3 Essays on Virtual Reality (Excerpt)

Eliott Edge
33 min readApr 9, 2024

“It is worth pointing out that we have been making virtual realities for a very, very long time. That language, spoken language, is the original code for hacking virtual reality. When you sit the children down around the fire and begin to tell the old, old stories and pictures rise out of the flames — that is virtual reality.”

“We live in a condensation of our imagination.” — Terence McKenna

INTRODUCTION

Every living being on this earth exists within a Virtual Reality (VR), whether it knows it or not. For human beings, this is especially so. Human beings don’t just have to navigate through the VR that their sensory experiences produce, or the VR of the physical universe itself. Human beings have complex languages, mathematics, religions, ideologies, art, culture, and civilization to wade through. This makes for an even trickier and slipperier ontological situation for every member of our species.

Human beings create cultural and personal VRs with undying enthusiasm. We have done so since the time of cave painting. We create worlds out of the world. We do not just live in the universe, we distort the universe to match up with an inner belief system that we have about it. We live in Christian, Hindu, animist, Freudian, and secular universes; and these universes are all human-made VRs.

At the center of this VR strangeness is consciousness itself. It seems to me that consciousness may require VRs to operate competently within the universe — a universe that, according to many serious physicists may, in fact, be a VR itself.¹-⁹ If we imagine all that we experience (both in terms of what arrives through our external senses, as well as the thoughts, feelings, and intuitions we feel internally) to be fundamentally information, then this supports the case that consciousness processes this flux of internal and external information in an effort to generate usable and valuable impressions of the world. In short, it is the role of consciousness to produce virtual realities based on our sensory inputs.

Thus, we have a layer of cultural virtual reality, then another layer of VR from our simulating imagination, which is combined with our VR biological sensory impressions, and all of these arrive to interpret a very strange physical universe that seems like it might very well be — you guessed it — a virtual reality as well.

I’m far from alone in in ruminating on different forms of VR interacting with each other. Slavoj Žižek used VR to discuss the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s work in the excellent documentary lecture-essay The Reality of the Virtual.¹⁰ In the early 1990s Linda Jacobson proposed four different kinds of technological virtual reality: desktop virtual reality, simulation virtual reality, projection virtual reality, and immersive virtual reality.¹¹ VR is rarely just about interactive images shoved into a helmet or visor. VR is actually about everything we can think of.

Most of the time, but certainly not all of the time, I find myself writing about two different kinds of virtual reality. One kind refers to the idea that our very universe is something of a virtual reality, or a computational simulation. This idea is such a vogue concept in science and philosophy that it is a difficult one to avoid in the popular and scholarly literature of today. The second kind is the virtual reality of human experience. Our cultures, our media, our thoughts, our identities, and languages — indeed all levels and forms of human civilization are virtual reality-like in nature. The worldviews we have made for ourselves to grow, work, and play in, and the monuments and infrastructure that we have erected, are all analogous to virtual realities as well. Even a road or a sign is a VR cutting through the otherwise uninterrupted Earth that tells us, “This way, fellow human.” The empire of the ‘human world’ is but one manifold VR. I typically refer to this kind of VR as ‘humancentric’.

This collection of essays contains references to both the VR universe, and the VR human-verse we’ve created, which we normally think of as ‘culture’ and ‘civilization’.

Why so much Virtual Reality?

Press me hard enough and I’ll frequently concede — “I think virtual reality might be one of the few things that we actually know for sure is indeed going on.” How did I reach such a brutal and contemporary opinion?

Some time ago I granted myself permission to fall down the virtual reality rabbit hole as far as I could, largely just to see what I would rub up against. What I found was as plentiful as the “endless fields” that Morpheus describes in the 1999 film The Matrix. My exploration led to an abiding opinion that the concept of the virtual reality is robust and powerful enough to deserve an eternal seat at the table of Science 101, Philosophy 101, Media 101, Mysticism 101, and Religion 101. Whilst not a unique opinion, it is one that has now become personally profound the more I consider it.

The virtual reality metaphor is an unusually powerful concept. Indeed, it applies to philosophical ideas as old as Plato’s Cave.¹² Questions as enduring as, “what is thought, what is mind, consciousness, and experience?” can be discussed using VR analogies.¹³-¹⁵ Additionally, it appears VR is a possible key to understanding and answering the famously strange probabilistic and statistical experimental observations that we consistently find in quantum mechanics.¹⁶ ¹⁷ VR is also an immediate social crisis of our time, as it slowly becomes the prime technological medium for everything from pornography,¹⁸ to warfare,¹⁹ and even torture.²⁰

The next leg of this century will doubtlessly center on VR and simulations for good reason. VR is becoming an increasingly common interface. Large- scale simulations of our personal data are now the norm among tech companies and government organizations with millions of customers and citizens to calculate.²¹ ²² We use simulations in meteorology, astrophysics, and all kinds of research and design. The ever-increasing list goes on, but suffice it to say, VR and simulation terminology is quickly becoming the language of the day. We are moving from the Information Age — marked by the computer and the Internet — into the Virtual Age, an era wherein we begin to soak ourselves more completely in the accumulated outputs of the Information Age (and all the eras before it as well). Digital VR is, like the Internet before it, a new country, a new frontier — a New World. We are only just beginning to tame the landscape and plant our flags upon it.

