On the Design of Escaped Realities

Human beings have this amazing ability to retreat from reality without knowing precisely what reality is, in which direction it lies, and how to solve the converse problem of deliberately approaching it. We have gotten so good at this game of retreat that we’ve even managed to define an entire frontier of virtual reality to explore without quite figuring out what the non-virtual beast is. A question of particular philosophical urgency today is this: are virtual realities currently being designed in 3d game studios going to be more or less of a retreat from reality than the consensual fictions of the past, such as 2d games, novels, sporting events and religious mythologies?

I’ll offer a clear candidate answer later in this post, but it seems likely that all fictions — and fictions may be all we have — are retreats from reality rather than approaches to it.  This is very strange if you think about it. How can we be so good at retreating from something while simultaneously being really bad at approaching it? It’s like we have a compass that reliably points away from reality, but is incapable of pointing towards it.

Reality — which allegedly exists, despite the lack of credible witnesses — is mysterious. I’ve met people claiming to have experienced it, but it turned out they were all lying (especially to themselves — people in this business of “seeking reality” often manage to project their own desire and capacity for moral certainty onto their experienced universe, but that’s a polemic for another day).

The only marginally useful non-nihilistic idea about the mystery of reality that I’ve encountered is that it comprises three irreducibly distinct aspect mysteries: physical, mental and platonic-mathematical.  Roger Penrose made up this useful (and whimsically paradoxical) visualization of the triad in The Road to Reality.

3worlds3mysteriespenrose

Whether or not this triadic view is metaphysically the soundest one, it is a useful starting point for studying escapism.

Escapism. That’s the word we’ve made up to talk about the game of retreating from reality. We routinely accuse each other of indulging in it, and in polite company, avoid calling out each other’s preferred escaped realities. An escape is the opposite of a crash. It is a deliberate entrance into a simpler reality, as opposed to an unplanned entrance into a messier one. An escaped reality (in the computer science sense of the world you escape to, not the world you escape from) is the opposite of a crashed reality. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are both varieties of technologically mediated escaped realities. So, for that matter, are gated communities, religious festivals, sporting events and other experiencable environments based on more technologically primitive mechanisms.

This deprecation of  escape as a disreputable behavior is unfortunate. Not only is escapism our best proxy for studying how we engage reality (short answer: backwards, in the rear-view mirror created by our fictions), there is an argument to be made that perhaps all existence is escapism. That the only realities (plural) we are capable of inhabiting are escaped ones. If this strong view turns out to be true, then the only way to directly experience reality would be to die. The ultimate crash.

But let’s start with a more familiar notion of escaped realities, of the sort associated with movies, novels, video games, religions, meditative practices and collecting stamps.

Three Archetypal Escapes

I spent a fair amount of time last year playing three games on my iPad that I think represent archetypal escaped realities, corresponding to the vertices of the Penrose reality triangle.

The first was Smash Hit, a game that involves throwing steel balls at glass objects. It is a beautiful game that exists in a sort of purified classical physics universe. The glass objects shatter in satisfyingly realistic ways, yet the overall feel of the game is completely surrealist.

smashhit

You can think of this game as having descended from the simplest ball-throwing games like catch, and early video games involving classical physics, such as the pioneering 1979 classic, AsteroidsSmash Hit reduces the elemental play behavior of throwing balls to its absolute essence, and creates an entire universe around it. In Penrose’s triangular reality scheme, Smash Hit represents a purified version of the physical world. The game tries to eliminate the platonic-mathematical and mental aspects of experiencing reality as much as possible. It’s a game designed to reduce you to a hand-eye response loop.

The second game I played a lot was the equally popular Bejeweled Blitz. The game involves swapping neighboring gems on a board to create patterns that destroy them. The simplest is a line of three gems that causes all three to disappear. More complex patterns create special gems, and swapping those special gems causes more destruction.

bejeweled

This game is arguably descended from abstract board games like Parchisi and physical games like hopscotch. Games involving moving counters (or humans-acting-as-counters) around on a board: a universe that embodies rules drawn from the properties of numbers. It exists in as pure a form as possible in the platonic-mathematical world. Nothing in non-escaped reality literally resembles this little gem universe. The essence of Bejeweled reality is intuitive mathematics: discrete geometric patterns and counting behaviors that we understand how to work with without being taught. For us mortals, matching up 3 in a row is easy and creating L-shapes or lines of 5 (two ways to create special gems) is just a little harder. Presumably, a version of the game designed for number-theory prodigies would be based on more complex patterns based on prime numbers and the Fibonacci series. Maybe experts would create and detonate gems based on the Riemann hypothesis.

Both these games have an extraordinary ability to draw you into a zen-like trance. Both even have play modes labeled zen, where time and scoring pressures are removed and you can just repeat the basic behaviors. If you play either game for too long before bedtime, I guarantee you will dream about them.

In a way these games are escapes from your own mind and the pressures and worries of having an I operating between your ears. They eliminate your own mental world and reduce subjectivity to bouncing balls, smashing glass and exploding gems. I am not a martial artist, so I don’t know what mind-like-water feels like, but thanks to these games, I do know what mind-like-smashing-glass and mind-like-exploding-gem-patterns feel like. I expect many of you do too.

These games dissolve your sense of human identity as surely as a rosary, and draw you away from ego-anchored things like relationships, narratives and meaningful emotions about human concerns. You experience visceral, pre-ego emotions instead, in relation to primal sounds, shapes and colors.

The difference between the two games is subtle, but unmistakeable once you notice it. Smash Hit hooks primal physics instincts in our muscles. Bejeweled hooks primal mathematical instincts in our computer-brains. Atoms versus bits if you prefer. Whether they like it or not, even those who claim to hate math and physics are mathematical-physical beings. There are quarks and prime numbers inside everybody.

The third game I played a lot was Clash of Clansthe much-advertised game of cartoon tribal warfare, where you build up a village with resources and warriors and go around attacking other players’ villages. While there is physics and math in this universe, the focus is on characters, narrative, meaning-loaded emotions like revenge, and modeling of other humans in cartoonish ways.  And yes, you can indulge your tribal instincts by forming clans (which I haven’t done: the screenshot below is of my unsociable and unclannish village).

