David Kolb

A note and a promise re Chalmers’ book

David Chalmers’ book Reality+, which as I mentioned in an earlier post, is a most thorough discussion of the simulation hypothesis, and also one of the best discussions of skeptical doubts about the reality of the external world. In connection with the book, I thought I would mention two items of my own. One is my paper Real Places in Virtual Spaces, where I argue that areas of virtual space can be just as much real humane social places as can areas in physical space. The key is to see how areas of space are more than geometric locations. They may have social coding that makes what we do there have real life effects: acting boorishly in a ritualized space such as a church or courtroom, whether virtual or physical, can impact your life in real ways. Even informal spaces, virtual or physical, are mapped with expectations and norms. A place or a thing that has such causal impact is real.

The other paper, largely unpublished, addresses a coming problem: that immersive environments such as computer games, virtual worlds like Second Life and successor versions of the Metaverse try to engulf the participant, locking out or reducing outside critical voices. How can we encourage enlightened and self-reflective critical ways of participating in such environments? Must we choose between either standing outside issuing critical judgments that go unheard by inside participants, or entering inside and being overwhelmed, silenced, or made part of the show? The essay surveys tactics for criticizing games, virtual worlds and other immersive environments from the inside, borrowing from dungeon masters, hackers, meditators, and Hegelian phenomenologists. That paper’s long title, Hegelian Buddhist Hypertextual Media Inhabitation: Criticism in the Age of Immersive Artifacts, plays on Walter Benjamin’s famous essay on art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Both of my. papers can be found on this site.

In addition just yesterday I encountered a long negative review of Chalmers’ book by a theologian from Notre Dame. The review is in the latest number of The New Atlantis. The reviewer raises some worthwhile issues about the phenomena of consciousness, if you can get past his smugly dismissive tone as a know-it-all champion of traditional thought (for him a variant of neo-platonism). Those issues and the influence of neo-platonism deserve discussions I hope to provide in future blog posts.