Tuesday, September 20, 2011

You don't say

What you don't say or write about can be as interesting as what you do. I mean this in a particular kind of way, though - not in the sense of self-censorship, or anything like that, but with reference to the ideas that seem to slide away in the act of expression. In writing about virtual reality and virtual worlds, I've been noticing this. A small tribe of ideas scurry away into the darkness each time I approach them. Partly this is because they don't really belong in the daylight of what I'm writing about. But I thought I'd sketch an approach here. Describe the hidden people, why not? The tribe belong to the fellowship of strong social constructionism. To begin with, I started thinking a year or so ago, that the socially constructed space of a virtual world (I think Gibson talked about a 'consensual hallucination') was a pretty good guide to how things actually work when we strip away the taken-for-grantedness of what we call reality. So reality forms from data as we experience or co-construct it. We inhabit a consensus reality which is established through some pretty sophisticated programming. The little that I know about consciousness studies seems to point in this direction. Work in that field suggests that the selectivity imposed upon us by the limited bandwidth of our perceptual faculties makes the world appear in a particular way to us. That takes you to a sort of psychological constructionist point of view. I don't know if that's an official term, but it has the right sort of feel to me. Philosophically, of course, that leads one to ask if there's anything really out there at all. The example of the virtual world can be helpful in addressing this. There is something there (of course), but we create it at the same time that it creates us. What's more its created out of stuff that we wouldn't recognise as a virtual world in the first place. So it gets metaphysical. I imagine the discussion on the holodeck 'There's something out there, but it's not what you think it is.' Thinking about the virtual can, in this respect, be quite powerful. I think. OK, maybe its best not to write it after all, but I'm glad I tried!

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