CoC

Unlike the other two games, which dissolve the ego into primordial physics and number theory respectively, Clash of Clans aims to amplify the ego by simplifying all the physical and mathematical aspects of reality. Physics is automated — you deploy troops in attack patterns, but their movements and weapon-wielding behaviors are controlled by the game engine after that. Mathematics is reduced to fairly trivial book-keeping uses  — you greedily count your gold and elixir, and you compare your warriors in terms of offensive and defensive capabilities (“damage” points and “hit points”), but you don’t do much puzzle-like mathematical thinking the way you do in Bejeweled. You also don’t exercise your hand-eye coordination capabilities the way you do in Smash Hit.  

I would be very surprised if it were possible to design a zen mode for Clash of Clans. It is an anti-Zen game of sorts. 

Clash of Clans also drives home a point that is perhaps obvious to more sociable people than myself: Mental experience is, to a surprising extent, the social experience of having an ego.  You would lose very little if you were to reductively define Penrose’s third vertex of mental experience as social-ego experience. The fact that the other two games manage to induce trance-like states that feel non-normal, by suppressing social-ego aspects of mental experience, tells you how central the latter is.

The bulk of our mental experience of our socially situated egos happens in the context of relationships. It is the presence of other humans — even bot-villagers and peers in a multiplayer online game will do the trick — that creates and maintains the boundary of our ego. Without other humans and animals around us, we would not even need names. Our egos, to the extent they could exist at all in such a state, would become defined by the physical and mathematical structure of experience, dissolving entirely.

The three archetypal escaped realities apply to other media as well, such as  movies.

A classic action movie is a physics-vertex movie. It is all about explosions and things smashing into each other. The Transformers movies took this to a so-bad-it’s-good level of absurdity. Die Hard is also a physics-vertex movie (I’ve mentioned this great blog post, which explains why, several times).

A caper movie like Ocean’s Eleven is a platonic-mathematical movie of sorts. The physics turns into a Rube Goldberg caricature. Characters and plots are again highly simplified, limiting mental experience (in the reductive social-ego sense). But the clockwork precision involved in a cinematic heist, appeals (I think) to the same instincts that make Bejeweled enjoyable to play. It’s the pleasure of losing yourself in dynamics that would be highly improbable in the physics world, but are possible in the platonic-mathematical world. Convoluted time travel movies are also in this bucket. A movie that elevated platonic-mathematical escapism to absurdity is Inception. 

Finally, romance and Christmas movies eliminate all physics and math in favor of pure, ego-reinforcing experience of relationships in a tribal/clan setting. Every such movie is a close cousin of a session of Clash of Clans. 

I’ll leave dance and music as homework cases for you to work out.

The Structure of Escaped Realities

It is useful to think of Penrose’s three aspects of reality in terms of their building blocks rather than their overarching universal totality. In reductive terms, physical, platonic-mathematical and mental worlds are made up of atoms, bits and qualia respectively. Or A-B-Q.

An escaped reality is a manipulated environment that achieves a temporary non-equilibrium balance among these three aspects by partially suspending the full richness of one or more aspects. The three archetypal games we talked about, for instance, are escaped realities that exaggerate one vertex each, through simplifying suspensions of reality.

For no good reason other than that I think it is funny, we can even make up a notation scheme for escaped realities. If reality is ABQ (possibly impossible to directly experience), then the three pure archetypal escapes can be denoted \ABQ, A\BQ and AB\Q. The escaped aspect is the one whose normal, more complex behavior is suspended (as in the computing sense of escaped characters, which lose their more powerful magical features when you put a backslash before them) in favor of a simpler, and therefore less-constrained behavior.

This is an important idea that is often missed.

The point of Smash Hit is to simplify the normal physics of steel balls smashing into glass objects (which would ordinarily include such effects as being cut to bleeding shreds by flying shrapnel) in a way that allows us to safely expand that aspect of our experience. In Smash Hit, we can exercise the freedom we possess in real life, to throw things at actual glass objects, without suffering all the consequences. Instead of playing with balls and glass, we play with \balls and \glass, with some of the physics of the real world turned off.

This is why we have the paradox of escaped realities — they are simpler than the realities we escape from, yet they seemingly offer more freedom. The explanation is that escaped realities are play environments that make it safer to exercise preferred freedoms while suspending dangerous ones.

The non-focal aspects may be deliberately simplified too, but it is usually sufficient to just neglect them. The simplification of one aspect naturally focuses our attention on that aspect, allowing the others to fade, or stabilize into a temporary degenerate state.

To summarize the structuralist model here:

  • Physical reality is made up of atoms. Our basic experience of atoms is our experience of non-living matter: things we throw, catch, break, join and so forth. Everything that we experience with our five senses. The archetypal escaped reality here is throwing a ball at something.
  • Platonic, mathematical reality is ultimately based on counting. As the mathematician Leopold Kronecker once put it, “God created the integers, all else is the work of man.” Arguably, even the continuum, the mathematical object we conventionally map to physics via geometry,  is a fiction. The archetypal escaped reality here is any simple mathematical puzzle.
  • Mental experience is made up of qualia. Without getting into the philosophy of mind aspect of qualia, we can note that our everyday experience of them is overwhelmingly social. In other words, there is an experiencing something-it-is-like-to-be-me primarily because there are other people around enforcing the boundary of that experiencing-entity through social transactions, and imposing an identity onto it. The archetypal escaped reality here is a conversation with another human being.

With these three kinds of building blocks, we can characterize the nature of an escaped reality in a fair amount of detail. Not only can we identify the aspect that is being escaped and amplified (\ABQ, A\BQ or AB\Q), we could even quantify an escaped reality based on the degree of escapism along all three.

For technological reasons, it is currently very hard to escape (in both computing and normal senses) more than one of the three aspects of reality at the same time. I’ve seen games that attempt to escape along two aspects or even all three (Grand Theft Auto is arguably an attempt at \A\B\Q), but it is hard to do well). Movies do better than video games, but they are unfortunately not interactive. It should not be surprising that attempting to simulate more of reality in non-trivial/non-degenerate ways is harder.

Just to flesh out the idea in greater generality, consider the forms of escape that we bundle under religion and spirituality. Most meditative practices are strongly \ABQ. Most refined scholastic theologies are strongly A\BQ: obsessively concerned with the esoteric significance of numbers and holy words (think Kabbalah for instance) among other things. Most organized social religions are AB\Q, obsessively concerned with social ritual, which Sarah explored last week.