Now, the plot twist actually came around the time of the emergence of behavioral modernity in Homo sapiens (about 40–50,000 years ago); that is when we started our journey into what I see as, to quote myself, “a march into cultural virtual realities, a march that would span the entirety of the human enterprise.”²³ Our Great Leap Forward, as it’s called, was in fact a dive headlong into virtual reality. This makes sense because virtual reality is really all we’re left with when we push communication, imagination, thought, meaning, and felt experience, up against the mirror of itself. You’ll find that all these phenomena and processes are all just like simulations. Because of this, it is a vital conceptual crossroads to reach for complex, meaning-making, potentially ecocidal animals such as ourselves. It is an idea that might prove to be unexpectedly helpful as we face what we are really doing as a species. If you ask me, VR is telling us what we are actually doing as culture creating lifeforms. We’re not merely ever-evolving our own cultures and institutions; unconsciously, we are erecting virtual universes made of meaning that have real world consequences on the physical stage that all life shares.

One of the reasons why I’m obsessed with VR is because it is covertly one of the central methods through which we have moved from the trees to the high-rise. We built this place by imagining it. We made up the human world. Breakthrough after breakthrough we imagined — simulated in our minds — what could be, and what could work by “playing it out” (simulating) in the theater of our conscious awareness. I feel this reading further demands that we eventually have to become both hip and savvy to its ways, not merely eager believers or deniers when it comes to all that the VR metaphor has in store of us. We have to appreciate VR’s historical evolution — for digital VR technology is an echo, a reincarnation of the fire-lit cave painting.²⁴ And the cave painting is one of the earliest physical depictions of the invisible and yet experienced VR that we call the imagination. VR is how our minds imagine where food can be found, and what next weekend will be like. VR is how we mentally experience expectation, assumption, memory, and make predictions. We believe through the medium of our mental VRs.

I see VR as an opportunity to have a broader dialogue about the nature of reality, consciousness, culture, thought, self, and our place across these planes.

Awakening

Going back to the origin of this obsession, I became interested in VR and simulations thanks to several key life events. Of course there was The Matrix, Virtual Boy and video game craze that has been taking over popular consciousnesses since the 1980s and ’90s, and the cyberpunks. I recall a computer animated VHS tape of The Incredible Crash Dummies released in 1993 that my brother and I obsessed over.²⁵

But one outstanding event occurred while thinking about the fact that just as we have media literacy and criticism today, we will quickly require a kind of common VR literacy and criticism tomorrow. In imagining what VR literacy would look like, a thought caught my attention that eventually overwhelmed me: “It would look like Civilization Literacy.” Since every digital VR presentation has the potential to be a little culture — or civilization, or planet — it became obvious that the popular VR tech of today was just like shoving an entire world up against our eyeballs. How similar to virtual reality the effects of Times Square, or the ruins of Giza our whole world began to feel for me. Suddenly, a wall was never just a wall again. The wall was a message. This observation is echoed by the Director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Sherry Turkle, in her 2011 book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other; “Winston Churchill said, ‘We shape our buildings and then they shape us.’” Turkle then adds, “We make our technologies, and they, in turn, shape us.”²⁶

The world we create for ourselves, the environ, molds us all. And all our human-made environs are human-centric virtual realities.

This realization occurred maybe six or seven years before the publication of these essays for the IEET (around 2009–10). Running into the unexpected link between civilization-making and the concept of virtual reality went on to radically change my thinking about what it means to be a human being.

Both civilization (architecture and media especially) and VR technology use elements to present a worldview, and the worldviews they create are immersive and pervasive. Indeed, sometimes we kill over them.

Another idea that tended to ride alongside this “VR is covertly equivalent to civilization” reading arrived through my years in psychedelic publishing and research. I picked up a line supposedly attributed to Timothy Leary, but popularized by Robert Anton Wilson — Reality Tunnels. A reality tunnel refers to the cultural virtual reality and the belief system that you acquire through socialization, conditioning, and exposure; the psychosocial orthodoxy that arrives thanks to everything from your local place of worship, to your language, to the shape of your home. You are what your neighborhoods make you. We become our scenery and our scenes. We become the local VR. Indeed, VR headset technology is designed to throw us into a reality tunnel in the exact same way that walking through a metropolitan street boggles our senses into a very particular worldview.

One of Wilson’s well-known remarks on the reality tunnel:

We’re all looking from the point of view of our own reality tunnels. And when we begin to realize that we’re all looking from the point of view of our own reality tunnels, we find that it is much easier to understand where other people are coming from. All the ones who don’t have the same reality tunnel as us do not seem ignorant, or deliberately perverse, or lying, or hypnotized by some mad ideology, they just have a different reality tunnel. And every reality tunnel might tell us something interesting about our world, if we’re willing to listen.²⁷

Wilson also observed: “‘reality’ is always plural and mutable.”²⁸

I think that culturally, once early humans started speaking and thinking in terms of an animal world and a spirit world, or distinguishing between a waking world and a dream world, we began to plant the seeds of the VR dialogue. VR then, is a way of discussing the multilayered shared fantasy called the human world.

