Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hermit's Unreality Check

I ran into Hermit Barber on Second Life and am fascinated by the project that she works on, called Reticulus - essentially it is "an utility infrastructure model that provides multiple utility services simultaneously; it provides handling for fresh water, waste water, data and communications, gas, electrical energy, heating and cooling in a single connection".

But more importantly, I enjoyed her philosophical insights into the reality of Second Life on the CoV website and quoted in full beneath:

"Sneering that SL is "just a game," or perhaps suggesting that the "real world" and people in it should come first, or even that the norms and ethics of the physical world can't, don't or shouldn't apply to the virtual world, are all assertions that the person making the statement is in desperate need of a reality check, a perception tune-up and, or, a lesson in politeness.

All of the argument that SL is somehow not reality - or that reality does not incorporate SL - is futile. Not only because Virtual Worlds (including SL), are already a superb and continuously evolving tool for visualization (making real) of non-existent things and things which are difficult to visualize in the physical world, as well as being, potentially, an unparalleled didactic, consensus and explanation generating tool, but also and probably more importantly, because such an argument misses the fundamental psychological, philosophical and ontological issue, which is that while SL is a "virtual world", the opposite of "virtual" is not "real" but rather "physical."

A virtual world like SL is just another source of sensations and experience, exactly as is the physical world. Both the virtual and physical worlds have to be interpreted by our brains - in precisely the same way - to establish a "map" or "interpretation" of how we perceive and project the underlying reality - which we establish inside our heads in order, as Plato put it, to interpret the shadows on the cave walls. To those capable of recognizing that the map is not the terrain, that any and all maps may be useful, but none are more or less "real," merely more or less appropriate for whatever purposes are to hand; virtual and physical are, after all, merely aspects of perceived realities which exist only within our own skulls; until such time as they are shared with, and accepted or rejected by others.

We can safely conclude from the totality of the above that the differences between SL and the physical world are much smaller and less important than their similarities. Both are vehicles for conveying meaning, stimulating and providing access to those malleable constructs existing only within our own minds, wherein we manage, manipulate and prepare to share our perceptions of what we call reality. For this task, SL is as effective, and being more plastic, is in many ways much more suited to the task, than the physical world.

Now consider that all the improvements we know of in the human condition are the result of creativity and thought, of people who were able to change the maps and imagine the theretofore unimaginable. Examples abound. Geometry and the concept of zero, atomic theories and the development of the scientific method, the calculus of infinitesimals and the laws of special and general relativity all have played significant roles. All were small steps on the way from the physical world to the virtual world, easing the process of manipulating and communicating different realities. All of them improved our cartography of the mind in one way or another. Second life and other virtual worlds continues and accelerates this process; allowing almost anyone with a pulse and a functioning imagination to more easily express creativity. Granted that virtual realities are seldom used to seek fundamental change, but, and this is extremely significant, they can be, and when they are, they have the potential to go far beyond any of the previous mechanisms we have evolved, if only because virtual reality can, and eventually will, incorporate everything we have developed to date, in a largely user transparent and easily applied format.

From this it follows that anyone attempting to argue that there is a fundamental difference between the "game of life" in the physical world, and the "game of second life" in the virtual world, other than that the one is physical and costs more to manipulate; the other virtual and much more suited to exploring alternative scenarios; is making a sad statement about their lack of comprehension of themselves, of thought processes and of reality; as well as denigrating those who are too busy creating things to pay attention to the rather minor differences between these aspects of reality. And, of course, denigrating others is impolite".

Copyright Hermit 2008. License Creative Commons Attribution + Noncommercial + ShareAlike (by-nc-sa)


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