There is no essential difference between meditating in a cave and playing Smash Hit.  Or between playing Bejeweled Blitz and arguing about whether reality is a mystic Zero or a mystic One. Or between living a life immersed in the high seriousness of devout church life and playing Clash of Clans. 

Except perhaps for one difference. Arguably, modern video games are much less escapist than traditional religions, and VR and AR games to come will be even less escaped.

Reality Primitivism

Yes, read that again, I am arguing that video games are less escapist than things like religions in pre-computing cultures, which are much more strongly escaped realities.

Surprisingly many people think it’s the other way around, but the degree of escapism in a constructed reality has less to do with the technological sophistication involved, and more to do with the amount of suspension of disbelief required for participation. A thousand-year old temple, built of stone in geographic reality, represents a far greater suspension of disbelief than a superhero avatar inhabited in a virtual game or a spaceship in  a movie universe.

One piece of evidence: it is much easier to share a game cheat or spoil a movie than it is to undermine a religious belief. The consequences are also less traumatic: you might kill the fun of a game or cause a loss of interest in a movie, but you won’t trigger an existential crisis.

Santa Claus is a more powerful illusion than Star Trek, despite being technologically more primitive in its origins, and offering lower-fidelity simulations to inhabit. You never have the hard problem of telling somebody Captain Kirk isn’t real (Galaxy Quest exploited that premise very well).

Closer to our world, a text-based command-line fantasy game is a much more strongly escaped reality than an immersive 3d world.

More generally, greater technological sophistication makes us less escapist, not more. This is counter-intuitive to a lot of people, whom I like to call reality-primitivists: people who believe more primitive things are somehow more real, simply by virtue of being more primitive. Reality-primitivists, for example, believe that in some ineffable sense, pen and paper are more “real” than blog software.

Reality primitivists insist on the perverse belief that understanding the world better and acting more powerfully within it somehow makes us more removed from it, rather than less. The opposite is somebody who believes that older cultures were fundamentally more childish; that we, not our ancestors, are the Wise Ones (obvious, once you note that we are culturally older by centuries, relative to people we typically revere).  It is an attitude that I think is fundamentally correct, even though it has a nasty history of being associated with paternalistic imposition of high-modernist authority. The newer is wiser and more real than the older. Paleomania is a kind of childishness. Neomania (of the non-groupie-silliness variety) is a way to be more adult.

Consider for example, the relationship between the two worlds of The Matrix. When the virtual reality illusion fails and Neo crashes out, he somehow ends up in what looks like a less technologically advanced culture (something that looks vaguely like a Paleo-rave cult that just happens to have a few cool subterranean ships and junkyard brain-stem VR jacks, but apparently cannot manufacture clothing in colors other than fifty shades of beige).

Contrast that with the sort of illusion-puncturing crash-out experience that is actually likely to happen in our world: a member of an isolated primitivist culture like the Amish suddenly being dumped into a modern city. It takes some pastoral-romantic mental gymnastics to pretend that they inhabit a more-real reality than we do. The unromantic alternative explanation — which I prefer — is that they simply inhabit a more squalid and miserable reality.

An Escapist Definition of Civilization

I have a metaphor for understanding progress this way: the womb is the ultimate escaped reality, and progress is about leaving it. We start life in the most comprehensively isolated condition possible. A fetus in the womb is literally a brain in a vat. One that makes even the fanciest VR headset pale in comparison. There’s a literal VR jack in there (it just attaches to your navel rather than your brain stem).

The rest of life is a very extended leaving-of-the-womb. In a primitive culture, you can’t wander very far because it is unsafe to do so — you get out of the womb, and enter a very strongly escaped reality of shamans and magic and mythology, within which you can do very few things. Hunt and dig up yams and dance around the campfire telling not-very-good ghost stories.

You remain a brain-in-a-vat, with your realities being pumped in by the village shaman telling you those stories by the campfire, instead of the umbilical cord.

By contrast, the more technology you add to the mix, the farther you can wander from the womb. Literally. You could get into a spaceship and travel off the planet, or into a submersible and travel to the ocean depths. In the process you can encounter stranger realities than have ever been imagined by even the most creative primitive mythology.

You could even define civilization as the process of constructing increasingly less-escaped realities under older, more-escaped realities. The cycle of progress seems to work as follows:

  1. Design a strongly escaped reality that we can safely inhabit
  2. Crash out of it by accident and get alarmingly closer to reality
  3. Retreat hurriedly to a less escaped reality (a less womb-like one)

So through a process of collective crashes and escapes, we seem to use technology to gradually become a less escapist species. This neatly fits Philip K. Dick’s definition of reality as that which does not go away when you stop believing in it. A crash is when you stop believing in a virtual reality (thanks to a broken illusion) and stare at the alarming stuff that does not go away. Then you hurriedly construct a new virtual reality to escape into. But fortunately, your mind has expanded just enough that you retreat less than you crashed.  More does-not-go-away reality is now an enduring part of your beliefs.

Here’s why this is a good definition. In general, the world used to be a far less hospitable place for humans, and has gotten progressively more hospitable thanks to the accumulation of managed technological realities. In a primitive culture, crashing out of the virtual reality created by (say) a womb-like paleo-tribal mythology with its priests and temples was a very dangerous event indeed. You were on your own in untamed forests, vulnerable to everything. But the more technology we injected into the environment over the centuries, the less dangerous it became to leave the consensual virtual reality of the tribe and experience less escaped realities for yourself.

This suggests something important about virtual realities of any sort. What determines the strength of an escaped reality is not the sophistication of the technology enabling it, but the number of other people who believe absolutely in it. 

This is a social womb definition of virtual realities.

A paleolithic tribe of a few hundred strongly and absolutely believing in a bunch of local gods, with life organized around performing those beliefs with stone implements and spears, is a far more powerful virtual reality than one piped in through VR glasses and only weakly/ironically believed in by tens of thousands. Because it is a much stronger social womb.

Escaped Realities as Social Wombs

Every escaped reality is a more or less social womb. You could say that the social order of any age is a set of such social wombs. Once you accept that the strength of a virtual reality is a function of the strength of collective belief in it, rather than the amount of technology involved, you analyze it very differently.

The social womb metaphor explains the nature of the mental-experience vertex of the Penrose triangle. The reason mental experience seems to degenerate into social-ego experience is that we are always inside a social womb of some sort. The unbounded, universe-sized social ego of the child in the womb (the perfect featureless universal subject) shrinks to a size determined by the strength of the escaped reality represented by the social womb. The stronger the escaped reality, the larger the human ego can be within it. The non reality-primitivist term for this effect is anthropocentrism. As in Copernicus and double-helix and selfish-gene and stuff.

