Virtual Reality: A philosophical Investigation

Introduction

The questions regarding the reality of our world has been a topic of important debate through out the centuries. Plato argued in his theory of forms, and allegory of the caves, that the world, and things within the world are not real, but shadows of the form of what is real. Descartes, in his philosophy, considered the possibility of an evil demon, who created the illusion of an external reality by controlling all that we see and hear. In more recent years, we can see a development of philosophies by Dennett, Tipler, etc, who explore the possible links between computers and the mind.

Recent blockbuster movies such as The Matrix, eXistenz, The Thirteenth Floor, and The Trueman Show, have all explored the philosophical questions regarding what is real, and the problems, which may emerge, from artificial realities.

In the 21st century, physical science itself, through the technology of virtual reality, will provide the means to create such illusions, as those discussed by Plato, Descartes, and newer philosophers such as Dennett.

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Video gamers, and cybernauts alike, can strap themselves into virtual reality goggles, and body suits for stints in artificially created worlds, whose fundamental mechanisms are completely different from the quantum fields that constitute our physical world. Computer technology and its capacity to provide us with virtual reality also raises questions about what the real is or can be. A kind of hyper reality is suggested, where individuals live in the virtual communities of the Internet, have cybersex, shop in virtual malls, explore virtual environments, and construct their own genders and identities in new forms of cyberspace interactions (Best & Kellner 108-9).

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In the realm of the hyper real, experiences are amplified artificially, and can easily be avoided, repeated, and sterilized so that one can live in a fully personalized world.

Science fiction has been an extremely popular genre in recent decades. There are movies, , video games, books trading cards, television shows, and comic books based on themes from science fiction. These themes raise questions about life on other planets, artificial intelligence, mutants and aliens, life in the future, and the possibilities presented by new, developing or imagined technologies. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, science-fiction writing today presents situations that enable us to perceive the potential of new technologies (McLuhan 124). Science fiction can be seen as mere escapism, but it has much more important implications for humanitys self-image and potential, and can serve as a vehicle for our biggest dreams and our worst nightmares. Science fiction is not only visionary, it also poses philosophical questions about the implications of artificial intelligence and other new directions in science.

A sub-genre within science fiction is cyberpunk, which has an emphasis on computer technology and artificial intelligence. One of the most popular films in this style is Ridley Scotts Blade Runner, based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by sci-fi master Philip K. Dick. The main character is Rick Deckard, whose job is to terminate renegade androids who have escaped the space colonies and returned to Earth. To identify androids, Deckard administers a test known as the VoigtKampff test, which measures psychological reactions to questions and statements. A new generation of androids has been developed, called Nexus-6, which are virtually indistinguishable from humans. They have even been implanted with false memories, so they fully believe they are human (Dick 59). As Deckard begins to feel empathy towards these almost-humans, he begins to worry whether he, too, is an android with implanted memories (Dick 142). He also raises the question of whether androids have souls (Dick 135). These kinds of concerns, although foreign to our times, raise worrisome questions about the nature of humanity and human consciousness. If an android can exhibit every human characteristic except for nano-seconds of response time when presented with a disturbing situation, then how is humanity to support its claim of being a superior race, unique in the universe?

Science and Technology

Real issues currently being addressed by science can have a similar effect on society. The relativity implicit in quantum mechanics has been a point of concern for several decades, due to the theory that observation of a particle causes it to be altered. This is important to more than just science, as it challenges modern representational epistemology on all possible grounds by theorizing a realm of being in which the perceiving subject cannot adequately grasp the objects of perception (Best & Kellner 214). An observer cannot help but alter the observed. This development leads to allencompassing relativity, and a sense that one cannot understand a real world since there is no such thing, outside ones temporary frame of reference. Any idea of permanent truth is a virtual notion suggested by ones unique experience. Jean Baudrillard suggests that the final outcome of advancing scientific theory will be the extermination by technology and virtuality of all reality (Baudri!

llard 9). Such impermanence and relativity cannot help but be disconcerting.

