The Messenger - Immersion Issue #4: Real World Immersion

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The Messenger - Immersion Issue #4: Real World Immersion
By Socratus • Issue #48 • View online
These days immersion comes packaged with VR and XR, of virtual realities that are indistinguishable from physical reality. But how do we grasp immersion in physical reality?

Real World Immersion
These 10 Artists Are Making Urgent Work about the Environment
Here’s something you do all the time: you go into the kitchen, pick up a cup of coffee and walk back to the dining table. You don’t wonder if the coffee mug is still in the kitchen - of course it’s in your hand. Virtual worlds don’t work that way: you can copy a mug in virtual reality and walk with the copy into another room and no one will blink an eyelid.
In short, we know how the world works because we are immersed in it.
Our bodies know the difference between immersion in real and virtual worlds. One goal of VR is to make it hard to distinguish virtual realities from physical reality, and in order to do so, it will have to get some of these physical details right: it should not be possible to cut and paste cups from one VR room into another.
But is that what we want from virtual immersion?
Can VR art help us see the real world differently? - Vox
VR art might help us experience the world aslant, so to speak, from the perspective of other people or even other beings. I can’t be a whale in the real world, but I might be able to be one in VR. The downside of immersive media is the same as the upside: immersion obscures imagination.
Movies are already more constraining than novels and reality media will be even more constraining: you will only see and touch and hear what the reality creator wants you to see and touch and hear. As we move up the immersive ladder, we also increase the resource asymmetry between the creator and the consumer.
A reader of a novel is roughly equal to the writer: they too can pick up a pen and start writing (if only they had the skill to do so!), but it’s hard to create a scene in response to a movie and will be even harder to create a compelling VR experience: the costs of reality media bias them towards the largest studios.
Hard Problems
Opinion | ‘There’s Just No Doubt That It Will Change the World’: David Chalmers on V.R. and A.I. - The New York Times
David Chalmers has a new book called ‘Reality +’ on the new reality technologies, but if you don’t want to read a doorstop, the link above is an interview with the philosopher from a couple of years ago. Chalmers coined the phrase ‘the hard problem of consciousness’ and was one of the key thinkers in making consciousness studies a respectable topic of investigation, but in the last thirty years, the problem of consciousness has slowly but steadily shifted away from being a philosophical problem to becoming a scientific discipline. Not because the philosophical challenges have gone away, but because scientists are confident we can make progress after setting the hard problems aside. Anil Seth’s relatively new book on consciousness presents the scientific case from what’s perhaps the dominant framework.
Anil Seth on Being You: A New Science of Consciousness
Anil Seth on Being You: A New Science of Consciousness
David Chalmers’ shift away from consciousness to reality+ is one sign among many that a new domain of investigation is opening up. The ‘question of reality’ might be ripe for intense inquiry. After all, what’s the very hardest problem of them all?
Why is there something instead of nothing?
We might call that the ‘hard problem of existence.’ It’s a terribly puzzling question, for one the one hand you come to it with the assurance that you exist, so you know it in your bones, but on the other hand, what could be the alternative? Nothing? It’s impossible to ask the question of existence from outside the fold, for only beings who exist can puzzle about it. There’s no distance between the poser of the question and the object of their investigation.
The hunch is that reality media might help move the needle on the hard question of existence- if not the absolute question of ‘why is there anything at all?’ at least the relative question of ‘why is it this way and not that.’ This second question isn’t quite right either, but it’s the first step towards asking answerable questions. We will likely find interesting answers somewhere at the intersection of consciousness studies, a yet to exist ‘reality studies’ and newly invented reality media technologies.
Along with such deep philosophical questions, reality media - both physical and virtual - can also help us grasp the inner workings of wicked problems. We will see how in the next issue.
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Socratus

Illustrating Wicked Problems

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