Appreciating the worldview-generating effects of reality tunnels, civilization, language, culture, media, architecture, and seeing how they were all very much like VR, captured my imagination. Even the otherwise simple standing stones dotting the British countryside have VR-generating “magical” effects. They activate the imagination. It wasn’t long after that the observation came to mind: “There is likely no more singularly important consideration than the consideration of alternative worlds, illusory worlds, projected worlds, and manipulable worlds.”²⁹ That is — there is likely no deeper issue, in philosophy or otherwise, than that of the possibility of more than one world or one worldview. For a worldview is merely a virtual reality. This is Plato and his Cave.

Yet another event that pushed me beyond the veil of hyperspace was the fateful arrival into my reality tunnel of Tom Campbell, a NASA, Department of Defense, Army Technical Intelligence nuclear physicist and consciousness researcher who I discovered around 2008. Campbell, who has a résumé longer than most people’s arm, published a model of the universe as a virtual reality simulation in 2007 called My Big TOE: A Trilogy Unifying Philosophy, Physics, and Metaphysics. In it he describes the universe as a simulation, and our consciousness as the nonphysical computer that “renders” the physical universe into existence via the act of what physicists call “measurement.”³⁰-³² Campbell’s major follow up to his book was a paper published online in March 2017, in the International Journal of Quantum Foundations, called “On Testing the Simulation Hypothesis,” which also focused on the issue of measurement and “wave collapse.”³³ After Campbell, I started reading other scientists who wrote about nature and computation, virtual reality worlds, simulated universes, digital mech- anics, video game thought experiments, and observations in nature that we have historically branded with the moniker ‘spooky.’ I devoured Nick Bostrom, Edward Fredkin, Brian Whitworth, Seth Lloyd, David Chalmers, Sylvester James Gates, Roger Penrose, Paola Zizzi, Zohreh Davoudi, John A. Wheeler, and other mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers who were also absorbed in the issues of computation, simulation, and virtual worlds. Brian Whitworth may have summarized the longstanding problems in physics best when he wrote:

VR theory is only on the table because objective reality theory doesn’t explain modern physics. In an objective reality time does not dilate, space doesn’t bend, objects don’t teleport and universes don’t pop into existence from nowhere. We would not doubt the world’s objective reality if only it behaved so physically, but it does not. Adjectives like “strange”, “spooky” and “weird” apply, and common sense concepts like object, location, existence, time and space simply don’t work. The world of modern physics doesn’t behave at all as an objective reality should.³⁴

It became clear that virtual reality was not just a philosophical or cultural issue; it was a deeply scientific one as well.

After all, a universe popping into existence seemingly out of nowhere for apparently no reason — completely with freakishly fine-tuned physical laws, as well as with all the matter and energy that will ever exist simultaneously — makes a hell of a lot more sense once you think of a computer hitting GO.

Living on the Holodeck

I talk about VR so much because I feel it is a way of diving into what is really going on. As mentioned, every life form necessarily produces its own biological virtual reality. If we think of the whole universe as just information, bodies of varying kind come along and distort and compress that information through the channels of their senses. Every living body takes in the world and from that produces a virtual world, through its sensorium, that it can understand, and where it can operate meaningfully and competently. No lifeform experiences the universe directly — rather we experience our sensory compression of the universe as provided by our unique bodies and minds. We are always in at least two holodecks: the body and the mind.

What that peculiar phenomenon we call the mind accomplishes on its surface is magic. It’s witchcraft. It makes worlds — worlds out of words — code and creation. The world the mind makes is magic, is virtual reality. We overlook this. It is common to us. We miss the grandeur and the precedent. We are walking and talking through the rooms that mind made.

The city — the city is what virtual reality looks like when we secrete a world of ideas beyond ourselves. These cities, these nations, these states are all also states of being. Anyone who travels beyond their home borders realizes this. These worlds, states of being — they are all relative. They are all entirely our own construction. They are VRs. When you walk through the city listening to music coming in through your headphones, you can drastically change the emotional character, the ambience and mood of yourself and the moment. That’s programming a virtual reality experience. And the clothing you wear as you walk through the city is yet another layer of VR.

In an essay contained in this collection, I talk about the temple and cathedral, and how these are virtual reality helmets and environments that we have been creating for thousands of years.³⁵ But think about mosques — their imageless yet vibrantly colored pixelated splendor. If the stained glass is God’s image, God’s still life, the Islamic mosaic is God’s dot matrix. And at the root of it all is consciousness. All of it is rainbow light coming in through a keyhole — a keyhole ultimately of our own crafty and bias design.

No Escape

Let’s take a moment to look at three immediate zones of experience for every human being: the mind, the body, and the universe. Here’s an example of why the VR metaphor is so very robust.

If you asked the most orthodox diehard material reductionist neuroscientist how the brain, the nervous system, and all our bodily sense platforms manage to take in the universe and turn it into an invisible picture show, they would give you a VR metaphor. They would tell you human beings take in a certain, measurable fraction of the available sounds, sights, tastes, and smells and form that into a useable collage for the conscious and autonomic mind. They would say we cannot physically see the entire electromagnetic spectrum, nor do we have smell or sight as sensitive as a dog’s. We get a mind- bogglingly wee portion of what the universe has to offer. That sensory information is then translated into an experience that the conscious mind can use. That is a virtual reality. This would not necessarily impress your run-of-the-mill neuroscientist as being a breakthrough reading. However, it does set the stage — just beginning with how our senses take it and make a world, we find the specter of virtual reality. Naturally, it doesn’t end there.

