The Upside of Reality

 
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I can’t wait to show my folks the virtual pictures!

Imagine that, years from now, Virtual Reality hardware and simulations have advanced to a point where giant, richly-detailed virtual worlds — each with seemingly limitless potential for experience and interaction — are possible. Imagine, for example, deciding to spend a few hours of your first day of vacation in such a simulated world. Then, finding it a genuinely thrilling experience, you return there on every subsequent day of that vacation.

In this virtual world, you are free of countless limitations of reality. Your senses are sharper and you even enjoy new senses. The environments you experience are beautiful and idealized, free of decay and grime. If you want to have relaxed conversations with distant ancestors or great figures of history, you can do it. If you want a daring adventure with dragons or pirates, spaceships or submarines, cannons or spells, you can do it. They’re all — equally — just a few clicks away.

In virtual reality, risks are laughed away. When you fall, you fly. If you are attacked, bullets fall like dust from your body. Nothing hurts and nothing can stop you. A heads-up display appears at command, ensuring you are never lost or limited to your present experience. You can do anything, anytime, anywhere.

And then … someone pulls the plug. You’re stuck in reality again. With reality, you are returned to the limitations of physics, to the flaws of human society, to pain, injury, and death. Adventures are full of risk, and are probably unaffordable. Conversations are full of misunderstanding and distractions.

But reality must have good aspects which could not be simulated even with the most ambitious technological know-how and imaginative crafting, right? The limitations of reality seem comparatively simple to list. What are the opportunities of reality that no simulation could offer? Not just today, but not even in an optimistic future?

My philosophy professor once posited that the way we distinguish reality from dreams is that reality always picks up where it left off. But video games do that as well. When virtual reality can offer grand experiences like TV-based games, users might start to wonder what’s so important or great about reality. The old questions of philosophers like Descartes and Hume might gain traction again, and reality will seem like a mere game. What will coax people back to solid ground?

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told / by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing. —Macbeth

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  1. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    Mike H:

    Aaron Miller: The more one indulges a fantasy, the more tempting it will become to enact that fantasy. That conclusion is shared by agnostic psychologists who witness rapists’ obsession with pornography and use roleplay exercises to train good habits.

    I’m pretty sure this is completely false and pornography reduces rape, not makes one more likely to commit rape. The same is seen when violent movies come out and temporarily reduce the rate of violent crime.

    Genuinely curious what the data is on this.  Seems like there would be a lot of confounding factors.

    Also, I’d imagine someone who is currently driven toward an obsession would partake in fantasy more than a non-obsessed person.  For a more benevolent example, people playing sports games are generally also people who are interested in watching sports and following teams.  The interest exists, it just seeks multiple outlets.  I’m not sure if playing sports games kills your interest in watching sports on TV or being a virtual criminal makes you less interested in being a real criminal.

    As a side note, stuff like this keeps me from cancelling my subscription.  Listening to more discussion of the sins/virtues of the GOP frontrunner is like running sandpaper on my eyeballs.

    • #31
  2. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Many studies show that frequent porn users (we are discussing habits of thought, not random musings) progress to greater frequency, longer usage, and more severe subjects in their porn viewing. The escalation of severity and oddity is due to increased objectification of persons. The indulged sexual impulse is like a drug, resulting in the same reward-chemical production from the body, and psychological addiction.

    It is common sense from ancient times and verified by modern psychology that deliberate habits of thought eventually produce instincts. Objectification of persons for one’s own pleasure can become such an instinct.

    There are many more factors involved in our behavior than our unspoken impulses. But there’s not a person alive who has not occasionally allowed a desire to overrule good sense and sympathy. The more extraordinary the habit of mind, the more extraordinary the potential for willful action.

    I’ll leave it at that, since we had this discussion sometime before. Reference to porn and rape was a throwaway example to underscore the significance of unacted but deliberate thoughts. Replace it with a better example, certainly.

    • #32
  3. Dan Hanson Thatcher
    Dan Hanson
    @DanHanson

    I now have an HTC Vive,  which is a virtual reality system with ‘room scale’ reality – it has motion sensors which can tell where your body is with sub-millimetre accuracy,  so when you are wearing the headset you are transported into another world that you can actually move around in.  Think  Star Trek’s ‘Holodeck’.

    It also comes with motion controllers that are supremely accurate – accurate enough that you can’t perceive any difference between what you tell your hands to do and what your virtual hands also do.  The accuracy and perception is so good that you can juggle the controllers in the air,  or catch one that someone throws to you.  It’s all natural and instinctive.

    One of the launch games is an archery game – I shoot a real bow,  and picking up the virtual bow, nocking an arrow, and firing it felt exactly as it should.  The arrows went where I aimed them using standard bow technique.  The controllers even use ‘haptic feedback’ to make you feel the little click as the arrow nock locks onto the string.  Incredible.

