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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

All power to the imagination.

Alternative realities

Read an article today which made me think of Johnstone’s Paradox. Ramsay Dukes/ Lionell Snell came up with it about 20 years ago. Paradox being that as soon as a sufficiently realistic computer model of reality exists, it will become impossible to establish from internal evidence if we exist in the ‘original’ reality or one of the constructed versions of ‘reality’.

Pretty much a standard science fiction concept - Philip K. Dick amongst many others played around with the idea, Johnstone’s Paradox differing only in that once inside the paradox, no way back to ‘original’ reality - so no Matrix style Gnostic escape routes. There is no ‘kind of way out of here’[All along the watchtowers]

Johnstone's Paradox (from Words Made Flesh by Ramsay Dukes: date ?)

1) if reality is ultimately mechanistic it could be programmed into an information structure and generate multiple sub-realities (witness the fact that each of us inhabits our own subjective sub-universe, plus the book's own prediction of virtual realities).
2) These subrealities would generally be variants from the original rather than exact copies (witness the widespread existence of magic, reincarnation and gods in our subjective realities) and so would seldom themselves be purely mechanistic.
3) As subrealities generate their own sub-subrealities the probability that we happen to occupy the original mechanistic reality shrinks toward zero.
4) Therefore, if reality is ultimately mechanistic, then we are most unlikely to be living in a mechanistic universe.

Observer article about Second Life, an online world which mimics Sims style this world rather than the other worlds of, e.g., World of Warcraft. Interesting. I have speculated about the ‘green’ potential for such alternative realities - that if the struggle for status could be relocated into the digisphere (cyberspace as we used to call it), then pressure on real world resources could be eased off.

Instead of sucking this world dry in attempts to satisfy unsatisfiable desires for consumer goods and services, infinitely variable binary bits could replace finitely constrained actual atoms.

Take housing as an example. What if, instead of power, wealth, status etc. being judged on physical size/ location/ interior decor of physical houses; status was re-attributed to the size, detail, decor, etc. of one’s digital dwelling place? Actual housing could then become more functional.

I tend to jump ahead - can’t remember when I came up with this idea, 15 years ago maybe, long before any chance of actualisation. Inspired by suggestion (not sure how true) that native people of north-west America have the most complex mythologies known. That they spent long cold dark winters creating complex other worlds - but, as with all myth, other worlds closely interwoven with this world.

Or William Blake - lived in virtual poverty but created a dense, powerful and enduring world of the Imagination - which he considered to be the true world.

But conflicts with rationalist vision (Bacon, Newton, Locke and Hobbes as Blake had it) of the physical trasnformation of the real world. Therefore somewhat ironic that hard physics and mathematical logic have opened (cleansed?) the Doors of Perception through which millions/ billions are now streaming into these Other Worlds of the Imagination.

Second Life appears to be as mundane as you can get, but perhaps its very ordinariness makes it more subversive of actuality than the high fantasy of World of Warcraft? Maybe.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

! ! ! !

6:42 pm  
Blogger Bruno Nolano said...

An interesting idea.

But I am imagining the status-seeking consumption-obsessed person. Online they spend spend spend their money, transformed from the boring person they are in First Life into the sexy glamorous Second Life persona. Check out my online astral palace customly built by up and coming avant-garde architect, my exotic island retreat. Digital sun reflects realisticly off the 3d sea. Labyrinths of Computerized Marvels. I’m downloading new made to order tattoos for my avatar. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/56083391@N00/188143644) (Reminded of Gibson’s Idoru novel.)

What is missing from the equation is the First Life body. As the avatar is rendered as a tanned athlete, the real body is trapped in an unhealthy pose. Spine and neck, eyes and lungs, the user loses sensitivity to their unhappiness. The body forced by the mind to betray its own function. Muscles atrophying, the fingers twitch non-stop along the futuristic control panel. Body-awareness is gone. Organism warped into something it never needed.

This is us already in a way. The scholar’s ravaged eyes as he reads on and on into the early morning. The damage done to our bodies by stress and alienated labour. Slouched on the couch watching TV. Second Life is the logical continuation of this.

