The Annals of Virtual Reality

A United States military exercise during the Vietnam War

[ A (real) North Vietnamese fishing village ]
I n a "secret operation run by the Studies and Observation Group, the [United States'] military's covert arm during the Vietnam conflict, North Vietnamese fishermen were kidnapped, blindfolded and taken to an island off the coast of South Vietnam, where the United States had created a phony North Vietnamese village.... The ruse was designed to convince the fishermen that they had arrived in the North Vietnamese haven of an anti-Communist rebel group called the 'Sacred Sword of the Patriots League.' After three weeks, they were blindfolded again and returned home, in the hope that they would spread the word that there was a liberated area in North Vietnam controlled by rebel forces. About 1,000 North Vietnamese were kidnapped and secretly brought to the island between 1964 and 1968...." (The New York Times, 4 Nov 1999, p.A8, from The Secret War Against Hanoi, by Richard H. Shultz, Jr.)
"[The heliocentric design] may very easily turn out to be a most foolish hallucination and a majestic paradox."

We have seen such manipulations of "reality" in Mission Impossible and "The Prisoner" TV shows, "The Truman Show" movie, etc. In the late 1980s, I had a friend who believed that we never went to the moon, but that the whole space program was a Hollywood stage lot production (and how can you or I marshal first-hand evidence to robustly support the thesis that American astronauts really did walk on the moon?). Many "computer people" play with methods for creating "virtual reality": situations in which a person feels as if they were in a different situation than the one they in fact are in.

Like everything else, these technologies can be used for good or for ill, although we may question whether it is ever good to trick a person into believing they are in a situation other than the one they actually are in (such manipulation forms a basic strategy for John Boyd's theory of war, e.g.). The main point I wish to make here (besides stimulating your imagination, my reader...) is that the story from Vietnam shows how close to home is Descartes' speculation about the possibility of an evil demon who would decieve us about everything -- and also Descartes' and Husserl's observation that even if we are so deceived, we still know ourselves to be aware of a world and that we have certain convictions (and/or doubts...) about it, etc. Cogito ergo sum. Which leads me to the further contention that the disciplines of hermeneutics and Husserlian phenomenology (which study the interpretive process and the structure of our lived experience), escape vitiation even if we are so deceived. "A mighty fortress [Ein feste Berg...]...."

Even if we are "globally" tricked like the North Vietnamese fishermen in the story, we can still study the structure of our experience, and explore the meanings of the the world around us (the world as meant, "what things seem to be"...). As meant, these meanings remain validly so meant, even if they do not describe ["correspond to"] "reality as such". This means we can still cultivate the real process of conversation (as Hans-Georg Gadamer said: we [in each case "I"] are a conversation...), even if only "with ourselves in our head", though hopefully also with real(?) others. And, in that conversation: we can both preserve and further elaborate (build) the conversation itself, and also, we can elaborate works of art, which depend for their value not on correctness of reference, but only on richness of meaning.

It seems, lamentably, possible for persons' sense of self to be itself vitiated. "Brain washing", sleep deprivation and other techniques may deprive a person of the ability to think in the sense described above -- for, though such thought does not depend on the validity of thought's referentiality, it still does depend on the ability to reflect on one's thoughts qua thought. When the very ability to think at all is vitiated, we have not been deceived, and there is no "reality" for us, straightforwardly veridical or virtual. In this eventuality there is no longer an "us" [in each case "I"] at all. That sophisticated techniques of techonolgical manipulation can accomplish this destruction of self-awareness should not surprise us, however, since the meager technology of hitting a person over the head with a rock could always do the same thing.... But so long as I (e.g., "you, my reader"...) can think and know that I (you) think: "I think therefore I am", that knowledge is unfalsifiable, along with the all philosophical and artistic reflective cultivation of the world [as meant] for which I can be the I who thinks and acts it. --Perhaps these reflections help give a sense of the cogency of Husserl's hope for a humanity transformed by philosophy, a humanity which no longer alienates itself in belief that it is nothing but part of the [as we have seen, feasibly entirely falsifiable...] world, but which instead returns to itself in understanding itself as the universal bestowing of meaning (from the most banal quotidian details of everyday life unto projection of a cosmological "whole"...).