There is arguably a kind of asymptotic natural state a part of us yearns for: being an unnamed and featureless universal subject that defines others but is not itself defined by others. This is what we imagine pure power feels like. This is also our best guess for what being in a womb feels like (I personally don’t remember what it feels like, but perhaps you do).

This explains why more primitive, insular cultures also tend to be more totalitarian, with a vastly exaggerated sense of the importance of their social realities. Within the boundaries of a social womb, the local gods are indeed very powerful. Crash out of that womb, and suddenly your social ego shrinks, and the statures of your gods shrink as well. Among other things, the reality shock makes you far more thin-skinned and sensitive to offense. Mere cartoons can threaten your entire sense of self. Like a child being told there is no Santa Claus, you might throw a tantrum. Especially if the reality dose comes with laughter.

The womb metaphor also suggests why it is easier to retreat from reality than approach it. The direction of escape is always clear — it is the most womb-like direction. The direction of approach is a diverging set of exploration paths that wander beyond the current social womb. This should not be surprising. There is more unknown reality out there than we comprehend today, so it makes sense that the road to reality would be a set of diverging paths rather than a set of converging ones (let alone a single path). Penrose should have called his book Roads to Reality. Plural.

The social-womb quality of escaped realities is not limited to obviously primitive ones. It applies to contemporary ones as well.

Making money in the economy of things like manufacturing is \ABQ. Making money on the stock market is A\BQ. Making money in the “service” economy is AB\Q.

The auto-worker thinks “real” work looks like welding. Atoms are real, bits and social egos are for the weak. The banker thinks “real” work looks like Master-of-the-Universe creative-destruction achieved through capital movements guided by quant-trading esoterica. Bits are real, atoms and social egos are for the weak. Jeffersonian middle class romantics and faux-artisans think “real” work involves enacting relationships with other humans. Atoms and bits are for the weak.

I make the most fun of the last group because they’re the softest targets, but the conceits of the other two claimants to “real” work are equally amusing. Wall Street is as much a comforting social womb as the world of Portland hipsters.

I think all such citizens of contemporary escaped realities are in for a reality shock when things like VR and AR go mainstream — they will expect to find more escaped realities when they put on their headsets, but will find themselves dumped into less escaped ones. They will imagine they are jacking into the Matrix, and will find that they are actually crashing out of it.

It happened before with online communities. Plenty of people are still in denial about the fact that that is in fact what happened — they agonize about online filter bubbles while ignoring the fact that geography is a far stronger filter bubble than the Internet.  It will happen again with our newer virtual realities.

If you are planning on getting into the business of designing VR environments anytime soon, you would do well to follow a counter-intuitive design approach: think of your goal not as the task of designing an escaped reality, but a crashed one. Because when your customer puts on that headset, he is not going to escape to a simpler reality than the one he already inhabits. He’s going to crash out into a messier one.

You’re not in the Blue Pill business. You’re in the Red Pill business.

 

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter

Comments

  1. It is interesting to consider the Internet / Social Media and MMORPGs as “crashed realities”.

    I think you have a point that both bring us into immediate contact with other people whose social reality is incompatible with our own, causing a crash. But it seems that the typical reaction to this is to double down on the most primitive sort of tribalism.

    Much of the worst behaviour in both comes from this, causing people to construct and retreat into more virulent versions of their original escaped reality, or perhaps new ones.

    However, this ability to build wombs in new environments might undermine the directionality of your theory.

    • I tend to think recreated wombs in new media (example, religious groups on the Internet) are more fragile than in the pre-tech reality. They are more vulnerable to leaks of information in, people out, and competition from juxtaposed realities. When you are on Facebook in a closed group for example, even the existence of other “suggested groups” on the sidebar is enough to puncture your realities.

  2. While I thoroughly enjoyed your post (and will have to read it again to understand more of it) I find myself wondering why you didn’t mention (or probably more precisely: feel it to be irrelevent) the quality of reality which I feel is fundamental: its persistence.

    When I started thinking about the term virtual reality and why we would even call some virtual worlds reality when we haven’t called the countless imaginery worlds of books and movies and video games such, I found the difference to be their persistence. Books can be closed, movies turned off by an individual. The virtual realities running on servers or even clusters of servers are above the individuals decision to quit or leave. Life goes on there wether I, you or anybody cares about it or not. They could exist even when every single individual leaves.
    Have you read The Neverending Story? This story feels to me like a pre-internet approach on what a virtual reality would be like.

    So what makes a reality a virtual one is the fact that it was build by us. But it is still reality. Not an escaped one or a crashed one but an actual one. Only when individuals venture there will it become part of their personal mixes of realities, escaped, crashed or otherwise.

    So I feel you underestimate the virtual realities’ reality.

    But than I might be completely off track here since maybe you only talk about an individual’s take on reality or how it copes with its limited ability to grasp and understand reality?

    • Yeah, I didn’t explore persistence much, beyond mentioning Philip K. Dick’s definition. It’s a separate theme beyond the scope here.

  3. Venkat, a very good ego-dissolving mobile game that you might like is Desert Golfing.

    https://itunes.apple.com/nz/app/desert-golfing/id902062673

    “To see a world in a bunker of sand
    And a heaven in a wild cactus,
    Hold infinity in the pocket of your shorts,
    And eternity in Desert Golfing.”

  4. Keith Duddy says:

    This was the next blog post that came up in my reader after seeing this. It’s a great bit of space-age kitsch, and follows nicely in the theme of choosing one form of escapism to replace another:

    http://kadrey.tumblr.com/post/108264024902/atompunk-monkeyday41-marika-rokk-mir-ist

    featuring the YouTube video of Marik Rökk escaping her platonic reality distortion for a tribal mystic (psuedo sexual) one, in campy 50s musical style: http://youtu.be/-MNznaalZTI

  5. The timing of this incisive post comes at an oddly appropriate time for me. I just started reading the novel ‘Ready Player One’ last week, which is a mammoth coincidence in itself. On top of it, I have of late been reconsidering intensely my various roles as consumer and producer of escapism in the economy. This post will go down in my book as another of Venkat’s masterpiece posts. I can barely wait for the next one.

