Simulation, Revelation


The surest way to appreciate a work is to try to recreate it.

Toddlers help us to appreciate the difficulty of drawing or painting by their laughable scribbling. One might first pity the child’s lack of eye-hand coordination, lack of patience, or lack of barest attention to detail (“Is it an airplane? Oh, a cat! Of course, it is. It looks great!”). But few adults can sketch anything worthy of pride either. The more we advance in skill, the more we recognize the full challenge. 

In fact, artists — especially in the digital age — have often struggled with the “uncanny valley” dilemma. As imagery approaches photo-realism, people become less forgiving of remaining errors in mimicry. Slightly ajar facial structure or misshapen eyes disturb the viewer. If the shadows of a landscape are not perfectly placed or fail to overlap and fade realistically, the audience might be unsatisfied without knowing why.

We often prefer a good fantasy. The painting above is from a book cover by Keith Parknson. Are its muted colors realistic? Professional photography is often characterized by richer colors and stronger contrast than the photographers truly saw. Realism is not always what we want. But good fiction offers something for real life. 

The burgeoning field of interactive simulations can seem a fruitless passtime. Among other uses, however, these simulations help us to understand — in part, by their imperfections — how wondrous is our physical reality. 

Stand silent and attentive on a lawn of grass and trees for just 5 minutes. Count the dynamics (elements in motion, change, or variation) within your immediate surroundings. Even a patch of grass 10-feet square can be a wonderland.

Your mind might be drawn first to the animals, which most plainly and interestingly move around. In the subtropical grass of my beloved Gulf Coast, a dozen species of insect are sure to wander that tiny environment on a summer day. 

But unfocus your eyes and watch for movement. Do you see the grass blades tilting and popping in the breeze — individually, chaotically? Do you see the light and shadows flickering across the ground? Are you just noticing tiny wildflowers or moths? Can you see fanciful patterns at your feet, as you might in the clouds above? Does a broken wing, a giant crumb, or a spared leaf tell you a story? 

What does the air feel like, in or between the breezes? What do you smell? What do you hear? Do natural sounds — the wind, the birds, squirrels — combine with mechanical sounds — nearby traffic, an electric hum, a fan, etc? 

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. As film makers and game designers place stories and activities within simulations of varying visions, we can see what we can’t see. So many elements normally ignored in the background of real experience as we focus on right priorities, we now can notice and consider by want of their inclusion in ever more complex and impressive fictions. 

Exploration of the real can benefit from enjoyment of the imaginary. It isn’t automatic or certain. Not every work is worth the time or expense. But if we give new expressions of imagination chances to impress us, there are often insights to be gained. We should live in reality. But we should dream with our eyes open. 

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine

    Great post!

    Beren and Luthien?

    • #1
  2. TBA Coolidge

    Aaron Miller:

    Thank you for Charon this. 

    • #2
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn


    • #3
  4. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt

    Nice post. The opening line reminded me of the fact that composers used to learn by copying other composers’ works, in the days before printing. There are scholars who believe that Mozart’s first symphony is really a practice transcription.

    • #4
  5. Stad Coolidge

    Computer games have gotten so real.  You can see individual blades of grass, insects flying around, and the sounds in the background further add to the feeling “this is real.”  Here’s an actual screenshot from Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (even oversized, this picture doesn’t do it justice):

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  6. She Reagan

    Beautiful post.

    Aaron Miller: Stand silent and attentive on a lawn of grass and trees for just 5 minutes. Count the dynamics (elements in motion, change, or variation) within your immediate surroundings. Even a patch of grass 10-feet square can be a wonderland.

    Or even just stare at a single blade of grass, or a daisy, or a stem of clover.  Same sort of thing.

    • #6