A sense of relativity is obvious in recent technological developments, such as the internet. Anyone with access to a computer can have an email address and a webpage, and can present themselves in any way they wish. This has the effect of flattening social distinctions, which can be construed as a positive development. However, it also creates greater uncertainty about the veracity of information, and creates an environment where there are no experts or specialists, since anyone can issue information of any kind. In the world of the internet, if everyone is indifferently present regardless of where one is located on the globe, no one is commandingly present (Borgmann 105). Computer technology and its capacity to provide us with virtual reality also raises questions about what the real is or can be. A kind of hyperreality is suggested, where individuals live in the virtual communities of the Internet, have cybersex, shop in virtual malls, explore virtual environments, an!

d construct their own genders and identities in new forms of cyberspace interactions (Best & Kellner 108-9). In the realm of the hyperreal, experiences are amplified artificially, and can easily be avoided, repeated, and sterilized so that one can live in a fully personalized world. This can be very damaging, as explained by Albert Borgmann: Plugged into the network of communications and computers, they seem to enjoy omniscience and omnipotence; severed from their network, they turn out to be insubstantial and disoriented. They no longer command their world as persons in their own right. Their conversation is without depth and wit; their attention is roving and vacuous, their sense of place is uncertain and fickle. (Borgmann 108) There is a danger of literally losing ones self of sense to the relativity brought about by new technologies and scientific theories.

These kinds of developments in the sciences can be profoundly disturbing to the human sense of order. The deeper ones understanding of the new sciences, and the stronger ones conviction that technology is essential to the human experience, then the greater the sense that there is no certainty, no wholly self-contained system, no natural order on a cosmic (or quantum) scale (Grant Hammond, quoted in Builder & Menke 32n). Despite the seeming futility of scientific behaviour, instrumental rationality is still considered a crucial virtue in our society, which can lead to a kind of inner exile, a self-marginalization (Taylor 97). Scientist Steven Weinberg has observed, The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless (quoted in Builder & Menke 35). This utter loss of meaning through the discovery of scientific fact reflects the trend observed in this paper: increasing disorganization and chaos leading to excess, from which we achieve only a sense of void.

Chaos

What is real?

Throughout the whole movie The Matrix, Descartes and Locke’s ideas were being introduced and often used. “I think therefore I am” that was the only thing Descartes was ever certain of. He questioned everything and anything. The movie the Matrix stressed the use of machines as the program of motion for humans. Descartes saw that all motions were mechanical processes, but the soul cannot be controlled. In one scene, Neo fights Morpheus in a kung fu bout. Neo is programmed to be a fast fighter. He at first does poorly because he tries to use his mind to control his actions. Then he realizes that it is not his mind controlling him, it is machine. He believes the human body is a perfect machine. Descartes feels that his life is a dream. He has no way of distinguishing between dreams and reality, therefore he doubts everything. Throughout the movie, many references were

made to the idea of senses. It is believed by every human that to know reality is to experience through your taste, smell, touch, hear, and see. Locke believed that this was true. “There is nothing in the mind except what was first in the senses.” Locke’s point of view contradicts Descartes and even the movie itself. Locke believed our mind is an empty slate. This idea parallels to the ideas in the Matrix about the mind being an empty room. Locke, though, insists that when we begin to use our senses we start to have ideas. How are we to know that our senses are not programmed?

Matrix Analysis

“That is because you are seeing for the first time.” What is he seeing? How is he seeing? These questions are often asked when referring to philosophy. Philosophy is based on questioning and searching for truths. In Matrix, the search and questions were for the truth about our own existence. We see that we are here on earth. We feel things and know things, but why? Is it because we are told to believe these things? The whole movie symbolized a path of life which most of us have come across once or twice. This path is to answers. Neo, the main character, is our guide through this movie. He drags us through his thoughts and doubts which have been in all our minds. As a child did you ever think that your life was just a dream? One day you would wake up and you would be in a crib. You wouldn’t remember anything. This movie portrays the minds and thoughts of anyone who has ever wondered or was intrigued. What is the matrix? Well it can be perceived as anything!

one wants. The matrix is the artificial mind. It is the blank slate in which we can program what we want. The world as we know it now is just a program. The movie portrays the mind as a white room. There are no walls, no furniture, just space. The matrix installs the ideas, emotions, and sense that we think are real. Yet as we have matured, our minds have been taught to believe that we are in a reality. What is real? How can someone tell you it is real?

