digital isn’t real,  I will respond, “Really? Are you sure? How do we know?” And I will tell this story.

Like this post? Check out my other posts on virtual worlds

14 thoughts on “Virtual Worlds: Portals to Our Self-Discovery?

  1. Pingback: Virtual Worlds: Portals to Our Self-Discovery? | Digital Delights - Avatars |

  2. Pingback: Virtual Worlds: Portals to Our Self-Discovery? | Web Technologies for Learning |

  3. Very interesting. I remember reading also about a programme where people with mobility issues were trained to lucid dream in the hope that it would give them some sense of adventure in being able to do things in dreams they were no longer able to do in life. Research is still scanty but it would seem that there is a possibility that it may have a similar healing effect.


    • That’s interesting, I haven’t heard about that research on lucid dreaming and people with mobility issues. I’ve had some personal experience with lucid dreaming, but I am not able to do it consistently (and I know many others who also are hit and miss). Fortunately playing in Second Life and other virtual worlds is easier. It’s great to have options!


      • I’ve managed to average about 1 or 2 lucid dreams a week now. In a TEFL class I taught 2 years ago,( I do a lesson on dreams, of all sorts, with more advanced students) I did a poll on how many had experienced lucid dreaming. Of the 16 in my class, 13 had. I was most encouraged.


  4. This story makes me think of Dr. Ramachandran’s mirror-box treatment for phantom limb pain/syndrome. It seems to work on the brain the same way this virtual world worked on the Parkinson’s patient’s brain, which then affected her real limbs much the same way the mirror-box affects the phantom limbs.


  5. What a fascinating story/find! This reminds me of an article in which they found that when we think or dream about exercising or performing a particular task (in advance of the exercise/race/task), they found that there were changes in the brain as if we were indeed exercising or performing the particular task in hand… This suggests to me that at least to some degree, one may practice or prepare for a particular activity/event in one’s mind (and your story of this further confirms this with this woman’s use of the avatar in second life). Who knows, maybe one day, they will find a way to prevent or slow down dementia using this knowledge…


  6. I thought of some of those same studies (people imagine exercising)! Interesting thought about dementia…my mind is now wondering what kind of activity in Second Life it might take to prevent dementia….thanks!


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