Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Simulated reality

Last year i was asked to write this essay subjected as ESCAPING GRAVITY. It could be anything really, but i decided on Simulated reality.

So this is my outcome.

Baudelaire claims that modern society has replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that the human experience is of a simulation of reality rather than reality itself. His essay “Simulacra and Simulations” is most known for its discussion of images, signs, and how they relate to the present day. The simulacra that Baudelaire refers to are signs of culture and media that create the perceived reality. He used a fable based on writing by Jorge Luis Borges, in which a powerful Empire created a map so large and detailed that it became the size of the Empire itself. The map would grow or decay as the Empire gained or lost territory. When the Empire collapsed, all that was left was the rotting map. If the fable was to be revived today, the territory would be rotting, not the map, because of the precession of simulacra – the map now precedes the territory. In contemporary society the simulated copy has replaced the original object just like the map came to precede the geographic territory. According to Baudelaire, we are living in the map (simulation of reality) and reality is decaying because it has been abandoned.

As in The Matrix film that makes explicit reference to work of Baudelaire in his essay, one can notice two realities: real one and the hyper real. One may think it was just another fiction film, but there is always some truth in a fantasy. With the growth of technology and its development we have internet now that creates a new reality that would take us into a completely new dimension.

If you apply Baudrillard’s theory on our every day life one can realize that it’s two realities that we live in; these two worlds that exist simultaneously. Reality… It’s a vast aria that includes: culture with its traditions, language, mythology, and history; urbanism with a growth of population, infrastructure, networking and formation of cities; consumerism consisting of needs and wants of the society; and the most important part, society itself. Every ingredient of a reality forms our personal identity (Who we are? Where we live? And how we live?) All these questions are interconnected, and every component is a reaction on itself action.

Why is it that all cultures from all over the world have things in common? Because all over the world they all repeat same meanings, meet in the meanings of their mythology. Our natural and social behavior relates to the myth. And language as a way of communication of ideas, association of meanings can place the context in different meaning. Language does not replace reality. One word can have different meaning depending where you place it. Through the different communication of language we get confusion and creativity. Language can also be system acting in the sense that there are rules that we follow. Rules create the whole organic system, system that is based on relationship between sign, meaning, and object. Sign does not connect a name to an object, but a concept (an idea) connects with a phonetic sound or mental image.

Since we were kids we’re being taught to memorize world by images because it’s our brain that work this way. Every day life we are being surrounded not only by sounds through which we recognize each other, but by images as well. For the very first time when we see a person we capture this look and carry it throughout entire relationship with this particular person.

Signs and symbols are important in our lives. We are constantly affected and influenced by them. Many convey messages about the identity of a community, place or person. Religions use symbols as well: for Christianity - cross, David’s star for Judaism.

Our life fulfilled with symbols and signs. Symbols can be described as any and everything so pinpointing even 100 symbols is rather minuscule in the cesspool of symbolism. Stop signs, McDonalds signs, .com advertisements. They are all symbols!

Ford, Dodge, Chevy symbols? A football? A soccer ball? The "peace" sign? The bird? Lawnmowers? Melting glaciers? Rap videos? Nip Tuck?

They are all symbols of things. So merely asking for "symbols" will lead to a bottomless pit of possibilities. It can be your personal symbols and signs as well, it can be a mobile phone, or a Kill Bill DVD, or an MSN. Something you can't imagine your life without nowadays.

We have been brain washed so much that by looking at any sign now we could instantly recognize the content of the sign/ the meaning and the background of it.

Nowadays most of the people identify themselves with brands and certain statuses to be popularly accepted among society. Internet space is the reality that makes us erase the existing differentiation between classes; it creates a new culture living in the hyper real world.

Internet reality with its symbols and signs becomes a simulacrum of our own real world. It is a new dimension of thinking and living that becomes an icon of our lives, something that we can not give in. Nowadays we spend more time on internet rather than in real life because the simulation of our reality can give as entertainment, exchange of information, ability to purchase and many other possibilities. Internet reality expands our abilities and makes us more confident because there you don’t really need to have an identity. You can be anyone else. Besides, now, when internet is so widely spread and used in the whole world you don’t really need to leave the house to socialize, get entertained, to purchase or get educated. It feels like a hyper reality completely replaced our reality with signs and symbols by looking at which we make explicit references to some other information. It’s the label world that makes us always relate ourselves to certain icons, signs, specific symbols, and rules that we have to follow. So internet becomes a culture when social believes disappear so as the identity itself. One can create his/her own identity either by copying some icon and interpreting in his/her own way or inventing something completely outstanding that would attract hyper reality citizens.

