Thursday, October 25, 2012

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We're Not Ready for an Era Where People Prefer Virtual Experiences to Real Ones -- But That Era Seems to Be Here

An academic study co-authored last year by leading virtual world academic Edward Castronova suggests that people get more happiness from being in Second Life than they do from good news in their real life. In other words, as he wrote on his blog, "Second Life is providing a big chunk of life satisfaction, just as big as the factors that previous researchers on life satisfaction have found were the 'biggies,' like health, employment, and family relationships."

I deeply suspect this is also true for people who extensively play other immersive virtual worlds and MMOs with similar features. Which would mean that for tens of millions of people, this famous scene (above) from The Matrix, in which a man betrays his real life friends for the chance at having a better virtual life, is relevant to their actual choices.

Of course, I think few MMO/virtual world players would make as stark and serious a choice as Cypher did, but at the same time, we are already well acquainted with many who do sacrifice aspects of their real life for their virtual one -- jobs and chores skipped, friends and loved ones ignored, so some of us could spend just a little more time socializing or gaming in a 3D digital landscape that doesn't strictly exist. This also calls the mind the "experience machine" thought experiment put forth by philosopher Robert Nozick, way back in the 70s:

The Matrix and Happiness
Nozick asks us to imagine a machine that could give us whatever desirable or pleasurable experiences we could want. Psychologists have figured out a way to stimulate a person's brain to induce pleasurable experiences that the subject could not distinguish from those he would have apart from the machine. He then asks, if given the choice, would we prefer the machine to real life?

Nozick argued that of course people would reject the Experience Machine, and prefer pleasures that were real. Now, however, that question for many people is very much in doubt. And I believe we have not culturally or socially processed this reality very well.

However, to me the good news is that we're moving towards an era where virtual versus real is a false dilemma. Even with Second Life, we saw that with the implementation of a real world IP rights policy for user-generated content, and the ability to convert real money into virtual currency and vice versa. It's another reason why I'm a big fan of social media integration, so people can convey their virtual experiences into wider networks of people beyond the immersive context, and help form and sustain offline communities that begin virtually. Same goes with virtual experiences that are shareable with others, especially those close to us: For instance, the iPad and the Kinect, which are ideal for group experiences. But these are technical solutions, and as great as they are, we haven't quite had a larger discussion around the implications of a culture where virtual as such has about as much weight as reality as such -- if not more.

But I definitely think the conversation needs to start soon: As Professor Castronova has forcefully argued as well, the virtual economy also seems to be contributing to our real world recession.

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Anon

Nozick's argument is so very wrong. Considering we don't even know if we're currently living in a real world or a simulation (due to real world physics being constrained the same way a simulation's would) there is no way for anyone to be able to distinguish what they get from the Experience Machine vs what they get from what they think is Real Life. It's already scientifically proven (and written a million times over) that pleasurable/valuable/enjoyable experiences can only work if there are negative experiences to work against them. Real life has an imbalance due to its chaotic nature and perception of the experiences is different per person but an Experience Machine could easily balance these experiences for optimum experience output based on user perception and bam; you've got nobody being able to tell the difference.

Another simple way of explaining why he's wrong is to imagine if, in The Truman Show, they let Truman have the girl he was after for so long. He never would have had a reason to rebel and he would never question the reality he was given. That one tiny crack is what sunk his fake-world ship and if it was filled and you told him "there is another world" he probably would have said "no thanks because everything else is great." A proper Experience Machine would fill the cracks and nobody would be the wiser and anyone who was wouldn't care anyway!

Personally I can't wait for The Matrix to exist. Bring on the Holodeck. I love my life the way it is now but to be able to live it over and over in various other situations would be a blast!

Orca Flotta

somebody pinch me please

Eleri Ethaniel

This doesn't surprise me, but then, I'm married to someone who is able to make the shift from physical to virtual very easily, and that understanding has spread to our kids. Enough so that using the phrase 'real world' is almost always said in a snarky, ironic sort of way.

Caliburn Susanto

Once someone becomes engrossed in a contrived fabricated "world" and accepts their avatar as an extension of themselves (as opposed to viewing it--and many do--as nothing more than an animated cursor that they just use to navigate inside a game), then switching back and forth between the physical and the digital lives becomes fluid and mentally/emotionally there is no difference. Of course, that's what alienates the rest of the population who only see the digital environment as a silly waste of time (and the users as losers). Resistance is not futile; most people manage to resist it quite easily. Many of us, however, chose assimilation, not to betray life but to expand and enrich it.

