Sunday, 12 December 2010

Ode to the Jungle of the Virtual

Science-Fiction must be my favourite genre in literature. Science-Fiction has suffured for a long time, and still does, from a stigma. This stigma has origins somewhere, and I will try to think of a few hypothesis for it in this personal essay. I will also try to explain and outline different argument for my liking for this genre. This doesn't sound much like a personal essay, but it is because I write in parallel a book review for uni, so I am a bit lock in an academic frame of mind. But we are living in a future world where academic frame of mind is annihilated by itself. Thanks mainly to French thinkers, we know that everything that is done by pretending to know better has no justification but the one it gives itself. Observing this self-reference mechanism destroy the power held in such discourses. So I might sound like an academic, but I know and should let you know that it is idiotic.

Academic discourses are scientists lying to themselves not admitting that objectivities can be reach only be reached by shared honest subjectivities. As such, every truth we want to share, we have to do it in our own language, and not in an adopted one. It is in a ideal situation then that these shared subjectivities can be transformed in objectivities – theories on how the word is truthfully, knowing the truth exist and doesn't exist. This is more or less where epistemology is at, or should at least be, nowadays. This paradoxic state of collecting knowledge we are now was outline by Lyotard. No more meta-narratives, no more generalized way to see the world, a lot of ways of observing are good, even better, in knowing that they hold some truth when one single way to observe/tell the truth serves only to blind ourselves from other ways to understand our world.

Another similar way to see where we are in our observation of the world is by adopting Baudrillard dark lense. In his view, because all truth are appreciated, reality doesn't exist anymore. But has it ever existed ? Hasn't it been 5000 thousand years that we have transformed reality through constantly changing meaning ? Of course, Baudrillard is scared of the accelerating way through which objects have different meanings, the fight over meanings become more important ergo the real object is forgotten. Look at Christmas: who knows what it is about ? Anyway, for Baudrillard, everything loose its meaning by being too meaningful and paradoxic. But reality has always changed meaning. For Baudrillard, looking back is now reconstructing a false past and imagining the future is building a false present – the present then not existing anymore. But the present has never existed, has it ?

So what is left for us ? Well to tell each other how our life is, how we want our life to be, how we see our world, how we would want our life to be and more importantly how it could be. Wouldn't it be only an exercise in dreaming utopia that could never exist ? Yes and no. It is an exercise in dreaming utopia, but it is also an exercise in creating future societies. Projecting is the first step towards creating. That is when science-fiction come into play. Science-fiction displays possible and impossible future. The chances for the possible world to happen are objectively unknown to us. We can say that as science is today, we can't recreate a science-fiction world. Of course that is not entirely true, has science has reached today far more than what Jules Verne could imagine a century ago. Science sometimes come to bit science-fiction, but to do so, it needs to know what challenge science-fiction offers.

That is a good point for Science-Fiction, which does here as much as environmentalists and economists at predicting possible future. Of course, environmentalists and economists do not pretend to look so far into the future, but science fiction never pretended to make the future so quickly. We have reduced the size of the world in our mind with the internet. Information is the same everywhere at the same time. 3D printers helps neurology-surgeons operates. Tactile screens helps us communicate kinetically with computers. We can operate moving vehicles with chips in our head. We can produce energy unseen in our solar system in more than a million years. Robots are walking and hopefully artificial intelligence will be self-learning.

But how did we come up with these technological inventions ? By inventing, imagining, observing and changing reality. None of our forms of knowledge are not the source of imagination. Of course, imagination was the source but not the end product. The end product was constructed by making the imagination participate with reality. Ideas and imaginations are more and more conflicting in some fields of thoughts, but that make more realities possible.
The stigma of science-fiction might be held then in a strictly pseudo-materialist perspective. Enlightenment was afflicted by this burden this view: the world is full of pseudo-mysteries. Mysteries since only exists as unresolved natural fact that can be explained through in depth empirical research. Therefore, creating mysteries is deemed useless. The only mysteries we thought we had to work on were the one observable in reality. What was the point of talking about dark-matter before it could be observed? The concept though came before reality. Same thing for robots or pretty much anything discovered/invented in the 20th century. The imagined uselessness of science-fiction came from the blind we have put on our eyes when we thought that it is entertainment – when we don't understand its potential as a tool.

That is where virtual reality is one of the future tools for humanity to discover itself and its possibilities. Virtual realities are not yet what they could be. Google Maps gives us a virtual representation of our world. Wikipedia is a virtual space of shared knowledge. Facebook provides us with a tool to virtualize ourself as we want to be. Games provide us with virtual active entertainment. We are still too passive in virtual worlds, but the internet provided us with examples of a shared virtual realities where we do act. The virtual worlds also hold us with the promise that none of it is real. Consequences and responsibilities disappear in a lot of virtual world – and inconsequential virtual worlds could exist and there, we could do anything we want. It would provide a mirror to our life. We could understand why we do the things we do in the real world. Give our life a new meaning when we understand how our past formed what we are, and paradoxically liberated by this understanding, and the future becomes something to work on and not something we are afraid to be judged on.

The fear that exist nowadays linked to hyper-realities and virtual worlds is because we do live in a real world. But the real world is viewed through our mind. And our mind is not real anymore. We are dependent on symbolic representation of the world. Languages are the best examples of how our world is only symbolically representative to us. Even if, in a face to face interactions, there is more communicated than words but we are learning to control natural communication and to transform it into a symbols. Facial expression are natural reactions to emotions, but poker players are training to control them and read them. So the real has started to disappear a long time ago, to give our mind more power. Acknowledging this power of our mind and working on it, through worlds we can create and live, might prepare us to the next evolutions of humanity. Virtual worlds in cyberspace ( and cyberspace is only an infinite virtual playground) are a lot of time shared, and as such are tools for this shared project that is our future.
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