| Eric Voegelin (1990) distinguishes between the first reality, which we experience, and the second reality, which we imagine. Our increasing capacity to create veridical second realities, using virtual reality/cyberspace, has a number of threats as well as opportunities. It can be used to help more fully understand the first reality but it can also be used to eclipse the first reality. Why would a political philosopher be interested in such a distinction? Voegelin argues that people often encourage the eclipse of first reality by second reality as a power ploy. First reality is controlled by nature whereas second reality is controlled by people. The people who control this second reality have a vested interest in replacing first reality with their second reality. Unintentional blurring of first and second reality can also be threatening. In our understandable enthusiasm for virtual reality/cyberspace, we should not get carried away into arrogantly assuming that the world we imagine can substitute for the world we experience. Creating a replica of an American Indian village in a museum is a wonderful way to invite patrons to "visit" who would not otherwise be able to. This concept of the museum as a virtual reality has been unfairly derided as Levi-Strauss-meets-Mickey-Mouse. However, the replica threatens to eclipse the original if unthinking people consider this visit to the synthetic village as a substitute for a visit to the real village - or even as superior, since it is hyper real.|
In our post-modern era, we should keep our eyes on the obituary column. Art, history, nature and philosophy have all recently been declared dead. Reports of their death are grossly exaggerated. Invariably we find that what is dead is a second reality which has come to be substituted for a first reality. In the domain of virtual reality/cyberspace, now that we have a medium which is totally extrasomatic, there is a threat that the body will be declared dead. Michael Heim, Sandy Stone and David Tomas all document this tendency in Cyberspace: First Steps (Benedikt). A recent issue of the Whole Earth Review asked Is the body obsolete? and about half of the respondents said yes. Enthusiastic advocates of hypermedia exult about escaping the constraints of space and time. However, cybernauts, lost in cyberspace without their bodies, do not escape biological time. It continues to measure out their three score and ten, whether they are chatting over the backyard fence or zapping around the universe by satellite at the speed of light. This euphoria of technophilia is simply the latest in that brilliant array of techniques, documented by Ernest Becker, for denying death.
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