Gwyneth Llewelyn

Let me be provocative. The issue is not if some experiences are "more real" or "more virtual". The issue is really taking a good look at what we conventionally define what is "real" and see if it holds.

I mean, whatever experience I have, real or virtual, its pleasure comes from only a single source: my mind.

Pussycat Catnap

I notice tangents of this a lot.

Such as how the 'SL Fashion community' refer to themselves as actual fashion designers and models, or the SL digital art community refer to themselves as photographers.

- Some people are deeply vested in the emotional connections to SL to the point that they are losing site of it not being the real world.

At that level of connection, the experience begins to be more rewarding for these people than real life might be.

Iggy

Cypher's choice made sense: he wanted what was not possible in his real life. So do many gamers and SLers.

Driving past a series of brick-fronted, vinyl-sided, manicured, ostentatious suburban MacMansion "developments" recently, I wondered: who yearns for that in SL? It's not an uncommon fantasy there.

Ezra

@Hamlet "However, to me the good news is that we're moving towards an era where virtual versus real is a false dilemma. Even with Second Life, we saw that with the implementation of a real world IP rights policy for user-generated content, and the ability to convert real money into virtual currency and vice versa."

@Gwyneth "Let me be provocative. The issue is not if some experiences are "more real" or "more virtual". The issue is really taking a good look at what we conventionally define what is "real" and see if it holds."


Two very true and important statements, and I think they concisely explain what makes Second Life so special, and why its able to have a heartbeat of 50 million USD user to user transactions a month.

I bet a lot of people using Second Life spend more money on virtual clothes than real clothes some months. Why? A lot of us, especially those of us that live in temperate places, don't buy clothes at all based off of physical functions like keeping warm or protected anymore. The bulk of our closets are items we chose based on shape, colors and patterns, and most important of all how we believe thousands of passerbyers in the streets will like them when seen but never touched.

So what makes a real shirt more 'real' than a virtual one in terms of value when anything physical doesn't play a part? That's overstated because despite not necessarily buying clothes to keep warm, we also buy based on the feel of clothes and still do enjoy our own bodies, but it seems 'real' and 'virtual' matters a whole lot less for everything that amounts to show and tell, because pixels suffice for that and even exceed in some areas.

I think the limitations of virtual being as good or better than 'real' is boxed to the senses of sight and sound. It's why clothes are so successful in Second Life. Virtual is perfect for everything we only need to see or hear. Taste, touch, smell, obviously we're a long long way from betraying our friends for a steak, but in the meantime sportin' a nice collection of shades and trenchcoats is already here.

Masami Kuramoto
Nozick argued that of course people would reject the Experience Machine, and prefer pleasures that were real. Now, however, that question for many people is very much in doubt.

Nozick probably couldn't imagine an Experience Machine powerful enough to turn hostile environments (war zones, dystopian megacities, desert planets etc.) into pleasurable experiences.

Dizzy Banjo

I think this is an interesting discussion, but I think its important to not make an assumption that confuses the medium with its society.

So, in this comment, I'm referring to virtual world, for example SL, as the programmed simulation - the server and client code itself - NOT the people or the world people have created within that.

If you say that a virtual world can be as pleasurable as a real one, it assumes that simulation can contain all the amazingly complex, unpredictable, not yet understood and unknown possibilities of the real world. Any computer simulation ( even the Matrix ) is bounded in some ways by the understanding of its creators. In many ways SL is a vast simplification of the real world. This doesn't mean that it doesn't have a huge probability space, even within that simplification. But its by definition smaller than than the thing it simplifies.

Of course, the many users of SL ( which are real complex humans ) create a vast richness and unpredictability which I would say is the primary factor which causes virtual world interaction to be pleasurable. Its the scale and diversity of this society which makes it comparable to the 'real' world.

So I guess that my point is - it is the society / people / content created which make it work, not the simulation itself. This is true of many things.

I think the Experience Machine is an interesting idea. But again it relies on the concept that the 'experiencer' could imagine all the things that would delight him / her. The new, unexpected and unknown is surely one of the most delightful things in life.

