Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Second Life in More Ways than One

The online world Second Life is so named because its residents can lead a second life alongside their real one. Thus you can have two (or more) homes, and two wives or husbands, without going broke or to jail for bigamy. And in that second world everybody is young and all the women and all the homes are pretty – or as pretty as their creators can make them.

I now have a different meaning for “second life”. In learning how to create objects and to build things in the game, I am being given a second chance in life. I am now devouring mathematical formulae as if they were chocolate cake, and for the first time I’m experiencing the joys of geometry.

I hated dealing with numbers from the time they were first forced on me by a schoolteacher. I was a reader, a person whose aptitudes ran to the arts and philosophy, and my brain reacted to numbers as if they were poison. I devised ingenuous ways of avoiding required classes in mathematics and of getting through the courses I was forced to take without impeding my advancement to the next grade. I’ve never cheated, but strange things are possible. For example, I was totally lost during my one semester of high school algebra, and flunked the mid-term exam. My friend Everett Yon, who was bound for West Point and never made less than an “A” in mathematics, spend the better part of a day before the algebra final exam with me, drilling me on all the things I had totally ignored throughout the semester. Suddenly it made sense, and I actually scored an “A” on my final. . . after which all recollection of algebra faded away within a few weeks. Years later, after I had taken an IQ test I realized that I had invented, improvised, a kind of algebra to answer some of the questions – and I’m sure that Everett’s forgotten teachings played a role. I cannot take full credit for having invented algebra.

So, I approached creation of objects in Second Life with not one day of education in geometry or trigonometry, and almost no knowledge of other mathematics. Now I eagerly run to Google for the meaning of “chord” and “circle of latitude”. I feel the joy of the sun breaking through clouds when I suddenly comprehend some mathematical formula or see how different shapes interact. I’m as happy as a child on a Christmas morning full of new toys.

This kind of mental activity is said to be good for (I hate to say it) an older person, so you can’t accuse me of wasting my time. But even if you did accuse me of wasting my time, it would be nothing new to me. People have been accusing me of that most of my life. I was a writer, after all, and a hedonist, a person who thought that love and freedom were more important than any job.

Pegasus and I believe that you are never wasting your time if you’re doing something you really enjoy. Pegasus wants me to study and practice so that someday I may be able create him in Second Life and let him soar through new skies.


  1. Am not quite sure I understand this, it sounds poetic. But then those who love math find poetry within it. Hope the search leads to a good place, but even if not, your journey will be intriguing...

  2. Zoey, thank you. I wish I had been able to enjoy the pleasure that some find in mathematics.

    To aid understanding, I'll explain that 2d Life is a three dimensional world whose residents create all objects, from houses to jewelry, from some basic shapes called prims -- cube, sphere, pyramid, etc. By manipulating those shapes one can make almost anything.

  3. Hello,

    I'm a math teacher exploring Second Life and just wanted you to know that I truly enjoyed this post. It came at a very good time, in fact. My blog features an open letter to you in response to your SL experience.

    Feel free to contact me in SL. I'm Kristy Flanagan. I have a math center on EduIsland II and if you visit, I will show you my Bumble Bee project.

    (This comment seems much more at home here!)

  4. Sounds like Fleming has finally found retirement.

  5. Fabulous post, Fleming. You inspire me to try to learn to create objects myself. I actually liked algebra, but never used it in any practical sense. For me it simply represented balance and a kind of cold perfection. Now, if it could be used to created winged horses, that would be worthwhile indeed!

  6. Freyashawk, it's inspiring to feel the enthusiasm in your words. I'm sure you will enjoy creating things in Second Life as much as I do.