  6. Eli Schiff says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the idea that primitive societies are more womb-like than technologically modern ‘realist’ societies. To me every culture produces wombs in their own ways.

    Take the technologically-dense high-modernist totalitarianism. It seems to me equally, if not more, all-encompassing than primitive religion. Religion at least was imaginary. High-modernism actually goes about engineering your entire life into a series of scientifically justified wombs.

    • You’re conflating technology and suspension of disbelief like I pointed out in the post. It was much harder a 1000 years ago to disbelieve whatever religion your local priest preached because there were no alternatives to destabilize the ideas being instilled.

      A thousand years ago, today’s North Korea would seem normal and today’s normal would have seemed completely weird.

  7. Venkat, I like your way of developing thoughts of this kind, but I’m not sure it is all historically sound. You say, “This explains why more primitive, insular cultures also tend to be more totalitarian, with a vastly exaggerated sense of the importance of their social realities.” I think Nazi Germany was far from a primitive culture but indeed very totalitarian. Maybe you don’t mean “totalitarian”? Maybe you shoud use another label? I think “totalitarian” refers to a very modern form of mind control that could not have existed in older societies becaue they lacked the modern media necessary for that mind control (printed media, radio, film).

    I think it is very diffcult to label or to type cultures. One of the fouders of modern sociology, Emile Durkheim, typed older societies as more “mechanistic” (tied to the womb, in your words, therefore constricted, with little roads to go for you as a person; where you came from determined where you were going). Modern society to him was more “organic” (developing a more complex social tissue, in which people experienced more freedom to find their own ways in society, looser from the womb; the ties between people became looser, at the cost of more “anomie”, Durkheim says). Many people since picked up this idea but – I imagine without noticing their mistake – used the word “organic” for the older societies and the word “mechanistic” for modern society. Thereby they completely changed at least the feel of Durkheim’s developmental idea. More positieve value was attached to the older societies (typed “organic”), more negative value to modern society (typed “mechanistic”, meaning “unnatural”). But both accounts seem valid. Society develops from “mechanistic” to “organic” – yes, it sounds convincing to me. And society develops from “organic” to “mechanic” – that could also convince me!

    Venkat, you like to surprise your readers when you point at false assumptions they probably have: “Arguably, modern video games are much less escapist than traditional religions, and VR and AR games to come will be even less escaped.” You certainly surprised me with that counter intuitive statement! Things are just the other way around than I would have thought. I like that kind of lessons in (in)sane reasoning! But then your own assumpions come under scrutiny. The term “autoritarian” might just point in an other direction than you meant.

    • I don’t buy it :)

      From what I’ve read, Pharonic Egypt and other ancient cultures were politically totalitarian. Even with their more primitive technology, they managed feats of genocide and thought control.

      It’s a bit of an arms race between technologies of control, and the forces increasing freedom, and the technologies of control have been losing steadily. It is just that the rate has been too slow to notice since significant changes take longer than a single human lifespan. Despite the fascist and communist 20th century versions, overall, the 20th century saw a steady increase in freedom and decrease in totalitarian governance. Arguably, it was this increasing freedom that threw the absolutist reactions into sharp relief.

      I am not alone in this particular assumption that the past was way more totalitarian, even if technologically less advanced. We tend to forget what life was like under the imperial/colonial world order prior to about 1850. We forget the extreme slaughters of conflict in the medieval world, the kinds of torture used to enforce political rule, etc.

      The fact that the Enlightenment was going on for a minority blinds us to the condition of the majority.

      I didn’t know that confusion about mechanistic/organic existed with Durkheim’s work. Interesting. I learned those concepts “right”, which I suppose makes me lucky. I’ve always thought of mechanistic/segmentary as “reversibly assembled.” Modern tech tends to glue societies together in less reversible ways. Irreversibility is a general feature of organic life processes.

      • I don’t see history inevitably going one way or the other, and it has been up and down and up and down again from the start.
        There are good empirical and analytical reasons for the observation that hunter gatherer societies do things by consensus. Does that make them free? They have a very constricted world and are usually at war with some neighboring group(s), so they have very limited freedom in a positive sense, but a hunter-gatherer’s head isn’t being put in a vice by someone else. From the ethnographies etc. I’ve read they tend to have only fragments of anything you could call religious thought — of course their only way to explain things that change is through some kind of agency/spirit. Witches seem to be a more universal feature than coherent theology.
        Ancient Egypt? Not sure about that; it seems to me they didn’t leave any real history to speak of.
        The neolithic (agricultural) revolution seems to have lead initially to society on a scale 1 or 2 orders of magnitude bigger with something like a “big man” based society as in New Guinea (largely per Fukuyama). Ancestor based religions take root and there is probably a degree of coercion or bullying. After the early neolithic came an era of small empires; slavery probably of captured enemies and subjucated neighbors. Meanwhile, on the steppes, the prequel societies of Homer’s Greeks and Trojans, whose “heroic” way of life lasted in places until the Germanic peoples finally settled down — probably some fluidity about who was in charge; definitely bullying and small scale coercion and probably slavery of “losers”.
        The Roman era seems to me like a time when there was a freedom for a substantial minority to live an metropolitan life, not rooted in one place, with cash to take the place of permanent bonds, except that there was almost always a war going on – not good if you’re caught in the wrong place/time.
        Jumping ahead to about give or take several decades, this was known in Europe as the Age of Absolutism, and many later democratic theorists looked back on feudalism as a freer time. Kings, if they got anything done, had to persuade their nominal underlings and call councils. Loose assortments of aristocrats with a nominal king being first among equals (except when plotted against) gave way to kingdoms capable of major projects. At least this happened in the extreme west of Europe. Further east, there tended to be a truly awful parasitic nobility with perhaps a nominal king or emperor who couldn’t do much with them but might be a sort of power broker and as such entitled to piles of tribute. In Europe, massive standing armies with competent leadership seemed to be a produce of Calvinist “New Model”ism, and these helped bring about truly powerful states tending towards empires.
        Then we had an “age or revolution” for a few, and especially in America from the revolution on, gentility and freedom for perhaps a majority, and industry giving freedom and prospering to some and misery to others (e.g. Dickens’ London), which I think gave way in France and the Protestant part of west Europe in the late 1800s, at least to a great broadening into a substantial middle class – not just the small minority that was the start of the Bourgeoisie — all of this however parasitic on subjugated colonies.
        Totalitarianism as in Nazi Germany and Stalinist USSR seems to me more of a perfect storm which a small number of Machiavellian political geniuses have been able to achieve for at most a few decades (it seems to work better for longer on a small scale as in N. Korea). The totalitarian USSR punched above its weight in the sense of becoming a major industrial power (almost exclusively for war). But one man could not, at least it seems in country with a talent pool such as Russia had, keep everyone from the top down terrified forever. Khrushchev’s secret speech lead to an era when people in the Nomenklatura were safe and grew comfy, a more normal class based society where people could admit in private how disillusioned they were. Momentum, and the specialness of the military industrial complex got them into space and able to match the US in ICBMs and H-bombs, but the lack of system-wide constant terror lead to a system of “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work” as the old soviet joke went.
        The wave upon wave of manufactured crises accomplished by Hitler and Stalin just need to be studied in detail if you want to see how true totalitarianism worked. It was much more of a series of improvisations than people imagine. Kennan was right to say it could not last and would have to run out of steam. It seems to me all examples of totalitarianism came from a set of explosive developments, that a “slippery slope” approach to it is a fantasy given apparent weight by Atlas Shrugged, the Readers’ Digest version of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, and Animal Farm.
        This 3-page history of civilization (sort of) is sloppy and a whole lot of shooting from the hip but comes from a lot of study and thought FWIW.

