Simulation


(This letter starts by quoting from the essay, The History of These Ideas.)

April 8, 2001

"These same simulations of reality would also allow us to act out neurotic 
fantasies and fantasies of engaging in evil and transgression, since 
everything that happened in them would only be a lifelike pretence without 
consequences. I feared a future in which many people would become addicted to 
acting out disturbed fantasies, and I suspected that a new form of 
legitimation. might emerge in which the acting out of our neuroses via 
simulations would be justified as a form of art, therapy, and liberation."

It seems that, here, this is a discussion of the ethics of such actions. 
Succinctly, I would like to know what you believe to be the right and wrong of 
such actions. Being born after the formulation of your ideas on simulation, 
I am much more prone to being susceptible to them. As a result, in my 
opinion, there is no ethical transgression of morality or boundaries in 
actions that do not have consequences, such as in a video game. However, as 
I continued thinking, I came to the conclusion that every action does have 
consequences.

In my own weird interpretation, the reason we do not see consequences in 
acting out in a video game what would be a moral transgression in real life 
is that, in the video game, there is no actual death or violence. Because it 
is not real, there are no real consequences. However, the action of playing 
the video game, and acting out the simulation is real, and therefore, it must 
have consequences, and we can see this in the investment of time into the 
video game that could be spent elsewhere and the lack of investment in other 
activities. Many would even argue that violent video games cause 
predisposition to violence in real life. So there are consequences, but not 
those that are the more serious transgressions one acts out in the video game.
My question, then, is whether it is morally 'right' to play such video 
games and act out such transgressions, since the serious consequences are not real, and only simulated.

Brad Albrecht

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Wow! - very interesting site...only my first visit but seems like an absent author on the subject of simulation and the human condition is PK Dick (unless I overlooked him in your pages)...along w/ Lem he's a pioneer of the subject and I'd love to see you deconstruct his slanted, clouded, but fascinating views (Maze of Death, 3 Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Ubix etc).

Ron

A lot of people mention that. I haven't written about his work because of a lack of time. Same with The Matrix. They are all working off the same set of ideas, though. Like Jules Verne, they seem to have anticipated the world we are entering.

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Your summary of Eco over-simplifies his argument to the point of distortion.  I don't have the text in front of me; however, as I remember, the meaning he ascribes to the phrase "absolutely fake" is not entirely pejorative.  I personally think theme parks are a bloody snore, but there's something intellectually coercive in the presentation of your material.

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Sept. 21, 2000

You know just enough of Jung to be dangerous. Your argument is purely religious. Anything that relates to natural as being divine, real or perceived, is a danger to your masculine dominated ego. Well let me tell you something. Whether intended or by accident, Disney is getting the fact across that nature is not only divine, but must be treated as such or we will destroy the whole of the planet, species by species. All God's things are divine. 

I guess you can say am a thrice again born Christian. Baptized in a Southern Baptist Church at six, reborn wholly in 1992 as a Gnostic. WWJD Buddha Consciousness.

J Gif

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Sun August 6, 2000

(This letter starts off by quoting from Nature, Representation, and Misrepresentation): 

"...Contrary to what one might think, simulation isn't confined to human beings, nor is it necessarily something that is consciously created. Plants and animals manifest deceptive appearances in great profusion, which are essential tools in the struggle for survival.

"In many instances, these deceptive appearances consist only in an animal's ability to walk with stealth or hide or remain completely still, to create the impression it isn't there. As we discover in all those television nature documentaries, predators and prey are constantly slinking around in the underbrush, peering from behind obstructions and standing motionless, as they wait for the right moment to strike or flee from danger.

"Also common are disguises that are built into the appearance of plants and animals. These deceptions exist in nature in a remarkable profusion, easily matching anything produced by that other world of illusion, Hollywood. Nature is unambiguously a world of things that appear to be other things or, in some cases, of things that appear to be nothing at all..."

