This post begins my exploration of selected World of Warcraft (WoW) starting zones as potential sites for teaching and learning aspects of philosophy. Here I take a case study approach. The case has two sections: a narrative and a discussion. The narrative is the first part of my character Yvyy’s journal, a kind of fan fiction. The discussion relates Yvyy’s story to aspects of the Philosophy of Mind. The links in the narrative provide some of the backstory to the Worgen starting zone.
I was once fully human, a citizen of Gilneas, a nation walled off from the rest of the Alliance and the world itself. Then the worgen – the most vicious, wolf-like creatures you can imagine – attacked our city. They came from within, from what we call the Curse. The worgen were everywhere, in the streets, on the roof tops, even in some of our homes. I was in the cathedral when they burst through the stained glass windows.
That’s the last thing I remember . . . until a special potion brought me back to consciousness. I had the Curse! Wounds from the worgen attack had transformed me into one of them. Probably I too had been an attacker (no one will say). But fortunately the worgen-me was captured, caged, pilloried, and given that potion – a temporary measure that returned my human mind but not my human body. Even with treatments, the best I can ever hope for is to keep my human mind. I’m condemned to fight an internal war between my two selves – the beast and the woman – for the rest of my life.
But that’s not the whole truth. I retain exceptional powers. Let me explain. You see, all young Gilneans are required to develop talents in the “class” for which they are best suited. For example, some have the innate capacity to become hunters, others warriors or priests, even mages or warlocks. Because early on I exhibited shape-shifting abilities, I became an apprentice druid – and remain one; as such, my primary duty is to develop my druid powers for the purpose of protecting the natural world and of maintaining and restoring its balance.
Things were clearly out of balance in Gilneas and had been for some time. But we didn’t foresee the worgen attack or the earthquakes that destroyed the reef that protected us from outsiders. The earth gave a tremendous shake and threw open the harbor. Waters engulfed our coastal villages. The ships of the Forsaken sailed in, under the command of Banshee Queen Slyvanas Windrunner who, we soon learned, took her orders from that most despicable of orcs, Garrosh Hellscream, Warchief of the Horde. The earth continues to tremble and rumble. Everything has turned against us, seemingly all at once.
Issues in the Philosophy of Mind stand out in Yvyy’s narrative, raising questions like “What am I?” “Who am I?” “Am I the same person today that I was ten, five, or one year ago, even a few hours ago?” and “What makes me, me?” Even more fundamental are questions like, “Is there really such a thing as a self? If so, what is it? And where is it?” Yvyy thought of herself as a human, a citizen, and a druid. These were her identities, until she was transformed into a worgen body with a human mind or, depending on how you look at it, a human mind with a worgen body. Does it matter which way you look at it? Either way, she still thinks of herself as a druid and a Gilnean, although socially marginalized due to her recent condition. Similarly, whether I decide to value my mind over my body or my body over my mind seems to make little difference to my professional identity as a teacher or my identity as an American. But it can make a difference as to which, body or mind, I tend to focus on developing – as well as to my spiritual, social, and political beliefs and concerns.
But back to Yvyy: Who or what was she after the transformation – now bodily worgen and, through drugs, mentally human? Had her “self” transformed too? What might Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, or even Dennett say? What would you say? Let’s unpack this just a tad.
Most of us think of ourselves as having a body, which includes a brain. But we also think of ourselves as being something more. We may call this something a mind or soul or self. The problem is that all three concepts seem lacking in earthly substance. In other words, sensation and perception inform me and others that I have a body. “Mind,” however, doesn’t seem to have the same empirical status – unless we stipulate that the mind is identical to the brain processes that make us conscious of our surroundings, experiences, and memories. “Soul” is mostly a religious concept that often includes expectations of a life hereafter. And “self” or “I” can be seen, at least from a Buddhist perspective, as shorthand for the aggregation of many components (sensory capacities, mental and physical capabilities, personal traits and talents, connections to others, memories, beliefs, on and on). Taken together, these components lead us each to think of ourselves as unique and separate from all that is not us – which, to Buddhists, is an illusion.
In any case, as you can see in this little ramble, there’s a lot to think about here. But one last thing to consider: Perhaps, like me, you have occasionally said, “I’m not myself today.” What do we mean when we say that?
That’s enough for now. More from Yvyy, the worgen druid, to come.