Ideas

Predicting the (Virtual) Future

Writing at his Forbes blog Modeled Behavior, Adam Ozimek offers a few speculative thoughts on what the year 2045 might look like.  While his piece is brief and interesting throughout, and should therefore be read in full, his prediction concerning virtual reality caught my attention.

My second prediction is we will spend a disturbing (to us) amount of time in virtual reality. Right now humans spend a tremendous amount of time staring at screens that basically amount to a moving flat picture. Perhaps eventually brains will adapt and learn to not trust virtual reality, but the early reports are suggesting the coming VR is very good at tricking us into feeling strong emotional and even physical responses. What will happen to the demand for the virtual world when it goes from flat moving pictures to immersive experiences capable of inducing emotional responses that closely mimic real life? I believe it will explode, for good and for bad. Importantly, our sphere of empathy will expand as we have the opportunity to “walk in other people’s shoes” in a very realistic way.

This is dead-on in my view.  The answer to his question “what will happen to demand?” is that it will explode, of course. We can probably shave fifteen years off the predictive timeframe as well and find virtual reality use to be not only common in wealthier nations but quite consuming as well, especially among the younger demographics.

Widespread use of virtual reality matters…a lot…and for a variety of reasons.   The most important is that, a lot of sticky and tough questions notwithstanding, certain VR experiences could amount to a referendum on actual reality.  About a year ago, on this blog, I made the case that even early versions of VR technology were likely to meet the minimum hurdles to become just that.  Effectively, they’d be real-life incarnations of low-level experience machines, famed philosopher Robert Nozick’s term for his made-up contraptions that can trick you into believing you are actually experiencing any thing you can imagine happening in reality, all while your physical body floats, lifeless, in the machine.  His point was that most people would not choose to live in the machine the rest of their lives, but rather, people value something beyond just felt experiences alone; most people aren’t hedonists.  Here’s the gist of why VR might actually qualify as an experience machine sometime soon:

More interesting for the philosophical ramifications of early VR however, is that it does not have to match Nozick’s experience inventory to claim the title of “an” experience machine. Once the realism requirement is met in a single experience, any experience, then we have a limited version of the full-blown thing.

Unraveling Nozick’s selection criterion revealed that those who choose not to plug into a prototype machine could be doing so for multiple reasons, which spoils the thought experiment. The flip side is that, by logical extension, those who do in fact choose to plug into a crude, work-in-progress machine have answered Nozick’s fundamental question. If your benchmark for plugging in is already met with the options of experiences A, B, and C, then the additional options of experiences D or E won’t cause you to change your mind. This simple point allows for virtual reality to provide hard data on the thought experiment in the (very?) near future. If there is even one experience that today’s VR can clear the realism hurdle on, then I submit that we are already beyond the hypothetical.

As Adam correctly points out, virtual reality will deliver both benefits and costs to humankind.  Since his only example (increasing empathy) lands on the benefit side of the equation, allow me to offer an opposing one to balance the scales:  Widespread use of certain VR experiences in 2045 will represent hard evidence that, contra Nozick, many people are merely closet hedonists, and the fundamental value of acting in reality will be, directionally, devalued and marginalized relative to today.

Of course, this prediction doesn’t merely balance the scales, it sends one end crashing down under tremendous weight.  Any benefits introduced by VR in the “real” world will implicitly be marginalized as well since they occur in actual reality.  If, on average, members of global society determine reality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, whether they realize they are saying so or not, then those benefits are undermined to some extent.

In the end, the thorny philosophical issues that VR raises require more investigation, and soon, in my opinion.  In the meantime, if we are slouching towards hidden referendums on reality, then that should be discussed in detail as well.  And if others aren’t quite as concerned about the consequences, then shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.

(Image source)

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Front Porch Republic conference: October 3, feat. James Howard Kunstler and more

Front Porch Republic‘s annual conference is less than a month away, in Geneseo, New York. It’s shaping up to be a great program, and I hope to see some readers there. Please leave a comment if you plan to come. May have to start spamming some like-minded Northeastern bloggers to make sure they do too — Pittsford Perennialist, I’m looking at you!

From the press release:

Sustainable Localism: Sages, Prophets, and Jesters,” the fifth annual Front Porch Republic conference, will be held on Saturday, October 3 in the MacVittie College Union Ballroom at the State University College at Geneseo.

James Howard Kunstler, whose many books include The Geography of Nowhere, will deliver the keynote address: “Looking for Sustainability in All the Wrong Places.”

