Monday, June 21, 2010

171 / Virtual Reality

Q: "All this tedious, philosophical discussion about the nature of reality: does it actually have a point?"

R: "Well, yes. My thought is that if a person understands the nature of 'reality,' they will be able to deal with reality better. Conjure with it, if you will. Even create it!"

Q: "Maybe I just don't get it. It seems to me that the whole concept of 'reality' is that it already exists. Now you're talking about creating it!"

R: "I am. Who does the cooking at your house?"

Q: "That's a crazy question. You know who does the cooking. Not me!"

R: Well, if you knew how to cook, you wouldn't need to eat leftovers. You could make a whole new meal for yourself."

Q: "New meal; new deal! Sounds like Roosevelt."

R: "He wasn't so bad, was he?"

Q: "No; of course not. He's one of my great political heroes."

R: "OK, so don't you think he helped create a whole new American reality? I actually think of Roosevelt and Churchill as competing with Hitler, in the world at large, to see whose version of 'reality' was going to prevail. And the good guys, won, too!"

Q: "So you're talking about historical reality; not real reality?"

R: "I gather you think there's a difference?"

Q: "Duh!"

R: "Ever think that the same principles might apply, and that we can make real realities come into existence, just the way we create new historical realities?

Q: "So that's what you're getting at?"

R: "Yeah. Something like that! 'Duh,' to use your word!"

Q: "I'm still not sure I get it."

R: "Well, have you ever heard of virtual reality?"

Q: "Yes."

R: "And do you know what the word 'virtually' means? It means 'almost.' As in, 'I am virtually required to do everything myself, since my partner went on that trip.'"

Q: "So?"

R: "So there is a serious philosophical argument that human-created 'virtual realities' can have the same ontological status as 'actual reality.' Philip Zhai is the guy who says that."

Q: "There you go again! 'Ontology?'"

R: "Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence, or reality. Philip Zhai is a Chinese philosopher who has been arguing that 'virtual' reality may have the same status as what you were calling 'real' reality. One way of thinking about it might be to suggest that since we can create 'virtual' realities that are almost 'real' realities, that there might be a way to push those 'virtual' realities over the edge, and make them fully real."

Q: "I just don't see that all this philosophical stuff gets us anywhere."

R: "Well, I'm hoping it does, since if we can't figure out how to create a new and more acceptable reality to inhabit, we're virtually certain to be shit out of luck. To use one of those philosophical phrases."

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