    The first program I bought for it was The Apollo 11 VR Experience.  The pictures and 2D videos don’t do it justice.   The game transports you into the cockpit of the Apollo 11 capsule,  and you can interact with controls,  lean over to look out the windows,  etc.  Armstrong and Aldrin are there in full 3D models – they look like Disney animatronics when you look at them in VR. Not alive,  but definitely real and sitting right next to you.

    You get to experience the liftoff with the actual communications as your soundtrack.  Then you find yourself floating in space with a vantage point to watch the lunar orbit insertion burn,  the docking with the LEM,  etc.  You get to ride the LEM down to the surface with Neil Armstrong and walk around on the surface of the moon.

    Bear in mind that all these spaces are sized exactly right according to your perception.  You instantly get a sense for what these spaces were like.  And the sensation of really entering the Moon’s orbit and being able to look around and see the Earth behind you and all that is just astounding,  and incredibly educational even if you’re a space nut who already knows a lot about the missions.

    This is the best of Virtual Reality.

    • #33
  4. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    OmegaPaladin:

    Mike H:

    Aaron Miller: The more one indulges a fantasy, the more tempting it will become to enact that fantasy. That conclusion is shared by agnostic psychologists who witness rapists’ obsession with pornography and use roleplay exercises to train good habits.

    I’m pretty sure this is completely false and pornography reduces rape, not makes one more likely to commit rape. The same is seen when violent movies come out and temporarily reduce the rate of violent crime.

    Genuinely curious what the data is on this. Seems like there would be a lot of confounding factors.

    Also, I’d imagine someone who is currently driven toward an obsession would partake in fantasy more than a non-obsessed person. For a more benevolent example, people playing sports games are generally also people who are interested in watching sports and following teams. The interest exists, it just seeks multiple outlets. I’m not sure if playing sports games kills your interest in watching sports on TV or being a virtual criminal makes you less interested in being a real criminal.

    As a side note, stuff like this keeps me from cancelling my subscription. Listening to more discussion of the sins/virtues of the GOP frontrunner is like running sandpaper on my eyeballs.

    Oh yeah, these are the good conversations, not the ones on pure politics. Just try to stick it out for 3 months or so after the election (after people get over their severe depression) and Ricochet goes back to talking about interesting things almost exclusively.

    • #34
  5. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Aaron Miller:Many studies show that frequent porn users (we are discussing habits of thought, not random musings) progress to greater frequency, longer usage, and more severe subjects in their porn viewing. The escalation of severity and oddity is due to increased objectification of persons. The indulged sexual impulse is like a drug, resulting in the same reward-chemical production from the body, and psychological addiction.

    I disagree. The escalation has little to do with objectifying people (even more), though I admit I’ve never had an intuitive understanding of whatever the hell “objectifying” is, and whether or not it is obviously always a bad thing. It has to do with seeking novelty. Men’s brains especially are programed to seek new and different mates and when a porn consumption gets habitual the “drug” aspect is exploiting that innate desire.

    It is common sense from ancient times and verified by modern psychology that deliberate habits of thought eventually produce instincts. Objectification of persons for one’s own pleasure can become such an instinct.

    There are many more factors involved in our behavior than our unspoken impulses. But there’s not a person alive who has not occasionally allowed a desire to overrule good sense and sympathy. The more extraordinary the habit of mind, the more extraordinary the potential for willful action.

    I’ll leave it at that, since we had this discussion sometime before. Reference to porn and rape was a throwaway example to underscore the significance of unacted but deliberate thoughts. Replace it with a better example, certainly.

    When a man has sex, his desire to have sex drops considerably for quite a while. Let’s say someone has a strong desire to do bad things sexually, and they know it’s bad. People have strong desires to sin, right? Well, it seems obvious to me that in a moment of weakness they could turn to the fantasy of porn as an outlet instead of suffering and perhaps snapping in the “real world.” It’s obviously less bad to do that rather than seeing if you can withstand your impulses, right?

    • #35
  6. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I skip nearly every Trump conversation these days. I will try to come up with more non-political, or at least non-election, topics to discuss.

    Your thoughts on my augmented reality post are welcome.

    • #36
  7. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Mike H: When a man has sex, his desire to have sex drops considerably for quite a while. Let’s say someone has a strong desire to do bad things sexually, and they know it’s bad. People have strong desires to sin, right? Well, it seems obvious to me that in a moment of weakness they could turn to the fantasy of porn as an outlet instead of suffering and perhaps snapping in the “real world.” It’s obviously less bad to do than rather than seeing if you can withstand your impulses, right?

    True. But that’s arguably substituting one bad habit with another. It’s like encouraging a mean drunk to take up smoking. It will do, but better to encourage good habits.

    People often try to abstain from bad habits by just thinking really hard about not wanting to do them. It’s generally more effective to redirect your thoughts and actions to a good habit when a bad impulse strikes.

    The meaning of “objectification” is divorcing a human being’s body and personality. It means looking at a person like a toy for one’s own selfish use. We could reasonable debate whether or not that is necessarily harmful or wrong, but I’ll leave that for another time.

    • #37
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