I personally draw no line between reality and any medium created within it. I think they are all part of reality. I think the virtual is simply an extension or subset of reality. Perhaps strangely I even include fiction as part of reality. So for me, Cypher's choice is simply a choice to embrace an illusion, to forget, to deliberately disconnect from memory, knowledge and wider understanding of his context.

Perhaps more people are choosing to do this, perhaps not. I don't know, I think its always been a fundamental part of how humans deal with the universe, to break it down into smaller environments they can handle emotionally and intellectually.

Arcadia Codesmith

World population has surpassed 7 billion. Contrary to popular belief, we've got plenty of resources to feed and shelter them, if properly distributed. But we don't have the resources for everybody to live like Bill Gates, and having so many people aspire to that is rapidly killing the biosphere.

If we can deliver the digital experience, with great fidelity, of having unlimited wealth and power and adventure to everybody, it might ease the pressure to rape the Earth for the resources to provide those same experiences in real life.

And hopefully, real-world manufacturing shifts to providing necessities and some boutique production of artisan items for throw-backs.

Pussycat Catnap

"Driving past a series of brick-fronted, vinyl-sided, manicured, ostentatious suburban MacMansion "developments" recently, I wondered: who yearns for that in SL? It's not an uncommon fantasy there."

These do exist in SL.

Go to all the major estate owners and what do they rent in droves: beach lots.

thousands of identical beach houses.

That's basically your suburb in SL. All identical copies. Stepford Wives of SL.

- Recently I did a tour of clubs in an alt.

In half of them I see about 4-10 nearly identical avatars doing line dancing all in sync. White girls in a line. Even the unique avatars line dance with them.

In a world where we can all be "true to ourselves" most people want to be exactly like everyone else.

People are scared out of their whits of the idea of being unique or different or even an identifiable individual.

Pussycat Catnap

I think the Experience Machine is an interesting idea. But again it relies on the concept that the 'experiencer' could imagine all the things that would delight him / her. The new, unexpected and unknown is surely one of the most delightful things in life.
******************

Darn it. Wish I'd seen this before submitting my last comment because this is kind of the point I was responding to. :)

I actually think people -DO NOT- want the new and unexpected.

They claim to in droves. People always say this when you ask them. But then they all go buy the same color minivan, or the same SL beach house, the same coffee at Starbucks, and so on...

Like those teenagers who all become Goths so they can be different in the exact same way the other 27.3 million of them are unique and different. :p

(Or in the case of a nephew, wear their pants down below the crotch line to be original, the same way the boys I went to high school were doing, 25 years ago... and millions of boys have been doing since. All original and unique in the exact same way. They all even still listen to Snoop Dog, who's going to be competing with Mick Jagger soon for the 'crusty old pop star' title - but I got the last laugh there, the Dog done became a Rasta on them and is now Lion. but still...)

No one wants a unique experience. It scares the heck out of them.

The recorded experience will sell best, when it gives people the comfort of knowing they're not "weird" for enjoying it. When it can help them scrub away the last bits of themselves and be just like the others around them.

Even the people who proclaim from the highest mountains how original and different they are - will plug into that and all buy the same experience of being the unique and original mountain guru in a cave in the Himalayas.

shockwave yareach

It's not new. In fact, the attachment to virtual people was even stronger back during the Text-only days of the Mucks, Muds and Moos. Back then your own imagination had to create the world around you, as computer graphics did not come close to reaching the levels we have today. So while the world builder (your friends usually) created the textual description of the character and the place, your mind filled in the details and the visualization.

And every virtual world then was exactly like you wanted it to be. Women and men looked like you expected them to look. The environment described looked exactly like you expected it to look. Everything and everyone was perfect in your own mind. And when faced with reality that the people playing the girl of your dreams came way way short of the fantasy, not everyone came out of it wiser and stronger...

The virtual world touches that one nerve in us that reality can never achieve. Within the virtual world, we can have the perfect body and the perfect home with perfect friends and enjoy a perfect life. All while reality with traffic and pollution and being alone while crammed into a box with 600 other people makes you wonder why you bother with it. The virtual world can be perfect. The real one cannot. And thus when relationships sour in the virtual world, it cuts deeper than a real one would because your relationship WAS perfect, and now the dream is shattered.