Now that we have quickly conquered the body, next on tour is of course the mind. Thought is particularly interesting here. As I elaborate in an essay contained herein, thought is on its surface a kind of virtual reality.³⁶ If we can agree that the mind and thought work in reference to images, it is very easy to make the case from there that mind is like a VR. Starting with images; the mind uses images to comprehend and navigate through the world. But image implies something static, and the mind is anything but static. The mind is more of a collage of many moving images — animations. Push this analogy one step further and the mind is not just fooling around with animations, but is in fact producing simulations. If we accept that thoughts are simulations, we can easily say the mind works using invisible and yet profoundly experiential virtual realities. So not only is bodily sense experience a VR, but the mind is a VR as well.

Finally there is the universe and physics. Here we reach the modern arguments in math, science, and philosophy regarding the physical universe. If you stack the last 100 years of physical observation, it turns out that virtual reality, computer simulations, and information actually provide a powerful analogy to the oddities found throughout quantum mechanics. To this concept, there is a growing body of literature making this case. In fact it would be very difficult indeed to make a complete list of all the published material by scientists, mathematicians, critics, and philosophers on the topic. The reason being is that computation, information, simulation, and VRs provide an extremely formidable position from which to answer some of Nature’s most pressing mysteries.

Some scientists and philosophers may not like these digital metaphors, but the fact of the matter is the competition against them is slim and only getting slimmer. Many of the leading contenders for Theories of Everything rely on the assumptions of certain objects, or mechanics, or fields to exist which we have yet to observe. Some of these theoretical entities can probably never be observed due to the levels of energy that would be necessary to reach out and measure them. Cosmic strings for instance — things that have never been seen — are being assumed as the roots of reality. Scientifically, philosophically, and logically speaking, starting from such assumptions is a big problem.

In our most common everyday ideas of who, what, and where we are — the body, the mind, and the universe — within all three domains we find effortless compatibility to virtual reality. To wit, when it comes to virtual reality, there is apparently no escape.

David Chalmers put it quite simply, “No amount of reasoning or observation could ever completely rule out the hypothesis that I am in a Matrix right now.”³⁶

How to deal with the Virtual Onslaught

One of Denzel Washington’s last lines in the 1992 Spike Lee film Malcolm X — which, as most of Washington’s lines are in that film, is beautifully and rapturously delivered — is one that often touches the surface of my mind when I think about not just virtual reality, but where we are, what we are, and ultimately what we are doing here; “Assume nothing, brother!”

Sister, brother — assume nothing.

Nothing.

This is the lesson of Plato’s Cave.

This is the lesson of The Matrix Trilogy.

This is what we have today with virtual reality. And this is what we need to fix our attention on most of all: Assume nothing.

NOTHING.

Why? The only way to overcome any situation, worldview, or institution is first to perceive it for what it always is — a projection and a filter. A projection we use to fill in information, and a filter we use to block out information. This is perception on a moment-to-moment basis, both physically and psychically. Ultimately, it all leads to a life or death game entirely of our own design.

To overemphasize this point, I often flatly use the word fake when describing cultures in the VR context. This is particularly true of the essay featured in this collection, “How VR Gaming Will Wake Us Up to Our Fake Worlds.” I have sometimes received flak for using the word. But, I like it and I like the pressure that fake creates. ‘Fake’ has the same kind of meaning as ‘virtual,’ ‘simulation,’ and so on. A fake means it is a show, a presentation, it is not entirely as it seems, or as we make it out to be. It is not “God’s glory” — that being natural phenomena. These are our own devices. We pretend that they are fundamentally sound, concrete. When in fact, they are our own construction and confabulation. They are our own stories that we tell each other and ourselves. We made it all up. That’s what I mean when I say fake. That’s what I mean when I flippantly remark, “Canada is fake.” Part joke, part truth; but all-in-all, Canada is a virtual reality scenario. We are trapped in these shows and contexts we have made for others and ourselves.

Capitalism, communism, and fascism are all as legitimate as any other VR scenario — that is to say, that deep down they aren’t legit at all. They are man-made rules, man-enforced perceptions, man- made opinions that are all built out of ephemera, agreement, and assumption. They are all games we simply invented; worlds we built brick-by-brick and thought-by-thought. They do not represent the emanations of God the Divine on Earth. They represent our failure to dream up and implement something more thoughtful and beautiful — something actually worth our time.

I believe we require a new meta-context to wake us up out of all the many contexts we have already made for ourselves. We need to see this. If not through the VR metaphor, then perhaps through some other kind of jarring awakening; some other deep radical re-contextualization that helps us release ourselves from the models and systems we believe we’re trapped in. Without a drastic new context we will likely continue our premature death march into the fossil record. For it is our imagined- up VR cultures that have brought us so horrifyingly close to total destruction.

To me, virtual reality is the meta-context necessary for our wake-up call.

I feel one of the strongest points to all of this is that virtual reality is a way of thinking that, when explored, becomes a powerful referent. Since VR can be used quite easily to think about thinking, it can be cast as a tool for meta-thinking. Indeed, thinking about VR is mentally simulating VR. We simulate a simulation when we think about VR. As I love to point out: try thinking of a thought that isn’t a simulation. The virtual reality helmet of late-20th century fame was a technology that gave us a disorienting new way to think about what we have been doing inside our own heads all along. The VR helmet is another head that we place over our own so we can think and experience in alien new ways. It shows us what we do when we adopt any belief system; we color the world with the belief.

