death in cyberspace
For God so loved the world...
Any statement which proposes to interpret the whole of our
experience in terms of realities which lie beyond or outside
that experiencewhether these realties be substances, spirits,
or chunks of parental cyberspaceis a metaphysical statement.
Unlike empirical statements, which are decidable on the basis of
some test, experiment, or observation made within the realm of
our experience, and which in that sense propose matters of fact,
metaphysical statements set out to clarify the whole of things,
and must be accepted or rejected in the light of other criteria,
such as elegance, completeness, coherence, explanatory
usefulnesseven personal taste.
Most philosophical utterances over the centuries have been
metaphysical in natureeven those comparatively recent
metaphysical claims made by the Logical Positivists of this
century,1 which warn us away from the contemplation of any
statements in respect to whose truth or falsity a possible
observation, or test, would not be relevant. For such perhaps
excessively clear thinkers, these are "factually meaningless"
statementslittle swirls of metaphysical nonsenseand we
stand to waste a lot of time puzzling over them.
Much of what we have had to say about Virtual Reality would be
dismissed by the Positivists in this manner. Specifically, any
debate thought to be carried on within the confines of a reality
simulator which purported to identify the current environment as
only a synthetic environment, and to identify the experiences
had within that simulator as somehow less real than those which
might be imagined to occur outside it, would be rejected as a
factually meaningless debate. There is no test that could
possibly decide things one way or another. That this may not be
the "Game of Life," but a Lifegame 3.xx instead, is not
decidable from within the game, should this in fact be only a
game. That this may only be a game is thus idle, metaphysical
speculation. To the rubbish heap with puzzles like this.
Empirical thinking of this sort has its roots in the great work
of Hume, an 18th century Scottish philosopher, and has served to
keep science "on the right track," and to keeps scientists in
the labs where they belong, and out of the ivory tower, where it
is expected and tolerated that time will be wasted in the
contemplation of beginnings, endings, navels, the ultimate
nature of all things, and other such mysteries.2
Accordingly, it is particularly ironical that it has been
empirical sciencetechnological innovations which have allowed
the construction of reality simulatorswhich has brought us to
the point of contemplating alternative, machine-made sensorial
spacessynthetic environments, if you willfrom within which
it becomes a factually meaningless, merely metaphysical exercise
to speculate as to the proximate origins of these sensations,
even though the machine that made them, and is making them as we
speak, may be in the room just across the hall.
Of course, what counts is what side of the machine wall you're
onwhether you're inside the machine, or outside it. It turns
out that what may be metaphysical nonsense inside a machine
within a daughter environmentmay be an empirical matter of
fact outside the machinein the parent environment.
Outside the machine, we may know as a matter of historical fact
that we built this particular machine, and then talked 10,000 or
so players into getting inside it, for the purpose of animating
characters in a Lifegame created by our computer programmers. We
know that, for those inside the machine, it's all just a game,
because we just made the game. Needless to say, the people
inside the machine may not know that.
And, inside the machine, they don't, so busy are they playing
the game. It never occurs to them that their world may be less
real than another world which they can never know directly. That
sort of thinking is useless metaphysical speculation for those
inside the reality simulator.
Oh, it may be suggested from time to time, inside the machine,
that "it's only a game, relax," but those chiding admonitions
are quickly filed away together with the burning bushes,
miracles, angels, saviors, and other singularities, or
exceptions to the rule, as might suggest to a more alert
population that the system is not altogether closed, and that
there's someone "out there" trying to tell us something.
Like, for example, computer programmers who deliberately put a
machine-driven angel into the mix every now then, as a
singularity within the system, as a hint to us. Or a buggy
algorithm which every so often creates event discontinuities
inside the machine which are typically regarded from within the
machine as miracles, or as acts of God. More hints.
Like, for example, saviors sent down to the world from a parent
environment as "sons of God," also very much as exceptions to
the rule, for the purpose of getting our attention, and then
instructing us that the Father's house has many mansions,
outstripping the apparent confines of this particular machine
which we call the real world, and that belief in Him,
temporarily here present, as the Son of God, holds the key to a
wider view of things, and not incidentally, to everlasting life
not just in this place, but in others we may have left behind.3
"You're in a machine, pal. God's the guy who owns the server.
