Philosophy speaker provokes discussion on virtual reality

Patrick Brennan, Assistant Opinions Editor

Patrick Brennan, Assistant Opinions Editor

Patrick Brennan

What is space? What do we mean when we say something is real in virtual reality?

World-famous philosopher David Chalmers spoke Friday regarding these questions as part of the UK Department of Philosophy’s 2015-16 speaker series. Entitled “Perception and Illusion in Virtual Reality,” Chalmers’ talk was short on substance, but valuable for the department.

Chalmers’ focus was on how we stand in relation to virtual reality technology, like the Oculus Rift.

The main question was whether or not virtual objects are a second-class reality, and Chalmers argued that recognizing virtual reality objects as virtual reality objects is “veridical.”

Chalmers’ talk included some technical terminology and analogies to mirrors, but for the most part, it was fairly accessible.

“He was really engaging and entertaining, and he put things into terms that were easy to understand and grasp,” said Jesse Peltan, a mathematical economics and philosophy sophomore.

At the same time, much of Chalmers’ limited time seemed to be wasted on the casual asides, advertisements for virtual reality technology, and slideshow of himself wearing virtual reality technology.

In his argument, Chalmers connected mirrors to virtual reality by claiming that both can seem illusory and maintain illusions, but we ultimately recognize a non-illusory status of the objects that are projected.

While he had much to say about the status of illusion, Chalmers said nothing about its natural counterpart — what is real? There seemed to be a certain level of depth missing, and Chalmers covered it up with flashy words and a sexy topic.

Like the saying, “stupid is as stupid does,” Chalmers proposed a theory of space: “space is what space does.” He called this space functionalism, and he supplemented this jargon by “thinking phenomenologically.”

The topic was especially exciting because it is new. Chalmers is taking this a step further by philosophizing about the perks of social status (virtual reality technology). All the same, Chalmers is leading the charge on an issue that will be important in the near future — object relations in virtual reality.

How will we come to think of ourselves and the world as virtual reality becomes more available? Do virtual objects have value?

Like it or not, Chalmers’ talk was appropriate for stimulating thought. Encountering something convoluted and incomplete, especially in an entertaining presentation, can help provoke strong opinions.

“If someone says something clear, it might be thought-provoking but less stimulating (than an unclear argument),” said Adam Patterson, a third year graduate student in philosophy who attended the talk.

Chalmers might not have given a talk that was intellectually satisfying, but he provided something on which to dwell.

Patrick Brennan is the assistant opinions editor of the Kentucky Kernel.

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