Reality of the Virtual vs Virtual Reality



We comment on a lecture by Zizek on the duality of real – virtual or body – soul.

Slavoj Zizek suggests to complement the concept of virtual reality as reproduction of reality, with the concept of
Zizek compares virtuality of the real with reality of the virtual with examples from politics, sociology, psychoanalysis and physics, which connects to my knols Simulation TechnologySimulations of Wittgenstein and Hyperreality in physics. Let us explore this connection.
In his discussion of the concept of reality of the virtual Zizek uses the Lacanian triad of imaginary-symbolic-real applied to the concepts of virtual and real:
  • imaginary virtual
  • symbolic virtual
  • real virtual  
  • imaginary real
  • symbolic real
  • real real
which Zizek characterize, in short, as: 
  • imaginary virtual: filtered virtual image of e.g. other people 
  • symbolic virtual: beliefs which have to be virtual to be operative, like paternal authority, Santa Claus, democracy. 
  • real virtual: to be defined
and, recalling the Lacanian definition of real  = that which resists symbolization,
  • imaginary real: images too strong to be directly confronted
  • symbolic real: scientific formulas like quantum physics, which work but which appear to be meaningless with regard to our ordinary notion of reality
  • real real: core of real, obscene shadow of symbolic real, undertext of e.g. Sound of Music:and and  Shortcuts. 

Zizek recalls the decomposition of Donald Rumsfeld of knowledge into known- knowns, known-unknowns and unknown-unknowns,  and Zizek completes with unknown- knowns = things we don’t know that we know = unconscious.  Zizek seems to conclude that this can be seen as a form reality of the virtual. 
To explore the relation between reality of the virtual and virtuality of the real,  Zizek considers Einstein’s theory of gravitation connecting mass to curvature of space, which can be viewed in two ways: 

  • mass defines curved space = real defines virtual = virtual reality
  • curved space defines mass = virtual defines real = reality of the virtual
Similarly, Newtonian theory of gravitation connecting mass to gravitational potential, can be viewed in two ways:
  • mass defines potential = real defines virtual = virtual reality
  • potential defines mass =  virtual defines real = reality of the virtual

as discussed in the The Hen and the Egg of Gravitation with the message that it is not so clear what is most real: mass or gravitational potential. Maybe it depends on our senses.
In psychoanalytic terms the connection between trauma and symbolic space can be viewed as
  • trauma deforms symbolic space = virtual reality
  • deformed symbolic space generates trauma = reality of the virtual
or in fascism/antisemitism:
  • Jews deform social space into social antagonism = virtual reality
  • social antagonism deforms social space into antisemitism = reality of the virtual.
Evidently,  a relation of cause – effect is represented by the order of real – virtual, with the usual way of thinking being that the real preceeds the virtual. But Zizek says that the cause – effect can be turned around, as in the theory of gravitation, in which case the virtual preceeds the real.  Finally, if the cause – effect relation is unclear or irrelevant, virtual reality and reality of the virtual become indistinguishable, which maybe is the most interesting case…
Of course there is a connection to body – soul with
The soul is not only a representation of reality, but the soul lives its own life and generates its own reality. Further, there seems to be a connection between reality of the virtual and hyperreality.

In the context of a mathematical model like the Navier-Stokes equations expressing physical laws of balance:
  • computational solutions of the NS equations are representations of reality = virtual reality
  • reality is created by analog computational solution of balance laws = reality of the virtual.