Sunday, October 28, 2007

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars"

Virtual reality is a technology which electronically converts physical and mental impulses into a computerized facsimile; a digitalized doppelganger.

By putting on some electronic gear you automatically get plugged into cyberspace, a world of controllable illusion.

The brain, anxious to optimize the illusory sensation, grants them the credibility normally reserved for real experience.

At the moment the tools are rather crude, but it works like this: the Datasuit projects an image of the body out into space, the Eyphone conjures up the vistas, the Datagloves interprets your gestures.

Tilt your hand to the left, you look to the left; point your finger, and you move forward.

You are in effect free to go where you like and do what you will.

Using the software of world knowledge one could conduct a symphony orchestra or do a bit of brain surgery.

The more imaginative participants might mix imagery and sensations, play with time and space, or engage in auto-eroticism a field of fantasy referred to as Tellydildonics.

The options are seemingly limitless: jog around the moon, swim through banknotes, sit on the rings of Saturn, be a piano and play yourself.

Technology, said Max Frish, was the knack of so arranging the world that we do not have to experience it.

In much the same way, Virtual Reality bestows a sensation of achievement without the real experience.

I guess that presented with the option of walking around a Virtual Venice rather than the real Venice, many people would choose the former.

They'd prefer the homogeneous version rather than being in an old smelly city with traffic congestion and pigeon shit all over the place..

There is an anecdote about Kierkegaard standing rapt in thought in a municipal flower bed.
An irascible park keeper arrived and demanded to know what he was doing there.
"What are any of us doing here?" replied the sage.

His imagination didn't need an electronic substitute.

What I love about virtual reality is the notion that computers could provide a way for people to share their imagination with each other in new ways.

I am not interested in replacing the physical world or creating a substitute for it.

I am excited about the notion that you could get beyond this dilemma that we all live with; namely that we have infinite imagination and are completely free so long as we retreat into our heads, into our dreams, into our daydreams, and make everyone else disappear, but as soon as we want to share this with other people we become very much not free.

I would like virtual reality to provide a way out of that dilemma, where you have a world that is fully objective like the physical world, but also completely fluid like the imagination.

Jaron Lanier
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