A note on language: We haven’t quite gotten to the point where we are comfortably replacing “metaverse” with “pluriverse”, so for the context of this particular reflection, I will continue to use the term “metaverse” where “pluriverse” would be more accurate. While the term “metaverse” is defined (narrowly) as a virtual or digital implementation of reality, I prefer to think more hollistically about the use of these technologies as an unlimited set of tools and capabilities that augment the human experience. This would more accurately be defined as the “pluriverse” in the language I’m using at the time of writing. But because I think the accepted definition of metaverse is too narrow, I will continue to expand on its framing here.
What does it mean to be human?
A side effect of working on reality-building technology is that you may find yourself stuck in a perpetual cycle of defining what reality itself is. You are forced to contend with the explicit definition of what it means to inhabit a space (and, even, what a “space” is defined as - is the furniture in a space part of the space itself? It depends.) You are forced to content with the question of what it means to build a society: who has power in these virtual worlds that you are building? Who has access to information and data, and how are they using it? Am I inhabiting the space that I am in?
Increasingly, I find myself answering that last question with the thoughts and feelings that my space - in some ways - is more of an extension of what I consider to be part of my identity than being something separate. Sure, I have a physical body that is “me” - but measuring the impact of a mind is far more challenging than calculating what % of a given spatial area is comprised of my flesh and bone.
What is the term that we use for our collective human consciousness and experience? Society? Wikipedia defines society as: “a group of individuals involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same spatial or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations”. In the hunt for a more appropriate term, perhaps “individual”? But that’s just a measure of a unit - an “individual human.” What about the definition that includes an individual’s thoughts, feelings, labor output, artwork, songs sung, and the corresponding imprint that leaves on the “society”?
“Self” emerges as a contender - the Oxford dictionary defines self as “a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action.” Now we’re going somewhere! Although - if you are to consider what happens when you make your essential being open to other’s inspection or action, or want to include the impact a self has on other individuals, the term still falls a bit short.
But, the concept of “self” is appealing. If we borrow from the idea of proving mathematical equality, we might assert that a generous definition of self could, in a matter of speaking, be equated to the very concept of the (very generous) definition of metaverse:
self = metaverse
essential being = metaverse
Now, here, we need to pause and think about what comprises an “essential being”. I will, for the sake of this exercise, ask you to think about how you might define the idea of your essential being. Is it your love for your family? The work that you do in your job? Arguably, it is the sum of everything that one would define, themselves, as being of utmost importance to the uniqueness of their humanity. Since this website is my personal thinking, I will therefore use my own definition of essential being in this “proof”:
the sum of all of your experiences = metaverse
An interesting question arises here. What are our experiences? Our experiences are the collections of the sensory inputs that we take in, and the simulations that result from neurons firing in our brain. I would try and convince you to think of this process as less of a “cause and effect” - “I see something, then react” - and more of a simultaneous event: as you are taking in information, you are immediately creating and changing your own response to the stimuli, which in turn is causing your physical body to change the way that it’s exuding energy into the space around you. So, we might expand “experience” into:
the sum of all of an entity’s input, the processing of that input, and output = metaverse
We can simplify “input, processing, and output” to “simulation”. As I touched on briefly in my post on interoception, the brain is simply a huge simulation machine. Reducing the concept of a “self” to an entity’s simulation may seem uncharitable or diminuative, but I actually think that it’s stunningly beautiful to think about the power of humanity’s collective simulation capabilities.
the sum of human simulation = metaverse
Let us look now at the right-hand side of our “equation”, or the idea of the metaverse. I hinted at the start of this post that I was put off a bit by the narrow definition of metaverse as being restricted to virtual worlds, so I will expand a bit upon that now. When I consider the vast number of definitions for the term, and the expansion of the technological term to a more philosophical view, I might try defining metaverse as:
the sum of human simulation = the sum of technologic simulation
We are then faced with a deeply philosophical question - how do we jump from humanity to technology in a compelling way? On the surface, there is no possible way to move forward: humans are carbon based! computers are silicon based! But if we look beyond the physical properties of each type of entity, we can find similarities. Take a moment to re-visit the dictionary definition of “human”: “relating to or characteristic of people or human beings”. There is a tautology in being human. If we then revisit the defminion of technology: “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry”, you can begin to see the thread. Scientific knowledge for practical purposes is a culmination of knowledge and experience to create tools - tools that allow us to more efficiently impact our surrounding environment. Put differently - it’s an improvement to the “output” part of the human simulation. Technology is human.
the sum of human simulation = the sum of human simuation
Of course, this exercise is not meant to be taken literally. We exchange detailed definitions for simplified ones, we choose the characteristics that best suit the argument, and language is incredibly subjective. However, what I do hope to have accomplished is the idea that the software we’re building is deeply and tightly integrated into the experiences that we have and the ways that we experience both our physical, tangible world. It is something that can be stretched and expanded, argued and evaluated, and ultimately boils down to the perspective you choose to hold. You can be rigorous and focus on differences, or expansive and focus on finding patterns and similarities. At the end of the day, it’s up to humans* to build the metaverse, and thinking about it as an expansion of our brain is a fascinating way to proceed.
*for the time being, at least