We tend to ignore such voices crying in the wilderness, both
inside and outside of reality chambers. Faith is hard, no matter
what machine you're in.
Let's face it. If this is just a game, we'll only know that for
sure when the game ends, and we are restored to a parent
environment within which matters of current metaphysical
speculation, and of religious faith, may be finally resolvable
in factual terms.
That is death in cyberspace.
Cyberspatial death occurs when there are "no more moves
allowed." That happens whenever the programmers want it to,
either for the whole group of players, or for one particular
player. For example, the "end of the game" of Monopoly occurs
when one particular player goes bankrupt. That's the way the
rulesthe computer algorithmsare set up. You're bankrupt;
you're out of the game.
It can also occur at the option of a player, along the lines of
a suicide. For example, whenever a Poker player folds his hand
of cards, or whenever a computer user logs off a "chat" session
on a BBS, and finds himself back at the DOS prompt.
It can also occur to an entire group of players in a disastrous,
holocaustic and sudden fashion; as for example if any of the
machines involved are unplugged from the walleither through
inadvertence, or by design, or if one of the laboratory Wizards
mistakenly does a Ctrl-Alt-Delete.
In the complicated Lifegames we have been considering, where
real-world players are allowed to animate "virtual
personalities" in cyberspace, death occurs whenever, in the
context of the rules of the game, as determined beforehand by
the computer programmers, there is sufficient reason to deny
that player any additional movesas would almost certainly
occur, for example, if the personality in cyberspace gets in the
way of a cyber-bullet, or a synthetic speeding train. At that
point, the personality will be regarded as "dead" by the
remaining players, and retired into local obscurity with,
perhaps, the usual pomp and ceremony.
Not final obscurity, however, by any means. In cyberspatial
death, players are always returned from a daughter to a parent
environment. "Wake up, Silas, it was just a dream." Or, "Come
with me sweetheart; you've been at that machine far too long.
Come talk to the kids." Or, "Grandpa died, and he's now up in
Daughter environments are recognizable as such from a parent
environment, but the reverse, as we have seen, does not occur.
Death in cyberspace thus takes the form of an ascendancy from a
more limited to a less limited view of things. Cyberspatial
death is always an awakening.4
It's at this glorious juncturewhen the scales fall away from
your eyes, and you are reintroduced through the great white
light to a parent environmentthat you may remember having
originally opted to play the game to begin withto get inside
the machine. To take another life on earth.
It's also at this point that you are able to concludenow as a
matter of empirical factthat the game just terminated was
"only a game," however seriously you may have taken it at the
time. It was meaningless, or was at best an article of religious
faith, to have held such a view while inside the chamber. Now it
turns that this view had always been correct as a matter of fact
the only difference being which side of the machine wall you
happened to be on.
This is true enlightenment. As do the eaters of L.S.D., you
exclaim "I remember, I forgot!"5
Joyously, you promise aloud to take things less seriously in the
futurein the next game. However, you know in your heart that
when the bright-red reality chamber hatch next clangs shut
behind you, and the tally light goes on, and the music starts,
even this most recent and fervent promise will be automatically
obliterated, together with all other features of the parent
environment, as a new and more innocent life begins.
Inevitably, this will be referred to as "Birth in the Machine."
Logical Positivism, a brief, comprehensive and
entertaining essay. Also, Cf., Ayer, A.J., Language, Truth and Logic, for the best
of all modern books dealing with this topic.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1748, in which
Hume convincingly pitches the role of eyes and ears in sorting
out fact from double-talk.
3Cf.,John 3:16, and other biblical passages suggestive of
string-pulling from a parent environment.
4Not so for the personalities which, within the game, we chose
to regard as "angels." They don't get to die, having been just
programming constructsBotsall along. Within the game, they
simply disappear, mysteriously, as did Gabriel when his work on
Earth was done.
5"Turn on, tune in, drop out!" is how Timothy Leary verbalized
his appreciation of the ability of the central nervous system,
pharmocologically hyped, to generate new and sometimes
frightfully real virtual realities, and his advice as concerns
what you should do, so informed.
© 1993, Gilbert Scott Markle.