        • Correction: Jumping ahead to about give or take several decades

          should read Jumping ahead to about the 17c give or take several decades

          ?Exception that proves the rule? N. Korea is still punching way above its weight militarily, while the population starves, but can’t project positive strength (only negative strength) beyond its borders.

  8. It’s an interesting thing to note of realities because I’ve come full circle from reading your The Gervais Principle to most of the required reading to stuff from Robert Anton Wilson to back to here. I’m 75% done with Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art Of War and just past “Creation and Destruction.”

    One thought that occurred to me while reading Prometheus Rising, when not falling into solipsism, was that books, games, movies, music etc. require you to buy into their reality. And this is a purely subjective reality. Another is that the author of each reality has to be careful not to pop the user out of the reality.

    Example 1: Catch 22 — I’m reading this book and am totally into this guys reality. Then a pattern emerges where the author is just going through a list of people and talking about them. I popped out and have yet to finish the book.

    Example 2: Transformers — Watching this movie and the plot is really weak from the beginning. A movie about sex appeal and explosions. What popped me out though, because who doesn’t like sex appeal and explosions, was the part when they’re trying to get the cube to the top of a building and instead they just shove it into OP’s chest. Why not just do that to begin with?

    Example 3: RPG — I almost refuse to play RPG games. There are a couple of reasons but the one that fits with this theme is that they are realities that almost never pop me out. Unless the controls are so odd that I have to pop out and pay attention, I’m immersed. The yard doesn’t get mowed. The leaking faucets continue to leak. The dust continues to get thicker. So I bypass the reality all together and only indulge in them every once in a while.

    And it’s odd that this is subjective. For instance my wife loves horror movies. I don’t care for them too much. My sons and I were playing a Silent Hill demo and I’m getting the spooky goosebumps up my spine. She asked why it was scary. But play the Halloween theme as a ringtone and she’ll run out of the bathroom at the speed of a gazelle. If I watch the Halloween movies I’m constantly asking “Why don’t they just shoot him?” “They did” “Why didn’t he die?” “He can’t die.” “Why not” “Just shut up and watch the movie.” So him not being able to be shot and killed instantly pops me out. He’s a sadistic psychopath not superman. Now there is someone that “can” take a bullet, and a world where I can buy into the reality.

    Music too. I’m sure there is someone who doesn’t like Pink Floyd’s – The Wall but when I listen I’m totally immersed. Every phrase spoken on the guitar and every lyric written. I cannot escape … the escape.

    But there are a lot of people who like country music and I like very little of it. Instrumentally it’s great. Very good players. But lyrically it pops me out. But that raises the question in what does it do for those who like it.

    • People who don’t “like” Pink Floyd I think are actually more afraid of it and what it says about them, but I’m being elitist probably. ;)

      I think the horror dilemma can be explained with deconstructionism. Most horror has two components, the physical (or conscious) component and the metaphorical (or unconscious) component. For example, Dawn Of The Dead is not only scary because of zombies and death (the conscious) but also the thought that we could devolve into mindless beasts wandering through a consumerist dystopia (the unconscious). Since fear is one of the emotions most attached to the unconscious (at least by Freudian standards) it is the unconscious component that drives the fear reaction the most. So if you’re not particularly concerned about consumerism, or perhaps you just quite enjoy purchasing your seventy eighth pair of shoes, then you might find Dawn Of The Dead as just silly.

  9. David Godel says:

    I’m curious what you mean by the ‘*essential* difference’ between meditating and Smash Hit. I assume the zen-like trance you described is what psychologists call “Flow”. It’s certainly true that the concentration branches of meditation can induce a similar state, but there are other branches I think you will find more interesting if you’re not already aware of them.

    The idea is to cause a progressively destabilizing reality crashes by picking at the blind spots / recognizing illegibility at the sensory level, approaching an unconditioned “non-denotative” cognition from which models can be jumped into as needed. It is a sort of “game” (there’s a distinctive dopamine rush when a model is dissolved), but I’m not sure where it would fit into this Penrose map.

    Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding or this is irrelevant; you speak offhandedly about it (meditation) frequently enough that I suspect it’s on your radar, but I don’t recall you ever elaborating at length.
    If you’re waiting for n independent nudges before bumping it into your list, consider this one nudge.

    • By “no essential difference” I mean something like, “if you know how to swim, it doesn’t really matter if you’re in 8 feet of water or 800. If you can’t swim, you’ll drown in both.” The category of experience, and the phenomenology, is the same, even though one is more dramatic/extreme than the other. It is easier to become sensitized to certain phenomena when they occur in very exaggerated forms, but they exist in the everyday forms as well (though you may not notice them).

      I have enough direct experience of varied meditative practices and traditions to have turned into a skeptic of the associated philosophical cultures. The fact that they deal in varied unusual mind states compared to mainstream religion does not, in and of itself, make the metaphysics they bundle with the practices more credible. Quite the opposite imo.

      In general, my opinion of all those traditions is that they are largely superfluous. The associated “in the wild” experiences do more than the domesticated, legibilized versions (think the difference between hunting and gathering in the wild and Olympic sports).

