Symmetrical Reality

Virilio: To start with, the simulator is an object in itself, which is different from televison and leads to cyberspace. The US Air Force flight simulator – the first sophisticated simulators were created by the US Air Force – has been used in order to save gas on real flights by training pilots on the ground. Thus there is a cyberspace vision: one doesn’t fly in real space, one creates a poor cyberspace, with headphones, etc…it is a different logic. In a way, the simulator is closer to cyberspace than televison. It creates a different world. So, of course, the simulator quickly became a simulator of accidents, but not only that: it started simulating actual flight hours, and these hours have been counted as real hours to evaluate the experience of pilots. Simulated flight hours and real flight hours became equivalent, and this was cyberspace, not the accident but something else, or rather the accident of reality. What is accidented is reality. Virtuality will destroy reality. So, it’s some kind of accident, but an accident of a very different nature. The accident is not the accident. For instance, if I let this glass fall, is it an accident? No, it’s the reality of the glass that is accidented, not the glass itself. The glass is certainly broken and no longer exists, but with a flight simulator, what is accidented is the reality of the glass, and not the glass itself: what is accidented is the reality of the whole world. Cyberspace is an accident of the real. Virtual reality is the accident of reality itself.


But then simulation doesn’t really pretend to be the glass?

Virilio: This is a little hard to explain. We have a sense of reality which is sustained by a physical sensation. Right now, I am holding a bottle: this is reality. With a data glove, I could hold a virtual bottle. Cybersex is similar: it is an accident of sexual reality, perhaps the most extraordinary accident, but still an accident. I would be tempted to say: the accident is shifting. It no longer occurs in matter, but in light or in images. A Cyberspace is a light-show. Thus, the accident is in light, not in matter. The creation of a virtual image is a form of accident. This explains why virtual reality is a cosmic accident. It’s the accident of the real.

I disagree with my friend Baudrillard on the subject of simulation. To the word simulation, I prefer the one substitution. This is a real glass, this is no simulation. When I hold a virtual glass with a data glove, this is no simulation, but substitution. Here lies the big difference between Baudrillard and myself: I don’t believe in simulationism, I believe that the word is already old-fashioned. As I see it, new technologies are substituting a virtual reality for an actual reality. And this is more than a phase: it’s a definite change. We are entering a world where there won’t be one but two realities, just like we have two eyes or hear bass and treble tones, just like we now have stereoscopy and stereophony: there will be two realities: the actual, and the virtual. Thus there is no simulation, but substitution. Reality has become symmetrical. The splitting of reality in two parts is a considerable event which goes far beyond simulation.

Cyberwar, God And Television: Interview with Paul Virilio


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