October 22, 2012

What is reality?

“The question becomes: If we have computers everywhere, why do we need virtual reality?

This question really intrigued me, perhaps it interested the computer nerd part of me more than the English nerd. I was very interested in the idea of how the race for perfected technology is still in full swing, even inside virtual reality systems. The idea that the virtual world would mimic the real world up to the point of having virtual reality systems programmed into them is starkly unsettling from an existentialist mindset. It makes me think about our own thirst for knowledge and our own race for technology, isn’t the definition of technology somewhere along the lines of, tools that make our lives easier? That would make the goal of creating technology to automate every physical need we have leaving us to create a virtual world to satisfy our social and mental cravings, a world where we can do everything we want as our programmed houses kept us alive by pumping us full of the nutrients we need. If that is the overlying goal of technology then what would the point of having technology in a world that is supposed mentally challenge us? This idea blew my mind as I read this chapter. I had never thought about the fact that when I go past a computer terminal on a computer game, it was skirting a paradox.  

 The redundancy alone is silly, but the idea behind it is scary. Allow me for a moment to apply the possibility of virtual reality distributed and applied largely across the world. Now assume that the underlying social and psychological issues that people suffer are still in full swing. Try to imagine how immensely terrible it would be for, let’s say, a latent schizophrenic to experience a virtual reality system inside of a virtual world. If that isn’t enough to bring out the first fragmentation of the mind, I don’t know what is.
This entire idea makes even the most grounded person question reality in some ways. I think you had us read this specific chapter because it really brought into question the idea of the “virtual world,” and that term can certainly be applied to the world created by literature and the author. It is hard not to think about the power that words (and technology) have over the mind. And how easily it can be swayed. 


Rdexheimer said...

Although there is an entire field of Philosophy (metaphysics) that deals with the question of reality and its ultimate nature, I think the definition of the word essentially means "the actual" as opposed to "the hypothetical." What "the actual" consists in is most certainly an open question, and I think that as virtual and/or augmented reality technologies continue to advance, a great number of people are going almost paradoxically lose faith in a "scientific" empirical worldview as such technologies are going to challenge the amount of faith we place into the integrity of our sense experiences. And as for the meaning of the word "technology," I don't think it's right to say that technology is simply that which makes our lives easier because that is a very normative ethical evaluation, and a highly relative one as well as we must ask who this "our" in question is. Many kinds of technologies make life easier for one group and infinitesimally more difficult for other groups. Weapons, one of the most primal applications of technology are a perfect example of this. If anything I would probably define "technology" as "the application of scientific knowledge as the means to achieve some sort of ends."

Stephen Craun said...

I believe that it is necessary to illustrate the distinction between what is called "virtual reality" and what is termed to be "Ubiquitous Computing", and the paradox which lies within our conceptions of both forms of reality as determiined by our methods of interpreting this "reality"
I'll begin by illustrating the difference between the concepts of "virtual reality" and "ubiquious computing". Virtual reality is considered to be the virtual construction of a world which is based upon "simulacrum", or similarities to elements in the "natural" or physical world, yet these constructions within the virtual world aren't necessarily dependant in their physical counterparts. However, the paradox between our perceptions of virtual reality in a virtually constructed environment are themselves dependant on our recognition of the mediums of media outlets and computer systems themselves, meaning virtual reality is hypermediated and transformed through our recognition of the virtual reality as being constructed from our conceived perceptions of the greater physical world.
Ubquitious computing, however, is more concerned with "reforming reality" within our obseervable physical world through technological innovations, and therefore making changes to our physical environment through our perceived construction of reality, which is determined through our adherence to the episteme of our time period. In essence, virtual reality is formed throuugh our conceived structures and meanings we ascribe to the "presence" of objects, ideas, or concepts, and the symbols represented within this virtual reality can be compared to the symbols of words within language and the methods by which we ascribe meaning and substance to these words.

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