When I first became interested in computer graphics Virtual Reality was in its infancy and it took a computer the size of a room to “render” a believable environment in which a user could navigate and interact.
It was pretty clear where “you” ended and where reality began – since it required a clunky set of tools and massive processing.
Now, as with so many other areas of technology, that processing power is coming to the desktop as Microsoft, Google and others make incredible advances in this area.
But of course what seems to be happening is that the perceptions that have been attributed to our “normal” senses are intercepted on their way to the brain’s conceptual and analytical centers, so that we think that we are somewhere “else.”
The main two senses, sight and sound are now augmented by touch (and perhaps eventually smell and taste) simulated electronically to create a “virtual world” and are so “believable” that we experience this world as “real.”
We can also augment our “real world”with new information overlaid visually with our smart phones or implements like Google Glass so that, for example, we can see details about a store when we point the phone or look at it – this area, akin to VR, is called “augmented reality.”
But within this VR world, “we” are still presumably the conscious entity interpreting the information. But are we a separate entity at all? Ever? And furthermore, what if other parts of this environment –those created through software – can also become conscious?
Could Machines Become A Legitimate Threat?
This gets us into the area of artificial intelligence and recently thought leaders like Bill Gates and Elon Musk have warned that machines could become so smart as to become a threat, a la Terminator or the Matrix.
This brings us into direct confrontation with the troublesome issue of Consciousness; at what point is there a sense of awareness in an electronic entity.
When Super Mario’s character in the video game “learns” things, what is it that is truly happening –is it simply accumulating a critical mass of information –like the IBM Watson supercomputer that won at Jeopardy by instantly searching through billions of Google-based records –or is there a level of “understanding” taking place, and what would that be?
Going back to VR, when we believe the visual and tactile world being experienced, it is presumably our brain that is making this judgment and interpretation. But what about in “reality?”
We are still subject to the same sensual stimuli and we have no way of knowing how accurate they are. Clearly our 3D perception is subject to massive distortion as many visual tricks have demonstrated.
Additionally, as we’ve discussed before, thinkers like Dr. Jay Kumar have described how small a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum we “normally” perceive.
And of course we know that other creatures experience a completely different world of senses. Dogs hear sounds beyond our cognition; birds like eagles see dramatically more efficiently and insects have multiple eyes and God knows what other sensory capacity.
And of course our instruments and robots are beginning to surpass our own “native” senses in infinite ways.
Is There A Reality Beyond Our Perception?
So it is really important to begin to ask—is there a reality that can be known beyond our perception—particularly when quantum physics has already shown us that the very act of perception changes the result –we are active participants in this perceptional activity.
The question now becomes, “Is Reality just a Concept or is the ‘I Am’ Sense –knowing that I know which presumably is absent within a simulated Super Mario or IBM Watson –something ineffably organic and perhaps even palpably Sacred?”
Eckhart Tolle has shown us that knowing that we know through the voice in the head is NOT what is truly aware within us –that this entity or quality is beyond or above thought. And in non-dual thought the ONLY thing we can truly KNOW is that consciousness exists – we are aware or know that we know but we cannot pinpoint or define awareness.
But as we begin to navigate virtual worlds entirely of our own creation we begin to move to the “edge” of thought – to the intersection of thought and perception – because in the “human” experience we still have a bit of a gap – we know that we are being “fooled” – if not during the experience then certainly when we take off the helmet.
But where does the helmet really end?
Neuroscience has shown us more and more that even without the helmet, what we “are” is a network of complex perceptions being interpreted in the brain – even without the helmet.
We are – literally – our own world.
Perhaps it is the lesson of VR that will lead to the very end of our sense of separation because when you are “in” the virtual world, and “come back” – you recognize that in both instances – the virtual and the “real” you are still the focal point – your self is the world. There is no real gap.
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