It is worthwhile to linger here and compare the sensory inputs and outputs that cover the human head, and consider how virtual reality helmets are designed to work. So let’s think about heads. Appreciate the array of specialized organs found punctuating the heads of many different types of animals. Think about a human head. Now think about a spider’s head. Think about a dolphin’s head, then an anglerfish’s head, with that funky light dangling above it. Think about how an owl’s head experiences amplified sight and hearing. Think 20 about an elephant, with that unique trunk — think about how that gargantuan hose helps experience the world in a very particular way. Now think about the unique eye control and whiplash tongue of the chameleon. Imagine a cat’s head, as opposed to a dog’s head. Each of these very different heads all bear modifications of the same kinds of organ arrays: eyes, tongues, ears, mouths, noses. All of them we could think of as different kinds of VR helmets. Each produce a different VR. Each sensor is tuned to detect different qualities at different volumes. Sense information is experienced and interpreted differently for each. If we were to design a VR helmet and program it to imitate a fox’s sensory experience as it arrives through its particularly tuned array of sensory organs, we would be treading very close indeed to wearing a fox’s head upon our own. Take this same line of reasoning and flip it around; if we were to take our human experience and put it into a VR helmet, and then place that helmet on another animal’s head, they would be treading very close indeed to the human ordeal. You could even provide the experience of not just standing upright, but of using hands, wearing clothing. In this example the VR helmet plays the role of a blank slate; it is an entirely programmable, modifiable sensory experience- producing array. It is a head by design. The important takeaway is this: the VR helmet is the customizable head. If you can make a VR helmet mime or approximate any animal’s sensory experience, how different is the VR helmet from any animal’s head? When all the world is information, all heads are VR helmets.

The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament points out that the Hebrew word for eye (pronounced ah’-yin), was also a word for fountain.³⁷

If we take into account considerations such as that we can never see the whole EM light spectrum, that we cannot see our own physical blind spot, that we already fill in the blanks when it comes to the physical process of sight, and then compound all of these with the reality that we really tend towards seeing what we want, or allow ourselves to see psychologically speaking, then the idea of sight as as a fountain spilling out bias perceptions holds as much — if not more — weight as the idea of sight framed as collecting photons through your eyes. While we do take in light, sensing its touch on our retinas and upon the surfaces all around us, we helplessly color it, filter it, and fill it with meaning. Cones of light and the cones in our eyeballs provide us with the raw stuff we use to make up our reality tunnels. Here again, we find filtering and projection.

Our whole experience of life, from the mind, to the body, to the universe is a bunch of intersecting VRs, holodecks we cannot escape — thus, the best course of action is to become deeply aware of this. Or, as we would say in meditation and self-inquiry schools of thought, we would do well to become conscious of consciousness.

Last Words for Now

Indulge is a word that spontaneously arrived early on in my contemplative life. I was 18 or 20 years old at the time and found myself courting Zen, Advita Vedanta (non-dualism), and any text, video, or podcast I could find on meditation, self-inquiry, and — for want of a better term — brain-change. Enlightenment — and what comprises Enlightenment — was a strong interest at the time as well. During this period of regular reading, practice, and research into mediation and meditation philosophies, I noticed a tendency for certain words to grab my attention, and in some cases these words stayed with me for many years after their rather unexpected arrival. ‘Virtual Reality’ was one such term. ‘Indulge’ was another. Discovering the value of otherwise innocuous words like these during meditation came with a sensation akin to realization, awe, and sudden understanding. It was distinct. The feeling was very much like unlocking something. Rediscovering the value or power of certain words felt like some kind of new access had been granted. A stream of knowledge and understanding was now available, thanks to the arrival of these special words. A new context was created for me through them. Words became keys.

‘Indulge’ — the verb — arrived specifically while I was thinking heavily about virtual reality. I was thinking about competing thoughts, competing worldviews, competing opinions, cultures, feelings, ideologies, and points of view. “Who wins?” I wondered. “What really makes one VR take center stage over another? What makes a worldview or opinion or belief endure? It is certainly not the most logical or the most loving that wins the day. So what then?” And then ‘indulge’ arrived. The one that is indulged is the one we must endure.

What we indulge basically makes up our experience of the world and life. If you indulge miserable thought-loops, logics, or beliefs then you are likely to live a relatively unpleasant existence. If you take phrases or ideas like, “I am the way, the truth, and the light,” or “an eye for an eye,” or “Capitalism is the only system that works,” or “The United States is the greatest country in the history of the universe,” and you indulge these ideas as true, then reality is changed for you. Reality is also changed for everyone around you — social reality for sure. If we all indulge the king as being a legit circumstance, then that king is real for us all (but in reality, he, the king, is only ever just real enough). All classes and roles, royalty on down, are virtual roles in our social virtual realities.

‘Indulge’ has become such a valuable and empowering word that whenever exploring or discussing the issues of VR, I have continued — year after year — to find myself bringing it into the fold of what we should strongly consider when we interrogate all that comes with VR.

