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It may seem ironic, at first glance to be “dissing” Cartesian philosophy on a blog titled “I rez, therefore I am.” The irony of it all does not escape me; it is, in fact the irony of the situation that made me write this post in the first place. Let’s first get things straight – I am not an anti-rationalist, I simply believe, like many out there, that there are flaws to Cartesian philosophy, especially within the context of embodied virtual experiences. It has never done anyone harm (except those who have died at the stake for their causes, of course – hum hum Galileo) to venture off the beaten path and imagine things not as they currently are, but as they could be (and who knows, perhaps as they really are).
A huge inspiration to my research and understanding of embodied virtual experiences has been the work of existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger and ecological psychologist J. J. Gibson. With his theory of Dasein (roughly translated as Being-in-the-World), Heidegger’s philosophy offers an alternate view of presence from the rationalist tradition based on Cartesian dualism between res extensa and res cognitans. Unlike Descartes, Heidegger was primarily concerned with the nature of being and what it means to be, therefore rejecting the Cartesian object/subject dualism in favor of an aaproach to meaning contingent on contextual interpretation. Following Heideggerian philosophy, presence is directly tied to a person’s perception of an environment’s ability to support action.
Similarly to Heidegger, Gibson rejected Cartesian dualism, instead grounding the reality of experience in action and defining perception as the acquisition of information that supports and constraints action. Following this approach, the experience of space, whether actual or virtual, depends more on modes of locomotion and objects’ potential to support action than appearances, extending to visual and auditory cues. Action afforded by objects in the environment in turn affect the environment itself and vice versa. For example a hammer is no longer part of the environment when in use, but becomes an extension of the user’s hand. An appropriate statement to being hence becomes – I perform, therefor I am.
If you are interested, here are some good articles on the subject:
Flach, J. M., & Holden, J. G. (1998). The reality of experience: Gibson’s way. Presence, 7(1), 90-95.
Sheridan, T. B. (1999). Descartes, Heidegger, Gibson, and God: Toward an eclectic ontology of presence. Presence, 8(5), 551-559.
Zahorik, P., & Jenison, R. L. (1998). Presence as being-in-the-world. Presence, 7(1), 78- 89.