Future illusions of reality, part 3

Continuing from yesterday…

The next morning I woke up and I had thought of a counterexample. When I saw Steve the next morning I described my scenario.

I said to Steve “Suppose you wanted a soda so you gave me five dollars to go to the deli. I put your bill in my pocket, go to the deli counter and order a bottle of soda.

“The guy behind the counter scans my bill and says ‘This is counterfeit.’ I end up coming back without any soda. You go thirsty.”

“What,” I asked, “is the essential difference between that and the scenario you described?”

We both realized that culturally speaking this was essentially the same scenario, despite the large difference in technological enablement. In both cases you sincerely believe that you are living in a well defined shared physical reality. Yet at the end of the day, you don’t get to have a sip of that soda.

Which speaks to my larger point: The key element here is not physicality, but culture, sociology and psychology. And those factors are really about us humans, not about any given state of technology.

6 Responses to “Future illusions of reality, part 3”

  1. Demian says:

    I am not sure to buy this analogy, in my view the counterfeited bill is akin to a bug in the render system (let’s say) : you don’t expect it to happens but you know the consequence of it in the reality.

    Sure enough everything is culture so it is hard to grasp on something not really here yet, but I can understand the “Magritte hell of the future” where you are never sure of the reality of things around you, and if they are really what they represent anymore (if we aim for photorealistic of course).

    Because I can see how a painting is hardly useable like a pipe, but when I see a pipe, I might want to smoke with it like one !

  2. admin says:

    I would argue that the apparent physicality of the soda bottle may be skewing your assessment of the situation.

    After all, the soda bottle itself is a representation. Just because the label says the bottle contains soda doesn’t mean that there is soda in the bottle. Our belief that there is soda in the bottle (as opposed to, say, colored vinegar) is predicated on our shared cultural assumptions and prior experience.

    In any given technological era, what we accept at face value as “physical reality” is generally highly mediated and culturally pre-processed. One example of many would be the appearance of somebody who is wearing clothing (which is a technology, albeit a very old one). Yet because we are looking at older technologies, we tend to forget that we are, indeed, looking at a technologically mediated situation.

  3. Demian says:

    Oh yes, the eternal projection we made on the things in the world, the allegory of the cave.. :)

    Not completly related but It reminds me of a quote from C.G. Jung :
    « We are easily inclined to project our difficulties into things and state them complicated, while they are simple in themselves and ignore the difficulties that we have in thinking them. »

  4. David A Smith says:

    You already live in an augmented reality.

    Ignoring the TVs and PCs, I think there is a more analogous technology that is too visible and too easily missed. You wear glasses or you had cataract surgery. This technology augments your vision so that you can see the real world. Without it, you are blind, if not totally, to a debilitating degree. The same thing is true of light bulb in a closed room. Nothing is visible until you turn the light on. As McLuhan says: “a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence”. Does the room not exist without the bulb? Yes, but you could not see it, and would have a great deal of trouble interacting with it. But you never think about these technologies – they have disappeared in a sense, though indeed they redefined what you are at a fundamental level. The digital world already exists – and is as much a part of our existence as the physical, but we are quite literally blind to it. We see glimpses of it in our offices and labs every once in a while, and there is no question that the light will soon be turned on. And just like with our glasses and light bulbs, the medium will seem to disappear, but in fact will redefine what we are.

  5. admin says:

    David, I completely agree, and I love how eloquently you have expressed it.

  6. Demian says:

    That’s the weird things: I understand the view but cannot compelled to it completely. It is a question of subjectivity vs objectivity.

    There is an old Sufi tale. A group of philosophers, all blind, discourse on the shape of an elephant. Being unable to agreed, they decide to all go to the market and find out by themselves.
    They find one and, sure enough, they gather around to feel for themself what is really an elephant. They are all very happy and decide to get back to their house to discuss their new finding. « An elephant is a big wall ! » say the first one, « Are you crazy ? » say the second, « an elephant is a rigid trunk », the third reply « I think we should stop this diviguation and accept that an elephant is just a very rigid drape as we all experience it ». « No, no, said the fourth one, an elephant is a big snake ». The fifth, perplex, did not say a thing about the elephant liana he has in his hand.

    Thing is, they all experienced an aspect of the elephant. One see its body, the second its leg, the third its ear, the fourth its trunk, and the fifth its tail.

    Yes, the map is not the territory, the word is not the thing. A tree is not “a tree”. An elephant is not what we experienced of it.
    And yet in our shared world we put words on things, creating a technology in the process,
    to help us understand each others and find collaboratively our way in this virtually objective world (in others words: we shared our map of the world).

    An object holds within it a particular “discourse of objectivity” : A glass is a glass because we understand it as a vessel that holds our beverages.*

    Certainly we could change our shared map, our shared understanding of the world. That’s what
    culture do. But the process is generally cohesive with past experience : I know in a flash
    that a glass on a painting, a book, or a videogame, is “not” a glass. It’s a representation of one not an actual one, what the object and word was created for in the first place.

    In this perspective I suspect future technologies might provides ‘words’ that keep the legacy
    coherent or erase this legacy altogether, like old lost words.

    (One could argue that in a dream their is coherency within the world of the dreamer but not outside of it. The map of the conscious mind is not the one of the inconscious one).

    * http://reallifemag.com/nostalgia-for-permanence/

    PS : Ah ah sorry to bother I find the discussion fascinating :-)

Leave a Reply