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Chapter 8
Alternate Lives

Lives Unlived: Folger McWonderman

Virtual psychology researcher. Media guru. Darling of journalists. Intellectual superstar. Good father…great humanitarian…blah blah blah. Born December 25, 19 – oh, but they’re just biographical details that don’t tell you anything about the man, aren’t they?

Folger – Good Old Folge as we used to call him at OUPD – Salt of the Earth Folgey – The Happy Coffee Man – was, despite his genius, a modest person who shunned the spotlight. All of the time he spent jetting around the world in order to appear on various talk shows or in news reports and documentaries, was his way of compensating for his essential shyness.

If anybody had less to be modest about, it was definitely “Good Times, Bad Times, You Know I’ve Had My Share” McWonderman. He was the discoverer of the McWonderman Visual Literalness Syndrome, after all.

As all first year psych students know, McVLS afflicts people who spend too much time in virtual environments; some develop an impairment in their visual processing centres that causes them to not be able to infer full objects when part of them are hidden. The textbook example (written by McWonderman, who admittedly spent a little too much time in bars than would be considered seemly by members of polite society, but, because he was a genius, was easily and completely forgiven) is of a person who sees the upper body and head of a bartender who cannot make the assumption that the rest of his body is hidden by the bar. Without having taken a single drink.

The implications for long distance truck drivers, soldiers and porn photographers should be obvious.

I remember the meeting when Folge McWondie had the initial inspiration that would lead to 127 peer-reviewed research papers, 12 books, 23 appearances on Conan O’Brien and a brief (and, as many critics have pointed out, superfluous, although I personally enjoyed it) cameo in the last Woody Allen film. Dean Rivers-Dentz was late, as usual; his excuse this time was that squirrels had chewed through the gas line in his car.

Virgil Aeneas (a sessional!) spent the first hour haranguing us about…something about the University administration slowly strangling the programme of funds because it’s main focus was shifting away from the Humanities and towards business. Typical sessional paranoia. I don’t know why Dean Rivers-Dentz let the discussion go on as long as it did.

For my part, I spent most of that interminable hour deciding which doughnut I would try to get out of the box. I’m a boysenberry cruller man, myself. Everybody on faculty knows it. Yet, somehow, no matter how quickly I rush to the box, somebody has gotten to the boysenberry crullers before me! Believe me, my Herculean efforts never end in anything more than a maple doughnut with pink sprinkles.

How embarrassing for an academic of my standing! I’ve been almost tenured for the last 16 years – surely, that merits the odd boysenberry cruller!

Ahem. Over coffee during a break, the McWonderboy started talking about this strange phenomenon he had noticed among virtual reality gamers – it seemed they were having difficulty making inferences about objects in the real world. “You mean to tell me,” I asked, “that you want us to believe that otherwise mentally healthy adults are children who cannot understand that the world doesn’t disappear when they cover their eyes?”

Other teachers in the room have gone on record as saying that I was being sarcastic. However, where some saw a young man skulking away from a verbal tongue-lashing from a senior colleague, I saw a light bulb going off above the head of a brilliant theoretician. Folger McWonderman himself understood that I was helping guide a younger academic to the truth. In this case, a truth that would make him the toast of celebrity pseudo-intellectuals and a darling of the sycophantic academic community.

After fame struck, I cannot begin to count the number of times in faculty meetings (full programme meetings, too, not just the Virtual Psychology stream) that Folgie talked about how he owed his success to my inspiration. If colleagues who were at those meetings do not remember him saying this, well, I chalk that up to professional jealousy. Or approaching senility (the average age of faculty at OUPD is, let us be honest, creeping upwards at a frighteningly quick pace).

With the passing of Folger McWonderman, science has lost a giant. But, science will pick itself up and go on.

Irascible Zagreb

Irascible Zagreb is the author of a book and a couple of papers on psycho-kinetic household pets in virtual litter boxes. He was a close colleague of Folger McWonderman at the Ontario University of PsychoDigitality. A very close colleague. They were like brothers, really.

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