QR1.4.5. Is Reality Fake?

Is a virtual world necessarily a fake world? Consider the following case:

In June 2005, QiuChengwei, a Chinese national, won a virtual sword in the online game Legend of Mir 3. He lent the sword to a fellow gamer Zhu Caoyuan who subsequently sold it [on eBay]. When Qiu reported the incident to the police he was told a virtual sword was not real property and was not protected by law. Qiu went to the home of Zhu and stabbed him to death in a very real crime for which he is now serving a life sentence.(Power, 2010) p188

The stolen sword didn’t physically exist but it was real enough for those involved to own, sell and kill for. It follows that for all intents and purpose, the Mir sword was real, even though was virtual. As another example, Bitcoins are worth billions but they aren’t physical things, so if the current definition of reality as “What exists means what exists physically, then Bitcoins don’t exist. A clearer definition of reality is “What exists to an observer”.

This definition still applies to physical reality because every physical event requires an observer by the observer effect in physics. Adding the observer to the definition lets us to say that a dream is real to the dreamer but not to others. It doesn’t imply that we unilaterally create all reality as in solipsism, just our reality. That every reality event is an observer-observed interaction disciplines like sociology, psychology and computing to study social, human and information systems that are real. For if information wasn’t real, or if cognition wasn’t real, or if society wasn’t real, the sciences of computing, psychology and sociology would be the study of unreality. It then follows that informational, personal and social realities emerge from physical reality (Whitworth & Ahmad, 2013).

Figure 1.5 A reality pyramid based on physical reality

That informational, personal and social realities are alternate ways of viewing physical reality lets sociology study social systems, psychology study human systems and computer science study information systems that are real (Figure 1.5).

Note that these different views of reality exist at the same time, so a cell phone is simultaneously hardware and software. There is one reality but we differentiate hardware and software as different views of the same reality.

Software emerges from hardware as it can’t exist without it but hardware can exist without software. The observer chooses a hardware view to solve a hardware issue and chooses a software view to solve a software issue. In Figure 1.5, each reality level emerges from the one below as a higher way to view reality. Social structures emerge from human meaning(Bone, 2005) that emerges from nerve data that emerges from physical brain events because seeing reality in social terms helped survival (Hogg, 1990).

In this approach, the Mir sword didn’t exist physically but it existed as an information entity in the Mir database, it was a cognitive entity in the mind of its owner and it existed to the Mir community, so it was real by the new definition. If a fantasy is real to only one person, the Mir sword was not that. It existed by common consent and was even a scientifically real subject of research. In a society, to sell what one doesn’t own is unjust so as the police had no remedy the owner took justice into his own hands.

If social constructs emerge from human thoughts that emerge from nerve information based on physical events, is the physical world the end of the line? Physical realism says it is, arguing that everything reduces to physical events, so only physical events really exist. But if matter was the end of the reality line, it would be able to observe but no-one has ever proposed how it can do that.

That every physical event is an observation suggests that the physical world is also an observer effect. Quantum theory agrees, as if quantum waves become physical events when observed, physics is just another reality view. As the great eighteenth century philosopher Kant concluded, we see phenomena not noumena, a view of reality not things as they are in themselves (Kant, 2002).

If physical reality is an observer effect, it only exists when we look, just as my image in a mirror is an observer effect that only exists when I look. If I don’t look my body still exists but if I observe the mirror, an image appears. The image I see isn’t in itself real but it represents my body reality.

Figure 1.6 A reality pyramid based on quantum reality

Quantum realism concludes that the same applies to world around us, that it exists when we look but when we don’t, what exists is quantum reality. Figure 1.6 puts quantum reality at the bottom of the reality pyramid because it provides the observer. Physical reality then emerges from it just as information reality emerges from physical reality. Quantum realism is that the physical world we see is an image generated by a real quantum world that we don’t see. It isn’t fake, any more than an image in a mirror is fake, because quantum reality actually exists, but neither is it real in an objective sense.