If we look up “virtual” on the dictionary we will find: “1. Existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form, or name: the virtual extinction of the buffalo. 2. Existing in the mind, especially as a product of the imagination. Used in literary criticism of a text. 3. Computer Science Created, simulated, or carried on by means of a computer or computer network: virtual conversations in a chatroom.”
So we understand virtual as potentiality, ability to be. Things experienced as they could possibly be. Something absurd can never be virtual. To be considered as virtual, something has to be plausible in experience. It is similar to the case of perceptual illusions, even when it is explained to us that something is a perceptual illusion, we cannot help perceiving it (the opposite occurs with, for instance, logical fallacies). Moreover, with regard to the virtual, even though we know it is a fiction, it is not possible to avoid the feeling of reality.
Virtual is a special type of simulation. The difference between the virtual and other types of simulations can be located on the way of perceiving what we experience. Whereas with a simulation model, one is normally aware that one is presenting hypotheses and checking what happens with them, thinking of different scenarios to choose a line of action, with the virtual one normally tries to live experiences in a new scenario (like in the case of games, now so popular, involving virtual life). The problem is whether these experiences are lived as real or not. Do we have the same perception of what is lived when simulating a model than when experimenting with virtual realities?
Virtual can also be interpreted as having some sort of misleading element, for instance, assumed reconstructions of the past or future predictions that are said to be inevitable. It is a case of virtual reality when, in order for a city to obtain the UNESCO world heritage recognition, it is not enough to have beautiful streets or well kept houses, but rather it is required that it has an idea behind it. Things like being designed according to the mentality of the Enlightment could be enough and so, the past is reconstructed so that it becomes suitable. It is enough for the idea to be believable, and if it is indeed the case, most people will end up believing it (regardless of whether it is true or not). Recently television (“National Geographic” and others), is full of documentaries where the past and the future are reconstructed. We see programs about evolution made with amazing techniques or investigation programs about the murder of some Egyptian emperor. When we see them, we get the impression of watching something real, of seeing the truth about things. Even though we know there is not enough information to know what really happened, we believe what they tell us, these programs are appealing, because they tell us the story on an entertaining and didactical way. Also, it is announced on the news that we can now see the real face of Jesus Christ (or Nefertiti) and they show it to us, but if we listen closely we realize it is a mere reconstruction from the heads of people from the same age and time. As if they could not be different from their kind. In some cases, like when predicting facts about the future through a series of data, we do not have images. It would seem that without images we cannot have virtual reality. I do not think so. I believe that what is characteristic about the virtual is the perception from the user of that as real. If a series of fictional data is perceived as real, then it is up to a certain extent a virtual reality.
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M. Vázquez (14/04/2010)
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