Hamlet Au

Wow, this is a great conversation -- I'm so lucky you guys read and comment on NWN. Keep going! :)

Iggy

@Pussycat, I agree with you, generally.

The "Cypher Choice" troubles me greatly. Instead of putting the SL money to, say, a little modest bungalow or some course credits, I fear that too many SLers find it easier to join the line-dance of cookie-cutter clubbers. Boring as hell to me.

Meanwhile the dishes are unwashed, the bills pile up, the kid wails in the miserable apartment that might be pleasant with a bit of love. Having just lost a life-long friend who gamed to the point that it helped kill him (lack of sleep, exaggerated symptoms from morbid obesity, lost work), I worry about Cypher's Choice a lot. But hey, my friend was wicked good at Counterstrike and Left for Dead.

This goes far beyond what Castronova is discussing or the grievous effects of mobile technology that Turkle points out in Alone Together. If VWs and games get good enough, and they probably will, we'll have an epidemic.

Arcadia, I also agree with you, though I'm a throw back IRL. So bring on the Neo-Victorian handmade bling a la Stephenson's The Diamond Age.

Cloud Racer

While I'm happier and happier with RL (has to do age I think), the perfect solution to that pesky death thingy would be, the end moment, to upload my brain, my self-ness to SL. There I would abide in synthetic splendor for all time, or at least until someone (LL) pulls the plug

Nicole Fox

"So I guess that my point is - it is the society / people / content created which make it work, not the simulation itself."

I completely agree. Without the content/society built within the simulation what do you have? The fact is like Rob said... VRs/Alternate Reality experiences all exist within Reality itself. They are just layers of the same experience. So as for the experiment of this concept. I agree that generally people would reject the machine because in the end the experiences are just manipulations of the host and not genuine experiences. There is just no replacing the spiritual satisfaction of independent choice.

Dizzy Banjo

@pussycat : I think thats an interesting point and its certainly true that a lot of SL is filled with replication of familiar items.

However I dont think it necessarily follows or excludes the possibility that people aren't filled with wonder / laughter / happiness at unexpected events.

My problem with the Experience Machine concept is that it cant simulate something which you would enjoy, but you dont know you enjoy yet.

For instance, a person from the dark ages cannot perceive how it would feel to understand his position on a spherical planet rotating around a sun in a galaxy in the universe. So therefore the machine couldn't simulate this for him. I would argue this can also apply to any simulation - including virtual worlds. They are bounded by the understanding of their creators.

Pussycat Catnap

I think your point shows that most people, when faced with the new and unexpected, react in terror, anger, aggression, or a combination.

There's a reason a lot of those early Astronomers got 'purged'.

And a lot of the things we celebrate as amazingly unique and artistically original creations - tend to be conceptually copied from elsewhere. A vastly large portion of LEA works seem to be "the missing pages from Salvador Dali's notebook."

- His work took the familiar and twisted it. We can handle some discomfort - but not too much.

Now it is just a mundane and normal visual, as his work has been so repeated.

With you example: the person to whom the machine gives an experience totally outside his frame of reference. I think in this case the 'customer' being given that experience would rate it as poor, because it has too far shaken up their expectations, and then move on and buy the experience on the next shelf of 'Nuns gone wild' - nuns being something that Medieval wheat farming peasant could 'get an angle on.' ;)

I walk into the movie Avatar and find it a deeply moving and spiritual experience - it connected with many themes in my experience and world view, as a descendant of both Plains and Amazonian Indians. People of my ethnicity are facing purges like that right now in the country of my grandparents.

I speak to a coworker from a white middle class background, and they see it as a campy action film with a faked moral drama, predictable scripts, unrealistic villains, and shallow characters they could not relate to.

We each see something like "Braveheart" and our comments exchange places - almost word for word.

- and this is still within the realm of experiences that are hardly original or unique, but are instead major commonalities for the people within those memes/paradigms (buzzwords sometimes do work...).

So I guess I'm expanding my point slightly to two points now:
1. People really want to be just like everyone else, and yet feel original in so doing.
2. People really have trouble relating to experiences outside their normative assumptions.

- two factors which when coupled together will really end up "cheapening" the potential of 'immersive VR' when it finally happens.

