From Virtual Reality to Phantomatics and Back

Critical Writing
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Paisley Livingston on Stanislaw Lem and the history and philosphy of Virtual Reality.

The technologies and speculations associated with “virtual reality” and cognate terms (such as “cyberspace”) have recently made it possible for scores of journalists and academics to develop variations on a favorite theme - the newness of the new, and more specifically, the newness of that new and wildly different world-historical epoch, era, or Zeitgeist into which we are supposedly entering (and on some accounts, have already entered) with the creation of powerful new machines of simulation. The innovative powers of the machines of virtual reality are so extensive, it would seem, that they are even supposed to be able to achieve the extraordinary feat of revitalizing that tired journalist genre, “gee-whiz” scientific reporting. “Gee whiz,” one can now read, “you just put on a data glove and don the head-mounted display helmet, and step right into a whole new world where the old reality - and even the tired, old-fashioned notion of reality as such - gets replaced by the non-existent reality simulated by the machine. You can fight battles and have sex with people who aren’t anywhere near you, or who never even existed. Why you can actually, I mean really, interact with an illusion!”

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