Through time, technology has aided humankind to create more and more realistic simulations to the point where the simulation becomes better than reality. In this essay, I will discuss simulations in theater, museums, film, television, virtual reality, and cyberspace.
First, what is “reality”? Timothy Luke says, “Discussing ‘reality’ always is slightly unreal. Reality is something that is hard to talk about because it is so subjective. One person’s reality is always going to be at least a little different than another’s. In describing it with words, one changes reality into something else.”
Rhetorical theories argue that “reality” is a cognition mediated by symbols. Another method of thought “views language not as a tool to represent or describe reality, but as a system in use that creates reality in the mind of a person and creates the person himself.” By telling a story of something real, we are enacting a simulation. We are substituting symbols for reality.
Non-reality became a part of human experience the moment we began to communicate via symbolism. Technology has only made it more subtle and easier to manipulate.
Reality is nebulous and abstract. As far as concepts go, it is about as easy to define as the concept of God or the universe. For the purpose of this essay, I will define ‘reality’ as something that is concrete and is the referent of its definition. For example, a rose is real, but a silk rose is not, at least in the sense that it is not a real rose. It is a simulation of a rose and is only real in the sense that it is a real silk rose, but not a rose.
I am aware that this is not a perfect definition, for “no abstract conceptual representation can fully disclose or encapsulate that which is real.”1
An actor takes the stage and he becomes Hamlet, or Mozart, or whomever. A play is simplified reality. It is a distillation of real life in order to prove a point, teach a lesson, or just to entertain. It is synthetic in that people don’t really die, they aren’t really kings, and they don’t really feel the way they pretend to on the stage.
A quote in Wyrd Sisters, a novel by Terry Pratchett, summed this idea up. “The theater worried her… It changed the world and said things were otherwise than they were… It was commanded by ordinary people… They altered the world because it sounded better.”