4 Realz, Dawg

My second cousin-in-law (once- or twice- removed) has a birthday today, as I’m writing this opening (this parenthetical insert already past due date). He is a seasoned professional and vanguard in the field of computer-based virtual reality. It occurred to me upon waking this morning just how consequential the technological breakthrough of VR, as it reflects a capacity hitherto only known to manifest in the conscious mind.

My mind, your mind (barring any disability), and most likely the average cute Shih Tzu’s mind is capable of generating and decoding at least the following virtual representations of reality, along with personally unique spaces they generate and inhabit:

  1. Mindspace Sub-Zero: The subconscious simulation and projection of reality that we call seeing or hearing. I’ll use visual information as the basis for moving forward here, but audial information follows many of the same principles†.
    • This illusory but unalterable‡ three-dimensional representational map has been generated by our subconscious mind. This simulation is available to the larger apparatus of conscious brain, which is able to be observe and assess it.
    • Why Illusory? This internal representation is perceived as external, as if we were actually experiencing the distance between external objects—but this is perhaps the most compelling sleight of mind: the realization of relative space and distance is entirely internally established††. While extremely useful, this re-expansion of flattened “seen” “reality” is an ingenious subconscious contrivance.
    • Why the feeling that what we see is external to us?
      • Externality preserves a high level of fidelity to the relative positioning of objects in “actual” space in order for us to successfully gauge and survive local threats and opportunities in a historio-consciously unbiased†‡ manner.
      • That externality sensation also contributes to the prohibition of direct conscious alteration, corruption or permutation of visual information; it helps ensure the read-only quality of the simulation.
    • Why a read-only? I’m not sure, but this leads us to a syllogism: That’s the definitive property that exactly defines the difference between conscious and subconscious functions.
  1. Mindspace Zero: It may be a slight cheat to use the term: space, as I’m referring to the internal verbal self‡‡; this is the first conscious agent in our virtual reality
    • This observational pseudo-audio conscious thread exists sans dimensionality, meaning that it does not animate (for me, at least) any spatial dimension, even if it is often a resolution commentary instigated by visual observation and discernment. It is also capable of referencing and colliding abstract non-dimensional concepts that exist in our personal codex of knowledge. (Such as: stream of conscious thought is a lot like a motoric articulation of whatever we can best fish out from our interior awareness at any given moment, for whatever reason might be behind the ease of access. While there are a couple of spatial images that might be triggered by such an internal investigation, for me, that was primarily verbal.)
    • For me, this consciousness seems pointillistic. But that point is only semi-locatable and difficult to target, because, like Heisenberg’s observational dilemma, it tends to be impacted, it’s position shifted, as I try to isolate and identify it. Please note that I am not good at meditation, and I could imagine how meditation could more accurately identify the “culprit.”
      • However, this consciousness is generally located somewhere on the inside of my skull, for me, towards the top when under observation, but it feels more centralized when not.
  2. Mindspace One: This refers to the internal mental canvas upon which we paint our intentional visual imaginations.
    • For most humans, this mindspace is accessible and easily maintained—if I ask you to picture a man walking a dog, this is the mindspace into which you generate your mental picture.
    • For me, this feels like this manifestation utilizes space inside my skull for abstract concepts and inhabited scenarios like a room in a house house, or just beyond my eyes (especially when I am closing my eyes), when it is a something external I am viewpoint-imagining.
    • In reflection, what surprises me most about this fabricated mindspace is that it is extremely thin or even two-dimensional. The dog and companion you envisioned above were almost certainly not located in any pseudo-realistic three-dimensional environment where you might have walked a few feet ahead of you in order to reach out and hug the dog-walker because he was your husband. They were instead flat images of a man and a dog you generated inside your mind. It was an image or picture and it was a canvas—flat and two-dimensional imagery that probably felt (it does to me!) as if that flat 2D image is being generated inside of a virtual 3D space. Mine feels like a miniature stadium.
  3. Mindspace Two: The 3D workspace for the 3D visualizer.
    • This is a difficult mindspace to generate and maintain. I can really only do it while concentrating with my eyes closed. Instead of a flat image of a man and his dog from above, I want you to: Envision a man standing three feet away from you, just outside of arm’s reach. He has a Shih Tzu on a leash and you must imagine yourself bending down to bridge the distance between you and puppy.
    • Similar to working with 3D modeling software, you may have been able to generate imagery into a three-dimensional mindspace some good approximations of the actual distances requested. You would have imagined yourself operating in 3D space, which dovetails nicely into the subordinate innate mindspace generated by body-awareness, also called proprioception.
  4. Mindspace Sub-Two: Proprioception, the mindspace your awareness of your own body requires and manifests. (Why sub-two? Because operationally, this intuitive function exists at a semi-conscious level of mental space construction, at best.)
    • For the 2021-Human, this takes a reasonable amount of effort to discern and maintain. Primarily because we have successfully reduced the urgency of this functionality by adapting our environments to serve our consciousness. The world we’ve created around us, tells a lot about our biology. Ergonomics isn’t just a thing of the late 20th century! As such, the average 2021-Human spends little time in circumstances where problematic  environmental obstructions are constantly presenting themselves dangerously to the physical biological body. The most complicated obstacle courses any of us have to negotiate is parallel parking.
    • And speaking of parallel parking—Jeff, the cousin-in-law whose birthday I’m writing this for, spoke of how easily humans can expand this virtual sense of bio-real self to include our tools. If I hold a hammer and strike, I am imagining that hammer as an extension of my own self, that hammer that strikes the nail true. It is true as well with larger boundaries, with greater or lesser degrees of precision-affinity. Our selves temporarily try to fill the size of an automotive vehicle when parallel parking—we stretch our proprioception boundaries instinctively.
    • I am reminded of how atrophied my notional physical body-self is as I try to navigate quickly through my home that was constructed with the 1671-Human in mind, who was, on average, much shorter than I am. I can assure you that the bending down, running proprioceptive me did not smash his head on the overhang, whereas the real biological me was hollering curses for anyone who didn’t want to hear them.

