The philosopher David Chalmers has been a pioneer in the field of cognitive science in the past two decades. Chalmers began his academic career in mathematics, but gradually turned to cognitive science and philosophy of mind. He eventually came to Indiana University and studied under the guidance of Douglas hofstadt, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Godel Escher Bach. The thesis toward a theory of consciousness by Chalmers evolved into his first book the consciousness mind (1996). Perhaps Chalmers’ most famous contribution to philosophy is “the problem of consciousness”: the problem of explaining subjective experience, that is, the film in everyone’s mind. In Chalmers’ words, even if “the effectiveness of all relevant functions has been explained clearly”, it will always exist.
Chalmers is writing a book about the coming future: virtual reality, uploading and preserving our human consciousness digitally, and artificial intelligence. A few days ago, prashanth Ramakrishna, a new york university student, interviewed Chalmers about this future and published it through the New York Times. The following is the specific arrangement of Yingwei
Between kantists and us who are digging our own grave, what do you think of the future?
I value human history and selfishly hope that it will continue. Does our future still exist? How important is the body? At some point, I think we have to face the fact that intelligence runs faster than ourselves. If we want to stick to our biological brain, we may be abandoned by a computer world with super speed and super intelligence. In the end, we have to upgrade.
Another possible future is that new artificial intelligence will take over the world and human beings will have no place. Maybe we’ll be relegated to a virtual world, or a specified range of the physical world. But it will be a second-class existence. At least they may keep us, treat us as pets or entertainment, or just for the sake of history. It would be a depressing result. Maybe they will let us into the virtual world, we will never know, we will forget all this. Maybe this future has happened, and we are living in one of the virtual worlds. How to say, it doesn’t look so bad.
Now may be a good time to define virtual reality, because the word “virtual” can be used in many ways.
The word “virtual” originally meant “false” or “as if”. Virtual tie means that it “seems” to be a tie. But after years of evolution, the word “virtual” has changed. Now it means “computer generated.”.
More precisely, can functional representation of the real world find its simulation in virtual reality?
For your question, my understanding is: in what sense can normal reality be regarded as reality, and can virtual reality be so real? This is a major philosophical issue. The great Irish philosopher George Berkeley once said, “being is perceived.” If something looks like a duck, sounds like a duck or something like that, it’s a duck. It’s an idealism: the world is in your brain.
But the mainstream view is that reality exists outside your brain. For reality, you need more than appearance. You need some deep strength or potential. The Great Australian philosopher Samuel Alexander once said, “everything that really exists has the effect of cause and effect.”. Philip K. Dick once said, “reality is when you stop believing in it, it still exists.” If there is something independent of your mind, causal, and you can perceive it in all these ways, to me, you are largely real.
In theory at least, things in virtual reality have all these attributes. If you are in a virtual world, there are objects you can perceive. In the virtual world, even if I am not around, the virtual tree can fall down. Virtual trees have causal power. Virtual tree falling can bring people experience. Virtual reality is just a different form of reality, but it is still a completely real reality.
The general intuition is that virtual reality is just a fantasy of instantiation. Why do you think the truth is just the opposite?
This goes back to a very distant history of philosophy. Descartes once said: “how do you know if there is a devil cheating you to believe that there is nothing.” Descartes’ fable of the devil is a bit like the problem of virtual reality. The modern version says, “how do you know you’re not in the matrix? How do you know that you are not in a computer simulation where everything seems to be real but it is not.
The view that virtual reality is not real comes from an outdated view of reality. In the garden of Eden, we think that an original red apple is embedded in the original space, as if everything is as seen by the naked eye. Modern science tells us that this is not the case in the world. Color is just a beam of wavelengths produced by the physical reflection properties of an object, and produces some kind of experience in us. Coagulation? There is no real entity in the world. Things are mostly blank space, but they have the causal force of producing coagulative experience in us. Even space and time are gradually being explained by physics, or at least reduced to something simpler.
Physical reality now looks a lot like virtual reality. You can take the view that ‘it’s worse than physical reality. Because it’s not true. ” But I don’t think that’s the case. It turns out that we identify with all this and say, “well, things are different from what we think, but they are still true.” This should be the right attitude towards virtual reality. Code and silicon circuits are just another substrate for reality. Is it worse to be in a computer-generated reality than what contemporary physics tells us? Do quantum wave functions have uncertain values? It seems as empty as virtual reality, and it has no substance. But we are used to it.
If virtual reality is not only a substitute reality, but also a sub reality of reality that we usually exist, is that ok.
I don’t think that’s wrong. It’s a multiverse. This is not to say that there is no objective reality. Maybe there is an objective universe, and it contains everything that exists. But there may be a first-order universe in which people create simulations and virtual reality. Maybe sometimes there are simulations in the simulation. Who knows how many subordinates there are?
I used to speculate that we were at level 42. Remember the guide to the galaxy, where they wrote a computer designed to find answers to the ultimate questions about life, the universe and everything. After many years, the computer said, “the answer is 42.” What question is so important that it becomes the ultimate question, and the answer is just a simple number? Perhaps the question is “what level of reality are we in?”
Do you think these virtual worlds can trace their own history, including the evolution of political system, the evolution of culture, and so on? My intuition is that they can do it.
There have been some virtual worlds that reproduce the history of political philosophy. In the early 1990s, mud was initially a state of dictatorship or anarchy. One person created them, and that person is the dictator. Then he appointed some witches, and they were aristocrats. But the witches didn’t want all of this power, so they gave it to democracy. Now most virtual worlds are corporate kingdoms owned and governed by enterprises. Linden labs, for example, is the owner of second life.
But that creates problems. The material reality belongs to everyone. No dictator can turn it on or off at will, or change the rules at will. Is the lack of democracy a major risk in the virtual world?
Of course, there will be many virtual environments in the future. I’m not sure we should look at it like this: “you choose your virtual world, and then you will always be controlled by the company that owns it.” More likely, we will cut and switch many different virtual worlds very frequently. You have a virtual world for work, one for entertainment and one for education. Cyberspace has no rulers. This is William Gibson’s definition of virtual reality.
Finally, I’d like to know if you think civilization will eventually transition from physical reality to virtual reality. We talked about the transient boundary between virtual reality, physical reality and virtual reality. Will the light go out in this room?
If so, it would surprise me a lot. Physical reality is zero level reality. You can always find resources here. I think we always need more and more resources. “Let’s blow up the sun and use it to power our computers. Wait, that’s not enough! We will need to go to other parts of the galaxy. ” It’s easy to imagine an arms race in technology around resources. Such events require some kind of contact with the outside world.
I can easily imagine that 99% of the population lives in a virtual world, especially if the physical world collapses because of nuclear war or terrible climate change. The virtual world will be more interesting and enjoyable. There will be people who like to live in a zero level world, just as there are people who like to live in cities and people who like to live in the countryside. The urbanization process of our society is accelerating, but it does not mean that everyone lives in this city. Maybe we will have a more and more virtualized society, but that doesn’t mean everyone will be virtualized.
I don’t think the virtual world will be a panacea for human problems. Like the Internet, they can bring good things and bad things. My prediction is that they will have enough space to cope with human demands. In this sense, it can at least be compared with physical reality. Maybe we will be able to find some unique ways to make virtual reality better and achieve more freedom and justice. Maybe we can’t. But I think it’s at least an open and exciting future.