Aesthetics of a Virtual World

Symposium:


Presentation Title:

  • Aesthetics of a Virtual World

Presenter(s):



Abstract:

  • Discussing virtual reality with another artist recently, I was asked incredulously “What do ethics have to do with aesthetics?” I might have dismissed the question as coming from someone whose roots are strongly attached to the modernist tradition. He doesn’t grasp, I might have said to myself, that things have changed, that now, in this period considered by many to be postmodern, aesthetics is no longer regulated to a matter of form or style, but rather once again encompasses a philosophical stance towards the a making process. But that response would have missed an opportunity to develop an answer to another and central question about virtual systems. That question involves what the aesthetics of virtual systems have to do with ethics. My one word answer to both questions is, “Everything” The longer answer is less presumptive, more inquiring, and the subject of my ongoing research and this paper.

    In my interviews with various artists, educators, cultural theorists, computer researchers, software and hardware developers, questions about the ethics of virtual systems often materialize as ambiguous but pressing matters. Finding substance in particular worries such as virtual sex, political and corporate domination, military uses, and mind-numbing, violence oriented entertainment, these questions continue to indicate the possibilities of directing the development of virtual systems in building virtual worlds. Ethical questions, after all, involve judgment. How should we act? The idea of judgment in ethics is an all-encompassing function. Involving our entire being, it is the way we choose among many possibilities. Those choices commit us to paths which are more less consistent with our nature and the rest of our lives. The accountability of our judgments is “part of the condition of our existence as social, integrated, affectionate, language using beings” and touches on questions about the nature of knowledge.

    On what do we base those actions? How can we know if the knowledge on which we base those actions is true? Decisions about what is right or wrong are inextricably linked to a grasp of what is real and what is true. We approach an understanding of reality and truth through a variety of means. Historically, philosophical thought has offered us various positions on whether attempts at making ethical decisions are based on stable or shifting grounds. Current technology offers us countless means to reevaluate our perceptions of what reality and truth consist. Consequently, this attempt to suggest aesthetic frameworks for the design of an ethical interactive technology includes a brief, hopefully succinct, unraveling of the intricate connections among pertinent systems of ethics, the ontological and epistemological assumptions on which they are based, and the influence technology has had on those assumptions.

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