The conference will feature a special panel devoted to the life, thought, and legacy of Christopher Lasch, the late University of Rochester historian and social critic. Panelists will be Robb Westbrook, Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, and Eric Miller.

Other conference speakers will include Catherine Tumber, Jeff Polet, Tim Tielman, Bill Kauffman, Abbot Gerard D’Souza-OCSO, Jason Peters, and Jeremy Beer.

The conference registration fee of $50 ($20 for students) includes lunch and light snacks. There will be plenty of opportunities for attendees to gather informally with one another and the speakers. The conference will run from 9 am-5 pm.

Sign up here, hope to see you!

See a flier here.

Here’s the plot behind ridding public life of offensive symbols

Alexander Hamilton may have been a big government imperialist but, as the first Secretary of the Treasury, he shouldn’t be taken off the $10 bill.

Wait…step back one second. Remember all the hubbub over the U.S. Treasury’s decision to replace Hamilton’s visage with that of a woman’s?

Perhaps you don’t. In our hysterical age, the media moves from one outrage to the next, rarely stopping long enough to allow real contemplation on the injustice du jour. The capriciousness is akin to a porn addiction that soothes the brain by beguiling it with feelings of moral superiority and pity.

Not long after cultural feminism scalped Hamilton off the 10 spot last spring, the next wave of intractable wrath came in the form of the Confederate Flag – the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia to be specific. Because some shit-for-brains in South Carolina shot up a prayer meeting and had posted pictures of himself online holding the flag, the symbol had to be removed from the state capitol. That act of courage (inanimate objects kill people after all) snowballed into the Confederate Flag being purged from all venues of respectable American life.

Now we’ve reached the next Houdini-like act of disappearance. President Obama, in a swipe at white colonialism, unilaterally changed the name of Mount McKinley back to its local designation: Denali. The act is meant to appease the native population, who never took to the moniker of the twenty-fifth president. The peak was unofficially named McKinley by a gold prospector in 1896 but Congress made it official in 1917 to honor the assassinated head of state.

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Magicians of the Outer Right, Part Zwei – Power Plays

TRIGGER WARNING: There’s that bit in the beginning of the Book of Genesis about The Tree of Knowledge. The material below is all very well known and available to anyone with a browser. However, the weak of mind are strongly advised to cease and desist.

Ah, I see you’re still here. Very well:

My previous post on Magicians of the Outer Right was, admittedly, occult.

From Outside in’s links digest: “Mirror of obscurity.” Nick B. Steves roundup: “a rather cryptic post.” Some further explication was implied.

Steves also linked this:

The fact is Western culture has its own conception of power, a very naive construct that prevents us from noticing how things actually work. We seem to think people have ideas, and act because they believe those ideas, and power just comes out of the strength of those ideas. Call it faith in Christ, or Protestantism, or liberalism. Our conception of history is the history of ideas.

In the last 20 years or so, with the rise of the Web, this conception has been hyper-reinforced. I post my “Neoreactionary” arguments and evidence about how fundamental “right-wing” changes to society would result in peace, prosperity, less crime, happier children, more intelligence, less obesity and, in the long run, the breeding of unicorns that defecate gumdrops. Some SJW grrrl just out of Wellsley (or more likely, struggling to complete her Womyn’s Studies B.A. at a state university) posts that I’m a POS racist sexist LGBTIQ-phobe whose ideas would lead to death camps for everyone except white cismales. She argues that fundamental “left-wing” changes to society would result in equality, peace, equality, less crime, equal children and animals, equality of intelligence, social justice, racial justice, economic justice, sexual justice and, in the long run, Gaia defecating non-GMO unsalted manna that would feed the world and allow her to pay off her student loans.

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Voters and the fanciful stories they tell themselves

It’s only June, 17 months out from Election Day, and the 2016 primary contest is in full swing. The field is swelling with potential candidates, both serious and long shot. And surprisingly enough, the media is doing its job of asking the presidential hopefuls tough questions (everyone except Queen Hillary, that is). The number one inquiry this election cycle is a highly uncomfortable topic for Republicans: was invading Iraq was really worth it, given that the intelligence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons program was heavily flawed?

Our intrepid journalist class wants nothing more than to entice GOP nominees into violating the Eleventh Commandment, and trashing George W. Bush’s ill-fated Iraq invasion. Thankfully, most Republicans are finding their marbles and recognizing reality: the invasion wasn’t worth over $1 trillion and thousands of American lives. As Iraq descends into chaos, each candidate, both declared and undeclared, has said it was wrong to topple Saddam’s regime. That’s a safe answer, seeing as how most American believe the Iraq War was poorly conceived and too costly, and President Obama was elected largely based on voters’ misgivings about the invasion.

