Virtual Reality

Question: If you had the chance, would you consider living someone else’s life?

Published by

Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

19 thoughts on “Virtual Reality”

  1. This isn’t exactly what you’re asking. But When we were told my little grandson wasn’t going to live, I wished I could take his place. Let me die, but let him live. I’m glad it didn’t work that way, cuz he didn’t give up and die as expected. He courageously fights for every ounce of recovery and has had more strength and optimism than I could have had. I Thank God every day for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am going with “NO”. But that is a qualified answer. Qualified with religious/metaphysical type stuff that I wont get into except to bookmark in case my answer comes back to haunt me.

    Basically… condiments on request.

    But NO.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. =)

      This is interesting to me because if our world continues to go virtual, then this opens more opportunities for people to create the self that they want to be, much like the Facebook or Instagram or blog self. The online avatar may become more important than the “real” self, and for many it already is.

      So as that happens, the search for the “true self” might become anachronistic, a relic of the past, belonging to the modern world but the pre-virtual modern world. The journey to find yourself or to “know thyself” seems increasingly irrelevant.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The whole “search for my self”/”find myself” mentality is up for grabs and seems intensified in the modern/post modern age.

        The picture in your posts suggests that I might want to be Brad and wake up with Angelina. Like some designer fantasy thing. Reminds me of a TV show when I was a kid.

        On the other hand, I want the Spirit of God to dwell in me, to be what my creator made me to be rather than my fantastic whims. The attempt at self is itself part of the problem. Instead I advocate a Gal. 2:20 kind of life. (At least I aim to.)

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Galatians 2:20 is a passage that I’ve thought a good deal about because it most directly correlates to my explorations in Buddhist meditation. The word Paul uses in this passage is “ego,” the word we translate as “I.” It’s transliterated as “ego,” which led to Freud popularizing the term in the early 20th century. The basic idea is clear: Paul’s ego has receeded into the background (or perhaps has dissolved, entirely) and in its place is simply “Christ in me.” The mentality that revovles around “I” is exchanged for what many Christian contemplatives refer to simply as “Christ consciousness,” an ego-free state of being that quite naturally acts with self-less compassion and generosity. This, I think, is the heart of Christian faith, and I think it is the core of spiritual growth, across religious and spiritual traditions. Christ consciousness seems to render pointless the quest to “find myself,” in the sense that our concern for our “self” ceases to be about longing for some better version of “I,” which tend to revolve around the mundane narcissism of wondering why “I” can’t look like Brad or Angelina, or why can’t “I” have more money or more friends or be more successful, etc. The search to fill the desires of the “I” are infinite, as Jesus and Buddha and so many other spiritual teachers have taught.

          But how will this look as the world becomes more virtual and our “self” is not longer restricted to our physical body?

          Many people are already living a good deal of their lives in the virtual world, as avatars, whether that be on Facebook or Instagram or blogs or whatever. If you can create a virtual self that more resembles what the “I” craves, then what?

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Sin made zombies of us a long time ago. “virtual reality” is a dim reflection of a dim reflection. You will never find yourself there, though it is just a dressed up version of the same old black hole we were already talking about.

        In other settings, we address this stuff by asking What does it mean to truly be human?

        In the monotheistic, Christian (perhaps Judeo as well) worldview, we must look deeper into Gen 1-3 specifically, but also at Jesus (Christian exclusive now) and draw the conclusions waiting for us there.

        But honestly, if you want ketchup with your mustard…


  3. I would be happy enough to “visit” someone else’s life, just to see another person’s perspective, as long as it could be done in a compressed format. Like, I lie down for an hour and experience a few days of another person reality.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Fuck, man. That was intense.

      I just finished that episode. I hadn’t quite made it that far in the Black Mirror chronicles. I had just finished season 3 when I left for Alaska, last spring.

      I sort of have to be in the right mood to watch an episode of Black Mirror, but I’m rarely disappointed. Brooker has invested quite a bit of time into the project, and I think it’s paid off. I just read something, however, about how they are going in a new direction for season 5, something about a “choose your own adventure” type of thing. Sounds gimmicky, but who knows?


    2. In any event….back to the episode….I recall reading an essay by a philosophy professor several years back, about whether or not it would be possible to transfer consciousness to a machine. It was in response to Ray Kurzweil and other transhumanists who are looking forward to the “singularity”, when human beings can merge with machines, and hence achieve immortality.