And we can see from SL itself, a world that opens with the bright potential and be and experience anything - just how much this plays out.

People do everything they can to "normalize" their SL. Cookie cutter looks, locations, animations, themes, roleplays, and so on...

(OMG the roleplays... do a search through them... so many are the same thing rehashed. "But, but, our Orcs are GREEN!")

We the end users of SL, have done everything we can to reject the idea of "your world, your imagination" much more so than LLs has. Or, you could just say that it has revealed that our imaginations are not as promising as we would have hoped.

Someday, when someone finally makes that machine that captures our innermost experiences for replay... they will be deeply disappointed to discover how bland and repetitive the end product turns out to be.

All your special snowflakes are mass produced.

Tracy Redangel

@ pussycat:
"So I guess I'm expanding my point slightly to two points now:
1. People really want to be just like everyone else, and yet feel original in so doing.
2. People really have trouble relating to experiences outside their normative assumptions"

No one is immune from that, not even you.

Pussycat Catnap

You imply that I said otherwise.

Tracy Redangel

I've met a lot of people in SL who are drawn to it as an escapist fantasy world. It's all the more impactful for them because sometimes their own real lives are riddled with unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and general malaise. Then they're introduced to a world where they can look exactly how they want, and have experiences they can't have in real life. That can be very addicting and even dangerous for those individuals.
I'm certainly not saying everyone in SL fits that scenario, but I think it's fair to say most of us have known someone in that situation, or even experienced it ourselves at times. I truly believe the satisfaction virtual worlds give people should be an enhancement to real life, not a replacement. So how do we do that? Everyone has to figure out that balance for themselves.

Tracy Redangel

@Pussycat:
My apologies, I misinterpreted the tone of your post.
I DO agree with what you said, I think people covet what their neighbors have because it's comforting to have that feeling of belonging. You know, it's the American Dream to have a nice big house, cars, money, looks, etc, right? We're programmed to think those are the things you are SUPPOSED to have in order to be happy. It never really satisfies us though, does it? I mean, so you get a great big prim mansion in SL that's fantastic...all these rooms, fancy furniture. It's everything maybe we wish we had in real life. But then after a while, you become BORED and want something else. You want a bigger, better house, newer cars, etc. It never stops, because those things can never fill the void.

Cloud Racer

@Pussycat There seems to be a certain anxiety about different groups conforming to whatever the prevailing standard is. I don't view that as a problem, it is simply human nature to form groups. And thankfully in SL there really aren't any negative consequences, no physical violence etc. I view nanny-state type rules as potentially more problematic and $$ costs associated with fully experiencing SL, but then again I have the choice to go to OpenSim so even those aren't actually problems.

Pussycat Catnap

@Tracy:
I'm frustrated with human nature vis-a-vis the conforming, not any one subset of us.

We have the ability and potential to be original, but often are not. Still, as a species we do somehow manage to innovate and change over time - and now and then this even turns into an improvement. :)

As for VRs. Virtual Worlds are very escapist - even for those of us not seeking to escape.

Very much akin to a role once only filled by plays and novels, or even the gossip around the river at the jungle's edge.

So there's nothing new in having forms of escapism. Just a question of depth and how much it can seem to replace or put a filter over the real.

Some wish to create an idealized world and self. Others wish to become a perfect other or inner self.

Both can be paths that 'escape too much.'

On the one hand we might be at risk of giving up too much of the RL-world for this. On the other hand, this is just the process of adaptation being in progress.

Kind of like how as cars came onto the scene, many people started to neglect their horses and horsemanship.

Or more relevant to our lives today... most people in SL are old enough to have been taught 'cursive' in school (if Americans. I don't know if other countries teach/taught it).

That's no longer a subject covered in many schools today. It, and shorthand - are obsolete technologies.

My sister was in an amazing panic over the last few years at her son's difficulty with writing. They started getting him tested left right and center, and wanted to assign a disability to him, and classify him as illiterate.

It took me two years to win the discussion of pointing out how he can text-message 3000 words per second (well it seems that fast to me... darn kid texts faster than a New Yorker talks), recite lyrics by rote memory to dozens of (frustratingly vulgar) songs, and seems to have zero trouble reading pervy details of his female peers on Facebook...
- One almost wishes he -was- illiterate when reading what he posts on their pages. :p

But I'm not sure if he knows which side is up when it comes to holding a paperback book...

