The essays following here are animated by the sentiment that we
are on the threshold of important empirical advances which will
change the ways we think about the real world.
I am alluding to technological innovations which already allow
us to take very substantial control of the sensory information
provided to persons, and which will eventually allow a chosen
few to control the sensory environments of persons absolutely.
My belief is that these changes will produce a marvelous glut of
sensorial spaces from which inferences will be made, correctly,
to the existence of a marvelous glut of equally real worlds, and
that this will inevitably entail a dilution, a taming, of the
concept of "the real" for those still eager to reflect upon it.
I will be forgiven, I hope, for the informality of these essays.
They are more concerned to startle, and to tease the brain, than
they are to relate philosophical positions to similar positions
held by others in the past. A doff of my cap to metaphysical
Idealists such as Berkeley, and to Radical Empiricists in the
tradition of Hume, and, more recently, the Logical Positivists
of this century, will have to suffice. (If you're a graduate
student, God bless you; perhaps you should put this book down
and do something less fun.)
If you're almost anybody else, we're in this together for a
dozen or so chapters, and I'm here to help. Let me start by
telling you how the arguments go, by and large. They are all
The setting is that offered by the "virtual reality" pundits,
and those many technicians laboring to produce computer-driven
simulations of real sensory experience which average subjects
find incredibly real, and from which some are quick to infer the
existence of real physical objects and spaces, whether or not
such things actually exist!
These devices, which we refer to as "reality chambers," are
already installed in research labs, military installations and
gaming rooms throughout the Western world. There will be more of
them very soon.
As reader, you will be asked to imagine reality chambers which
have been perfected, and which constitute closed systems. This
will involve the not-yet-actual technique of "direct cortical
injection" of sensory inputs, which will foreclose any
possibility of comparing experiences inside with those outside a
synthetic environment, as in a convincing and uncontrollable dream.1 You will be
reminded that, under these circumstances, there is no test that
you could perform, from within the chamber, which would prove
that you were in fact strapped into such a device, and not, say,
watching a real sunset first-hand in Acapulco. This is supposed
to encourage critical thinking on what it is that coaxes us to
infer that there are real things like sunsets, tables, chairs, and
neutrinos, and to suggest that, whatever it is, this temptation
exists inside the reality chamber, too.
You will be treated to frequent reminders that, for all we know,
we may all be strapped into such devices as we speak.
Philosophers will recognize this as an updating, within the
language of reality simulation, of the positivist criterion used
to separate empirically verifiable statements from "metaphysical
nonsense," and as a perhaps mischievous application of the
resulting razor in favor of the current view from inside the
chamber. As such, positivists may be impressed; metaphysicians
will not be.
But that's an acceptable outcome, since there's more to
titillate others, like science fiction buffs. Time travel,
anyone? Without the logical contradictions involved whenever,
even in the Twilight Zone, we try to change past events, and
make things come out differently? No problem, within the schema
advanced here. It turns out that our limitations, as Virtual
Reality time travelers, will not involve anything like the
Principle of the Excluded Middle (no statements about one, self-same
world ever being both true and false at the same time), but
the availability of mass
data storage mechanisms and cheap Random Access Memory chips.
Travel at the speed of light also becomes possible,
notwithstanding the cautions of Einstein. So does travel into
If all this were not enough, I have said some things about the
media theoretician Marshall McLuhan, who I think would have
greatly approved of these pages, in recognizing that reality
simulation is the ultimate medium, and never-ending human
message, as man plays God.
I hope finally that game theorists will appreciate my suggestion
that it is player-agency within a responsive environment, in
accordance with rules, that makes the environment, and the
player, real. In any case, that seems to be what occurs.
I will apologize one last time for the light-hearted spirit in
which these essays are set down, and insist that I mean no
insult to the many serious practitioners of professional
philosophy who, in teaching me over the years, made something
like this little book possible to begin with.
Gilbert Scott Markle
Black Rock, Tobago
This is not a novel concept, having been first introduced to the
science fiction community in the mid-1980s by
book Neuromancer. It was Mr. Gibson who coined the word "cyberspace"
to denote such synthetic environments, suggesting that they will be created
not just by one stand-alone deviceone computerbut by a galaxy-wide "matrix" of
computers networked together, very much along the lines of the Internet, allowing
for "real" interaction, intrigue, and adventure involving multiple players.
© 1993, Gilbert Scott Markle.