Body wants to live, dance, walk, run around, shout, swim, fuck. Want to laugh, not type lol or click on the laugh macro. Want to cry, and not :-(. And not just want, Need. If Need is repressed, there are consequences. The body will retaliate. Arguably this was one of the principle causes of patriarchy, capitalism and what have you. Humanity somehow managed to alienate itself from its nature. Repressed nature punished itself. Those who created the biggest catastrophes were in reality slaves of the demons generated by the repression of Need. Pharaoh in his bullet proof limo, shielded from the universe, secretly wishing he could dance to the drum with everyone else, even if he never realized it. Bomb them, the demon tells him, kill them all.

I was sitting behind my screen typing away. Slowly my thoughts narrowed into the most constricted tunnel. After days of this I realized I wasn’t myself any more. Was typing things I did not want to mean, my mind kept working but it was just mind and forgot it was bodymind. Body reacted.

I had a dream. I am in a forest. A group of wild raceless tribesmen appear out of nowhere, almost naked, holding spears, they have other secret things in small pouches. I feel awed at how much they are in their element. The way they move and interact is mysterious, they work at other frequencies, I cannot grasp it, it seems completely illogical. I speak to them in wild language, I do not know it too well but I get by. They let me go. I return again, in the same dream, this time someone else is with me. He is my friend but I cannot see his face. Again the tribesmen appear. I talk to them in wild language. My friend makes the mistake of telling them a sentence in tame language. One of them is suddenly behind him and pricks him on the back of his neck. I know it is poisoned. The tribesman looks at me remorseless. I lead my friend out of the forest, knowing he is dying. He is confused, awkward and dependent upon me.

Thinking about the dream later, I think I was split in two and the friend was me too. The part of me the wild does not approve of.

The body will retaliate I think. It’s already been happening for ages anyway. The solution is somewhere else.

8:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My instincts go along with Bruno's - too long at the keyboard, or even at the cinema with surround sound and I am fidgeting.

What he says about the scholar wasting away, or the pharaoh in his car reminds me of my idea about the trade between strength and power. The boy Pharoah orders the slave to carry him and so exercises his power. By carrying him the slave exercises his strength, by obeying him he sacrafices his own power. The Pharoah grows weaker as all is done for him, but his power is increasing, while the slave grows stronger but is losing his power. The end point is a Pharoah who HAS to be carried as he is so weak, and a slave who HAS to obey because he has lost all power of self determination. If he only knew he could reach out and snap that Pharoah's neck...

My own hunch is not so much to live in the avatar as to holiday there. In my True Story of the Cathars i suggest that our reality was created initially as a government science project, a quarantined environment for genetic modification research, but it was privatised and bought out by the entertainment industry as a virtual holiday experience for souls. That is why it is so hellish, and why 'spirit' (in the form of religion etc) makes life even worse on this Earth - because spirits incarnate into our bodies for kicks. Just as we go from our suburban comfort to watch a movie about the horrors of Vietnam, so they incarnate into war zones for the kicks and for the "growth experience". The sense I have that our lives are being commoditised is exactly that - our Earth has gone mainstream as a holiday venue and life here is now a package holiday...

3:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lionel I read the True Story of the Cathars. It caused some tangental thinking and made a lot of sense, as a poetic metaphor that is.

Looking at it literally (if you accept the metaphor/literally split, which to an extent I do) that scenario is not feasible in terms of modern technology. Unlike the Gibson vision of cyberspace as a totally involving reality which takes place on the level of all senses, the internet remains contained within an interface which is very limited when compared to real physical life. I lie on my friend's floor reading, he lies on the couch reading too, but we can feel each other even though we dont look at or talk to each other. I find it unlikely that any technology will be able to mimic this experience in any depth.

This is an assumption but it's based on experience.

9:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS what a boring holiday second life looks like. Dont even accept the concept of 'holiday'; it's already commodified in itself. Life is life, all days are holi whether we travel or not.

9:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe what lionel meant by holiday is more like travelling. Sure every day is holy, but when you travel you see other people and how they live. Because they are different, it broadens your outlook in general. Sometimes you can even stay and adopt their mode of living.

The internet/"cyberspace"/MMORPGs are a good for stopping by and observing (holiday). Living here in chatrooms and blogs is not good for either the body or the mind, like bruno said. Maybe living online can provide solace for some but it's by no means a mass solution to anything. In many ways it's an opiate type addiction, I think it's important not to forget that.

9:38 pm  

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