Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality

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9780847689835: Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality
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Is virtual reality merely a video game that consumes and distracts the player immersed in its simulations? Or is it an immaterial world, rich in meaning, beckoning people to a better future world inside computers? In Get Real: A Philosophical Adventure in Virtual Reality, Philip Zhai tackles these questions with keen logical analysis and concludes by advocating a stance that transcends these two opposing view of virtual reality. Zhai argues that the combination of three technologies―digital simulation, sensory immersion, and functional teleoperation―in a well-coordinated manner amounts to a re-creation of the whole empirically perceived universe. His analysis of the nature and significance of this re-creation is eye-opening and completely original. This book will be invaluable to philosophers of science, philosophers of mind and anyone interested in technology's growing impact on our lives and minds. The thought experiments in the book are mind-stretching and enlightenling, and make abstract concepts interesting and tangible.

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About the Author:

Philip Zhai has degrees in both philosophy (Ph.D) and engineering (B.S.), and is a professor of philosophy at Muhlenberg College. He is the author of The Radical Choice and Moral Theory (Kluwer).

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Let us imagine a nation in which everyone is hooked up to a network of VR infrastructure. They have been so hooked up since they left their mother's wombs. Immersed in cyberspace and maintaining their life by teleoperation, they have never imagined that life could be any different from that. The first person who thinks of the possibility of an alternative world like ours would be ridiculed by the majority of these citizens, just like the few enlightened ones in Plato's allegory of the cave. They cook or dine out, sleep or stay up all night, date or mate, take showers, travel for business or pleasure, conduct scientific research, philosophize, go to movies, read romances and science fiction, win contests or lose, get married or stay single, have children or have none, grow old, and die of accidents or diseases or whatever: the same life cycle as ours.

Since they are totally immersed and everything necessary for their survival and prosperity is done by them while they are immersed, they don't know that they are leading a kind of life that could be viewed as illusory or synthetic from outsiders such as us. They would have no way of knowing that, unless they were told and shown the undeniable evidence. Or they would have to wait for their philosophers to help them stretch their minds by demonstrating such a possibility through reasoning.

A more interesting possibility is that their technology would lead to the invention of their own version of VR, which gives them an opportunity to reflect on the nature of "reality" in a tangible way, just as we are now doing at this moment. Then they would possibly ask the same type of questions as we are asking now. If there were such a free kingdom, can we say they are in a state of "collective hallucination"? No, if by calling it a hallucination we mean to know that ours is not the same. What if I ask you: "How can you show me that this imagined nation is not the one we are in right now?" That is, how do we know that we are not exactly those citizens immersed in VR?

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