April 17, 2009

Virtually possible

Suddenly, an odd thought struck me while I was reading one of Terry Pratchett's books. That happens sometimes, but more often when reading a Pratchett. When it struck me, I thought: "in a virtual world, you can easily do things that are virtually impossible".

Virtual literally means "not physically existing". A virtual world is synthetic because it is artificially created by software. Software that runs on clouds perhaps. Fairy tale style magic would be very plausible in a virtual world. Anyone could do it. Nothing special. Hardly marvelous at all.

When something is virtually impossible to achieve, we mean to say that we will probably not succeed in achieving that something. Virtual now has the same meaning as "almost" or "potential".

Today, in our current phase of human evolution, we can only theoretically "beam" people from one physical location to another. It has been researched, and so far the scientists can only beam a single hydrogen molecule. In the process of doing that, the original molecule is taken apart and a snapshot of its complete physical and energetic state is stored in memory. Then a new molecule is constructed and "revived" with the snapshot that is in memory. The details are probably a bit more complex, but the process boils down to the above. Here's why it is virtually impossible to beam people: we don't have enough memory yet to store the snapshot of a single human being, nor the computing power needed to conduct that beaming process in mere seconds.

But in a virtual world "beaming" is trivial. So it is virtually possible. But then again, our current virtual worlds are pathetically unrealistic. Sure, they will get better and better over time. But something tells me that the rendering of a virtual world which humans can't distinguish from the real one is going to be virtually impossible.

For those who were waiting for the point: there isn't one. I was just being virtually philosophical.


Kevin Breed said...

Sometimes I open my netvibes tab titled 'Capgemini' and read back some of the notes I made during my internship. On these occasions I also read some of your (recent) blog activity. Because opening these tabs can be very time consuming I don't do so very often.

Replying to a 4 months old post might be just as trivial as "beaming" is in a virtual world, but your 'virtual philosophy' directly relates to a pretty large theoretical debate. Just as you I don't have any point to make, but if you like to continue your 'philosophical voyage' you might like to read: Lister et. al., New Media, a Critical Introduction. Routledge: London, New York, 2009:124-127, 388-389. (on google docs for example) or view (part three of) The Woods Smell of Shampoo -- just for starters.

If you want some hardcore philosophy about this subject I would recommend the work of Deleuze (and Guattuari) about the virtual and actual (I don't have any good links at hand to read something about this subject though).

I hope you like it!

Mark Nankman said...

No worries about that 4 month delay. I often get that. My absurd thoughts seem to need that time to sink in (or get noticed).

Thanks for the links!

Kevin Breed said...

Luckily there are more people who share the same absurd thoughts and even write about it! Perhaps some iterations (independent of time) will gradually reveal the 'point' to make. (pronounce 'point' with a french accent to make the last sentence swing)