When thinking about VR — or our everyday experience of the world and ourselves, for that matter — considering questions like, “What do I indulge? What does it mean to indulge something? How does the mechanism or reflex of indulging operate within me? What does indulging this or that ultimately result in?” have all remained key in helping me uncover the otherwise covert, the undetected, and the invisible. For VR works most seamlessly when you indulge it as being something more than just a VR. VR is most potent when you don’t realize it is present. An effective VR is one that cloaks its virtualness completely. A quote attributed to cyberpunk author William Gibson aptly illustrates this; “The deadliest bullshit is odorless and transparent.”

Walk through a crowded room, one flooded with conversation, and listen. How many different opinions, different beliefs, worldviews, and philosophies are indulged? How many people attempt to have their vision indulged and validated? What have they indulged and what are they trying to get others to indulge as well? You’ll notice there is a wide difference between merely thinking a thought and indulging a thought as being truth itself.

Along with ‘VR’ and ‘indulge’ there is another word that I abuse with abandon — savvy.

From our friends at the Online Etymology Dictionary, ‘savvy’ means:

“Practical sense, intelligence”; also a verb, “to know, to understand”; West Indies pidgin borrowing of French savez(-vous)? “do you know?” or Spanish sabe (usted) “you know,” both from Vulgar Latin *sapere, from Latin sapere “be wise, be knowing” (see ‘sapient’). The adjective is first recorded 1905, from the noun. Related: Savvily; savviness.

I enjoy ‘savvy’ so much due to its connection to the Latin word sapere, from which we get the word sapient — as in Homo sapiens. Thus, taxonomically speaking, ‘savvy’ is exactly what we’re supposed to be (‘wise person’).

Virtual reality teaches us to abandon any hubris about what we think we know, and instead become savvy. We cannot escape the idea of VR. It is at least as old as the Ancient Greeks; old as māyā before them. We have been unable to overcome or out-think this idea. Instead we have only identified more and more forms and kinds of virtual reality. This means we should begin to embrace VR as a fundamental part of the fabric of our human ontological crisis. That means we cannot be authentic and at the same time fail to see the pervasiveness of the VR metaphor embedded in the world around us. To be whole we must accept VR as part of the immediate human experience. Already, VR is always an issue we must all wrestle with. We should approach the entire world, as well as ourselves, with the keenness that any persuasive VR demands.

Philosophers — all thinkers of all calibers really — aim to be savvy. We all want to be hip to what’s going on in our little corner of the universe. We all have a desire to know what’s going on. VR, as Plato observed via the Cave, is a prime referent in the toolbox of inquiry to becoming philosophically savvy.

It is what we have indulged that has permitted our global project to shamelessly flirt with not just ecocide, but terracide — the killing of a whole planet. We have to become savvy about what has brought us to this circumstance. These unchecked cultural VR super-games (like unfettered capitalism and other pan-destructive ideologies) that we have played with, as if they are not games at all, have led us disturbingly close to a grim and embarrassing end for our species and our planet. Becoming savvy to this and seeing what we build as but VRs in VRs in VRs, might give us the pause and consideration necessary to begin to dedicate ourselves to something more thoughtful, more beautiful, more meaningful, and wiser than most of the cultural games we have in play right now.

We might as well start getting savvy about VR because since the time of Plato we have been unable to get ourselves out of VR.

So, why talk so much VR?
Because VR is a key to the Kingdom,
and all Kingdoms are secretly VRs.

FOOTNOTES

1. Wheeler, J. A. “Information, Physics, Quantum: The Search for Links.” Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium: Foundations of Quantum Mechanics in the Light of New Technology. Physical Society of Japan, 1990, pp. 354–368.

2. Lloyd, Seth. Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos. Jonathan Cape, 2006. “The primary consequence of the computational nature of the universe is that the universe naturally generates complex systems, such as life. Although the basic laws of physics are comparatively simple in form, they give rise, because they are computationally universal, to systems of enormous complexity.”

3. Zenil, Hector. A Computable Universe: Understanding and Exploring Nature as Computation. World Scientific, 2013. “The contributors are world-renowned experts who have helped shape a cutting-edge computational understanding of the universe. They discuss computation in the world from a variety of perspectives, ranging from foundational concepts to pragmatic models to ontological conceptions and philosophical implications.”

4. Beane, Silas R., Zohreh Davoudi, and Martin J. Savage. “Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation.” The European Physical Journal A, vol. 50, no. 9, 24 September 2014, paper 148. “Observable consequences of the hypothesis that the observed universe is a numerical simulation performed on a space-time lattice or grid are explored.”

5. 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate: Is the Universe a Simulation? American Museum of Natural History, 8 Apr. 2016, (www.amnh.org/explore/news-blogs/podcasts/2016-isaac-asimov-memorial-debate-is-the-universe-a-simulation/). Panelists Neil deGrasse Tyson, David Chalmers, Zohreh Davoudi, James Gates, Lisa Randall, Max Tegmark. “What may have started as a science fiction speculation — that perhaps the universe as we know it is a computer simulation — has become a serious line of theoretical and experimental investigation among physicists, astrophysicists, and philosophers.”

6. Solon, Olivia. “Is our World a Simulation? Why Some Scientists Say it’s More Likely than Not.” The Guardian, 11 Oct. 2016, [link](https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/11/simulated-world-elon-musk-the-matrix). “Quite frankly if we are not living in a simulation it is an extraordinarily unlikely circumstance […] Recognizing we live in a simulation is game-changing, like Copernicus realizing Earth was not the center of the universe.”