Throughout the whole movie, Descartes’ and Locke’s ideas were being introduced and often used. Although I had previously stated that Neo symbolized, Christ, he also had symbolized Descartes himself. “I think therefore I am” that was the only thing Descartes was ever certain of. He questioned everything and anything. The movie the Matrix stressed the use of machines as the program of motion for humans. Descartes saw that all motions were mechanical processes, but the soul can not be controlled. In one scene, Neo fights Morpheus in a kung fu bout. Neo is programmed to be a fast fighter. He at first does poorly because he tries to use his mind to control his actions. Then he realizes that it is not his mind controlling him, it is machine. He believes the human body is a perfect machine. Descartes feels that his life is a dream. He has no way of distinguishing between dreams and reality, therefore he doubts everything. “The greatest minds, as they are capable of the highest exc!

ellencies are open to likewise to the greater aberrations, and those who travel very slowly may yet make far greater progress, provided they keep always to the straight road, than those who, while they run, forsake it.” This quote sums up all the ideas, thoughts, and doubts that Descartes eve had. He knew that one could not go through life with out wondering or thinking. As long as you go towards the right path, then you will find your answers. Throughout the movie, many references were made to the idea of senses. It is believed by every human that to know reality is to experience through your taste, smell, touch, hear, and see. Locke believed that this was true. “There is nothing in the mind except what was first in the senses.” Locke’s point of view contradicts Descartes and even the movie itself. Locke believed our mind is an empty slate. This idea parallels to the ideas in the Matrix about the mind being an empty room. Locke, though, insists that when we begin to use our senses we start to have ideas. How are we to know that our senses are not programmed? There is no correct answer. No one knows. Locke does state that the mind at birth is the blank slate. In the movie, Neo was reborn into “reality”. He had wires and cords to machines. When they released them, he had no control over anything. He had no understanding. The world was “new” to him. Neo eventually “learned” everything again. He was taught through computers, though, he never used his senses. Lock feels that the connection of the mind and soul is through the senses. You can never have a full understanding of life without feeling, seeing, tasting, etc. Does Lock have the right answers? No one knows. In the Matrix, the minds of every individual was bombarded with questions and ideas that were foreign to them. It is hard to say that a philosopher has the right solution to a complex puzzle. Yet it seems that the thoughts of an individual can influence anything. Morpheus said once, “You can believe what you want”. I feel that is a very accurate statement. No one can ever force anyone believe anything. That is a freedom that we are allowed. The movie is basically saying that you should never just accept what one says. Life is meant to be questioned. Our existence is meant to be challenged. Our minds are meant to be expanded. Every human should look at a child and admire him. For he is the one who is closest to reality. A child’s mind is always yearning to learn. As humans we feel once we reach a certain age, we have learned all we need. Do you really believe that? Or do you just accept it?

Wait a minute… “Caves”? To anyone familiar with Plato, this sounds suspicious. The theory in Plato’s Republic divides reality into four levels with the device of the Divided Line and the imagery of the Allegory of the Cave: We are all like prisoners tied up on the floor of a Cave. But usually we don’t even see the Cave itself — all we can see are shadows on the wall. Thus, Neo is such a bound prisoner, looking at the shadows of the Matrix. If Plato’s prisoner is released, however, he can get up and look around. He sees the cave, sees a fire burning in the back, and so now can know that the reality he formerly esteemed is produced by the fire throwing shadows from puppets that are paraded in front of it. Plato doesn’t say who has been parading these puppets. Neo learns that it is the sentient computers. He sees how, because of this, he has been manipulated rather like a puppet himself. At first it is hard to believe, and the depth of the revelation makes him physically ill, but he cannot deny it.

Another aspect of The Matrix with Platonic overtones is the frequent appearance of reflected images. We often see Neo reflected in the sunglasses of Morpheus, or in various metalic surfaces. A common theme in Plato is how we mostly deal with images in life. The shadows on the wall of the Cave are images of the puppets, which themselves are images of the Forms. Plato is famously unhappy with art, which creates images, not of the Forms themselves, but of the other things that are already images. Art based on the Cave’s shadows is no less than three steps removed from reality. The world in the Matrix is itself a reflected, shadow reality, dismally, biliously (all the colors have a green tinge) reproducing the “real world.”