He's post literate and yet highly literate at the same time - his generation has evolved.

Then again, I'm lost when trying to etch markings into a stone tablet...

So I think all of this getting lost into VRs might very be a vital retraining of human skills.

If you compare pre-literate societies to post-literate ones - the brains are wired very differently.

You try and recite that Mongel epic poem by heart. Those guys on the plains up there in North Asia can... but its near impossible for anyone literate to be able to do it. Brain is just wired for a different tech paradigm.

We're on the cusp of a change here, a fundamental restructure to human thinking. The people who we meet on the other side might very well not be able to communicate backwards to us, and vice-versa. And its likely to create a whole series of unexpected accidental changes to other parts of our brains and cultures.

To those of us on the 'long side' of years who are past our rapid change age... it can look like disaster looming.

Tracy Redangel

It's interesting, because whenever I'm in a explaining Second Life to a friend, coworker, or even family, sometimes it's little awkward. It's such a foreign, bizarre thing to them. Some are fascinated and curious, others dismissive and a bit condescending at times. I know they thought I was crazy when I first met my now-RL husband (two years ago)in SL. My sister would have thought I was more normal if I had met him in a bar! lol. Second Life has had a tremendous impact on my real life. The best part of it has been for me personally, is that you can meet people from all over the world, who you otherwise would have never known. And these friendships are just as if not more meaningful than the ones I have in my RL. I lost one of my close friends in SL to suicide. Several of his close friends gathered together to hold a memorial for him at one of his favorite places in SL. Our grief and loss was no less profound than any of his RL's friends' loss. My husband and I don't spend that much time in SL anymore, but I think we'll always feel connected to it. I mean...our relationship started out as avatars. I'm still fascinated by the world and all the changes (maybe?) that are on the horizon.

Extropia DaSilva

So you are in SL, an environment that is almost entirely manufactured by the collective activity of its residents. Everything you see in the online world exists because somebody or some group thought it up, designed it, built it and tweaked it.

You logout of SL and find yourself in real life. And where is that? Probably a town or city. An environment that is almost entirely manufacutured...

We live our whole lives in environments that only exist because we built them. We each can recollect the names of people we have actually met and people we know but can never meet, for they are characters in stories and films and other fictional narratives that have been part of human societies throughout all of history. RL is a mashup of fact and fantasy. SL is just another place, no less and no more artificial than San Francisco. But for some of us, there may be more opportunity to achieve our actualized self in SL.

Dizzy Banjo

@pussycat :

Yeh I think perhaps my example was a bit extreme ;-) With that example, of a radical shift in understanding, it is easy to find negative responses in society.

Perhaps a simpler example might be chocolate. A child who has never experienced chocolate wouldn't be able to imagine it - so the experience machine ( or any simulation ) wouldn't be able to provide that experience. But chocolate, and many things that are new and previously unknown experiences, are extremely popular.

@extropia :
"You logout of SL and find yourself in real life. And where is that? Probably a town or city. An environment that is almost entirely manufacutured..."

Yes, but my point is the word *almost* is important here. Its relatively logical to say that mankind didn't build the universe. So I would actually conclude the reverse of your statement - ie "Almost the entire of the universe is not manufactured" and indeed vast aspects of it are not understood.

I am an atheist and of course some religious people may disagree with me in that statement. However even in a religious scenario, the unknown aspects of a god created universe would be something a simulation by definition couldn't replicate ( unless we fully understood god ).

@hamlet

yeh man! this post FTW!

Extropia DaSilva

Well, in a manner of speaking we did create the universe. Our ancestors believed the universe to be a set of nested crystal spheres that housed the planets and the stars. They thought they really inhabited such a universe but of course it existed nowhere but in their collective memories. Can we say more of our current cosmological models? To be sure, they are tested against reality to a far more exacting degree but still when we talk about pulsars and neutrinos and dark matter and Higgs fields etc etc we are describing a reality we imagine reflects the real universe. Is the universe really REALLY like we imagine? There are hints that our model is incorrect, such as the incompatibility between quantum physics and Relativity. So you never know, we might still be looking heavenwards and imagining we are seeing raw reality when in fact we still only see an imaginary universe. Maybe it will ever be so.

