Yesterday in a no-frills classroom in UW’s Mechanical Engineering building, I met Dr. Tom Furness. The occasion was a class taught by Abighyan “AK” Kaustubh in which teams of students shared the VR apps they’d created. AK had invited me to be a guest judge of these projects. I listened to Tom and AK’s questions and suggestions to the students and sensed the weight of this peculiar historical moment. Here was the grandfather of virtual reality and one of Seattle’s brilliant young VR pioneers coaxing a generation of engineers to make something with this new medium. Continue reading “Nests”

Virtual Reality is the Only Reality

by Chris Robinson, Philosopher At-Large


It takes a special kind of crazy to disbelieve reality, and when a philosopher falls down that rabbit hole, he doesn’t often return. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer declared the material world to exist “solely in our representation.” He compared the world to a dream. A hundred years later, Argentinian fabulist Jorge Luis Borges fell down the same rabbit hole and affirmed that the world is “an activity of the mind,” “a dream / the souls erect in shared magic.” He took it a step further: if the world is nothing but a dream, then “there is an instant / in which its being is immeasurably endangered / and it is the shuddering instant of the dawn, / when few are those who are dreaming the world.” Borges took this idea seriously, returning to it again and again. In “Avatars of the Tortoise” he sees Zeno’s paradox, infinity, and other mathematical mind-breakers, as “tenuous and eternal crevices of unreason which tell us [the world] is false.”

Borges lived in an analog world, and he died before computers advanced far enough to make the idea of simulated reality plausible. Fortunately, that rabbit hole exists outside of time, and philosopher Nick Bostrum was able to logic his way into the idealist tea-party. He has since become a prominent thinker about the danger of artificial superintelligence, but his first claim to (philosophical) fame was the “Simulation Argument,” which, in brief, goes like this:

If future humanity has “enormous amounts of computing power” (which seems very reasonable), and if they are interested in running “detailed simulations of their forebears” (wouldn’t you be?), and if “these simulated people are conscious” (as many cognitive philosophers think), then most minds like ours would be simulated minds, and “we would be rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than among the original biological ones.” Lots of technologists and futurists, including Elon Musk, take this idea seriously. If only Borges had lived to see rise of scientific idealism! Continue reading “Virtual Reality is the Only Reality”