Arthur C. Clarke once observed that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” While many – and I’m one of them – would generally agree with his words, I’d take it a step further. We live in a magic world, indeed, a magic universe. Einstein theorized that this was true in his equation E = mc2, which essentially equated matter and energy. In practical terms, the development of technology since then has proved that the only difference between “matter” and energy is form, in that all matter is composed of structured energy.
While what we perceive and experience as matter is not “solid” in the sense we emotionally believe and physically experience, since on the sub-atomic level matter is largely empty space, but what could be called, in an over-simplistic sense, the interplay of energy fields. Part of the effect of those fields is to create what we experience as matter, essentially barriers, or at least limitations, to the inter-penetration of other “matter-energy-fields” – a universe, if you will, of energy whose flows and fields we interpret variously as energy and/or matter within a space-time framework.
Theoretically, anything can be transformed into anything else, given enough energy and a sufficiently advanced technology to restructure the energy flows and structure. Whether we as a species will ever master such restructuring doesn’t take away from the fact that it is at least theoretically possible.
That understanding of the universe colors my view of “virtual reality,” because “virtual” or, more accurately “cyber-enhanced-partial representation of physically modulated perception,” seems to me to be a denial of the very wonder of the physical universe, or at least a wish-fulfillment escape from it. Now, I’ve seen enough of death, misery, and oppression to understand all too well why many are embracing virtual reality. It’s a very real attraction, one whose dangers and pitfalls James Gunn outlined more than half a century ago in The Joy Makers [and even earlier in “The Hedonist”], but as Gunn pointed out, it’s so much easier to escape into one’s personal virtual reality than to remake a failing and imperfect society.
And that would be a tragedy in a universe already so magical… but the choice is ours.