"Virtual Reality is Real" - This Philosopher Holds Provocative Views

In his new book, Australian philosopher David Chalmers asks what happens when virtual and physical reality can no longer be distinguished.


Chalmers is a professor of philosophy and neuroscience at New York University. His area of expertise is philosophy of mind, a philosophical current concerned with the nature of consciousness. An anti-materialist, Chalmers is known for his belief that experiences cannot be fully reduced to and explained by physical properties.

In his new book, Reality+ , he tackles the technological future and its possible consequences. Chalmers assumes that virtual reality and augmented reality could develop so much in the next hundred years that it will become difficult or even impossible to distinguish between the digital and the physical.

Against this background and based on his own philosophy of consciousness, Chalmers elaborates a new concept of reality that encompasses both spheres.

Reality Plus: Bits instead of quarks and electrons

"A common notion of virtual realities is that they are a kind of illusory reality, that what you perceive in VR is not real. I think that's wrong," Chalmers said in an interview with the British Guardian.


The virtual worlds we interact with can be just as real as our normal physical world. Virtual reality is real reality, the philosopher believes. The reality status of virtual reality should not be devalued just because it is based on bits instead of quarks and electrons.

In a distant future, clunky VR goggles could be replaced by brain-computer interfaces that allowed full-sensory plugging into virtual worlds - just like in the Matrix motion pictures.

Instead of taking to the barricades against the increasing digitization of life, Chalmers recommends embracing it, and even more, welcoming it. "Most of the factors that give life meaning will also be present in virtual worlds," he says. "There is no good reason to believe that life in VR will be meaningless or worthless," the philosopher says.


Digital worlds: Escape or safe haven?

In virtual reality, people could have superpowers, try out different bodies, have new sensory experiences, and explore worlds not bound by the laws of physics. They will have virtual jobs as well as desires and goals that relate to virtual environments, Chalmers predicts. That sounds like Mark Zuckerberg's Metaverse fantasy, his desire to build a virtual parallel world.


Detached from this notion, Chalmers tries to imagine what a "good life" might look like in the age of virtual reality. In doing so, he warns of new risks associated with the transition to an increasingly digital life, such as neglecting the physical body or the physical world itself. "Physical reality is important. We need to stay anchored in it and treat it well," says the philosopher.

If the quality of life were to erode, nonetheless, such as through natural disasters, nuclear wars, or pandemics, virtual reality could provide a "safe haven," Chalmers says. Does the philosopher have a Ready Player One style sci-fi dystopia in mind?

Virtual reality: the perfect manipulation machine

In Ernest Cline's book, humanity has taken refuge in a virtual world because of global crises. This in turn threatens to fall into the hands of a corrupt, money-grubbing conglomerate that could use it to manipulate the masses. A scenario that, according to VR pioneer and social media critic Jaron Lanier, is not too far from reality.

"If virtual worlds are controlled by corporations, as seems to be the case now, will that lead to a potentially dystopian reality where corporations control everything around us? I think there are good reasons to be concerned about that," Chalmers says.


The philosopher's theses are provocative, which is sure to get him a lot of attention. We'll be able to find out just how sound and enriching his thoughts and ideas really are starting next week. Reality+ will be released on January 25, 2022.

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Sources: The Guardian