Friday, February 22, 2008
Is there anyone out there?
I’ve written a few essayettes on the question of reality and identity posed by the artificial worlds developed by arcade and internet programmers. If we enter these worlds in avatar form (constructed selves built to our individual specifications of desire and need) are we experiencing and learning (or not) in the same way that would happen if we physically existed in such worlds? Many influential gamers think so. Their very insistence on this central tenet resonates, inversely, with the Hindu notion of Maya or Plato’s shadows on the cave wall. Through time, religious and secular philosophy has pondered reality and illusion. For any thinking individual, human existence is fraught with this problem. Is this stuff I see around me, people, objects, events – everything! – really there? Does it disappear when I die? Do I die? Was I ever alive? Am I part of the Matrix programme? What the fuck is it all about?
The projections that are emanating from IT geeks today suggest that within 25 years we may have computing power which is a billion times the power of today’s machines and A THOUSAND TIMES SMALLER! So small, in fact, that it will be possible to insert computers in the brain, vastly amplifying neural processes in all their forms, affecting the senses, the emotions and rationality. Interactions could occur which don’t so much blur further the differences between illusion and reality, but completely eradicate it. The gamers, Plato, Maya et al will all be finally proved right. There will be nothing out there. It will all be in here, snugly fitting on the top of the cortex.
25 years. I could still be alive – physically speaking. Will the insertion of this magic brain bullet of vastly superior intelligence allow me a wondrous vista of possibility as my ageing neurons are supercharged for their last great hurrah, so that the dissolution of my body becomes a mere lightning storm beyond some distant ridge? Will death become something I fear no longer because its symptoms are subsumed in a fantastic last epiphany?