Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy by David J. Chalmers (review)

Philosophy East and West 73 (1):1-6 (2023)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy by David J. ChalmersAnand Jayprakash Vaidya (bio)Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy. By David J. Chalmers. New York, NY: W.W Norton & Company, 2022. Pp. xi + 520. Hardcover $22.49, isbn 978-0-393635-80-5.It isn't uncommon to think that virtual worlds, the worlds we engage with in video games, for example, are not real or at least less real than the ordinary world. After all, they are worlds that are created by us, and thus are less real than the world we didn't create, mind-independent reality. However, in Reality+, David Chalmers argues for the thesis that virtual reality is genuine reality.Reality+ is the twenty-first century equivalent of Bertrand Russell's twentieth century The Problems of Philosophy, published 110 years prior. Like Russell, Chalmers' goal is to explain the basic problems of philosophy to a wide audience.The book's twenty-four chapters are organized into seven different parts: virtual worlds, knowledge, reality, real virtual reality, mind, value, and foundations. Each section has about three to four chapters. Having taught the book in an upper-division philosophy of mind course, I would say that the first nine chapters should be read together to get a good sense of the whole project, because they give shape and structure to Chalmers' basic arguments and positions. The following fifteen self-explanatory, self-contained, chapters, are independently engaging, and can be taught separately, as standalone works of philosophy.Chalmers engages in what he terms technophilosophy, which is the combination of (1) asking philosophical questions about technology and (2) using technology to help answer traditional questions of philosophy. He claims that he draws inspiration for the project from Patricia Churchland's 1986 Neurophilosophy, where she does the equivalent of (1) and (2) with neuroscience. Reality+ delivers clear arguments, referencing historical and contemporary philosophical work, while frequently drawing from science fiction, including several outstanding Rick and Morty -style illustrations. The use of science fiction helps to connect students to abstract ideas, while the robustly constructed arguments serve to instruct students on how to go about critically examining the ideas. My students found the book accessible and engaging. I imagine the book [End Page 1] will become even more relevant to successive classes, as the issues Chalmers discusses grow more dominant in the future.Chapter 1, "Is this the real life?", begins by discussing Indian and Chinese philosophy in relation to Greek philosophy with respect to theme of illusion/dreams vs. reality. In all three traditions, one finds discussion of the nature of reality and whether we can know it. Chalmers thinks that each of these traditions helps to formulate the basic questions of his book: the knowledge question, the reality question, and the value question.The knowledge question: can we know whether or not we are living in a virtual world? In part 2, Chalmers argues that we cannot know that we are not living in a virtual world. He does so by defending his own version of Nick Bostrom's simulation argument (2003), which very roughly goes as follows: (1) If there is nothing (technological or otherwise) that would serve to block the creation of a perfect simulation of a humanlike being into existence (what he calls a sim blocker), then most humanlike beings are simulations. (2) if most humanlike beings are simulations, we are probably simulations. So, (3) if there are no sim blockers, we are probably sims.The reality question: are virtual worlds real? He argues that virtual worlds are genuinely real by examining a variety of definitions of what makes something real in chapter 6. I will examine this argument in more detail in the following section.The value question: can you lead a good life in a virtual world? He argues that one can, in parts 5 and 6. He says: "In principle, life in virtual reality can have the same sort of value as life in nonvirtual reality. To be sure, life in virtual reality can be good or bad" (p. 311).As successful as Reality+ is, philosophical counterpoints arose in my mind. In the next section, I present...

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Anand Vaidya
San Jose State University

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