[extropy-chat] Concerning Virtual Reality

Lee Corbin lcorbin at tsoft.com
Wed Mar 8 13:37:13 UTC 2006

Many confusions exist concerning virtual reality. The
most widespread, probably, is that anyone who is uploaded
and has subsequent experiences is ipso facto experiencing
them in VR. This isn't so! Consider two examples:

One, it may be that we're all uploaded now along with the
exact physics we measure, yet it would be inappropriate
to call this "virtual reality" because it *is* the reality
that we experience (as oppose to perceive).

Another example: the mistaken claim that our brains are
right now creating a virtual reality because of the
representations of our physical reality taking place
within them.  Just because the maps are not one-hundred
percent faithful is no reason to call this VR! That
*entirely* misses the important meaning of virtual reality.

Definition: a virtual reality is an *appearance* of a
physical reality in just the case that the calculations
resulting in subsequent brain states of an experiencer
do not take place on the same level as calculations of
his or her perceptions.

(This definition presumes an information theory of identity,
and that one's experience after being uploaded can be in
principle completely indistinguishable from mundane experience.
I'm making some other assumptions here that are familiar to
readers of this forum, but it would be dull to enumerate them.)

In other words, the "physics" that compute your next brain
state are *not* the same "physics" (which importantly, may
even be lacking entirely) that compute your next perceptions.
To remain sane, we better keep firm the boundary between
you and the source of your perceptions.

  To dramatically illustrate one aspect: you awaken on an
  airless planetoid and discover that you've become a 200
  foot tall robot capable of picking up small objects like
  Volkswagens in one hand, crushing them, and discarding
  them hundreds of feet away. Evidently powered by a nuclear
  reactor, you also discover an immunity to cosmic rays.
  As a puerile reading of the situation, yes, you "are"
  where your focus of perceptions are. Yet one day when
  perusing the contents of an immense warehouse, you 
  discover a tiny pink form resting horizontally on a
  nondescript shelf a couple of hundred feet from the
  floor. It looks quite familiar on close inspection, and
  you suddenly realize just where you *really* are: wire
  leads from the body's brain travel to radio wave
  generators that control what up to now you had believed
  to be "your" body.
  So you see that you are *not* where your focus of 
  perception is. You have to face the reality that you
  really are in the brain of that little pink form.

(That was actually, back in the late eighties, was the
first inkling I had that a number of people simply were
not grasping the situation; they really believed that you
*were* where it seemed to you you were. Remember? Anyway,
the above was my retort.)

Recently, it's gotten worse. I'm seeing more science fiction
that shows that a lot of us in the 90's nurtured our own
intuitive beliefs about what VR is, and I now see that we
don't all have exactly the same notions about it.

More later---but it is nice that the Wikipedia page on Virtual
Reality begins by noting Damien Broderick's first coining of
the famous term.


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