by Eliott Edge
It is worth pointing out that we have been making virtual realities for a very, very long time. That language, spoken language, is the original code for hacking virtual reality. When you sit the children down around the fire and begin to tell the old, old stories and pictures rise out of the flames—that is virtual reality
We live in a condensation of our imagination.”
An idea that tended to ride alongside this “VR is covertly equivalent to civilization” reading arrived through my years in psychedelic publishing and research. I picked up a line supposedly attributed to Timothy Leary, but popularized by Robert Anton Wilson—Reality Tunnels. A reality tunnel refers to the cultural virtual reality and the belief system that you acquire through socialization, conditioning, and exposure; the psychosocial orthodoxy that arrives thanks to everything from your local place of worship, to your language, to the shape of your home. You are what your neighborhoods make you. We become our scenery and our scenes. We become the local VR. Indeed, VR headset technology is designed to throw us into a reality tunnel in the exact same way that walking through a metropolitan street boggles our senses into a very particular worldview.
One of Wilson’s well-known remarks on the reality tunnel:
We’re all looking from the point of view of our own reality tunnels. And when we begin to realize that we’re all looking from the point of view of our own reality tunnels, we find that it is much easier to understand where other people are coming from. All the ones who don’t have the same reality tunnel as us do not seem ignorant, or deliberately perverse, or lying, or hypnotized by some mad ideology, they just have a different reality tunnel. And every reality tunnel might tell us something interesting about our world, if we’re willing to listen.
Wilson also observed: “‘reality’ is always plural and mutable.”
I think that culturally, once early humans started speaking and thinking in terms of an animal world and a spirit world, or distinguishing between a waking world and a dream world, we began to plant the seeds of the VR dialogue. VR then, is a way of discussing the multilayered shared fantasy called the human world.
Appreciating the worldview-generating effects of reality tunnels, civilization, language, culture, media, architecture, and seeing how they were all very much like VR, captured my imagination. Even the otherwise simple standing stones dotting the British countryside have VR-generating “magical” effects. They activate the imagination. It wasn’t long after that the observation came to mind: “There is likely no more singularly important consideration than the consideration of alternative worlds, illusory worlds, projected worlds, and manipulable worlds.” That is—there is likely no deeper issue, in philosophy or otherwise, than that of the possibility of more than one world or one worldview. For a worldview is merely a virtual reality. This is Plato and his Cave.
Yet another event that pushed me beyond the veil of hyperspace was the fateful arrival into my reality tunnel of Tom Campbell, a NASA, Department of Defense, Army Technical Intelligence nuclear physicist and consciousness researcher who I discovered around 2008. Campbell, who has a résumé longer than most people’s arm, published a model of the universe as a virtual reality simulation in 2007 called My Big TOE: A Trilogy Unifying Philosophy, Physics, and Metaphysics. In it he describes the universe as a simulation, and our consciousness as the nonphysical computer that “renders” the physical universe into existence via the act of what physicists call “measurement.” Campbell’s major follow up to his book was a paper published online in March 2017, in the International Journal of Quantum Foundations, called “On Testing the Simulation Hypothesis,” which also focused on the issue of measurement and “wave collapse.” After Campbell, I started reading other scientists who wrote about nature and computation, virtual reality worlds, simulated universes, digital mechanics, video game thought experiments, and observations in nature that we have historically branded with the moniker ‘spooky.’ I devoured Nick Bostrom, Edward Fredkin, Brian Whitworth, Seth Lloyd, David Chalmers, Sylvester James Gates, Roger Penrose, Paola Zizzi, Zohreh Davoudi, John A. Wheeler, and other mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers who were also absorbed in the issues of computation, simulation, and virtual worlds. Brian Whitworth may have summarized the longstanding problems in physics best when he wrote in his essay Simulating Space and Time:
VR theory is only on the table because objective reality theory doesn’t explain modern physics. In an objective reality time does not dilate, space doesn’t bend, objects don’t teleport and universes don’t pop into existence from nowhere. We would not doubt the world’s objective reality if only it behaved so physically, but it does not. Adjectives like “strange”, “spooky” and “weird” apply, and common sense concepts like object, location, existence, time and space simply don’t work. The world of modern physics doesn’t behave at all as an objective reality should.
It became clear that virtual reality was not just a philosophical or cultural issue; it was a deeply scientific one as well.
After all, a universe popping into existence seemingly out of nowhere for apparently no reason—completely with freakishly fine-tuned physical laws, as well as with all the matter and energy that will ever exist simultaneously—makes a hell of a lot more sense once you think of a computer hitting GO.