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Winter in (Black) America

Few had the insight into that peculiar experience that is the Black American experience that Gil Scott Heron possessed. He died May 2011 and the social networks were abuzz with people who likely heard none of his music, and if they did, understood little of it. Mr. Scott knew the Blues and understood Jazz, which means he knew what it meant to be Black. His music and life was almost a perfect analogy of post 1960’s Black America.

While Mr. Scott’s and my political differences make it unlikely we were looking at this from the same perspective, it is clear he also saw an intractable decline on the horizon in America especially in Black America. This “Winter” the brother speaks about, in his best song Winter in America, features us gunning each other down, seemingly without pause. I won’t give into media sensationalism and ignore the improvement in the Black murder rate in the last twenty years, but our rate of committing homicidal acts toward one another is still dizzying relative to other ethnicities and our 1950s selves.

We have assimilated into materialistic mainstream culture at a dizzying rates. Our “intellectuals” have certainly failed to live up to Harold Cruse’s ideal that dictated:

“The special function of the Negro intellectual is a cultural one. He should take to the rostrum and assail the stultifying blight of the commercially depraved white middle-class who has poisoned the structural roots of the American people into a nation of intellectual dolts… He should tell black America how and why Negroes are trapped in this cultural degeneracy, and how it has dehumanized their essential identity, squeezed the lifeblood of their inherited cultural ingredients out of them, and then relegated them to the cultural slums.”

Instead our intellectuals have done nothing more than use the suffering of our poorest as a guilt trip to leverage against whites and get themselves accepted into white institutions. With few exceptions they merely repeat and slightly refashion the jargon handed down to them by old tired Marxists and other white liberals. They rarely offer anything in the way cultural rebirth or self determination. 

As a tribe we have forgot all the traditions that sustained us during that long walk from chattel to “freedom.” Our sense of community is long gone in most places, our dedication to the institutions founded by our ancestors nil. We tend not to even get married, we have almost all of our kids out-of-wedlock, our dedication to our own families is even circumspect. Since “official” integration (where the middle class blacks chased white people where ever they went) it seems the only thing we have gained was a marginal amount of wealth, although our wealth in relation to whites remains stagnant. Yet we are happy that we are integrated. I suppose living next to white folk and being allowed into their institutions made all these declines and the impending death of our culture and institutions worthwhile to most. Hey, at least we can feel self-important for embracing diversity.

 Undoubtedly those of us who actually care about Black communities, which are way different from “the Black Community,” see these issues for what they are, dismal signs of a dying people and decaying culture. Can we be saved? I have no idea. But as Gil said in Winter in America “sister (and brother) save your soul” if you can’t save anything else.

Fittingly the great Gil Scott Heron died, May 27, 2011 (62), in the dying former capital of Negro culture and self-determination Harlem, NY. I think the griot was telling us something.

From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims
And to the buffalo who once ruled the plains
Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds
Looking for the rain
Looking for the rain

Just like the cities staggered on the coastline
Living in a nation that just can’t stand much more
Like the forest buried beneath the highway
Never had a chance to grow
Never had a chance to grow

And now it’s winter
Winter in America
Yes and all of the healers have been killed
Or sent away, yeah
But the people know, the people know
It’s winter
Winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting
‘Cause nobody knows what to save
Save your soul, Lord knows
From Winter in America

The Constitution
A noble piece of paper
With free society
Struggled but it died in vain
And now Democracy is ragtime on the corner
Hoping for some rain
Looks like it’s hoping
Hoping for some rain

And I see the robins
Perched in barren treetops
Watching last-ditch racists marching across the floor
But just like the peace sign that vanished in our dreams
Never had a chance to grow
Never had a chance to grow

And now it’s winter
It’s winter in America
And all of the healers have been killed
Or betrayed
Yeah, but the people know, people know
It’s winter, Lord knows
It’s winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting
Cause nobody knows what to save
Save your souls
From Winter in America

And now it’s winter
Winter in America
And all of the healers done been killed or sent away
Yeah, and the people know, people know
It’s winter
Winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting
Cause nobody knows what to save
And ain’t nobody fighting
Cause nobody knows, nobody knows
And ain’t nobody fighting