Against Brain-in-a-Vatism: On the Value of Virtual Reality
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The term “virtual reality” was first coined by Antonin Artaud to describe a value-adding characteristic of certain types of theatrical performances. The expression has more recently come to refer to a broad range of incipient digital technologies that many current philosophers regard as a serious threat to human autonomy and well-being. Their concerns, which are formulated most succinctly in “brain in a vat”-type thought experiments and in Robert Nozick's famous “experience machine” argument, reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the way that such technologies would probably have to work. They also considerably underestimate the positive contributions that virtual reality (VR) technologies could make to the growth of human knowledge. Here, we examine and critique Nozick's claim that no reasonable person would want to plug into his hypothetical experience machine in light of a broadly enactivist understanding of how future VR technologies might be expected to function. We then sketch out a tentative theory of the phenomenon of truth in fiction, in order to characterize some of the distinct epistemic opportunities that VR technologies promise to provide.
KeywordsVirtual reality Brain in a vat Nozick Artaud Enactivism Truth in fiction
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