Another interesting "angle": Falsifying a person's reality will assuredly have some effect on the person one is manipulating. But it may not be anything like the effect one intends (which once again illustrates the priority of the conceptual over the empirical!):

An American double agent working for the F.B.I. provided the Soviet Union with nerve gas data in the 1960's that may have spurred Moscow's own efforts to develop chemical weapons.... [/] The American officials had decided to give the Soviet Union the secret nerve gas data because they hoped that the information would lead it down the wrong path in the development of its own chemical weapons program. [/] The data concerned a formula the United States had... abandoned because it was considered too unstable for weapons use. By giving it to the Soviets, American officials hoped, they would lead Moscow to waste time trying to develop an unstable nerve agent.... [/] There is no evidence that the nerve gas formulas passed to the Soviets led them to develop new chemical weapons. But intelligence gathered about the United States weapons program may have prompted the Soviets to conduct more intensive research and development on their own program...." (NYT, 05Mar00, p.16; emphasis added)

[ Explore The Information Superhighway! ]I would also urge all the computer scientists currently fascinated by virtual reality, to raise their vision above the manipulation of [whatever] things meant -- even the most sophisticated sensory simulation devices in the most grant-bestowed upon supercomputer "artificial intelligence" laboratory --, to reflective cultivation of the event of meaning (experiencing) itself. Continue your experiments [a genre of meaning-bestowing acts...] in whatever directions interest you. First and always above all else, however, think on, and cultivate the event-you-are in doing [whatever you find yourself doing in each your here-and-now]: bestowing meaning in discourse which constitutes both yourself and the world [i.e., the world's meaning and sense]. And integrate this understanding into your "technical" work process and product.

Who would truly be a scientist, and would seek "the truth of the world" and not merely tinker with things, will, above all, cultivate the self-validating endeavor of phenomenological philosophy and hermeneutics.[fn.16[ Go to footnote! ]] Such a person will endeavor to understand what they are doing, whatever it is, in the most inclusive context(s) they can imagine "it", i.e., imagine themselves in doing it. This is the most basic kind of research; therefore we should expect it to be done mostly even though not entirely in leisured reflection after the fact. But that distance is itself part of what needs to be examined. Especially in areas like education, and computer system development, unlike, e.g., hospital Emergency Room surgery, such splitting between doing and reflecting may not be necessary, and the reflection can be more integrally incorporated in the work (my doctoral dissertation shows how this can profitably be done in psychotherapist education).

No matter what contents of experience one [we] may choose to concern themselves [ourselves] with, those contents are (always contingent...) superstructure which they [we] build (Husserl: constitute...) through "the conversation they [we] are". No objective science can study this conversation, because it is not any object, but rather: it is the event in which alone objects can function as objects. Whether persons think about it or not, the conversation they [we] are is the ultimate "condition for the possibility" of whatever they [we] do. And this remains true, even if, in not appropriately thinking about and cultivating that conversation, what they [we] do in it unwittingly reacts back upon it in such a way as to prevent optimal realization of its potential (for both the conversants and others...), or even undermines and possibly destroys it[self, i.e., them, i.e., us]....

"For the spirit alone lives; all else dies."
(Jean de Coras, inquisitor of Martin Guerre)

Return  to Husserl's notion of "bracketing" (shorter thoughts page):
Ask yourself: What is this [whatever] an instance of?
Read  Edmund Husserl's lecture: Philosophy and the Crisis of European Humanity (1935).

Think about contemporary communication challenges.
Fax vs facts?
Think about cellphones!
Learn about a serious danger in using The Internet.
[ Notice what's hiding in plain sight! ] [ ] [ Why does everybody like cellphones? ] [ ]

Learn  about marketing science and consumer preference (Edward Bernays).
Learn  about John Boyd's "OODA loop" (Observation - Orientation - Decision - Action feedback cycle) theory.
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06 March 2006CE (2006-03-06 ISO 8601)
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