Re: this essay by Alexa Hazel — of course people think we’re in a computer simulation. We always conceive of our minds as a dominant technology of our moment. As Gary Marcus wrote a few years ago, “Descartes thought that the brain was a kind of hydraulic pump, propelling the spirits of the nervous system through the body. Freud compared the brain to a steam engine. The neuroscientist Karl Pribram likened it to a holographic storage device.” But, Marcus insists, when we say a mind is a computer this time we’re right. Say others, No we’re not.
Me, I think we’re always wrong. We make idols and worship them — we remake ourselves in the image of our own technologies. See Brad Pasanek’s Metaphors of Mind: An Eighteenth-Century Dictionary to understand how this works, but John Calvin put the point most forcibly when he said that “the mind is a perpetual forge of idols” — thus critiquing this practice and exemplifying it at the same time, a neat trick.
When I talk to friends who don’t live in Palo Alto, they suggest that I have been here too long. I hear things like, you have drunk the Kool-Aid. No one wants this, they say. No one will use these devices.
Meanwhile, a lab at Stanford has already manufactured an effective retinal implant. The clunkiness of existing VR headsets is beside the point. How our lives will become more digital is undecided. That they will become more digital seems to me basically inevitable. To gesture to Meta’s slumping stock price in order to clinch the argument for VR’s irrelevance is to draw attention away from the question of who’s steering the ship, to what end, and why.
This strikes me as the despair of a humanist forced to dwell in the molten core of the Californian ideology. The truth is that many lives will become more digital, but some will opt out of that bullshit. Be one of the opt-outers.