What If We Started Using the Word “Bands” Instead of “Teams”?

Maybe you played sports in high school. You played on a team. Or even of you didn’t play on a team, you cheered for your team. On Friday nights you’d watch your team go up against another team, from another high school that was geographically close to your own. You differentiated your teams by color and mascot. One team would defeat the other. If your … Continue reading What If We Started Using the Word “Bands” Instead of “Teams”?

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”

VR Creators are Morally Obligated to Scare the Hell out of Everyone

A still from The Brookhaven Experiment.

Why do we like scary entertainment? Psychologists have come up with a number of theories, including a need for catharsis, a curiosity for abnormal behavior, and a heightened sense of empathy for protagonists when they triumph over something evil. As someone whose adolescence was marked by a steady diet of Stephen King novels, I think our attraction to distractions that frighten us has something to do with coping with real-world horrors. Continue reading “VR Creators are Morally Obligated to Scare the Hell out of Everyone”

Twitter, Facebook, the Election, and VR

A cultural discussion is underway about whether and/or how Facebook and Twitter influenced the election. The New York Times has two pieces out today, Facebook, in Cross Hairs After Election, Is Said to Question its Influence and a think piece by Farhad Manjoo called Breaking Up with Twitter.

Marshall McLuhan

When you step into an argument about the effects of mass media, it’s useful to arm yourself with the philosophy of Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian media theorist who was once present enough on the cultural radar to appear as himself in a Woody Allen movie (Annie Hall). McLuhan’s often cryptic aphorisms have generated a fair amount of chin-stroking and head-scratching in undergraduate Communications departments over the years, but his most celebrated statement bears repeating: The medium is the message.

This is to say that the form in which content is delivered itself dictates how we interpret and interact with that content. Reading Stephen King’s The Shining isn’t the same as watching Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and not just because Kubrick changed a few details of the story. The very act of sitting in a chair reading a book at home is fundamentally different, on a cognitive level, than watching a movie in a theater among other people, or even at home on your sofa. These various methods of receiving a story engage different parts of the brain. Continue reading “Twitter, Facebook, the Election, and VR”

VR Today Column: Hollywood, Seattle, and Content

My first column, How Hollywood Will Succeed or Fail with VR Content went live on VR Today Magazine late yesterday. It’s something of a cri de couer about how to LA and Seattle should work together to create a robust VR content industry. VR Today Magazine is based in Denmark and helped by Nicklas Rasmussen. I intend for my weekly column to be more deliberately … Continue reading VR Today Column: Hollywood, Seattle, and Content

Spaces and Scale

Last week I had coffee with Robyn Miller, the co-creator, with his brother Rand, of the hit game Myst, which came out in 1993 and proceeded to invade the world’s CD-ROM drives. I got into Myst in the summer of 1995 and it was so absorbing that it frightened me. I lost a couple weeks to its puzzles and atmospheres and decided that if I wanted to write books I couldn’t afford to play video games anymore. I did cheat my way through their follow-up, Riven, however.

Robyn was generous with his insights and laughed when I told him that Myst scared me away from video games for a couple decades. Robyn left Cyan Worlds, the company he and Rand founded, to pursue other projects, but recently contributed music to Cyan Worlds’s beguiling VR game Obduction.

I knew Robyn would have deeply informed opinions about VR. We talked about the difference between cramming a story into a new medium and figuring out what a medium can do then creating a story that’s appropriate for it. To my mind, this means thinking about what’s compelling in VR then figuring out a way to deliver those experiences. Robyn offered that there are two things that people like to experience in VR: spaces and scale. Continue reading “Spaces and Scale”

Open Worlds

My golly-gee education in state-of-the-art-form video games continues. For the past couple nights I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption, which came out six years ago, or the Pleistocene era in tech terms. I’m coming to understand the possibilities of open world games in which you can just sort of wander around. I’ve shrugged off the main narrative to embark on excursions to a variety of … Continue reading Open Worlds

Who’s Studying Dreams and VR?

There’s anecdotal evidence that immersion in virtual/augmented reality alters consciousness. We need scientists to look into this. Some already are. I got a message from a product designer and concept developer named Ali Zareiee who lives in Oslo, Norway, who works closely with the organizations Oslo Science Park and Oslo MedTech. They’re starting to study the neurological effects of VR in Norway. Ali expressed interest … Continue reading Who’s Studying Dreams and VR?

VR and the Subconscious

Could virtual reality have an effect on the human subconscious more profound than any other form of communication? Last night I saw a thread on Facebook involving some local cool VR people. Willard Williams, an architect with a badass profile pic, posted the following: I overheard someone after the ‪#‎WINHUGR‬ meetup talking about how people who are just getting into VR/AR have no idea what … Continue reading VR and the Subconscious