How will the metaverse transform us?

Philomag looks at this disturbing question in a philosophical press review.

How old is the metaverse?

For Gabrielle Halpern, the virtual duplication of our reality responds to a fantasy, that of a world that obeys entirely our will. We are interested in the metaverse not because reality is boring but because we refuse its unpredictability,” she says.

Why would these two reasons exclude each other? The philosopher makes an inadequate connection with the capricious COVID, which would have stung the human being to the quick and accelerate the creation of worlds easier to master. Not. The temptation of virtual worlds dates from their mere possibility. The Paradise/Hell couple largely predates the digital age. It achieves the life that one deems worth; and the others theirs, sometimes punitive, which is an even more integral control of their universe. The acceleration of the phenomenon comes from technological progress and its ability to make the virtual indistinguishable from the real.

A zombie metaverse?

For Eugène Favier-Baron, Simon Woillet, and Audrey Boulard, the metaverse is not an extension of reality but on the contrary its reduction, through a closed attention, an alienated body subjected to a “new control of sensoriality”, which metamorphoses it into a “zombie body”.

Relevant but outdated criticism. It was more relevant during the rise of video games, which froze the attention and body of many teenagers in repetitive universes to the point of bordering on immobility. Things can be radically reversed in the metaverse. Sensoriality is a two-way relationship. People who are “rough” in reality will gain a much higher sensitivity in a world that stimulates it in an adapted way.

On the side of the optimists

David Chalmers is more optimistic. A fulfilling life awaits us in these digital worlds, he says. “We can enter into discussion and make in-depth social and political decisions about what form society should take in these worlds. Rather than living in a video game, my analogy would be moving to a new uninhabited country where you would have to create an entire society. […] I do not see it as a form of escape. I’m not saying: completely abandon physical reality and live in a virtual world. I think virtual worlds are like a complement to physical reality, not a replacement.

Less lyrical and frightening, Chalmers’ position seems more pragmatic. However, it obscures the problem of addiction. We could say that alcohol and drugs are also complements to physical reality, which transform it into something more pleasing to the mind. How will those disappointed with reality—and it disappoints us all somewhere— keep the metaverse in the state of “complement”? Isn’t this a great naivety at Chalmers when we see today the widespread addiction to social networks? If the parade of exchanges in summary language can fix the mind to such an extent, what will happen when we are immersed in our ideal world, indistinguishable from reality, to programmed incidents, much better able to satisfy our sexual and intellectual impulses?

Who will want to get out of the matrix to return to a reality that has become a simple maintenance service for these perfect worlds?

Sartre’s neurotic vision

In another Philomag article, Nicolas Gastineau and Octave Larmagnac-Matheron take up the idea that the craze for the metaverse has just “freed itself from the weight of the world”, to abolish its resistance. They quote Sartre and his “surrounding materiality, […] inert and demonic negation” that makes human history “a fierce struggle against scarcity [of experiences] .  I confess my amazement to see them looking for references in depressed or aging minds. The world is heavy only in those who have given up hope of lifting it. Just as the body strengthens and flourishes to run, push, transform matter, the mind expands to analyze, model, synthesize, bypass the resistance of reality, which has nothing intentional. The real is not an opponent of the human, as the term “fierce struggle” implies used by Sartre, a great neurotic among philosophers.

The metaverse for those who were not born there, and those who will be born there

Neurosis is actually what could make us return to reality. Only a mind that has become accustomed to the world refusing to it will be tempted to leave the perfect metaverse,to return to a neutral, dreary material reality, with authentic but rare unpredictability. Only the neurotic will be able to rejoice in dislocating it without the possibility of going back. The generation that has grown up in reality will always want to frequent its cradle. But those who grew up in the metaverse? Who today worries about the ubiquity of networks apart from those that have matured without them?

Should we raise children in the real world to keep them adapted to it, and then allow them progressive access to the metaverse? I propose the opposite. The interest of the metaverse is precisely to multiply the experiences by removing any danger from them. The young metaversian thus builds his personal confidence. He protects himself from neurotic cysts born of unjust events, which today we must accept without understanding the reason. The virtual avoids making the real his enemy. Aren’t we already doing this by securing the toddlers’ space as much as possible? They are unfortunately not protected from our own neuroses, which we tag to them without even thinking about it. The metaverse can grow a generation better than ours. Not rid of conflicts. The real is always generous to provide them. But they will be less sterile and this humanity welded in the virtual will reach levels of organization much higher than ours.

Interesting metaverse outlets

What synthesis can be drawn from all this? Metaverse is a potential trap for adults, especially those most frustrated with reality. The old man willingly locks himself into his shrunken imagination to escape the chaos of a world that assaults him. His ability to manage the unexpected has disappeared. Because there are too many. The metaverse would be able to re-educate it with subtle touches of surprises, in the middle of a safe world. The metaverse can be seen as a therapeutic, targeting a person who is too isolated, whether it is an introversion or a previous virtual world that is too licked. Addiction is never a normal way of the mind. It signals an aversion to novelty, challenge, because too many have previously disappointed.

The metaverse, an excellent potential rehabilitator, has a more primary vocation as an educator. But how will it do it? This is where we come to the essential question: Which Great Programmer will decide our destiny by making this metaverse? We can rightly be afraid that designers are concerned only with financial profitability, seduction, recruitment and stupidity of crowds to turn them into Nice Users.

Between seizing destiny with inexperienced hands and abandoning it

Is the human being able to take charge of his own destiny, to free himself from the pressures of the natural world? Is this emancipation an independence? Indeed, in what way is rebellion really emancipated from what gives rise to it? Lucidly, we must always judge ourselves strongly limited by reality. Our free will is to carefully organize our permanent conflict with matter and other minds, not to seek to get rid of it.

This organization involves all components of society. Let us not let a few individuals with brains filled with lines of code and silver dreams lead the destiny of our descendants. Humanity is something other than a flock of sheep that is easy to lead with cognitive biases.

To refuse the virtual metaverse is to abandon it to the worst materialists among us.

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