Through the Lens

Different views and concepts of reality. This has always been a beloved subject for me and why I love sci-fi and philosophy. How does an alien or robot think? What happens to our perceptions when space-time warps? These are also useful tools for examining the very real different views in our world.

Each of us has our own view of life, shaped by our upbringing, unique experiences and preferences. Like light though a lens: objective reality is out there, but it is distorted by these things: shifting color perhaps, or bringing some things into focus and others out of focus.

Then along came interconnected computing. I am old enough to remember when it was a popular idea that everyone would sue this to talk to each other and the human race would finally understand each other. Partly right. Certainly it has become the dominant mode of communication. When there are two people sitting down at a restaurant, and, instead of talking to each other are both furiously texting.

As people throughout the world began communicating, they naturally gravitated towards their interests and views. Whatever your interests, whatever your views are, you can find some group that supports it. In there one will find that their views are right, all of their preconceptions are fact, and everyone else is wrong. It brings a specific view into sharp focus and excludes all others. The lens has become a telescope.

It is still possible to make the effort to see objective reality, to come face to face with unpleasant truths and at least comprehend different views that one is opposed to. But what happens when technology helps us along further?

Microsoft advertised a system that “knows how you work” automatically prioritizing which email to bring to your attention or what work is most important, based on learning your preferences. So, now how does a manger actually discover what is really happening, if his he is only seeing the reports he wants to see? Likewise, search agents and ad bots will try to send you to locations based upon your preferences. Everywhere you go, you will find things more agreeable. How then, does one discover truth?

The further development of virtual reality suggests a next step. Now, instead of just seeing the viewpoints you want, you see the world you want. This could be subtle: a system that simply brings to your attention the conversations you are interested in or agree with, or edits out things that you find unsightly. It could also be extreme: presenting you with a pleasant fantasy to paper over a less pleasant world.

How does one perceive truth when all of ones senses and everything we see simply tells us only what we want to hear, and shows us only what we want to see?