The concept of strong and weak virtual reality

Minds and Machines 16 (2):201-219 (2006)
We approach the virtual reality phenomenon by studying its relationship to set theory. This approach offers a characterization of virtual reality in set theoretic terms, and we investigate the case where this is done using the wellfoundedness property. Our hypothesis is that non-wellfounded sets (so-called hypersets) give rise to a different quality of virtual reality than do familiar wellfounded sets. To elaborate this hypothesis, we describe virtual reality through Sommerhoff’s categories of first- and second-order self-awareness; introduced as necessary conditions for consciousness in terms of higher cognitive functions. We then propose a representation of first- and second-order self-awareness through sets, and assume that these sets, which we call events, originally form a collection of wellfounded sets. Strong virtual reality characterizes virtual reality environments which have the limited capacity to create only events associated with wellfounded sets. In contrast, the logically weaker and more general concept of weak virtual reality characterizes collections of virtual reality mediated events altogether forming an entirety larger than any collection of wellfounded sets. By giving reference to Aczel’s hyperset theory we indicate that this definition is not empty because hypersets encompass wellfounded sets already. Moreover, we argue that weak virtual reality could be realized in human history through continued progress in computer technology. Finally, within a more general framework, we use Baltag’s structural theory of sets (STS) to show that within this hyperset theory Sommerhoff’s first- and second-order self-awareness as well as both concepts of virtual reality admit a consistent mathematical representation. To illustrate our ideas, several examples and heuristic arguments are discussed.
Keywords Virtual Reality  ZFC set theory  Non-wellfounded set theory  Sommerhoff’s theory of consciousness
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