Virtual realities and cultural practices

I use ‘virtual realities’ following the equating of language use as a virtual reality in my new book.  You should think of these properties:

  • there must be at least two people, communities or machines (the latter for more recent technological versions rather than the ‘natural’ virtual realities of humans)
  • one person responds to something or does something and this affects the second person or machine who then does something else
  • what the second person does must be trained (usually extensively) and can be arbitrary so long as they respond so as to affect (shape) the first person
  • other people not trained cannot just join in easily and do responding that will affect the first person
  • the whole thing does not work with one just person or machine, it is necessarily social activity requiring at the least some mutual training

In the machine versions a person views something and responds; a second machine has been extensively trained (carefully programmed) to respond in certain ways to what the first person does (like doing virtual surgery or flying a drone); if there is no second machine, nothing happens

In language use, one person says something and another person who has had extensive training responds in a range of ways that in turn affects (shapes) the first person; it can all be arbitrary; language does not work without the listeners (no private languages); it is only precise (definitions) when the training is very precise; you often cannot say what the range of responses is; smaller groups or pairs can train up their own virtual realities (slang, in-jokes); ‘meaning’ equals training

In the case of music and other ‘cultural practices’, within a group that has some history of training arbitrary responding, one person does something (plays some music) and the others have training in responding in a range of ways; it can all be arbitrary and each person responds differently (some people dance to Bach although it is usually punished); the only ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’ is what those listener responses do to the musicians over time; what is done to music can be arbitrary so long as responding has been trained to affect the musician, so Bach is no better or worse than Opeth or Willy Nelson, except for those within a single community that have been trained together and do not know what to do when they hear other musics


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