Hello all, glad to be writing again
This short blog is inspired (and attempts to inspire) by a discussion I had with my students in A-level philosophy course. We were studying Direct Realism, Russel's indirect realism, and Berkley's idealism. These are theories that try to answer the questions:
1. Is there a real physical world out there.
2. How do we know about it.
I strongly recommend you read briefly about theories and what they entail. However, the point of this blog is not perception and mind-independent world. Rather, can video games help or motivate us to learn about the world. Those who know me know how much I owe to v.games such as Final Fantasy and Metal Gear. However, the more I develop my career in education the more I encounter people who are skeptical, it is also the more I encounter people who have opinions about v.games without actually playing a serious one.
The following discussion is one interesting way video games can interact with philosophy and our understanding of the world, and thus teach us more than what they're designed for:
My student asked: if I control my character in a v.game world, and I see a pig cross the road, then turn around 360 degrees until I am at the road again, then I will see that the pig has 'logically' crossed the road with proper distance/momentum that matches our real life perception of physics and physical world. How do I know that the pig was there when I turned my back?
This question is a two fold question:
1 - We can discuss it via computer programming.
2 - We can discuss it via philosophy, since the question can easily be mapped into a real life situation
1 - Video games are in the business of creating illusions. Designers spend huge amount of time creating a massive world (today we call these games open world games since the world is so huge) with characteristics that are governed by decisions made by the creating staff. For example: a Metal Gear army military world will not see a dragon flying with an elf on its back carrying a sword.
So, we have a world that is so massive and governed by its rules. However, naturally, these rules are not 100% stemmed out of our imagination. They're in fact inspired by real world references like forests, waters, humans, animals, and creatures (combination of humans and animals). In order for the illusion to work, the world has to mirror the laws of physics as well to convince us that we're in a world of fantasy. Other wise it will just be absolute chaos.
The difficult thing to imagine though, is that all of this is is just a code, a mathematical reference controlled by the game's engine to run the pre programmed animations and movements with the environment. In other words, the game has an engine that mathematically simulates a physical world that we perceive and enjoy.
When the character turns its back on the pig, we as humans store the pig in our memory, and we finish the 360 turn, our brain wants to see the pig in its proper place. A successful game will produce a result that matches this expectation (unless its the goal of the game not to). Having said that, in the illusion, there is no set criteria for the pig to actually be there when we turn around. This is where we need to understand Cache:
The computer stores the information (the world) and manipulates it (stores and deletes) quickly to seamlessly stream the world. However, this is done at the expense of the console and its capabilities. The more complicated the world is, the more demand there is on the console. Therefore, designers have to find ways to optimize what the engine processes and not processes.
When I am not facing the pig, there is no reason why the computer should continue to spend the resources to create the pig. If the pig can be reduced to a mathematical equation only to be simulated into graphics when needed, then the engine can use this resource to simulate something else (like 5000 leaves on a tree). It is this constant, and extremely rapid exchange of information that makes games like Horizon - Zero Dawn possible (watch trailer below).
If you're following our discussion and not bored to death by the simplistic description of complicate V.game and computer programming terminology, then you should be able to create a reference to real life perception
2 - How do I know, in real life, that when I turn around, that the pig is still there?
Well, that is a very difficult question to answer. However, the implications are massive, especially for religious people. I came across this problem when I was younger. Back then, PC strategy games were the main thing, these are games where the player plays through a bird's eye view and controls a population, army, theme park, zoo park, whatever the world is, and aims at a certain goal (this was considered fun!).
My problem was this: If I am able to control those soldiers, force them to make ethical decisions beyond their capabilities, and force them to follow my orders, how do I know that God is not going this to me? (I later realized this is actually a problem called Evil Demon and was articulated by Socrates). In philosophy, this question can be answered (or not) in Epsitemology - Perception.
I am personally a materialistic person, I believe in science and science tells us that the physical world does exist, and that other humans, and objects, did exist before me, exist now, and will exist (inductively) after I die. The physical world is compromised of matter and atoms, and is governed by physical laws such as conservation of energy, and quantum physics.
However, the question does beg it self, how do I verify I exist in a physical world since the only way I have to verify its existence is my fallible senses (fallible because senses can produce wrong results, and do not reveal the world as it is. Think of when I see the color yellow, am I seeing the photons? or the wavelengths?).
So, how will I ever prove the pig continues to exist when I turn my back?
Interestingly, Berkley suggests an idea similar to what we mentioned in point 1, video games. He believed that the pig, my self, the world, and everything are actually just 'ideas' in the mind of God. AKA, God is the video game engine that simulates the world constantly. We are floating in this engine's world and God never stops simulating it. Moreover, God is simulating a 'perfect' world.
For me, when I was young, this analogy created problems for me:
1 - I play video games for fun, the engine was designed to make me (the external being to the v.game) have fun. Why is god simulating the world? does he want to have fun? God is perfect, why would he need to have fun?
This was developed even further when two years later (in grade 10) when I read in our Islam religion textbook that: "God created humans so they can pray to him". That phrase meant no sense to me at all since it said literally nothing about the world. It did not describe the world, nor did it prescribe a world.
Even if it did, why does god need people to worship him.
2 - The video game engine is set by designers who 'limit the rules' so the engine can handle the complexity.
God is perfect, so how is it that our world is 'limited' by physical laws when he has the capacity to make it unlimited? Maybe, god is not perfect, which is of course, anti-god.
Anyways, without being too religious, I want to steer back in a cheap way to the original point of this blog:
When I was having this discussion with my students I was hoping to demonstrated how we can learn virtually from anything. Anything has the potential to trigger ideas in us. We should be careful about making judgements because we might limit our access to valuable sources of information.
In this case, video games allowed me (when I was younger) and my student to have a valuable discussion about the existence of a mind-independent world through testing the concepts inside a virtual world!
To finish, please watch the following trailer for Horizon, and process all these thoughts!
These are short comments I post as I navigate through waters.