Now, The Matrix contains no overt references to Plato, but it does suggest the question that is raised by following the Platonic analogy. The Cave, after all, was not ultimate reality for Plato. The freed prisoner leaves the Cave and discovers the genuine reality outside, the World of Forms, capped by the Form of the Good. Is it possible that the “real world” to which Neo awakes is itself a virtual reality computer simulation also? This would be a interesting twist for The Matrix II, but there is no hint of it here. Instead, by other clues The Matrix leads us to wonder whether, even if the “real world” is the real world, the real world might not actually be so “real” after all.

Could everything that Neo learns about the Matrix actually be true of our very own “real” world? This is no less than what Buddhism teaches. The Buddha is supposed to have acquired supernatural powers, just like Neo’s, when he achieved Enlightenment. The movie, therefore, need not be just a science fiction story about human slavery to sentient machines, but an allegory of human slavery to Sam.sra, the illusory world of birth, death, and suffering. Plato would not say “There is no spoon.” The prisoner leaving the Cave could see the Spoon Itself, the eternal and unchanging Form of the Spoon. Only a Buddhist could say about all of reality what the boy says about the spoon: We leave the Cave to discover that behind the spoon there is Emptiness.

In the early 17th Century, Rene Descartes founded the Rationalist movement. His followers believed that thoughts, ideas and explanations could be derived from innate knowledge, for example the concepts of oneself, infinite perfection, casuality and ultimately the consummate perfection found in a holy being known as God (http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/). Descartes believed that all truth is made possible because there exists a God, and that all knowledge and thought is derived from Him. Descartes, in his Meditations on the First Philosophy, takes pains to prove the existence of God using logic and reasoning that is similar to a geometric or a mathematical proof. Armed with this proof, Descartes then proceeds to speculate on a contradicting perspective, that God might in fact be an Evil Genius whose plan is to fool us into thinking that what we see in front of us is indeed true. However, since God is perfect, and the will to deceive is an imperfection, although the skill of deception is perfect, God cannot be a deceiver. Descartes mentions that, “I recognize it to be impossible that He should ever deceive me; for in all fraud and deception some imperfection is to be found, and although it may appear that the power of deception is a mark of subtilty or power, yet the desire to deceive without doubt testifies to malice or feebleness, and accordingly cannot be found in God” (Haldane et al., 1952). Instead, Descartes states that the fault lies in our judgement and the perception of ourselves and our environment. In this essay, we will attempt to reason that The Matrix is not a product of God, and furthermore to explain the essential differences between Mind and Body, given the theoretical derivations from Descartes’ Meditations and the questions posed in The Matrix out a life with his own free will.

With this prison and the intent to deceive the human population as to the nature of their existence on Earth, The Matrix and its powerful computer intelligence is not unlike Descartes’ vision of an Evil Genius. Indeed, Morpheus once commented that “this world is the wool that has been pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth.” Essentially, this is deception. However, according to Descartes’ theory that God cannot be a deceiver, it leaves us to believe that The Matrix is not God. To the extent that humans have become a slave race is sufficient grounds to say that The Matrix exhibits several God-like qualities. The Matrix is omni-present such that it provides the medium through which human minds across the grid can connect and communicate each other. The Matrix is omni-potent such that their Agents are “able to connect to [and take the form of] any mind still hard-wired to the system”. Finally, The Matrix is omniscient such that it has the ability to know everything that happens in the world’.

However, it is not perfect (and hence is not God because it has the will to deceive, in addition to the fact that the human Resistance movement in Zion believes that when The Matrix was first created, there existed a human being who had the power to change or destroy The Matrix as he saw fit. This individual is Neo, and he himself is not God because he is mortal and because he himself is not perfect. However he alone has the power to bring change to The Matrix, and this suggests that he resembles a superuser who works with a computer system.