I thought you said you were going to talk about virtual reality 🙁

But did you come here for the nitty gritty picking at every damn minute aspect of imaginary mindspace, or did you come for the dancing Shih Tzu?

Let’s get down to brass-tacked no-soled shoes then.

Any time you imagine a debonair silent-movie-era Errol Flynn in Spanish matador outfit dancing provocative tango with a sleek-dressed Shih Tzu in a veiled feather cap (where’s Rick Santorium when you need him?!), non-material semi-Euclidian space is manifest in your mindspace from the ordered execution of a collection of electro-chemical signals in your brain. Your neural network is hard at work to generate a combination of articulated objects that is analogous to your vision sense. It invents an illusory space, and then it presents the requested imagination upon or into that illusory space.

You, being the astute observer, understand that I was perseverating on this organic variant of virtual reality—the sort that’s been with humanity from the onset of our homo sapiens’ lifestyle—for a reason. Historically, each of us can only manufacture one such space, and it cannot be directly shared or altered by any other member of the species. Even though it still currently relies on the sight-experience generative faculty of biological brains, we are developing a companion technological (or tool-based) analogue to our isolated visual imaginations and mindscapes.

Computer-based Virtual Reality.

The imaginary spaces VR generates and populates with “objects” relies on repeatable, organized computer-logical bits and bytes of instructions extrinsic to any human entity. As such, these Euclidian virtual spaces are shareable—both distemporally (as written communication, where different individuals share the VR experience at different times) and contemporaneously (as live discussion, two or more individuals sharing the same VR experience at the same time, as in MMOs).

The notion of inhabiting virtual spaces is already second-nature. We are literally coded to interpret reality in a very similar manner, which is very encouraging for the future of computer-based virtual reality, and even more so, the possibility of consciousness inhabiting an alternate substrate for self-identity and experience beyond the biological terrestrial frame, and ultimately beyond biological death.

As the first part of this text reminds us, all of our shared experiences that we cherish in 2021-Human life are virtual simulations—what they are not is repeatable or restorable. And while that fragility and ephemerality gives them power, that power diminishes over time, and nearly vanishes with us.

But shared experiences in a computer-based simulation environment can be shared further and can be reproduced. It is only a matter of fidelity from this point forward in time—a matter of just how much sensory data is transmitted and stored. So anything we can imagine into a virtual space will be capable of being stored, transmitted, and re-experienced.

And at some point, as we slowly converge and meld the codebases for human sensory compilation and virtual reality definition, we will be interfaced and imagining directly into a collective non-corporeal virtual space on a technical substrate of ordered energy. We’ll be able to share the very fabric of the thoughts  and emotions we wish for someone, or something, else to share.

If we’re moderately lucky, and our posterity humanity still has 1) a deep and abiding open respect for their ancestors; 2) ingenious and innovative spirit and ability; and 3) a similar desire to not have their consciousness perish with their biological death, the 2021-Human you-self may one day return. Just make sure you leave behind the data that matters to you—the ideas, loves, emotions, people and memories that define you. For our future kin are likely to set their systems to be hard at work in mapping the known “fact” nodes of data we intentionally leave behind to a myriad of simulated possible pasts, until they find the matching composition of personal knowledge and self-awareness that was once You-now().

I’ll “see” you there, my friends!


