Week Five (week beginning March 26): How we know what is real

24 Mar

When we are sitting in the library and looking through the window, how do we know the trees outside are real rather than artificial? The answers vary. For most of the time, it could be the colour, the texture, the growing pattern, the structure and their surroundings. The criteria are based on our knowledge, and depend on our vision or a sense of feeling that helps us to decide whether the trees outside the window are real or not. However, is seeing really believing? My answer is no. Because the physical limitation of humans’ vision fails to fully see what are actually there and tell what is reality. Sometimes illusion creates a sense of reality in which the illusionary scenes go beyond humans’ vision ability. As a result, illusion is considered as reality. Interestingly, people tend to blur the boundary between virtual reality and reality in the networked society nowadays. It seems that reality is no more restricted in the meaning of sense, rather, it has been updated to the affordances of objects. That is to say the functionalities of an agent regarding what can be achieved tend to be considered as the criteria of reality in today’s technology-intensified world. The reading’s example of monkeys only using brain and virtual body to “move an avatar hand and identify the texture of virtual objects”, try to achieve the fully interaction between the world of virtual reality and reality (ScienceDaily, 2011). To the monkeys, the reality is achieved and ‘sensed’ when the monkeys’ consciousnesses simultaneously move with the avatars’ hand.
How about our meaning of reality? Is it similar to the reaction of monkeys’ consciousnesses and avatars’ hand? My answer is similar and humans can do better. Here is an example of virtual reality training for coal miners.

The mining simulation dramatically reduces the potentiality of life risks during mining process, and increases the efficiency of mining. Moreover, if the presupposition of Nicolelis et al. (2011) (the ones did the ‘monkeys-VR’ experiment) became true – i.e. “Someday in the near future, quadriplegic patients will take advantage of this technology not only to move their arms and hands and to walk again, but also to sense the texture of objects placed in their hands, or experience the nuances of the terrain on which they stroll with the help of a wearable robotic exoskeleton,” then what I assume is that some day in the near future, miners will not participate in the underground risky mining process; instead, mining robots will complete underground mining tasks via merely humans’ brain commanding the avatars on the screen.
In this sense, the combination of Neuroengineering and media technology enable us to participate differently in the virtuality of the world, meanwhile, achieving the result that means reality to us is how we perceive reality in the technology-intensified world.
Anon. (2011) ‘Monkeys ‘Move and Feel’ Virtual Objects Using Only Their Brains’, ScienceDaily, October 5, <;.

O’Doherty, JE, Lebedev, MA, Ifft, PJ, Zhuang,KZ, Shokur, S, Bleuler, H, Nicolelis, MAL 2011, ‘Active tactile exploration using a brain–machine–brain interface’, Nature, 479, pp. 228–231.

‘Roof bolter’,, <;.


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