Virtual Experiences

David Musick (
Sun, 29 Sep 96 19:25:22 UT

Sarah's wondering if she had an experience in virtual reality that was
indistinguishable from an experience in "reality", would it lessen the effect?

First off, all we have are experiences. We have our sensory experiences, our
thought experiences and our emotional experiences, and so forth. Virtual
reality (in its very advanced form) would be able to provide us with
incredibly detailed sensory experience, with so much detail and realism that
we would have no way to distinguish the experience from reality, since our
realities are made entirely of our experiences (now, I'm not saying there's no
objective world, I'm simply saying that each of our personal realities, that
which we realize, is entirely made of experiences). Now, the virtual reality
that people usually talk about only provides sensory experience, so if you
were thinking, "this isn't real; it's only virtual reality," THAT THINKING
might lessen the experience for you, but if you jumped right in, which you
probably would, since we're so accustomed to just accepting our sensory
experiences as the real world anyway, it would seem entirely real. But you
COULD lessen the impact it had on you by constantly reminding yourself that it
was "only" virtual reality. So, for example, you could have a sexual
experience with someone in very advanced virtual reality, and if you didn't
keep reminding yourself that it was virtual reality it would seem just as real
and wonderful as it would in real life. In fact, you wouldn't be able to tell
the difference.

But perhaps one day, we will be able to provide ourselves with much more than
sensory information. Perhaps we will be able to provide ourselves with
memories and belief systems and emotional responses, so that we could
experience ourselves as being some other person, like a historical figure, or
we could see what it's like to live in a certain time period and a certain
lifestyle. We could be totally immersed in that reality, and we would have no
awareness that we were not who we believed ourselves to be. In fact, most of
the time, our simulated belief systems wouldn't even think to question that
they are not really who they think they are, we'd just go on living in the
simulation and having our experiences.

Some people may even want to experience what its like to be an Extropian in
1996. They would see this very message on their computer screen as they were
reading the Extropian e-mail, like they do every day. They would totally
believe that they were really living in 1996, thinking about these Extropian
ideas, working on creating a better future. Seeing this particular message
might make them wonder if, just perhaps, all they're experiencing, including
all their belief systems and their ways of thinking, their memories,
everything, is only a simulation. And perhaps this message was inserted into
their reality by the system manager to help remind them that it's time to wake
up now, that it's time to come out of the simulation. But of course, they'll
dismiss the idea as being interesting, yes, but most likely not true, just
like you're doing right now. In fact, their belief system would probably be
very similar to yours; they might even think they really are you. And no
matter how much anyone tried to convice them that their entire reality was
simulated, they would think the entire notion just as ridiculous as you would
right now if I told you that your reality is a computer simulation. They
would think, yeah right, David Musick's just trying to fuck with my mind. But
they would have no way to be sure. All their memories and belief structures
and experiences are provided to them by the computer. Everything you have
available to use as a tool to explore your reality further, to see whether it
really is a computer simulation or not, is provided to you by the computer.

If virtual reality can provide you with a total experience that seems as real
to you in every way that your present reality does, then I think you can
imagine its power. Perhaps you are experiencing it already. Perhaps you are
really a transhuman space colonist, studying history, by experiencing what
it's like to live as various people. And perhaps now you are experiencing
what it's like to be the person who is reading this message right now.

- David Musick