Thursday, 1 November 2012

Pop: Philosophy through Minecraft - Realism vs Solipsism

  I was inspired by a blog post that Blip wrote, where he praised the Matrix for providing a way to aid the explanation of aspects of philosophy, to try and write something similar myself. Of everything that I know that forms any part of popular culture, Minecraft seemed the only logical choice. To that end, meet Minecraft Blip and Minecraft Pop.

Minecraft Pop believes while she walks around her world that everything she can see is real, Minecraft Pop is a realist. When she sees a dirt block and stands on it, she is aware that the dirt block exists because she doesn’t fall through into the void. When she smells the freshly dug dirt blocks the scent tells her that they must exist because her brain wouldn’t be so easily tricked. This is the point of realism, it is a belief that because something can be sensed it must exist and the arguments for it follow the lines of Minecraft Pop punching the dirt block with her hand as evidence of its reality. 

When Blip enters the same world for the first time his texture pack is different from the one Minecraft Pop used and so his dirt blocks look completely different. If Minecraft Blip is also a realist then he may well tap the same dirt blocks and claim that he understands this is reality because he can touch them, his senses wouldn’t lie to him. 

 But in this scenario, both Minecraft characters are seeing different versions of the same world. While they think they have a grasp on reality, they are in fact slaves to their own perception for which they have no real measure of validity. If every Minecraft player uses a texture pack, then no two worlds look the same. 

The natural argument to this is that there is still a base reality, there is always the option to return to the standard texture pack and view the world as it was made. All texture packs provide is a form of mental illness, a deviation from the standard that may or may not be healthy to the individual. But if we examine the nature of this inherent appearance, it quickly becomes apparent that it is nothing more than the texture pack Notch made. If all Minecraft characters are realists then whatever reality all of them view, they remain with the belief that they all view the same one. 

Realism works because the Minecraft characters build up between them a sense of hive mind. When a Minecraft character sees a dirt block for the first time and is told that it is a dirt block, they take in that image for a dirt block. The continuity between the items in the texture pack means that they would always see that particular image of a block as a dirt block.
But while to Minecraft Pop, the dirt block looks like a dirt block

To Minecraft Blip, it may look like a cobblestone block.

 Minecraft Blip would never be aware that his cobblestone and dirt blocks were switched. If he could become aware, without access to the base texture pack neither he nor Minecraft Pop would ever know which block was the real example of cobblestone and which the real example of dirt. In the same way, when a human looks at pink and their friend looks at pink, one of them may be seeing an entirely different colour to the other. 

Reality is defined by the majority. The more Minecraft characters there are on a map, the more certain features will become seen as true. If every Minecraft character believes that there are two blocks here, one a cobblestone block and one a pink block of wool, then a new character who believed the wool was actually a dirt block would be called wrong. But if they came from a different server where they had been given different labels for different blocks, even if every character was seeing exactly the same image, their reality would be different. Going from one community to another, if both have been isolated from each other, can be enough to change what is viewed as reality, and turn a sane character into one considered insane. 

This same problem with utter conviction in reality can be superimposed onto the ideology battle between scientists and Christians. Take this scene. 

Minecraft Pop and Minecraft Blip both accept that in front of them there is a blue wool H with a block of sand at the top. Minecraft Pop believes that the structure was placed there by a creator, a player that she cannot see but that must exist. Minecraft Blip tells her that she is stupid for believing in something she can’t see and asserts that the blocks must have grown up from the ground. While they are watching, the blue wool block in the middle falls away. 

The sand block has now fallen to the floor without either of them touching it. Minecraft Pop declares that it is the work of the creator, Notch, who must have in some way coded the world to make sand blocks fall when unsupported. She accepts that she cannot see Notch but reasons that no other being could have had the intelligence or the insight to do such a marvellous thing. She realises Notch must exist because she can see his effects.

Minecraft Blip however laughs at her opinion and again insults her for believing in things that she can’t see. He declares it is the work of gravity, which pulled the sand block down from its position to the floor. When Minecraft Pop points out that she never saw anybody pull down the sand block, Minecraft Blip informs her that gravity is a force, which cannot be seen but which must exist because he can witness its effects. 

This is not an argument for an uninspired philosophical principle such as ‘maybe we’re all in a game of our own’ or anything similar. Rather it is an attempt to explain that reality can only ever exist through majority opinion, because reality is a social concept. The world I see may be the base texture pack, it may be something I’ve developed from what other people tell me. What it isn’t is something that I can be fully certain applies to everyone else. It is not something certain, or something true because my perception is just as flawed as the perception of a Minecraft character with a texture pack. When you take reality out of the social context, it ceases to function. It works only on the validation of perception through other characters. Therefore it is a necessary concept for a thriving server, and enables the characters to continue mining and crafting without the mind-destroying thought that everything they see, including the characters they meet, might be no more than a product of their own mind. As annoying as it may be as an argument, realism for those who can’t handle solipsism, is flawed but necessary to ensure that Minecraft characters aren’t tempted to throw themselves into the path of the nearest creeper.  

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1 comment:

  1. Wow, truely amazing. Also amazing I found this page using google image search: q=antisocial vs asocial.

    You have a unique perspective on things, care to chat about anything and everything sometime in the near future?


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