Could one attempt to make a virtual world that does not mimic or replicate concepts orienting from our world?
A Virtual Unreality so to say, and if one could, How would that world be perceived? and how would the experience of that world effect our experience and perception of reality?
One could assume that experiencing something to which one has no reference would somehow fundamentally alter ones perception of reality, which to me makes this a very interesting question to engage with. I also find engaging with technology on a sensorial/perceptual level interesting in general as it has the potential to, as Jaron Lanier puts it, “wake up aspects of human character that might be functional that we haven’t noticed before”.
So if we assume that you could, how would you go about it? How can you attempt to create something which you cannot imagine? Because you couldn’t really plan it could you?
You would kind-of have stumble upon it.
Stumbling it is.
But you would have to stumble in a direction where conditions of novelty seem favourable. Some sort of method is needed.
One idea could be to start translating aspects of reality (or the experience of reality, mejor dicho) into a virtual framework in a non-direct way in order to study how the translation plays out, as well as what kind of dissonance or novelty you might encounter. In the case that novel elements or experiences would present themselves in such an experiment one could then attempt to remove the non-novel elements in order to find out what you are left with, and (if interesting) try to expand on that.
/* If you would encounter several minute novelties or dis-coherencies then maybe combined they could produce some sort of self coherent alternate "world"? */
This is of course a purely hypothetical long-shot but it definitely seems worth a try, and anyway, if no novel unreality is to be found, then one could at least encounter some interesting experiential poetics in the process, as well as gain new insights into reality perception and virtuality in general.
/* This methodology also has the perk that it can double as an investigation into the balance of interactivity vs narrative and randomness vs design, which as an anti-diciplinary storyfinder interests me greatly */
So what is to be translated?
I’m not going to (at least for now) focus on things like 3D spatiality and tactile feedback, because: 1) the way we perceive and measure coherence in relation to these inputs are so hardcoded in our brains that they leave very little room for “free” translation; 2) we already have a big chunk of neuroscience and most of the gaming industry working on that, and 3) Spontaneously I would say that abstract concepts about/from the world seem more suitable for the purpose.
I feel that these concepts need to be specific in order to provide direction but also general enough to umbrell smaller concepts as well as leave room for interpretation and (mis)translation.
As a starting point I choose focus on the following three:
- The World is Made out of Language
Being the meaning generating species that we are, our experience of (and attention to) “reality” and the world is limited by the words we have to describe it. We can have language for concepts which we do not know nor understand (e.g. notions of god or quantum physics), but we cannot have concepts of things for which we do not have language. Bradford Keeney captures it well with the statement “The world is made of stories, not atoms.” or as Terrence McKenna puts it: “The mind is somehow a co-creator in the process of reality through acts of language”, and further point out that “Science carried out its analysis of nature that went to such depth that it discovered that nature doesn’t exist, except as an object of description”.
- The World is Made out of People
In the current times of the anthropocene it is as impossible to separate nature from culture as it is to separate culture from language. Humans make nature, we engineer it. Which in itself is a concept that creates dissonance in our perception of reality, as the political frameworks that we live in does not accustom us to defining our species as a “we”.
- The World is Experienced Electro/Chemically
In the end all of our input from the world is processed through electrical and chemical communication, so our experience and scope of reality is also very influenceable by electrical or chemical stimuli. Be it from external substances or those that are locally produced such as dopamine and serotonin.
“There is no direct, intuitive, unmediated, “real and genuine” experience of the actually existing universe (Bruce Sterling)”.