reality simulation as a medium
"The medium is the message."
Marshall McLuhan, writing as a theoretician of media forms and
their effects on society and on modes of perception, made the
point that a new media format (such as television) would
ordinarily take for its earliest content, or substance, another
media format (such as film). That was to say that the first use
of TV was to screen older films. Of course, as television
matured, its content changed, and films became only one of the
things you could see on TV. Live TV, such as sports coverage,
CNN news, and other real-time, on-camera applications, became
more common as the media form matured, and found its most
Reality simulators are a communications medium, since they
convey information to the subject-observerinformation about
the present, the past and future, other places, and so forth.
They are the ultimate communications medium, since there will be
no information about the universepast, present, or future
which they will be in-principle unable to gather, store or
replay. No new hardware will ever be needed to process
information, once reality simulators come on-line.
As reality simulation matures as a medium, it too will find its
most natural and powerful applications. To begin, just as
35-millimeter motion picture cameras are no longer used to
gather information for TV broadcast, in favor of a more direct,
all-electronic information processing system, so will natural
receptor organs such as eyes, ears, and taste buds, play an
ever-decreasing role in the evolving reality simulation devices.
Ultimately, these machines will stimulate the central nervous
system of the subject-observer directly, by cortical injection
Thus, if early reality simulators have us peer into a set of
goggles, and use a joystick in order to change what we see in
the goggles, later models, using surgical electrode implants, or
less gruesome equivalents thereof, will directly stimulate, and
be stimulated by, regions of the cerebral cortexes of our brains
bypassing our conventional, organic receptors altogether.
With the advent of direct cortical injection, complete control
of the flow of sensations enjoyed by a subject is taken over by
It is under these circumstances that the communications medium
which is reality simulation will come of age, since, as direct
cortical injectees, we will be unable to make the usual
distinction between a "natural" and a "synthetic" perceptual
environment; i.e., to say whether this is the real thing we're
living, or just a simulation of the real thing.
In the movie theater, a glance around us at the other members of
the audience provides the reassurance that "it's just a film,"
albeit an unsettling and horrifying oneparticularly if we are
only twelve years old. The wearer of a reality simulator "cap"
can always pull the cap off (or switch it into default mode) in
order to check on the way things really are. The amazing
holographic projection depicting our best friend can be visually
compared to our best friend, standing beside it, and with this
comparison becomes just an amazing holograph. Ordinarily, its
our eyes and ears which tell us what's real, and what may not be.
However, with these trusty, organic receptors no longer
"on-line," and the reality-check function they provide no longer
at our disposal, the distinction between "really-real" and
"seemingly-real" can no longer be based in any matter of direct
observational factsomething that we can see, or hear, or feel
since observational data are all synthetic, and provided to
our central nervous systems, directly, by the machine. There are
no two things to compare, or to distinguish one from other, or
to rank in some sort of order.
A synthetic environment ceases to be identifiable as such once
independent corroboration of perceptual events, as is ordinarily
provided by organic receptor devices, becomes impossible.
Thus, if we ever sought, as direct cortical injectees, to regard
our current experience as being somehow unreal, this would have
to take the form of an historical recollection ("I remember
selecting this artificial experience!") or of a metaphysical
preference ("I believe there is a better place behind this veil
In either case, the possibility that our current existence as
sentient subjects might in fact be nothing more than existence
in cyberspace will not be an empirical matter, decidable one way
or the other on the basis of possible observations.
Nor will it be a matter of any great concern. It would never
occur to us that our lives might be unreal, and that in leading
them we might be voicing the "message" of a best-selling
© 1993, Gilbert Scott Markle.