The essay (quoted above) directly expresses the notion that simulation is a fundamental property of biological existence, a tool of evolution, its true origin unknown. How can, we as organisms ourselves, then propose that popular modern simulations are the "pies we gorge on in the face of life's difficulties" if the object of simulation is infinitely rooted in the realm of life itself? If nature is truth and nature is "unambiguously a world of things that appear to be other things or, in some cases, of things that appear to be nothing at all" than how can we have a distinct life different from one that is engulfed in a sick addiction to simulation if we are a product of biology and biology is totally dependant on simulations? If one were to argue that simulations are not the corrupt "interweaving of nature and fabrications" but are, in actuality, a pure "interweaving of nature and fabrications" and a component of nature itself that has been convoluted and stretched to fill the addiction of mankind than how does one defend the obviously beautiful and simple characteristics of biology such as: a hierarchy of organization, emergent properties, the cellular basis of life, heritable information, the correlation between structure and function, interaction, unity in diversity, evolution and, as exemplified in the above essay, an animal's ability to simply walk? Simply put, how can humans break free from the cage of simulations if we are a product of them? Perhaps the simulation is a characteristic that separates biological life from inanimate objects and every thing else. Is the beauty of the living world a random collection of simulation?

From: Nicholas Meade

Response: The answer, as I see it, is that we can use various capabilities and inclinations that we have inherited either to mature or to regress, to move forward or to stay stuck. Eating, for example, is a biological pleasure and capability. We can eat to express a robust enjoyment of life or to escape life and wallow in fantasies and sensations of infantile feeding.

At the same time, it has to be admitted that the issue of fabrication and deceptive appearances in human life is very complicated. The mind is a maze of deceptive appearances. And much of what makes life worth living is fantasy and invented appearances, which make up a large part of art, literature, movies, playfulness, interactions with other people, and so on. We exist (to repeat an idea from the site) in what Northrop Frye refers to as a human world, one we create ourselves, that is modeled after ourselves. The question then becomes whether we will model it after our better selves -- our selves as we are when we have achieved a state of wholeness -- or after the regressive and hateful side of our nature. For example, we can use our ability to simulate either to craft great films that put us in touch with our desire to create a decent world or to create campaign commercials that vilify opponents.

KS

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May 03, 1999

As a student of both psychology and sociology with a keen interest in the internet and other forms of media, I find your site most interesting. However, I am very surprised not to see more extensive citations of other authors' ideas that have influenced your work.  For example, your ideas about Disney World and simulation are clearly influenced by Jean Baudrillard's writings and you mention him in numerous places, yet you provide no reference to any of his works.  This pattern persists throughout
the site.

Additionally, you provide no information about who you are.  On the web, where anyone with access and sufficient funds can post information, we must be forever skeptical of "hidden" sources.  If your site is about transparency, why are you unwilling to let your readers see who the author is behind the writing?

Neil Holt
Wesleyan University
Middletown, CT
USA

Neil:
My work represents an independent line of inquiry going back more than two decades. It isn't influenced by Baudrillard and has offered a comprehensive theory of simulation that is, in many ways, different from his. At the most general level, the differences include the fact that the theory is empirical, humanistic and modernist. 

Many of these insights have been "rediscovered" and are now being "rediscovered" by people who are unaware of this work. 

KS

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April 27, 1999

Please consider getting a life before your next shot at journalism.  Your article on Disney was such a waste of thought that I am offend that it is even published on the web for the world to see.  Get a life.  Thank you.


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The following letter writer quotes from the essay "Culture of Deception: Simulation Confusion" (in italics) and then comments on it (regular type).

July 07, 1998

I've enjoyed reading your site, and find much to think about. But I have a few comments...

But, more often, we are being deliberately tricked, by people who have something to gain by manipulating us with misleading  appearances. Indeed, much of America's economy is based on providing consumers with deceptive simulations, from knockoffs and fake IDs to padded shoulders and tinted contact lenses. As a result, we find ourselves in a new kind of surroundings, in which we can no longer always rely on the evidence of our senses to tell us what is real.