7. Templeton, Graham. “Neil deGrasse Tyson Says it’s ‘Very Likely’ the Universe is a Simulation.” ExtremeTech, 22 Apr. 2016, (https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/227126/neil-degrasse-tyson-says-its-very-likely-the-universe-is-a-simulation). “This is the crux of Tyson’s point: If we take it as read that it is, in principle, possible to simulate a universe in some way, at some point in the future, then we have to assume that on an infinite timeline some species, somewhere, will simulate the universe. And if the universe will be perfectly, or near-perfectly, simulated at some point, then we have to examine the possibility that we live inside such a universe. And, on a truly infinite timeline, we might expect an almost infinite number of simulations to arise from an almost infinite number or civilizations — and indeed, a sophisticated-enough simulation might be able to let its simulated denizens themselves run universal simulations, and at that point all bets are officially off. In such a reality, simulated universes might outnumber real ones by an infinity to one, and so to assume we live in the one and only real universe would be the height of arrogance.”

8. Tegmark, Max. Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality. Penguin, 2015.

9. “Rebooting the Cosmos: Is the Universe the Ultimate Computer?” YouTube, uploaded by World Science Festival, 09 Dec. 2014, (https://youtu.be/atMuFCpxnUQ). Performances by John Hockenberry, Edward Fredkin, Seth Lloyd, Fotini Markopoulou-Kalamara, and Jürgen Schmidhuber.

10. Reality of the Virtual. Directed by Ben Wright, performance by Slavoj Žižek, Olive Films, 2004. “Today everybody is talking about virtual reality but I think frankly, that virtual reality is a rather miserable idea. It simply means; let us reproduce in an artificial digital medium, our experience of reality. I think that a much more interesting notion, crucial to understand what goes on today, is the opposite: not virtual reality, but the reality of the virtual.”

11. Jacobson, Linda. “Welcome to the Virtual World.” In: Richard Swadley (Ed.). On the Cutting Edge of Technology. Sams, 1993, pp. 69–79.

12. Plato. Republic.

13. Barlassina, Luca, and Robert M. Gordon. “Folk Psychology as Mental Simulation.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 8 Dec. 1997, substantially revised 28 Mar. 2017, (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/folkpsych-simulation/). Accessed 10 July 2017. “In common parlance, we talk of putting ourselves in others’ shoes, or empathizing with other people. This talk is typically understood as adopting someone else’s point of view, or perspective, in our imagination. For example, it is quite natural to interpret the request ‘Try to show some empathy for John!’ as asking you to use your imaginative capacity to consider the world from John’s perspective. But what is it for someone to imaginatively adopt someone else’s perspective? To a first approximation, according to Simulation Theorists, it consists of mentally simulating, or re-creating, someone else’s mental states.”

14. Hesslow, Germund. “Conscious Thought as Simulation of Behaviour and Perception.” TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 6, no. 6, 1 June 2002, pp. 242–247, [link](doi.org/10.1016/S1364–6613(02)01913–7). “[T]hinking consists of simulated interaction with the environment, and rests on the following three core assumptions: (1) Simulation of actions: we can activate motor structures of the brain in a way that resembles activity during a normal action but does not cause any overt movement. (2) Simulation of perception: imagining perceiving something is essentially the same as actually perceiving it, only the perceptual activity is generated by the brain itself rather than by external stimuli. (3) Anticipation: there exist associative mechanisms that enable both behavioural and perceptual activity to elicit other perceptual activity in the sensory areas of the brain. Most importantly, a simulated action can elicit perceptual activity that resembles the activity that would have occurred if the action had actually been performed.”

15. Buckner, Randy L., and Daniel C. Carroll. “Self-projection and the Brain.” TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 11, no. 2, 22 Feb. 2007, pp. 49–57, DOI:10.1016/j.tics.2006.11.004. Caltech Division of Humanities and Social Science. “[W]e refer to the mental construction of an imagined alternative perspective as a ‘simulation.’ Four well-studied cognitive abilities are candidates for using related forms of simulation: episodic memory, prospection, theory of mind and navigation. All four forms rely on autobiographical information and are constructed as a perception of an alternative perspective or, in the case of theory of mind, is a simulation that considers another individual’s perspective.”

16. Campbell, Tom, et al. “On Testing the Simulation Hypothesis.” International Journal of Quantum Foundations, vol. 3, no. 3, July 2017, pp. 78–99, (www.ijqf.org/archives/4105). “It is also now well understood, in the domain of game development, that low computational complexity requires rendering/displaying content only when observed by a player. Recent games, such as No-Man’s Sky and Boundless, have shown [the methodology of displaying] vast open universes (potentially including “over 18 quintillion planets with their own sets of flora and fauna”) by creating content only at the moment the corresponding information becomes available for observation by a player, through randomized generation techniques (such as procedural generation). Therefore to minimize computational complexity in the simulation hypothesis, the system performing the simulation would render reality only at the moment the corresponding information becomes available for observation by a conscious observer (a player), and the resolution/granularity of the rendering would be adjusted to the level of perception of the observer. More precisely, using such techniques, the complexity of simulation would not be constrained by the apparent size of the universe or an underlying pre-determined mesh/grid size but by the number of players and the resolution of the information made available for observation.”