      It’s not a subject I plan to write about, but fwiw, my general take is: the in-the-wild exploration of consciousness, through any means you anarchically stumble upon (be they video games or traumatic experiences or bouts of depression) is better than the exploration within particular “schools.”

      Things like “flow” belong in a more pedestrian level of phenomenology that doesn’t really belong in this discussion. They are much simpler.

      • David Godel says:

        Thanks for elaborating.

        That’s unfortunate.
        The unusual mind states induced by some practices are interesting and sometimes useful but ultimately irrelevant.

        The associated pet metaphysics for each school are certainly a problem, and makes it more difficult (read: more fun) to navigate because the extrinsic coordinate system is near useless. Fortunately, the few sensible parts can be easily rederived so there’s no harm supplanting with your own epistemology.

        What’s useful, rather, are the techniques for sensory training in a tight feedback loop (i.e. “gamified”). ‘Meditation’ is highly overloaded, and people usually think only of trance states, relaxation, or martial arts – but it’s a lot more fine-grained. Among other things, there’s types like VR training for the metaskill of exiting (in)finite games/refactoring perception, just as Smash Hit is VR training for physics intuition and Bejeweled is VR training for pattern recognition etc.

        You can wait for serendipitous in-the-wild encounters to explore, but the fact is that one’s major models aren’t challenged often or strongly enough to make efficient progress without deliberate practice time (maybe 1000 “natural” opportunities on a good day, vs 5 times per second when practicing). Just like you can’t feasibly become a chess champion by only playing tournaments.

        Oh well, more secret tech for the rest of us.

  10. It’s interesting how Facebook would be the less-escaped reality. You’re caught up in your day job, finishing up with a client, only to find out an hour later through Facebook that your friend working abroad just got engaged. And some 50 people were just killed in the Middle East. Reality’s been out here, waiting for us the whole time, right? The world was always spinning.

    Of course, the online world is not a direct substitute for the real thing either. We’re only seeing the stories that people are revealing, in the way they want to tell them. We’re still not necessarily seeing reality, but rather experiencing a crash outside of our escaped one, and taking a closer step.

    So even if she didn’t really sleep with him, but everyone on Facebook is talking as if she did, and there’s a picture or two that seems incriminating enough, well she’s still experiencing a crash as she is reading all this, even if it never actually happened. And so long as everyone else holds the belief that she really did sleep with him (and I’m sorry for such a crude example), they too are experiencing a crash.

    But the only step closer to reality anyone might get out of this, is that at least something merely happened. Look, there’s a photo of them kissing in the back. If nothing happened beyond that, but everyone thinks something did, then everyone is still removed from actual reality.

    So as we talk about designing escaped realities, I am reminded that designing or influencing someone’s escaped realities are a tool for controlling and influencing people, a la the sociopath — whether it’s using war propaganda or maliciously spreading rumors on Facebook.

    Did the idea of a sociopath as a designer of others’ realities influence this piece?

    Or perhaps I’ve gone too far taking the “escape” out of the escaped reality.

    That being said, I wonder if there is an opportunity somewhere for “virtual realities” to either exacerbate this phenomenon or fight back. If the future of virtual realities will be less escaped realities, then they would be tools to see truths. Technology moves us away from the social wombs. But technology is also used as a form of control…

    As we move closer to less and less escaped realities, I also wonder if there is a practical limit to the extent someone can keep designing them for any given purpose. I think back to Noam Chomsky when he said, propaganda is actually a sign that those in power are losing. But if we are moving along a divergent set of paths, then designs could be endless.

    And though its degree of strength may change, religion continues to stay with us.

    • Yes, this is related to the sociopaths-as-game-designers line of thought. The difference is that I think escaped realities can exist without a designer.

  11. Great writing. As an aside, I think your comedy is getting even better, or maybe I’m just becoming more deranged as I read more of your writing? ;)

    Since you may or may not recall I work in the games industry so I found this piece particularly funny as well as enlightening. I especially liked the comparison of religion to Clash Of Clans. I’m sure there are a few high priests in that game too (both as characters and as clan leaders).

    One particular idea that I love is that social interaction, I was thinking about things like small talk, are in fact just as escapist as pursuits that traditionally are scorned. Next time one of the cool kids picks on me for playing video games I’m going to explain this to them and BOY will they be impressed I’m sure.

    One thing I’m not entirely sure of, is that you describe virtual reality as being a less escaped reality but I don’t really understand what you mean. Are you able to give a concrete example just for illustration? Even if it’s just a half baked idea so I could see the direction you’re thinking would be great.

    Keep up the good work.

  12. Re a more fundamental issue of your essay; I like the adjustment of Penrose’s “mental” to “social-ego experience”, and the further comment “our everyday experience of [qualia?] is overwhelmingly social. In other words, there is an I experiencing something-it-is-like-to-be-me primarily because there are other people around enforcing the boundary of that experiencing-entity through social transactions, and imposing an identity onto it.” except it gradually starts to sound narcissistic with “something-it-is-like-to-be-me” and “enforcing the boundary” seemingly being treated as the real thing that it’s all about.

    I see the social domain (including self) as the real source of surprise and contingency, and the most important thing to act upon if one possibly can. I’ve never cared much for playing in somebody else’s game; makes me feel like a lab rat in their maze (putting it rather harshly); I prefer the I-thou orientation to other people. My consummation devoutly to be wished is to create a benevolent viral meme that makes a positive difference. Maybe my chances are no better than those of the guy buying a dollar lottery ticket but it still seems worth trying.

    I will take a variation of Pascal’s wager and behave as if I believe I can do that because to me it seems like the only game in town.

    • I do appreciate your humor, but for myself, have to alternate between ironic detachment, rambunctiousness, and coming-apart-at-the-seams urgency.

  13. I don’t really understand what you mean by designing a “crashed reality” for VR as opposed to an “escaped reality”. For instance, I am walking around one of my unreal engine 4 projects alone with a DK2 on. I created the very realistic virtual fireworks show. I really feel like I’m in this place, I designed a tree blowing in the wind. Its very relaxing and medatative to me. I really feel like I’m in this escaped reality I built alone.

  14. Clash of Clans does have a “zen” mode at higher levels. It’s called the base builder. (according to Reddit)

  15. I guess the sense in which most people use the word escapism is not as setting boundaries to reality, but setting them outside the commonly accepted ones within the corresponding culture. Specially if adopting those new limits doesn’t give an obvious economical benefit, and the parts of reality that they open are enjoyed.

