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”

The Augnet: Where Pokemon Goes from Here

In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

 —Suarez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Exactitude of Science.” Translation by Andrew Hurley.


Jorge Luis Borges

Augmented reality gives us something that only Argentinian literary giant Jorge Luis Borges dared dream of–a map as vast as the terrain it demarcates. Pokemon Go is the first landmark augmented reality experience, but definitely not the last. Right now I imagine there are developers working on AR treasure hunts, games, and enterprise applications that will become the Pokemon Go of their various categories. All of these will form a collective commons of AR content: the Augnet.

The Augnet will allow us to annotate the world we see around us. Forget looking up Yelp reviews on your phone. You’ll be able to see Yelp reviews hovering in front of the restaurants you pass on the street. If you thought Amazon showrooming was a big deal now, just wait until you’re able to walk into a brick and mortar store wearing your AR device and see the Amazon prices and Buy Now buttons for items superimposed on those items in the real world.

One big milestone for the Augnet will be when someone develops a user generated content platform. Continue reading “The Augnet: Where Pokemon Goes from Here”