      The professor who wrote the paper was something like a Heideggerian, and he argued alone those lines. His basic refutation of Kurzweil and the transhumanists was that consciousness is linked to physical body. Mind and matter are joined at the hip, so to speak, and can’t be separated because consciousness does not exist in a vacuum. Consciousness is actually embedded in our physical stuff, hence without the human material there is no mind.

      It was convincing to me, at the time. I’d still like to believe it to be true…..especially after watching the “Black Museum” episode. [shiver]

      Liked by 1 person

    3. That hairnet-like device the MD used in the first part of the episode is like a clunky version of the Neural Lace technology that Elon Musk’s company Neuralink is developing for linking brains to computers. The invention of writing was a way for people to offload memory to external devices. Do people from cultures with written language experience the world differently from people in non-literate cultures? Probably. Will people fitted with seamlessly direct brain-to-machine interfaces experience the world differently from the way we do? Probably. I think that’s part of the argument for the transhuman: throughout history humans have been extending their consciousnesses beyond their biological bodies. Is there a firm line separating human from non-human or posthuman consciousness? Probably not: if it happens incrementally you might not even think it’s a big deal. If human subjectivity gradually becomes hybridized, embedded in some combination of interior and exterior cognitive devices, then offloading such a hybrid consciousness to another host, or to the cloud, might not be as much of a radical departure as it would be for us in the here-and-now of early AI and early neuroscience.

      The Black Mirror episode: I was intending to watch the first installment of season 4 but somehow episode 6 jumped the queue. I’ll have to backfill the earlier ‘sodes. This one reminded me of the “White Christmas” episode, which was the first season I think. People exhibit high levels of cruelty in this series. I wonder if Brooker envisions these future technologies as means by which people can act on their already dark impulses, or if he believes that the future — impersonality, automation, societal fragmentation, rampant capitalism, etc. — will amp up people’s cruelty to unprecedented levels.

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      1. My impression from watching BM is that humans will respond to their environments and to the stimulus in their environment. Hence, the decisions that society makes, regarding technology, will be the determinant factors that shape us. This could just be my own bias, though, wherein I come down on the side of “nurture” in the old “nature versus nurture” debate. You and I have discussed that debate quite a bit, in the past, and we’ve both seemed to come down in the side of “no self.”

        It’s certainly not inconceivable that we could be transferring consciousness in the future, but I still have some Heideggerian hangups. And yes, you are correct that we are already transferring consciousness and have been since the advent of writing. In this sense, though, language itself is an act of transferring consciousness, in whatever form it takes. However, there’s always the necessary act of the other party to interpret that consciousness, which is never done in the same exact way.

        When I wrote this blog post, I had in my mind a particular meaning, that I had hoped to transfer to your consciousness, but the reality is that it didn’t happen, not to the exact and precise degree that I had hoped. This is because your experiences and conditioning are quite different from mine. And I guess that’s the Heideggerian rub, so to speak: how do you transfer not simply information but also the conditioning upon which conditioning is based.

        Conditioning, however, is something that occurs within the body. It’s based on physical conditioning, things like intuition and emotional IQ. There are impulses and habits of mind and heart, all of which run through our nervous system and other biological matter.

        The lesser know hermeneutics philosopher was Gadamer, whom I probably appreciated more than Heidegger or Derrida. For Gadamer, each translation was a new work, and he also said that every new reading of a work was a new work, because there were two elements to a piece of literature : the work itself and the interpretation of the reader. Together they make each reading a new event, a new work.

        At the time that I studied Gadamer, I was in seminary and I thought this was intensely profound, with significant theological ramifications. But I never really had a chance to flesh that out, since I sort of dropped out of the religious world soon after seminary. For this discussion though, this all seems relevant.

        What I am suggesting — in this Heideggerian / Gadamerian / Derridian manner — is that we can transfer data and information but that it is by definition impossible to transfer the elements of consciousness upon which interpretation is based, because these are physically embedded, incapable of being separated from the physical conditioning that is the sine qua non of what we call “consciousness.” So in the episode of BM, two consciousness existed side-by-side, as it were, in one body. However, the episode itself made it clear that what had actually happened was the creation of a new consciousness, a hybrid and a merger, the creation of something new.