In the 22nd century, reality is an illusion. Mankind lives and works in a virtual reality simulation known as the matrix, a world described by Andy and Larry Wachowski, a world the idea of which is two existing realities: one that anyone can create (the simulacrum of reality) and the other one is reality itself.

With the rise of computers and communication technology the emergence of a global economy bases on symbols as well (For instance, using credit card to simulate currency).

Theory of Baudelaire is designed to critique postmodern culture, primarily attacking the media as irresponsible “simulators.” Simulation Theory describes the process by which a contrived reality comes to replace a basic reality. Basic reality is a favorable set of initial conditions that constitute human culture, often referred to as “the real.” These favorable initial conditions include virtues such as a sense of community, individual importance, and social fulfillment. In Baudelaire's' text, there is a constant desire to protect basic reality from corruption. In my understanding of Simulation Theory, the media threatens to corrupt basic reality, disseminating a blanket of images that copy, pervert, and ultimately replace it. The media initially produces images and models that are copies of basic reality. These copies evolve into exaggerations that distort basic reality. The summation of all media images creates an ideological blanket that envelops the public in a parallel world, a “hyperreal.” In his text Simulations, Baudelaire defines hyperreal as a “generation by models of a real without origin or reality”.

Perhaps the most striking postmodern example of hyperreality is the Internet. However, Baudrillard never tackles this issue. As a result, other theorists have started a recent trend that applies Simulation Theory to the Internet. The Matrix was heavily influenced by this trend. The Internet neatly satisfies Baudrillard’s definition of hyperreal, a “generation by models of a real without origin or reality” (Baudrillard, 1983). The Internet uses models such as websites, hypertext links, and online services, to generate a unique reality with its own time, space, and active population. Mark Nunes describes this property, which is paraphrased as follows: The Internet is a closed system, a self-contained reality defined by rigid boundaries (networked servers and hard drives). Within these boundaries, the Internet exists as a discrete reality apart from the physical world. As a result, the Internet has the capacity to completely shut out the physical world (Nunes, 1995).

Lacking the Internet's unique property, Baudelaire's Simulation Theory is unable to describe a large-scale simulacrum encompassing all mankind. Drawing from my own insight, Baudelaire's media hyperreal, a blanket of images disseminated through television, movies, and amusement parks, does not have the capacity to completely shut out the physical world. If allowed to progress along the four phases of image evolution, the media hyperreal will ultimately hit a glass ceiling before achieving societal simulacrum. In contrast, an Internet hyperreal, a blanket of images disseminated over a closed system with rigid boundaries, does indeed have the capacity to completely shut out the physical world. If allowed to progress along the four phases of image evolution, the Internet hyperreal will ultimately swallow society, while the physical world disintegrates. A self-contained hyperreal with rigid boundaries is more dangerous than a hyperreal that inter-mingles with the physical world. The Matrix exploits this idea, using the Internet to model a large-scale societal simulacrum.

The Internet has the potential to progress through Baudelaire's four phases of image evolution, developing from copy, to perversion, to simulacrum: a replacement for human civilization. Such a scenario would result in technological dystopia. People would live their entire lives wired to the system, oblivious to the disintegration of the physical world. On a theoretical level, Mark Nunes runs the Internet through Baudelaire's four phases of image evolution, exploring the morbidly fascinating potential for Internet simulacrum. In his previously mentioned article, Nunes claims that “as Internet moves closer to its dream of total connectivity, one might imagine with Baudelaire that moment of closure when this metaphorical ‘cyberspace’ becomes the hyper real, more important than the real space it once simulated... No longer does technology encompass the world; now it replaces it with a ‘more real than real’ simulation” (Nunes, 4). Nunes’ description of an Internet simulacrum is strikingly similar to the premise of The Matrix. This indicates that the Wachowski brothers were thinking along the same lines, operating along the same trend. Both Nunes and the Wachowski brothers take Baudelaire to his “fatal conclusions,” fascinated by what occurs when the Internet is driven beyond hyper reality, to total simulacrum.

{Visual part of the project. Abstract presentation of the Simulated Reality or Internet world and our Reality.}

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