Pieces of the "True Cross", anyone? I brought them back from the Holy Land myself, after great trials and suffering. <grin> There's a sucker born every minute, and this is not a modern phenomenon. It has ever been true. In every era, "we are being deliberately tricked, by people who have something to gain by manipulating us with misleading appearances". Did the Romans truly want Emperors, or was that something put over on them? What of the Inquisition, the Witch trials? Were demons loose in the land, were witches everywhere? No. These were convenient deceptions used to cover up the power plays and theft of property (and freedom) that were the real bottom line. As someone who tends toward Zen Buddhism, I really don't believe that there was ever a time "in which we [could] always rely on the evidence of our senses to tell us what is real". Humans are deceived because they _want_ to be deceived. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be shaken awake periodically...

The growing role of deceptive simulations is particularly evident in fields that use props and disguises as part of larger strategies to outwit opponents, including the military, crime, security and police work. Thus, we find that military strategy is now based on inducing confusion in opponents with such visual deceptions as missile decoys, stealth aircraft and camouflage. Perhaps the most impressive example was the creation of a dummy invasion force -- including inflatable rubber tanks and canvas airplanes designed by a movie studio -- that was used to mislead the Nazis about  where the Allied invasion would take place.

Ah - this is new? Wasn't Sun-Tzu advocating the very same tactics dozens of centuries ago?

Less noble are the con artists who placed a counterfeit ATM machine in a Connecticut mall, to trick customers into feeding in their bank cards, and revealing their account numbers and  personal identification numbers. These fields provide a good model of contemporary society, which has become a Hobbesian world of simulators and dupes, con artists and the conned, in which people routinely manipulate appearances to get what they want. When we look behind these invented appearances, what we often find are advanced forms of art and technology that make it possible for people to present an image of themselves, and of products, situations and ideas, that tells a story.

We're back to pieces of the "True Cross" and "Vials of the Blessed Virgin's Tears" again. Fraud and con games have always been with us, and always will. I read a wonderful book, the title was something like "The Encyclopedia of Frauds and Hoaxes", and I was just amazed at the variety and creativity of the scammers. It also covered some really, really old scams, so there is really nothing new.

Indeed, society is now governed by various groups that use deceptive simulations to gain and hold on to money and power. The most important of these groups can be found in business, entertainment, politics and news.

Name me a time and a place in all of human history where this was NOT true.Those with money form or use governments to retain that money; politicians (or monarchs/aristocrats, same animal) just love the power; and there have always been a large number of people willing to make a living hyping and supporting them. And lying through their teeth any time it became necessary - or all the time. "The Emperor's New Clothes" is an old tale and tells us that deception in support of power has been the case for a long time.

And their most important tool of deception is our society's primary simulation machine -- television -- which allows them to create complex simulations that can trick people, en masse. Americans, glued to their television sets, are exposed to (although not always fooled by) hundreds of these deceptive simulations in an average day, which are fabricated in an effort to falsify their view of the world and control their behavior.

THIS is the primary difference today. I have gentle arguments with my 12-year-old daughter, where she claims you really _can_ learn something from TV. My response: Yes, indeed, but _what_ are you learning, and is it what you _think_ you are learning? First of all, most of what you see and hear on TV is simply untrue on more than one level; and second, even if somewhat true, it is only the simulation of experience, not a real experience.

Anyway, I do enjoy reading your site. But it seems to me that you are harking back to some golden age that never existed, where men were just, scams didn't happen, wealth didn't wield power, and rulers were honest.What you are saying is important and I am glad you are speaking your take on the truth. If I may be so bold, however, I would suggest that you might alter your texts to say "this is what is happening today, same as ever, but with the added force of Television" rather than paint is as something that never happened before. Your call.

Tom Biggs

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