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    4. So I was telling daughter Kenzie about this issue we’re addressing of the cruelty exhibited by characters in Black Mirror, and it turns out that she and one of her pals had this very same conversation last night. Kenzie’s view (as interpreted by me) is that in the future as envisioned in the series people become desensitized to certain kinds of actions that we regard as cruel, in large part because future human life becomes less visceral and tangible, more virtual and abstract, so the cruelty doesn’t feel as real. Is the species getting crueller? Not necessarily: in the old days ordinary people slavery for granted and attended public executions as a night’s entertainment — behaviors that horrify us today.

      I’m not in the no-self camp. I am skeptical about the one true self, the permanent essence that each person has. I think of a self as a process that emerges from a person’s engagement with the world and other people, with one’s own body and brain. So yeah, if the world changes then it’s likely that the kinds of selves that emerge in such a world would change. By implication too a self manifests differently when engaging with different people. The self-process is interactive rather than residing statically as an entity in someone’s head, which I think links to Gadamer’s social ecology.

      I just pulled my Gadamer Truth and Method book off the shelf; the bookmark is stuck in at page 418, which I guess is where I stopped — only 150 pages to go! I’m pretty sure I picked this book up neither in seminary nor in psych grad school but when I started writing fiction, thinking about the relationship between writer, reader, and text. It makes sense that the idea of entering into another’s consciousness appeals to fiction writers, since that’s what they’re doing when they’re creating characters. Readers too perhaps, if they identify empathically with characters in stories. Of course that begs the question of the status of characters’ selves who appear in books that are never read by anyone…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Excellent observations about human cruelty. Human beings have the capability for cruelty or for kindness, and much of this seems to depend on what a society considers permissable, but it’s more than just taboos and laws, it’s also the stories and narratives that we use to make sense of our lives. Take homosexuality as an example. If you happen to believe (as part of your narrative/worldview/perspective) that LGBT+ persons ought to be treated with equality, then cruelty seems, well, cruel. On the other end of the spectrum, if you believe that homosexuality is a “deviant” lifestyle that only evil people engage in, the kinds of persons who molest children and are steeped in depravity, then violence against an LGBT+ person is not necessarily “cruel,” per se. Beating or killing a gay person might be a service to God and/or society. Hence, within the latter narrative/worldview/perspective, one finds an outlet for such violence.

        So more and more I’ve been thinking about the narratives that we adopt and how that gives us permission for certain behaviors that may otherwise seem cruel to others who don’t share that perspective. If it’s considered a form of entertainment to watch an execution in the town square, then a person can do so. If your perspective/narrative/worldview considers it perverse to watch — and enjoy — an execution, then something inside you will likely be repulsed by the idea. We think such repulsion is the result of something internal, but that’s only partially true because most/all of the narratives/worldviews that shape our internal world are adopted from external sources.

        So will the future be more cruel? Less cruel? About the same? It probably depends on how our narratives change.

        We seem to be living in an era where many folks are aware of how narratives/worldviews/perspectives work, at least in a crude way, and I think a good deal of national (and international) tensions right now are based on that very thing. If you consider yourself a “conservative” here in the U.S.A., then you don’t want to digest any information or news that comes from a source with a narrative that differs from yours. (And the reverse is true, as well, although from my experience of being on both sides of the spectrum, I find that there a good deal more liberals willing to engage the other side than visa-versa.)

        Not to make this into a Jeremiad, but I don’t necessarily see a lot of hope for breaking the gridlock, since the conflict/tension is about overarching perspectives, not facts. Truth and fact only seem to matter insofar as they related to one’s narrative. But, then again, in my lifetime truth and fact haven’t really been all that important. What’s been far more important is what you get paid at work, what kind of cool thing you’re going to buy next, what kind of status you have, etc. In short, consumer capitalism hits us at the level of impulse, and hence it’s always been the most important motivation in most people’s lives. “It’s the economy, stupid.” I think a lot of people are mad as hell, for the simple reason that they have been forced to pay attention to politics.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi. No, but I am enjoying experiencing myself in different locations which does make me feel different… BM S4E6 I had to turn it off and it creeped me out for weeks and weeks and I never watched the rest of the season. The trouble with BM is you never know what you’re going to get… I liked the first episode of S4, the Star Trek one, and I LOVED S4E4, the dating app one, which I take as a believable ‘explanation’ for ‘reality.’ All the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadiewolf2014, the episodes of BM creep me out too, so I usually take it slow. It’s great speculative fiction, though, because the reason BM creeps me out is because both the premises (e.g., transferring consciousness) as well as the speculation as to what that could mean for humankind, are all very convincing and eerily plausible.

      Liked by 1 person

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