The Magic World of the Everyday

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.

7 thoughts on “The Magic World of the Everyday”

  1. Frank says:

    I see “virtual reality” as a subset of “escapism,” which, as applied to entertainment, is really in the “eye of the beholder.” My main “complaint” about virtual reality (complaint being too strong a term, more like “criticism”) is that it is inherently lazy.

    I think reading is also, or at least can be, “escapism.” Some of the differences being that reading is more “mental exercise” and can be much more absorbing and complete in its “escape” than other forms of escapism…mainly because the character and type of mental image received is so individually tailored, especially as to its “special effects.” Other forms of escapism, such as TV, movies, etc. fall somewhere in between as to how effective they are, and how lazy they allow the experiencer to be.

    But reading is also a major form of communicating information and promoting learning. In my view, all the other forms mentioned can be, also, however just as the amount of sensory input involved is leads to my accusation of “lazy,” the amount of mental exercise needed promotes learning. Hence, reading wins the award for learning as well as being the least “lazy.”

    Now, all that being said, interacting with our “real” universe is both necessary and widens one’s perspective of the “real” universe…unless you subscribe to some form of solipsism…in which case the other side of this card is a lie…or words to that effect.

  2. Robert The Addled says:

    I think Frank has it right – reading is more brainwork than other media (Movies and Television), and to my opinion is more immersive than the ‘single track’ of most Video Games. It also is easier to go back and forth (printed matter) to check your memory of earlier events in a narrative.

    VR and AR (augmented reality) to my mind have different values based on degree. At the low end is AR which supplements the real world. At the Extreme end is the “Full World” brain interfaces of Sword Art Online and Royal Road: Legendary Master Sculptor.

    Both extremes could have valid placement in the realms of entertainment, industry, and even quality of life (such as extreme medical cases). The lines could and probably will be blurred further by telepresence devices.

    I think the richness of any virtual world, the degree of sensory immersion and the personality of the user will eventually decide whether an individual prefers the real or virtual worlds. Much like some people have physical and mental addictions to alcohol, drugs, or gambling, there will be those who prefer the virtual to the physical.

  3. Rehcra says:

    Thanks L.E. Modesitt, you always have such great quotes in your posts. You clearly put time into these and I want you to know I truly appreciate the effort.

    I agree with Robert the Addled except the agreeing with Frank thing 🙂 People usually think of new media as eliminating the older form but that just hasn’t been how it has worked so far. All new forms simple incorporate the older ways right in the shadows of the new innovations. We already have E-books and I can use Search to even speed up the process of finding something. E-books with a little GUI interface are Virtual Reality Books.

    It is interesting how one could also see the premise of the post as validating the “reality” of Virtual Reality. But even more interesting is thinking about the parallels to “head stuck in the books.” mentality. Because you can’t master a skill simply by reading about it but what will be the virtual reality equivalent? Probably something to do with knowing whether you have lost touch with reality and gone insane. Maybe something along the lines of “head back in reality before he goes Virtualy Insane.” lol Clearly a word smith I am not 😉

    -rehcra

    1. Robert The Addled says:

      Rehcra – Its all relative and reflective of the way I think. Reading to me is richer because it requires imagination to form the world.

      Re the search issue – I was specifically thinking of the way I currently have multiple bookmarks when reading certain books and series – cross referencing with everything spread out on a table. Good example of that is reading the Wheel Of Time series. Long read and even a straight thru takes me 2 weeks and a page of notes.

      I also find I scan paper better than digital – mainly because its easier to approximate how far into the book the other events I want to reference were. The scalability of e-readers render page number references moot – especially when I rescale larger font if my glasses are in the other room, then back down when I have them again.

  4. R. Hamilton. says:

    The same tools that could provide virtual reality could also provide augmented reality (real world overlaid with additional information), or intuitively controllable remotes for use in dangerous environments or situations.

    Even fully immersive fictional virtual reality might only be a problem for those prone to that particular addiction.

  5. darcherd says:

    Video-gamer: “Real life? Yeah, I tried that once. The graphics are awesome, but the plot sucks.”

  6. invah says:

    What I find insidious is the subtle re-working of “reality” that purports authenticity. This, too, denies the wonder and magic of our existence.

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