"The medium is the message."
Marshall McLuhan, writing as a theoretician of media forms and their effects on society and on modes of perception, made the point that a new media format (such as television) would ordinarily take for its earliest content, or substance, another media format (such as film). That was to say that the first use of TV was to screen older films. Of course, as television matured, its content changed, and films became only one of the things you could see on TV. Live TV, such as sports coverage, CNN news, and other real-time, on-camera applications, became more common as the media form matured, and found its most natural use.
Reality simulators are a communications medium, since they convey information to the subject-observer—information about the present, the past and future, other places, and so forth. They are the ultimate communications medium, since there will be no information about the universe—past, present, or future— which they will be in-principle unableto gather, store or replay. No new hardware will ever be needed to process information, once reality simulators come on-line.
As reality simulation matures as a medium, it too will find its most natural and powerful applications. To begin, just as 35-millimeter motion picture cameras are no longer used to gather information for TV broadcast, in favor of a more direct, all-electronic information processing system, so will natural receptor organs such as eyes, ears, and taste buds, play an ever-decreasing role in the evolving reality simulation devices. Ultimately, these machines will stimulate the central nervous system of the subject-observer directly, by cortical injection
Thus, if early reality simulators have us peer into a set of goggles, and use a joystick in order to change what we see in the goggles, later models, using surgical electrode implants, or less gruesome equivalents thereof, will directly stimulate, and be stimulated by, regions of the cerebral cortexes of our brains— bypassing our conventional, organic receptors altogether.
With the advent of direct cortical injection, complete control of the flow of sensations enjoyed by a subject is taken over by a machine.
It is under these circumstances that the communications medium which is reality simulation will come of age, since, as direct cortical injectees, we will be unable to make the usual distinction between a "natural" and a "synthetic" perceptual environment; i.e., to say whether this is the real thing we're living, or just a simulation of the real thing.
In the movie theater, a glance around us at the other members of the audience provides the reassurance that "it's just a film," albeit an unsettling and horrifying one—particularly if we are only twelve years old. The wearer of a reality simulator "cap" can always pull the cap off (or switch it into default mode) in order to check on the way things really are. The amazing holographic projection depicting our best friend can be visually compared to our best friend, standing beside it, and with this comparison becomes just an amazing holograph. Ordinarily, its our eyes and ears which tell us what's real, and what may not be.
However, with these trusty, organic receptors no longer "on-line," and the reality-check function they provide no longer at our disposal, the distinction between "really-real" and "seemingly-real" can no longer be based in any matter of direct observational fact—something that we can see, or hear, or feel— since observational data are all synthetic, and provided to our central nervous systems, directly, by the machine. There are no two things to compare, or to distinguish one from other, or to rank in some sort of order.
A synthetic environment ceases to be identifiable as such once independent corroboration of perceptual events, as is ordinarily provided by organic receptor devices, becomes impossible.
Thus, if we ever sought, as direct cortical injectees, to regard our current experience as being somehow unreal, this would have to take the form of an historical recollection ("I remember selecting this artificial experience!") or of a metaphysical preference ("I believe there is a better place behind this veil of tears.")
In either case, the possibility that our current existence as sentient subjects might in fact be nothing more than existence in cyberspace will not be an empirical matter, decidable one way or the other on the basis of possible observations.
Nor will it be a matter of any great concern. It would never occur to us that our lives might be unreal, and that in leading them we might be voicing the "message" of a best-selling cybernetical novel.
© 1993, Gilbert Scott Markle.
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.