17. “Double Split Experiment with Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser.” YouTube, uploaded by Cach Doan, 2 June 2015, (https://youtu.be/xo176uIPmbY). “We live in a probabilistic reality [not an objective reality] […] You are ingrained from your culture with the concept of an objective reality. You believe that is the way it is so when you see this or hear about it, it just doesn’t make sense.”

18. Newcastle University. “The ‘Reality’ of Virtual Reality Pornography.” Phys.org — News and Articles on Science and Technology, 18 May 2017, (https://phys.org/news/2017-05-reality-virtual-pornography.html). Accessed 09 July 2017. “Pornography has played a key role in the development of new and emerging technologies — from the stereoscope in the 1800s through home video and now virtual reality. But what VR offers, for the first time, is the opportunity to move from being simply an observer to being a participant, and this changes the experience massively.”

19. Warren, Tom. “Microsoft’s HoloLens Could Power Tanks on a Battlefield.” The Verge, 03 Nov. 2016, (https://www.theverge.com/2016/11/3/13507278/microsoft-hololens-military-helmet-concept). Accessed 09 July 2017. “The helmet is designed for tank commanders to use alongside a Circular Review System (CRS) of cameras located on the sides of armored vehicles. Microsoft’s HoloLens gathers feeds from the cameras outside to display them in the headset as a full 360-degree view. The system even includes automatic target tracking, and the ability to highlight enemy and allied soldiers and positions.”

20. Macaulay, Thomas. “The Future of Technology in Warfare: From AI Robots to VR Torture.” Techworld, 13 Jan. 2017, (www.techworld.com/security/future-of-technology-in-warfare-3652885/). Accessed 09 July 2017. “Research suggests that the embodiment enabled through VR could make it an effective torture device.”

21. Lanier, Jaron. Who Owns the Future? Penguin, 2014. “Some of the prominent present-day Siren Servers include high-tech finance schemes, like high-frequency trading or derivatives funds, fashionable Silicon Valley consumer-facing businesses like search or social networking, modern insurance, modern intelligence agencies, and a multitude of other examples.”

22. Hinchliffe, Tim. “CIA ‘Siren Servers’ Can Predict Social Uprisings 3–5 Days in Advance.” The Sociable, 07 Oct. 2016, (sociable.co/technology/cia-siren-servers-social-uprisings/). Accessed 09 July 2017. “CIA Deputy Director for Digital Innovation Andrew Hallman announced that the agency has beefed-up its “anticipatory intelligence” through the use of deep learning and machine learning servers that can process an incredible amount of data.”

23. Edge, Eliott. “How VR Gaming Will Wake Us up to Our Fake Worlds.” Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, 28 June 2016, (https://ieet.org/index.php/IEET2/more/Edge20160628). Accessed 10 July 2017.

24. Blascovich, Jim, and Jeremy Bailenson. Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution. William Morrow, 2012.

25. “The Incredible Crash Dummies.” Fox Kids, 16 May 1993, (www.imdb.com/title/tt0445989/). “But I need my body! It’s got my arms and legs on it!”

26. Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Basic Books, 2011. “From the earliest days, videogame players were less interested in winning than in going to a new psychic place where things were always a bit different, but always the same. The gambler and the videogame player share a life of contradiction; you are overwhelmed, and so you disappear into the game.”

27. “Robert Anton Wilson on Reality.” YouTube, uploaded by RorschachReality, 17 Sept. 2008, [link](https://youtu.be/GuOplymDx4I). “We’re trapped in linguistic constructs. All that is, is metaphor. I believe someone said that before me. I have decided we can’t get beyond words. What we’ve got to do is get more cynical about our words.”

28. Wilson, Robert Anton. Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati. New Falcon Publications, 1986. “My own opinion is that belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence. The more certitude one assumes, the less there is left to think about, and a person sure of everything would never have any need to think about anything and might be considered clinically dead under current medical standards, where absence of brain activity is taken to mean that life has ended.”

29. Edge, Eliott. “Fake Worlds”

30. Campbell, Tom. My Big TOE: A Trilogy Unifying Philosophy, Physics and Metaphysics. Lightning Strike, 2003.

31. “Physics, Metaphysics & the Consciousness Connection 3 of 18.” YouTube, uploaded by Tom Campbell, 12 Apr. 2008, https://youtu.be/zQQaSXUP_Jk. “It changes the results of the experiment if we look […] Looking is the same as a measurement.”

32. Faye, Jan. “Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 3 May 2002, substantially revised 24 July 2014, (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-copenhagen/). Accessed 12 July 2017. “According to von Neumann, the shift from a type 2-process to a type 1-process takes place only in the presence of the observer’s consciousness. So what causes such a collapse seems to be the mind of the observer.”

33. Campbell, Tom, et al. “On Testing the Simulation Hypothesis.”

34. “Simulating Space and Time.” Prespacetime Journal, March 2010, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 218–243.

35. Edge, Eliott. “Fake Worlds.”

36. Ibid.

37. “The Hard Problem: The Science Behind the Fiction.” Roots of The Matrix. Directed by Josh Oreck. Ultimate Edition DVD, Warner Bros., 2004.

38. Brown, Francis, S R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, James Strong, and Wilhelm Gesenius. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: With an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic : Coded with the Numbering System from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.

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Eliott Edge

Author of '3 Essays on Virtual Reality', global speaker, artist, humorist, futurist, netizen, critic & psychonaut Patreon.com/OddEdges EliottEdge.com IEET.org