Yes you are right that we are part of the universe. It is the foundational reality underlying the artificial models we build on top to explain it, and the cultural systems that make it possible to build such models. But I would argue that we have more direct contact with those cultural systems and just-so stories of Creation than we do with the universe itself.

Extropia DaSilva

If you could trigger the neural correlates of the taste chocolate I am pretty sure the experience produced would be that of tasting chocolate. But, of course, if you never heard of that confectionary you would not say 'oh, I can taste chocolate' because, after all, the word is not part of your vocabulary.

Dizzy Banjo

Hmm yeah, so perhaps this discussion is reaching the stage of objective vs subjective reality.

As an atheist and scientific thinker I tend to believe there is an objective reality, some of which is beyond our comprehension, not created by us, which by definition we cant simulate - yet.

If you dont believe in objective reality, and think everything is subjective, even scientific 'fact' then its a fair assumption to say that a virtual world is no more or less real than a non virtual one.

Extropia DaSilva

It is not that I do not believe in Objective reality. Rather, I know that, for instance, the eyes are not windows that simply let the 'real world' shine on the mind. They are instruments that gather information from part of the electromagnetic spectrum that the mind uses to build a mental model of what it thinks is out there, using a lot of assumptions and prejudices built into it through evolving in a particular environmental niche. The mind creates the world as much as it perceives it. Objective reality exists but we are not in direct contact with it, subjectively-speaking. We can only make (perhaps very accurate) guesses as to what its true nature might be like.

It is not a question of the virtual world being real or not. If you define real as 'that which is possible in physical reality' and fantasy as 'that which is not' then SL is not simply A or B and we have not yet reached a consensus as to which it is. SL happily accomodates both. I can give a lecture in SL; that is possible in RL too. I can have a house that defies gravity in SL; I cannot do that IRL.

I think Ed Castronava once made a point that if many people can remember something happened, as far as that group is concerned it did. So: you were the guy that slayed the minotaur in some MMOG. You gain a reputation as 'that guy who slew the minotaur'. Within the context of this online world, you really did slay the minotaur. ONTH if you merely claimed to have performed this feat and had no proof and no witnesses to verify it, for all anyone knows you are just lying or just dreamed you had killed the minotaur. But if you can show evidence of having done this and the community accepts this evidence then you gain the reputation. And retorting 'minotaurs do not really exist' does not alter what you achieved in the context of the online world.

Another example: If I say I am the blogger behind New World Notes you can show ample proof to the contrary and demonstrate that I am telling a bareface lie. ONTH Wagner James Au's claim is backed up by so much evidence we MUST accept it. But saying 'none of you created it because it does not really exist (it is merely some virtual pages)' seems nonsensical to me.

virtualchristine

For whatever it's worth, I agree with Extropia, saying something doesn't exist because it is virtual, is a bit ridiculous. it is like saying everything on the internet doesn't exist, or Bill Gates got all that money for, what; a really great haircut? Virtual reality is another artform, that is also a form of communication. I think it gets a bum rap from a lot of people because it scares them. Like men with sports and porn, most folks have a big emotional investment in television entertainment, which they do not like being reminded, is almost completely passive. I don't have anything against how other people spend their free time, but please don't pretend I am the one alone,in a little dark room,obsessed with images on a flickering screen.
I am meeting people, making friends, exploring new interests, supporting artists and communities I can influence in a profound way. I confided in a friend on my home grid, who has been on virtual worlds longer than me, that sometimes I dream as my avatar.It didn't surprise him. He told me he always thinks that behind our bodies and our avatars is the same soul. I have one soul and one life. When I call someone friend, I don't qualify it with "online". This wasn't as sophisticated as the other comments, but I think other people might be feeling this way too.

virtualchristine

Now my friend, the very intelligent, well educated, capable and modest Salahzar Stenvaag, from my OpenSim home grid Craft- the Friendly World, can do the sophisticated talking thing! http://virtualworldsmagazine.wordpress.com/2012/10/27/virtual-antropology-and-prometheus-myth-where-is-the-connection/

He wants to organize talks and shared sessions about the nature of virtuality, virtual history geography, anthropology...

elizabeth (16)

i think its more that we can be the hero or heroine in our own novel

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