In the same treatise, Descartes also explores the differences between the mind and the body (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/1684/phi5.html). He asks the question of whether the body is in fact separate from the mind, and postulates that they are indeed two clear and distinct substances. “I find here that thought is an attribute that belongs to me; it alone cannot be separated from me. I am, I exist, that is certain” (Haldane et al., 1952). Descartes stipulates that the mind is a “thinking substance” while the body is an “extended substance”. He mentions that although the physical world is reality, it is not directly related or connected to the mind. Instead, the mind communicates with the physical world through the body and its senses. Throughout Meditations || and III, Descartes makes use of the analogy of wax and asks the question whether there is a difference between what an object is and how it is detected and understood by ourselves. His conclusions are that there is a difference, insofar as the fault lies in us such that we cannot perfectly understand reality since we are limited by our physical senses.

Reality Vs Virtuality

A virtual object is classically defined as an object existing within an optical system that is composed of a source of light and an observer, but with no physically reality. In context of WW, virtual means purely computational, that is made of computer programs.

Reality is physical process. Thanks to it universality, it is possible to simulate any process on a computer. Hence from the two postulates, it should be possible to simulate the real world on a universal computer. This simulated world would be an artificial system, that is a set of symbols that imitates real objects by an attempt to capture some of their properties or behaviours. There may be a one to one correspondence between the objects and their symbolic descriptions. However, the simulation of these objects is not the same as the real objects. In the case of the real world, objects are what they are intrinsically, without the mediation of any interpretation. In the case of the simulation, the only objects are the symbols and their syntactically constrained relations.

The problem becomes more complex if we consider the synthesis of an imaginary virtual world with its own physical and biological laws. Imagine that this world includes artificial organisms perceiving their reality, from which, could be as real as ours is reality for us. In this case, there is no direct correspondence between our reality and the virtual world. Virtual world. The virtual world exists in a computer and its properties may be very different of the one of our real world. The basic idea behind this concept is that this virtual world could be self synthesized system of existence. In this framework, Rasmussen argued that a reality obtains its meaning through the existence of a living observer. Since the virtual world is being perceived by an observer, just as our worlds is being perceived, it becomes a reality with an equal ontological status.

The Virtual World

Are these worlds real?

The creation of virtual worlds raises many important questions about the nature of reality, virtuality and life.

In the 1950s 60s the mind body problem has witnessed a series of theories, from logical behaviourism, to materialism, with the identity theory. Functionalism has been also a major school of thought in the philosophical debate on the ontological status of intelligence and consciousness.

The debate about the reality of virtual worlds has something to share with the debate about the possibility of machine intelligence. Like Al and AL, WW study its subject matter by attempting to realize it within computers. The position that a worlds processes can be abstracted from matter can be therefore considered as a functionalist position. Thus, as for Al, and AL, there are two claims that can be made a weak claim and a strong claim.

The weak claim holds that all these computer programmes are nothing more than simulations. These simulations are very useful for addressing scientific questions about reality but they could never be considered to be instances of worlds themselves. They are just ungrounded symbol systems that are systematically interpretable as if they were real but they are not.

The strong claim holds that some of these virtual worlds could be as real as our physical world is. In a sense a virtual world is very physical. It exists within a computer made of physical matter; it consumes energy and produces heat. A virtual world is a computer programme, made of information flows composed of electrons travelling within integrated circuits and through connections.

Bibliography

  1. Megatech: Cyberspace, Jefferis
  2. E-topia, William J Mitchell
  3. Sex, Laws and cyberspace, Johnathan Wallace and Mark Mangan
  4. Virtual Culture, Ed. Steven G Jones
  5. Reality Architecture, McCarthy and Descartes Metaphysics of the Matrix, Peter B Lloyd, 1999
  6. The Mind as the Software of the Brain, Ned Block, New York University, 2000
  7. THE PHILOSOPHY OF VIRTUAL REALITY, by Geoffrey Wong, 1999
  8. There is no spoon: The Matrix Analysis, Kelley L Ross, 1999

Cite this page

Virtual Reality: A philosophical Investigation. (2021, Sep 11). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/virtual-reality-a-philosophical-investigation-essay

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