22 April 2021 1:56 AM (musing | transnaturalism)
When I read Ra, I was on the side of Virtual Humanity. Not the mass killing and undead zombie monsters, but the general idea that Concrete Humanity were a bunch of weird matter cultists. Seriously, dude. Get over yourself. If you've got nonlocality technology that lets you conjure a sports car out of nothing, you're not facing struggles in the real universe, you're building a very energy intensive and wasteful virtuality with energy that could provide a lot more people with the same or better level of happiness more wisely deployed.
But then I started thinking about something that made me a little sympathetic to Concrete Humanity. Imagine that you wanted to play a giant, infrasonic bugle.
The fundamental problem with a giant, infrasonic bugle is that it requires lots of air to be moved quickly. There is an upper limit on how much air you can move that is determined by how big your lungs are. In a virtuality, we have many ways to address this problem. The bugle is just an acoustic, aerodynamic simulation. We just need a way to vary its parameters that is pleasingly linked to action and provides feedback. We could do just that, and give you an interface that feels like diaphragm, lip and other muscles being moved, and feed back into proprioception. We could even add conditions that would trigger a sense of light-headedness. We could just throw out the square-cube law and expand you until you're big enough that you have the required lung capacity, though at that point we're throwing out physics simulation for a lot of the action. We'd probably do that anyway, it would be silly to simulate subatomic interactions in your sweat glands and pancreas when all we need is your consciousness, directives coming out, and sensory impressions going in.
Compare this to meatfolk. A giant, infrasonic bugle is a physical artifact, with a lot of extraneous properties, like how heavy it is, where it's located, how it's mounted, whether it's being polished and cared for in a way that will keep it from corroding. A mere ‘change the variables in an acoustic, aerodynamic system’ is not possible. You can't just throw out the square-cube law when it's inconvenient. You have to follow the concrete physics.
So instead you might have to hack up your body like a 50s mechanic modding a sports car. Disconnect your lungs from your trachea and hook them up to a ventilator to keep your blood oxygenated. Then get a compressor or some other powerful air source and hook that into your trachea to give you the volume and force of air you need. Stick some electrodes in your brain to let you control the power of the compressor analogously to how you might blow out.
There's a certain æsthetic appeal to this! There's something messy and fun about having to hack your respiratory system to play an instrument beyond your physiological capacity. You could certainly do the same thing in virtuality, it would simply be one choice of many. You'd be playing the ‘ecumenical physics and meat’ game, one of many. It would be an arbitrary choice.
Some people may find that more satisfying, but I don't think it holds up. If Virtual Humanity is a thing, and virtuality is easily and cheaply available as a home, then staying concrete is just making the arbitrary choice to play the ‘ecumenical physics and meat’ game expensively, using up energy that could be used for something else while giving you the same experience.
22 April 2021 3:26 AM
…now you've got me looking back again at infrasonic subwoofers, and thinking how cool it would be to build and have something like https://www.instructables.com/Build-an-Infrasonic-Subwoofer/ :)
I think I'd agree - though I like the ingenuity of tackling problems in concrete space where every little inconvenience cannot be simply waved away, I wouldn't feel upset if it was possible to disregard those problems in virtual space. This extends to my approach to fiction/character interaction - I like exploring how to solve problems such as "how to firmly hug someone small without causing harm", but I'm not upset by those who want to deploy the taffiest of cartoon physics.
(Disclaimer: I have not yet read Ra, so I'm not certain precisely what Virtuality and Concrete refer to.)
23 April 2021 6:12 AM
One thing you may not have considered is that some of the best art has come from the artist putting artificial limitations on themselves. For example, on the Commodore 64 your limited in your choice of color palette per segment of the screen. In terms of demos, your limited by the capabilities of the hardware, such as the CPU and SID chip. That didn't stop people from creating great things and even it's own genre.
When I am making music my computer is powerful enough to synthesize more polyphony that I could ever want, however it sounds the best when I try and limit myself to three.
Also look at the Amiga MOD scene. How they made the most of the very few megabytes of ram they had and still used samples, creating some of my favorite kind of music. https://vid.puffyan.us/watch?v=5gTWf6IGCJM