The Virtual Paradigm

Header Shot PathIf you can understand that a paradigm is a way of thinking, being and operating in any sphere then as far as things go we are entering a new sphere and thus a new Virtual Paradigm where arguably new rules and ways of thinking may apply. There is a famous line in the Matrix (Wachowski and Wachowski, 1999) which goes “Welcome to the desert of the real”. In fact, this is a reference taken from the book Simulacra and simulation (Baudrillard, 1981). Baudrillard actually talks about the desert of the real as being like that of a map which has disintegrated leaving behind a simulation of the actual territory that it represented. In essence one could say that the book discusses the idea of Virtual Reality or in his words Simulation in various forms and guises. His main tenet being that almost everything is in some degree a simulation of something else to a lesser or greater degree. One may not totally agree with this concept but in what might be considered a landmark concept of the time he also talks about how the image can go in successive stages from one which represents an actual thing, through changes or alterations to that representation and finally to one which represents nothing that we can really reference it to. Hence one could almost say that the idea of Virtual Reality was thought of well before the invention of the internet and all that followed on. I think it’s most pertinent to look at this idea of representation since with VR we have almost been handed the keys to the castle in terms of new realities.

The interesting thing about VR is that it is quite fascinating because of the deception that it creates of something existing that in fact has not solidity whatsoever in fact. I have been working on an installation as part of my research which involves the creation of a room, it happens to one of familiarity of my past but the interesting thing about it is that when one views something like that in VR it takes on a life of its own. Looking around the room which currently is not textured or refined in any way I nevertheless found myself drawn into its intricacies and the way that the light falls and the shadows are made. All of which is completely false, it’s a trick of the eye but yet even in its absolute plain essence it somehow almost comes to life. Which brings me back to Baudrillard; In that I have so far created something that is the same but somehow not the same as something that exists in the physical realm. So I am already moving through the successive stages of the image and I am happy to accept that this different representation that I have created is somehow ‘real’ at least to me. The whole creation of this scene is in fact a trick of light and shaders within a software program and stereoscopic vision that makes it ‘live’ even though it is not factually alive.

In Parables for the Virtual (Massumi, 2002), Brian Massumi talks about the fact that colour is never going to be the same from one instant to the next due to light, brightness, hue and so forth. He talks about each moment as being a ‘singularity’ and in effect not reproducible and nor is it the same colour to each person, not exactly the same anyway. When we produce colour, texture, etc. in the virtual world how referential is it to the real world? Does say a texture tell us how it should feel simply by looking at it? Can we look at concrete in the virtual and say yes, it is the same as physical or is it different, a whole new set of reference points that are simulations but give rise to new sensory perceptions or conclusions. Because as Massumi says, when we see something we are already compartmentalising to some degree it against other experiences and categorisations. So my point is will the virtual and the physical really ever be the same due to the very nature of simulation and do they have to be? Does it actually matter if they are not? Do we have to be so concerned with matching the real world when in fact we could simply re-contextualise ourselves with a whole set of different features and facets which are nothing like our physical universe. If you take it to that point then it is also possible that we could become addicted to the perfection we can achieve in VR, to seamlessness but we could also become a different self, a physical becomes virtual. After all you can go back to say Impressionism which is in effect painting the essence of colour. What Monet tried to do was actually see colour as it really is, a blending of light and colour, of brightness and intensity, uncodified or modified by contextualising the form of what he painted. However, by painting the light as it is, it took on a form of its own which we then recognised. Impressionism is a statement about the universe, the universe of light, colour and intensity. Perhaps our thinking is too rigid in this respect about art and the physical universe, we want to compartmentalise it without really thinking about what is the essence of what we are trying to convey. New paradigms can bring new ideas, new ways of thinking and seeing, VR gives us this chance for a new perspective in a totally new dimension. It’s not the desert of the real that we will find but more a menu of potentially delectable desserts all waiting for us to sample the wares.

Note – All reproductions and excerpts of any content on this blog must include a reference and citation to the original author and preferably a link to the original piece.

Baudrillard, J. (1981). Simulacra and simulation. Originally published in French by Editions Galilee: Editions Galilee translated into English onto PDF.

Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the virtual. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Wachowski, L., & Wachowski, L. (1999). The Matrix. Retrieved from