But look more closely at what these people wrote. While all three identified various ways in which we draw distinctions, they also argued that reality is often not like that. Alan Watts cautioned, ‘in nature herself there are no classes… The importance of a box for thought is that the inside is different to the outside. But in nature the walls of a box are what the inside and the outside have in common’. Richard Dawkins, meanwhile, explained how we can only talk about ‘species’ because so many forms of life have gone extinct and fossil records are so incomplete. ‘People and chimpanzees are linked via a continuous chain of intermediates and a shared ancestor… In a world of perfect and complete information, fossil information as well as recent, discrete names for animals would be impossible’. And while Bennetsen did give his essay the title ‘Augmentation versus Immersion’ and various other bloggers have referenced it when writing about clashes between incompatible beliefs in SL, it seems to have been forgotten that he wrote, ‘I view these two philosophies placed at opposite ends of a scale. Black and white, if you will, with plenty of grey scales in between’.
I think this remark applies to many distinctions, such as ‘natural’/’artificial’; ‘actual’/’virtual’ and ‘person’/’machine’. These distinctions, arguably, are no more grounded in reality than the separation of life forms into species. Furthermore, while the illusion that humans are a distinct species separate from all other animals was brought about by past events (those events being extinctions and the destruction of fossils via geological activity), one can dimly glimpse how current research and development in Genetics, Robotics, Information technology and Nanotechnology might result in a future where it no longer makes sense to distinguish between the natural and the artificial; the actual and the virtual. The consequence of this will go much further than making all those essays about ‘immersionism versus augmentationism’ seem nonsensical to future generations. It also suggests that a technological singularity could happen without anybody noticing.
To understand the reasoning behind both of those suggestions, we need to take a wider view than just the ongoing creation of Second Life. It is, after all, a virtual world existing within a much larger technological system, namely the Web. As we progress through the 21st Century, what is the Web becoming?| ← Previous | | | Next → |