"I need you to think of a personal problem that is causing a bit of distress in your life," Neyret said, while I went through a few embodiment exercises. "You will explain the problem to Freud. Then, when you finish speaking, you will press this button"--she guided my hand to a controller--"and you will enter Freud's body. Listen carefully to yourself, and try to give yourself some advice."
The virtual world shifted. I was sitting at a desk in an expansive, glass-walled house. Outside, wildflowers punctuated a sunlit lawn. Across from me, behind his own desk, sat Sigmund Freud. There was a large red light on my desk. It turned green.
I paused, uncertain how to begin. "My mother is in a nursing home, and when I get updates from people who visit her I feel guilty," I said.
I pushed the button, and the world shifted again. Now I was Freud. I looked down at myself--white shirt, gray suit--and, in a nearby mirror, inspected my beard. Across from me, behind a desk, sat my avatar, wearing a blue shirt, gray jeans, and brown boots. He opened his mouth, then closed it. He settled his hands in his lap and looked at them.
"My mother is in a nursing home, and when I get updates from people who visit her I feel guilty," he said, in my voice.
Watching him, I felt fascination, curiosity, and pity. Was that me? He seemed like another person--a stranger. "Why do you feel guilty?" I asked, as Freud.
I pushed the button. Now I was sitting across the desk from Freud. I watched as he watched me, cocking his head. "Why do you feel guilty?" he asked. His voice was strange--older and lower than mine.
"Because I live far away," I said, as me.
I pushed the button.
"Why do you live far away?" I asked, as Freud. "Is there a good reason?"
Soon, I fell into a rhythm. Freud and I talked for about twenty minutes. He was insightful; he said things that I'd never said to myself, in ordinary life. When I took off the headset, I was moved. I wanted to tell myself, "Good talk." From his perspective, I'd seemed different: sadder, more ordinary and comprehensible. I told myself to remember that version of me.
"I didn't feel like I was talking to myself," I said. "It felt like a real conversation. How can that be?"
"Maybe we can have many selves," Slater said, raising an eyebrow.