    Also, very attracted to to the idea of conversation as the archetypal escape from mental reality. Don’t know if related, but definitely feel a lot more grounded/less neurotic when in conversation.

  16. I confess I had to skim much of your post because I was very excited by your use of the Penrose diagram. I have noticed a trend in models of “reality” produced by human consciousness. They often have a triadic structure.

    The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (who is on uncertain philosophical ground) speaks of the “Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real.” http://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/psychoanalysis/lacanstructure.html

    Buddhist tradition speaks of the Three Marks of Existence: impermanence, suffering, and non-self. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_marks_of_existence

    These days I find greater promise in Buddhist thought than psychoanalytic theory. To speak of “all existence as escapism” might be true in terms of our daily life, thought, and even creative efforts. But perhaps meditation truly does offer an avenue to a non-escapist mode of existence which might be described as “enlightened.”

    • Triangular models ( K.Popper also made one ) are pragmatic whereas monistic models are more “philosophical” mainstream i.e. arguments come easier within a single ontological realm but since it is so highly implausible and unintuitive, much time is consumed justifying one or the other reduction and showing that it is proper. What does it mean for instance that mathematics and qualia is matter or if qualia is all there is, what is matter good for? One would like to answer Mu to all this but instead one can also staff some faculties with scholars who know all the arguments ever made in any debate about this topic and add their own little theory on top of it as if Cantor’s diagonalization was a team sports. Maybe that’s o.k. and a mature culture has to have living archives of undecidable debates?

      If meditation helps to understand the unity of all things that may be fine but I suspect that “understanding” is used very differently here as in the philosophy department and so it adds yet another ambiguity which has to be maintained. Worse than that mental techniques seem to be so meta that they might trick the mind into believing the truth of (A and -A) i.e. achieve a state which cannot be reached by normal operations within a more limited setup but axioms and normal operations are the whole purpose of doing a mathematical proof or an empirical test. Those are like type systems in programming languages. If one hacks the compiler/interpreter or allows computational reflection at program execution one can achieve program states which are unsound in the type system and work around formerly imposed constraints. One dispenses logics and moves directly to the desired result.

      That’s why technique and exercise isn’t enough. One also needs an ethics but this is another can of worms usually ignored by our host. Reality isn’t only what doesn’t go away if you stop believing in it, it might really crash you including all your qualia, not only provide a gentle and refreshing VR entertainment crash.

  17. I feel compelled to point out that Die Hard is also a Christmas movie…

  18. Great stuff. Hardly a page goes by that I don’t think you are about to mention Sartre – The Look, or “hell is other people”, or some such (or de Beauvior). If you’ve not read it lately, I suspect The Ethics of Ambiguity might be a feast of relevant content. https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/ambiguity/ch01.htm

  19. Strange Attractor says:

    “Geography is a far stronger filter bubble than the Internet.”

    Yes! My grandparents grew up poor in Canada and rarely left the communities where they lived. Later in life they travelled more, and learned more about what was going on in the rest of the world. It still seemed new and surprising to my grandmother even near the end of her life that she could know something about what was happening in China.

    I think I agree with your main idea that the escaped realities are becoming, overall, closer to reality.

    I have some nitpicks though.

    “Without other humans and animals around us, we would not even need names.”

    I think that, even if all other humans and animals suddenly disappeared, I would still use language. I would still want names for things, even if just for my own convenience, to help with remembering things and gaining insight into them. I don’t think that “Our egos, to the extent they could exist at all in such a state, would become defined by the physical and mathematical structure of experience, dissolving entirely,” would be what would happen.

    “Contrast that with the sort of illusion-puncturing crash-out experience that is actually likely to happen in our world: a member of an isolated primitivist culture like the Amish suddenly being dumped into a modern city. It takes some pastoral-romantic mental gymnastics to pretend that they inhabit a more-real reality than we do. The unromantic alternative explanation — which I prefer — is that they simply inhabit a more squalid and miserable reality.”

    I don’t think that an isolated primativist culture is what the Amish are all about. Nor do I think that their culture is more real or less real than mainstream urban culture. They’re just different. They have a different approach to how to integrate technology into their culture. They optimize for different things.

    Maybe it’s because I live in a city next to a bunch of Mennonite farms, where there are “beware of horse and carriage” road signs on the roads leading out of town, and the farmer’s market has infrastructure for horses to be tied up. This city is also has a lot of high tech companies, insurance companies, and manufacturing companies. It’s a mish mash.

    Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian and used to several cultures co-existing. Canadians use a mosaic as a metaphor for multi-culturalism, rather than the melting-pot that Americans tend to use.

    The Mennonites I know are not isolated. They are well aware of what mainstream society chooses to do. If plopped down in a modern city, they wouldn’t be particularly surprised. Some come into the city regularly to sell things at the markets. If forced to spend more time in a city, they might shrug and roll their eyes, and then wonder when they can get back to the farm. They wouldn’t particularly be overwhelmed. They would more likely feel underwhelmed.

    The Mennonites I know are not in the habit of glorifying some imagined past either. They look toward the future. Some of them are early adopters of solar panels for generating electricity.

    It’s not like there’s a monolithic culture where all Mennonites do the same things or think the same things. Some are completely assimilated into mainstream Canadian culture. Some are living on a farm in a similar way to how farmers lived 100 years ago, though with some improvements. A lot of them are somewhere in between. And their presence in this region has influenced how it has developed and what its culture is like today. For example, their culture led to the formation of many co-operatives, which developed into insurance companies. There are a lot of insurance companies in the area.

    On another topic, although I think that overall I would rather live now than at some time in the past, I don’t think that means that every single choice that has affected how the culture I live in, or the technology I use, has developed has been the wisest, best one. Some things were better in the past. Some aspects of the technology and culture that existed in the past are currently underappreciated, and some have been lost.

    I am reminded a bit of Brian Arthur’s book The Nature of Technology. He talks about how there are relationships between different technologies, like interchangeable parts, or off-the-shelf components, and how some combinations take over an ecological niche and crowd other combinations out. Or I think about some of the fights over technology that I have observed in my own lifetime, and how the ones I thought were “best” did not always win. It’s part of why I think it is important to advocate for better technology and better laws and customs regarding technology. It’s not necessarily going to happen automatically.

  20. danbk99 says:

    Problem is , we ARE reality. That’s why we can’t look at it.