† There are many stark differences in the types of transduction that occur, and even different parts of the brain that are responsible. Visual perception is a much older fully-formed sense than modern hearing, but it’s a much harder first-past-the-post call to try and divine which came first: environmental light detection or environmental pressure detection.

‡ It is possible that this subconscious encoding, the transformation of light into rendered conscious-perceivable “sight,” can be altered by biological substances (psychotropic or hallucinogenic compounds), but it doesn’t seem that there’s yet been much scientific rigor (that isn’t buried in military secrecy) around how to harness and utilize these altered states of perception to improve or extend and expand our primary human communication models.

†† At least so far back as we can remember. I have no idea what aberrations or correlations exist between this mature notion of vision and an infant’s perception of sight. My suspicion is that in our neoplasty, we are (at least partially) learning to see—in a sense, finalizing the internal personal programming on how to encode and simulate all of this optical information we are inundated with. Aside from malfunction, deformity or deficiency, this would be the stage where we are formulating blue as a primitive. And from this standpoint, there should be no doubt that while your and my “blue” are quite similar, they most certainly  exhibit some perspectivized variance.

†‡ Or nearly… Certainly any “identified” object in one’s visual scenery must be imbued with both personal interpretations gathered through experience and consumption of socio-cultural knowledge and lore; otherwise that “object,” or: cluster of visual information that only fits my known definition of “object” (or doesn’t even fit that and is just a blurry, indiscernible region) isn’t identified. Tautological joyousness, it always makes me happy to boil it down to that level, perhaps in honor of Wittgenstein.

In my mental formations, it seems as though the sub- and semi-conscious brain are co-conspirators in “visually objectifying” (literally, mind you) at a pre-conscious observational-review level. My consciousness is presented with a precompiled visualization of identified objects (I don’t need to consciously think (“Blimey, that’s a green couch!”) in order to be aware that there is one in the room) as persistence stimulus. The observation of that visual scenery stimulus may prompt that exact response, especially if there is some vital contradiction with my personal Codex of Couchness: What is acceptable, and what is not, brother Chris (the abridged version of The Human Codex of Couchness, edited by me).

By vital contradiction I mean a suite of highly-weighted known and unknown expectations I have about manifesting an object of couch are violated; or at times, more simply, it fits my definition of hideous colors on simple things. As in my unique perspective on couch aesthetics.

Hint! Do not buy an emerald-colored loveseat. I can, but won’t (for all our sakes), enumerate the reasons.

To process visual stimulus, we enter a branched hierarchical choice of focuses, primarily instigated by the presumed sentience of the “object(s)” in question. (I would like to say “always prioritized by sentience,” but I assume that if a boulder were coming at me from behind while at the same time there was a disinterested tiger wandering a hundred feet ahead, I would be primarily focused on the non-sentient [or not recognized as such] object.)

If the primary object(s) is sentient, our conscious observations realize that a static, dismissable state is improbable, and consciousness becomes focused on what the sentient object can do to or for us or how we might negotiate, attack or defend against any of its potential actions, as we perceive them.(Again relying on the personal version of Encyclopedia Humanica: What Tigers Do edition.) It shouldn’t surprise you that while the subconscious brain is generating information about the brush, our conscious self is not going to notice the lovely way the grass waves in the breeze when there is a marauding tiger snarling directly in front of you!

When a primary object (Thing A) [I’m dispensing with the plural variant for simplicity, not plausibility] is pre-determined to be non-sentient, our consciousness focuses on fetching recognition templates for Thing A: how ‘Thing A’ might be used as a tool, or how Thing A is used to create Thing(s) aa…zzz. (This is the big win for a camouflaged animal: Fauna A assimilates to its environment to trick sentient subconscious into believing Fauna A is merely an unattractive [i.e., non-tool-able] Thing A.)

And then, outside of all this primacy and urgency of survival, we are able to experience a majesty of nature in calm serenity. When unthreatened and alleviated briefly from the compunction to actively create and use tools, our consciousness is given the option to focus on things like waving grass peppered on a dune dropping into the sea, And these moments  of calm feel so transcendental—spans of time, hiatuses of imperative urgency, where we have nothing to truly fear from nature and our environment, and to take for granted that this state will continue unbroken and unbidden. Beauty, poetry, inspiration can pool in a deep satisfaction when we are truly satisfied.

‡‡ At some point in biological evolution, there developed a stream of internal linguistic monologue. Our current 2021-Human hypotheses place the origin of spoken language somewhere between 30,000–100,000 years ago, which allows for hominids prior Homo sapiens to have formulated and utilized verbal communication. While pre-verbal ego-sense was likely extremely different than what we experience now in our communication paradigms, there is no reason to argue or presume that the internal mind-monologue did not also rudimentarily begin at around the same time.